Irene Adler: how to butcher a brilliant woman character

SPOILER WARNING: This post discusses the plot of Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia and the original source material, Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia.

It’s pretty ghastly when a story written over 120 years ago has better gender politics than its modern reimagining. With BBC’s Sherlock, this is exactly what happened. The most recent episode, A Scandal in Belgravia puts a modern spin on the Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia, and manages to engage in a horrifying mess of feminism-fail by the end.

The feminism-fail is hardly surprising when the series is written by Stephen Moffat, whose previous works include heteronormative, binary-obsessed Coupling and episodes of Doctor Who which include womb-magic resurrecting the dead and saving some trees among other horrors. For much of Sherlock, I was actually pretty impressed with Moff. Maybe, just maybe, he had finally managed to write a female character who was awesome.

And this is the thing. For at least 80 minutes, the character Irene Adler was really awesome. Irene Adler was updated from a controversial opera singer who had affairs with the nobility to a dominatrix to the rich and famous. As with the original, Adler was portrayed as incredibly smart–an intellectual match for Holmes himself.

In the original story, Adler is clever enough to fool Holmes himself and escape, not allowing a scandalous photograph of a Bohemian royal to fall into Holmes’s hands and sneaking herself out of the country. All in all, she is fierce, resourceful and clever. Holmes himself is impressed and learns that women can be clever. Given the story was written rather some time ago, this is progressive in a way which seems thoroughly sexist these days.

In Sherlock, for the first 80 minutes, the character of Adler is much the same. She is an intellectual foil to Sherlock, anticipating his every move in order to stop him getting hold of an iPhone containing scandalous photographs of what we can only assume is Kate Middleton in a ball gag.  In the first scene in which she and Sherlock meet, Adler is completely naked. I read this scene as Adler being intelligent enough to know that Holmes has a nasty habit of reading all sorts of details about a person’s life from their clothes, and therefore gave him little to go on, although given the sexism towards the end, I may be optimistic in this assessment.

Everything goes horribly wrong at the end. Out of nowhere, Adler reveals that much of her security arrangements and her outfoxing of Holmes is down to advice received from Moriarty. That’s right. Irene Adler goes from being the fierce, resourceful, clever woman to being somebody who had to ask a man for help in order to succeed. She is not allowed to be brilliant in her own right, only through the advice from a dude who has some tension with the main dude in the show. In the space of a few lines, Adler is reduced from an active force to a passive pawn in Moriarty and Holmes’s ongoing cock-duelling.

It gets worse. We are shown what had appeared to be moments of affection between her and Holmes that we had been shown previously in the episode, and Holmes informs us that he was actually checking her pulse and pupil dilation, and he has concluded that she loves him. This is in spite of the fact that Adler has previously pointed out to Watson that she is gay. Holmes being Holmes, he is right. Holmes is such an uber-dude that a lesbian has fallen in love with him and thoroughly fucked up all of her security arrangements by the password to the only thing keeping her safe being an allusion to her crush.

Adler is left friendless due to her fluttery lady-emotions being her downfall, and we are solemnly informed that she has been beheaded by terrorists. Fortunately for Adler, in the last few moments of the show we are informed what actually happened: she was rescued from certain by Holmes. In the course of the episode, Adler goes from being a genuinely awesome female character to a damsel in distress who is propped up entirely by men.

While the original story was written over a century ago, none of this bullshit happened. Adler is consistently portrayed as strong and bright. Yes, she does what she does so she can get married, but here’s the crucial point: she does it all herself. 

Not so for the recent adaptation. In this, we are shown that as women, we’re always going to need a man to rescue us. We just can’t do it on our own: were we to try, we’d end up losing vital documents and on the headless end of a jihadi-beheading. Once again, Moff has managed to put women in the place he want them.

I would gladly keep the sparkling, sexy, sharp Irene Adler of most of the episode, and cut off the end entirely. And if the BBC need to fill up the full 90 minutes, why not extend the scene where she is beating Sherlock Holmes with a cane? And perhaps, let’s see him beg for mercy. Twice.

322 thoughts on “Irene Adler: how to butcher a brilliant woman character”

  1. Not sure I agree with you entirely here: the point about Sherlock Holmes, as a fictional character, is that he is cleverer than everyone. In the last series, he saved Watson – a soldier! – repeatedly. Being saved by Sherlock doesn’t equate with being weak. It equates with *not being Sherlock*.

    As for the gay issue, there’s another way to read it: in the previous series, it was heavily implied that Sherlock was gay. So the fact that he fell in love with a woman – the woman – might actually be the Moffster implying that sexuality is more fluid than our classic binary labels suggest. There’s progressive for you. (And after all, Irene Adler does seem to enjoy her S&M work when it involves men….)

    1. I like your reading of the queer issue, and I can definitely get on board with that.

      As for the first, the original story is set up as one which is about a situation wherein Holmes is actually outwitted for once. Quite a lot is made of this, and Holmes reacts to it with great respect. I’d thought that this episode would follow that theme, particularly when in the episode Sherlock and Watson discuss how Watson would like to blog about the times when Sherlock can’t solve the puzzle. The story as originally written was one where for once, Holmes wasn’t cleverer than everyone. I’m rather disappointed that the TV show didn’t want to do the same thing 😦

      1. Whilst I do suspect Moff is up to his usual femme-short-sightedness, the point you make here about wanting to see where Sherlock ISN’T cleverer than everyone is closer to the issue than your original post. I think it’s probably just the case that, only four episodes in, it was too early for the series to explore Holmes being outwitted.

        Personally I think they adapted Scandal In Bohemia far too early. I am confident that had they had a few more of the “isn’t Holmes AMAZING” episodes then they’d have had the balls (pardon the expression) to have the Adler character “win”.

      2. I am a woman. Darn proud of it. I am a hardcore Sherlock fan starting with the books and now some of the various re-tellings and “new” content. I have shown this blog post to my female friends who also happen to be Sherlock fans. With all do respect, you have provided us with some of the best laughter we have had in recent years. We can kind of see where you are coming from but you are quite obviously reading WAY too much into this. Why does it have to be “oh no a woman needs a man’s help because she can’t do it on her own”? Why isn’t it “oh no a character needs the main character’s help because the main character is the MAIN CHARACTER”? Frankly, you’re projecting your insecurities. Its fairly text-book. The fact that you think there is sexism is because you are sexist. “All men think they are superior” is how you feel because you wonder why you feel inferior. Men aren’t superior and women aren’t superior. Grow up. A Scandal in Bohemia is by far one of my favorite Holmes stories AND A Scandal in Belgravia is my favorite Sherlock episode to date.

        1. Wow. You are hostile and come off as having more chips on your shoulder than you claim the author has. You are also wrong about characters needing help yada yada . . . Doyle never made Holmes all powerful. Adler was one of his only weaknesses. If a modern show takes that away making Holmes completely invincible and Adler a dumb t#@t, then the show is less advanced (equality wise and plot wise) than the 120 year old story.
          Stop getting worked up on people about things you don’t grasp.

        2. You act as if being a woman makes you entitled to speak on the behalf of all other women. News update: it doesn’t. And it is really quite funny because we have nothing to go on besides your user name, who knows if you are truly a woman or just some jackass man trying to be credible when he adds his two cents. But, I digress.

          This author made some incredible points that have been made by other writers time and time again. Moffat cannot write strong female characters to save his life. Moffat is a sexist man who gives a woman a whip or a gun then wants us to praise him for writing a strong lady character. He belittles women and makes them reliant / their lives revolve around men. He did it in Sherlock and he’s done it in Doctor Who and god help me if I ever watch Coupling.

          It’s the mark of a small mind, “Jennifer”, to tell an author that they are “reading too much into” something. THAT IS THE JOB OF A JOURNALIST, to analyze. I would say, rather, you aren’t looking far enough into it.

      3. Hi there!

        Your blog certainly seems very popular and admittedly, although a lot would probably confess would have read some of the comment, I skipped them. Not for nosey-purposes I assure you but rather, like the first commentator, for interesting points.

        Anyhow, I would just like to point out, if it’s any valid at all, that the intellectual play in the end shifts. Thinking about it, the intellectual game between Sherlock and Adler was certainly won by the woman. She outwitted him no doubt about that, which can be seen in the devastation on Sherlock’s whole countenance in the scene with Mycroft.

        If anything, I believe, the only reason Sherlock manages to win over the phone was because he had reason to take hold of her pulse. For reasons which are not stated and which we can only assume, I think he took it because he did not give himself much credit or that he wanted to make sure she had any feelings for him. If there wasn’t any sort of tension between them, I doubt Sherlock would have checked for it.

        So in the end, rather than on the intellectual ground of winning – he won it by chance. This might be reading too much into it but I believe the power play of intellects was taken onto a different level when feelings got involved. It is heavily implied in this series that, if Sherlock ever had a crush (for a lack of better words), it would be Irene Adler. It certainly seems that Irene took such high esteem of him that her passcode would be his name. That or she wanted to dare too much – but like was said ‘they do act in foolish ways’ (not 100% accurate quote. I’m bad at those).

        I have also read the original story. Nowhere did it imply that there was any romantic feelings of any sort in the story whereas in this version there is.

        Also, if she indeed had cause to call Moriarty for help it won’t mean she depended solely on his advise. She’s pretty capable of handling herself and has outwitted and out paced Holmes pretty much the whole of the episode. For example she’s outwitted the “American” and Mycroft enlisted her to test his theory (on his brother regardless).

        P.S. I understand where you’re coming from but as a piece on feminism, I think you’re reading too much into the original source. Possibly – if we just took into consideration only Sherlock and Irene. But I think we’re not discussing the book here so I’ll leave that off for now.

        As for Holmes’ sexuality – it still isn’t very clear. He does clearly have high regard of Irene and maybe is sentimental of her. If that makes any sense. But to be fair, that is obvious flirtation between them.

        Anyways that’s my two pence and more. Also, I am not so sure I understand 100% what the first commentator was referring to in terms of Holmes’ sexuality. Have a vague idea but not sure if I caught the drift entirely.

    2. But the thing about Irene Adler is that she will *always* be the woman who outwitted him in the stories and always had his respect and admiration. Moffat was determined not to give her that by the end of this episode. And thus, he managed to wipe out a rather spectacular character in ten minutes. Maybe he should stick to Doctor Who in future.

      1. This is ridiculous! Moffat gave Adler plenty of power! She had the power to make Holmes mess up his words, she worked out the boomerang case all by herself, she toyed with Holmes’ emotions, she brought down the government’s top secret plan with the 747 full of dead people and she is given the title ‘THE woman’. The point is not that she is inferior to Holmes, but that she, just as anyone else in the whole series is unable to outsmart him. Even Moriarty has been fooled in the end. She is a strong character in the books, but as Moffat said himself, at the end of the original story, she runs away. She doesn’t defeat him, she doesn’t outsmart him, she runs away from the problem. The idea is that nobody gets to defeat Sherlock Holmes. He is the ultimate. It’s not a plot against women and it’s not sexist! Moffat is a brilliant writer of both Dr. Who and BBC Sherlock, two of the many things he has written and his most recent successes are a show of that. It is a horrible thing for you to scrutinize his work like this publically, you should do more research into why Adler was written the way she was. You might be surprised.

        1. It’s kind of ridiculous of me to post a reply so many months after the comment, and I’m rather assuming the original commenter will never see this so it;s more of a general expression of surprise…

          But really? There are people who think it’s HORRIBLE to ‘scrutinize (a writer’s) work like this publicly’?

          Can this person honestly believe it’s unacceptable to voice negative opinions on an aspect of a writer’s work? I can understand 5-year-olds throwing a tantrum because someone disagrees with them, and I can even understand adults having an emotional response to critisism of something they hold dear.

          But to reach (as I assume this person has) adulthood and actually believe any cultural product has the right to go un-critiqued and un-challenged is…. wow.

          Surely by this logic, GK’s own unfavourable comments about this very article would be horrible, because she’s publicly scrutinizing a writer’s work… oh, never mind.

      2. Have you seen the end of the episode. Couldn’t you see how admirable Sherlock said “The Women”. He sure does have respect for her, it just wasn’t written on the screen. It’s Sherlock, he doesn’t show his emotions.

    3. Helen L-H – please read the books? The first Sherlock Holmes story was A Scandal in Bohemia, where Irene Adler outwits Sherlock Holmes, without any help. Then she leaves the country in order to get married to her mild-mannered lawyer, and leaves Holmes very impressed. That’s why she’s “The Woman”.

      I totally agree with this article. It is pretty sad that the gender politics of a 21 century TV series are considerably worse than the original story from 1888.

      1. I agree. I think the worst part was the passcode. Out of all of the things it could be, it was ‘I Am Sherlocked’. Rather sad and it didn’t do anything to help Adler’s character. It also kind of indicates that she lost to Sherlock.

    4. Unfortunately, combined with the very popular idea that gay women are not really gay, just in a need of a good fuck, which will turn them straight, I don’t buy that explanation. I want it to be true myself… but Moffat has given us no reason to be so generous with him.

          1. She could have made the statement as a humorous attempt to throw off Sherlock. Let’s not make this a homophobic statement now. The line might have been said along the same lines as ‘You want me to show you my apartment? But I dont live here.’- even though we know she does. The humour lies in the obvious lie, rather than a case of homophobia.

            1. She told John that she was gay, not Sherlock…I fail to see any possible humor in her rather factual statement.

      1. I know this is Years Later, but Eneya, I initially read it the same way. Pissed off. Can’t gay women be gay period? Why do writer’s write gay women as getting with men? But..later on I read another person’s take on this. The whole thing was about revealing that John had feelings for Sherlock. He says he’s not gay. She says, well I am. Look at us both. The text implies (states?) that they both like women and in spite of being all about women they both are in something with Sherlock. Queer all over the place. Complex. Sexual orientation is not playing nice and staying put in its on little box.

    5. I did not like the character of Irene Adler at all. Too selfish. Who was the dead female body at the morque? Did an innocent person die for her? Or did Irene drug her like she does her so called friends? I can’t feel empathy for someone like Irene. I would rather see Sherlock with someone like Molly, than Irene. Molly sees something in Sherlock that no one eles sees.

  2. I cant agree with the first part – on Moriarty’s advice. The scheme is her own, and most importantly, every villain we see in the show is taking secret direction from Moriarty. Everyone is his puppet. It doesnt immediately follow its because shes a woman.

    The second half, I totally agree with. Its a terrible slight to the LGBT community. Clearly, Lesbians just havent met the right man yet. I have seen on twitter the argument that this isnt necessarily sexual but I dont buy it. I doubt Moffat is that nuanced.

    1. Except the scheme wasn’t her own, she admits that it was the ‘consulting criminal’ who told her what to do with the information. She didn’t see through Sherlock’s disguise on her own, everything she did was under Moriarity’s direction. And in the original material she wasn’t a criminal. It was a decision on Moffat’s part to take a character who was canonically Sherlock’s intellectual peer, and make it clear she needed male direction.

      It bothered me a lot – even though I thought the episode was very watchable in a lot of ways.

    2. No no, the whole exchange with Watson regarding their mutual situation – Watson isn’t gay, and she is, yet there they are. Infatuated.

      The final scene with her being all helpless and having to be saved was extremely tedious though. Some sort of implied collusion in faking her death would have made it palatable.

      I didn’t think the moriarty thing weakened her character, she _paid_ him as a consultant – why do all the legwork yourself?

      The rushed and seemingly pointless nature of the final showdown did though. OH AND SHERLOCK WINS SO NER.

    3. Hey,

      I can understand where you’re coming from concerning the slight to the LGBT community. And Sherlock is the only work I have seen of Moffat’s so I cannot offer you any comment on him.

      But I can definitely say I believe it’s not about the physical side either which is why I think, other than because it’s in the book, Sherlock refers to her as ‘the’ woman.

      I do not know how early it is to discuss sexuality within a hetero or a homo regarding what attracts a person to another. Speaking from personal experiences and things I have seen around, I think there can be some margin in the population wherein a person can begin to find someone attractive let alone fall for someone not just for the physical reasons. And there has been another show (not english-speaking) which implies these very themes and much more, that came out years ago from now.

      Therefore I don’t know if Moffat was being forward thinking in this episode or he was confirming back to the general ideals (I use that term loosely). On that respect I cannot confirm with you for obvious reasons. But as I have (not clearly) stated above, I think Irene would be ‘the’ only exception for Sherlock.

      No romantic or the like is implied in the books so the writers of the series are at liberty to take it where they will. Mind you though, Moffat isn’t the only one writing the series. Also, in case no one knows, Mark Gatiss is also a writer of the show and he is gay. If there were any slights made to the LGBT community I am sure Gatiss won’t have consented to have shot that episode. And from interviews I have seen between Moffat and Gatiss (Sherlock dvd), I perceive a deep friendship between both men to have one of them not write something negative of that sort.

      Moving on to Irene’s character, like someone previously stated, the whole scheme was her idea. She could have (merely) asked Moriarty some advice which she has her own free will to consider and follow. I think her a very smart woman.

      The ending I believe felt rather put-on for some audience’s sake – including me if I have to be honest (I quite liked her character). Other than that, I really liked the episodes. Still need to find a weak one actually… maybe episode 2 of season 1….

  3. But the point of this story is surely that Sherlock Holmes is NOT cleverer than everyone. Irene Adler beats him. In this retelling of the story, she isn’t allowed to.

  4. I think you were just over-analysing a lot of details, particularly in regards to Moriarty. I didn’t see that so much as “women need men cause they suck” as “Moriarty is dangerous, fear him” The latter theme being something they’d been using through the series and the start of the episode, making it more likely.

    As for the capture and rescue, I think regardless of sex anyone would fall into that mess. Really this episode is Scandal in Bohemia in three words only, it’s a totally different thing and as a result Irene Adler is doing different things naturally in contrast to what she had to do in a totally different scenario in the story.

    It’s more a case of two separate under currents (very sexual woman, very dangerous man) clashing than there being any actual anti-feminist intent (very sexual women needs help from very dangerous cause women suck LOL)

    But than again it’s a woman in a story so there has to be a bit of feminist reading into things or else we aren’t doing our job right as smart Internet people’s.

    1. I doubt there was intent, but it happens over and over again: Moff just can’t let a female character be brilliant without resorting to bestowing on her some hallmarks of a form of inherently weak femininity. I don’t think he does it because he consciously hates women, but he certainly doesn’t think much of us!

      1. It’s not that he can’t let a female character win, it’s that he writes about men (specifically Dr. Who and Sherlock). These men are both utterly brilliant. They both go out of their way to save people and in the Dr.’s case, universes. The two characters are merely the most brilliant men in their own worlds and the most brilliant men do not get defeated. It was not Moffat’s choice to make Dr. Who a man, there were previous writers before him that did that and to make Holmes a woman would be much harder to pass with any audience with the already established circumstance that Holmes is a man.
        What many of you aren’t realizing is that both these brilliant men need women. In BBC Sherlock, Molly asks ‘what do you need?’ and he says ‘YOU’. The Dr. is always with a FEMALE companion. He marries a very intelligent and brilliant WOMAN!
        Moffat is a wonderful husband to Sue Vertue as she has said many a time herself and he is not out to get women. He is merely incredible at writing his characters that happen to be men.

      1. I fail to see how the fact that a man, a woman or an alien is writing affects the quality of an argument or an opinion…

      2. It affects the quality of his argument because it shows that he, just like Moffat, just hasn’t thought about women and their role in society very much. The fact that, to him and many other men, only a minority (smart Internet people, scary feminists) is affected by the portrayal of women in mainstream media clearly shows that they have not understood that our place in actual society is being influenced by the decisions of the likes of Moffat.

        We need female characters to strong and kick-ass so that people watching TV can believe that women in real life are that way too. That includes acknowledging the fact that lesbians DO NOT just fall in love with guys (not excluding bisexuals here, but she said she was a lesbian, and I’m assuming a pro-domme has questioned her sexuality enough to label herself as bisexual if she were bi).

        Moffat just doesn’t realise/want to realise that he has a responsibility as a maker of popular, mainstream media to not propagate stereotypes which are wrong and hurtful.

        I believe the use of the word ‘mansplain’ and sarcastic tone by Meg also came as a reaction to Gavin’s tone, which was basically ‘Let me tell you why you’re wrong.’ Other commentators who have disagreed have done so in a much more respectful way.

        1. If the argument is based on sound logic then it shouldn’t matter the demographic that delivers it.

          Any statement otherwise is just an ad hominid attack against the speaker. Therefore the rebuttal lacks quality and substance.

          It’s also ironic that when arguing a feminist point that you would make an anti feminist statement against non female speakers.

        2. An arguments merit is based on its level of sound logic. Implying that an argument lacks substance because of its authors demographic is an ad hominem fallacy.

          It’s also ironic you are making an argument for feminism while making anti feminist statements against non female posters.

  5. I didn’t read the episode that way; I read the ending, and the scene where he is going through their texts, as meaning that, from an early stage, she and Holmes have been in collusion to pwn Mycroft and Moriarty and her other enemies like the CIA. Retrospectively, the entire sequence where she humiliates him in front of his brother, and he breaks her, then becomes a major bluff. Setting up a way of convincing everyone that this time she really is dead.

    The relationship is based on the fact that they are two of the smartest people on the planet and like each other enough at a purely intellectual level to take on the challenge of playing against the other two and winning as a team. The fact that she is gay and he is – presumably – asexual is something that enables them to outwit even the effete Mycroft who still thinks in conventional terms about sexual motivation.

    Even if Moffat confirms your reading, and it turns out that he is being the same old sexist shit that he always is, I prefer mine. Because it is not an insult to my intelligence.

    1. Oh, Roz, I adore you. I like your reading better, too, and I will treasure it in my heart so I can like this episode 🙂

    2. I definitely did see something of this reading. The way that Adler accepts Watson’s heterosexuality, while still insisting that Holmes and Watson are a couple – and of course all the references to kink – seems to set up the possibility of non-normative relationships.

      Now that I see the whole thing written out this way, I very much want it to be true.

      Just as soon as I can get the image of the Strong Female Character looking up at her Knight in Shining Racefail out of my head…

      1. “Just as soon as I can get the image of the Strong Female Character looking up at her Knight in Shining Racefail out of my head…”

        yes to this, we can analyse it over, explain how Irene was a strong character, go through script, saying it was all arranged between Sherlock and Irene…
        but an image can me much stronger, especially one that ends a show. and that image showed us a Irene being defeated, weak, about to die being rescued by Sherlock. yes she saved her in the opening credit but how many of us remembered that? but all of us can recall the ending image.

        1. And bear in mind, she didn’t deliberately save Sherlock. Her call just came at a convenient time. Compared to him saving the damsel in distress from the consequences of her own bad behaviour.

    3. Agree hugely with Roz’s reading here. I agree re the ‘Moriarty’ point, I think that speech could be dumped or changed to something much more twisty and interesting.

      She’s consulting the best on her project, and *that* could have been the way that part was told rather than ‘oh and then a Man gave me all the answers.

      But on the whole pulse/sex/attraction thing, very much agree with Roz (and suspect, on past form, that that’s Gatiss rather than Moffat – a gay man who can actually write a realistic bisexual character even in a very sillyclever series (Lucifer Box)): that it’s about queerness and beautifully done.

      Am also surprised/impressed with the minimal fail re SM and sex workers. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than most, and on a mainstream BBC telly shoow.

      (found this via someone linking to it, and in general, really agree with much of what you say nad love your writing about the show even when I’m not in agreement with it)

    4. Oh god, yes. Yes. I’ll read it like you do, because otherwise I might just end bitterly angry and upset forever that Moffat ruined Irene Adler.

      (Although the fact that she sent that goodbye text to Sherlock, while she was about to be executed, kind of proves that your interpretation is probably wrong… but see if I give a fuck, that would’ve been an AWESOME turn to the original story. :D)

  6. I took the business with the blog counter, and the very simple flirty texts, to mean that they are communicating at some more complicated level and that all of this is code either pre-arranged or embedded. Their relationship is not even a bit about sex – it is about mind.

  7. I agree with Helen about the sexuality issues. A lot of the episode, and the previous series, played with the idea that Sherlock is possibly gay, perhaps a virgin, and so on (and that Watson is attracted to him) – which is at least slightly interesting in terms of undermining what the male ‘hero’ usually is. And although Irene says she’s gay, that’s not the impression I’d got of the character before or after. I saw her more as someone very sharp and smart, who’d say anything that was necessary, playing off the other characters with whatever would work against them. And that her apparent attraction to Sherlock was actually, at least at first, a way of taking advantage of his sexual inexperience.

    But I totally agree about the last 20%. She should have won, and done so off her own bat – outwitted everyone. (Certainly no need for Moriarty). For example, why couldn’t he have finally figured out the code for the phone a few minutes too late, just after she’d disappeared? Ugh.

    1. My interpretation is that Sherlock, just like he had to impress Adler by breaking the email code, he was equally kicked into overdrive, due to the realisation that he was betrayed/outsmarted (not only by Adler but by his own feelings). He didn’t understand the significance of her heart beat and dilated pupils until he had to use them against her. Despite the information Adler got from Moriarty, she had outsmarted Sherlock; he, on the other hand, caught her on a technicality: that she couldn’t precisely hide her feelings for one moment. In that one moment, she betrayed herself. The whole episode was about how even the best laid plans/deductions/seductions can go awry in the face of sentiment (which is further reinforced by Sherlock’s predilection, despite his scientific mind, for romantic occupations: pirates and detectives – curtesy of Mycroft). Beneath their cold unfeeling exteriors lies a couple of sentimental fools who genuinely enjoyed outsmarting one another.

  8. Not much respect for Mycroft either here. I know it’s not really related to the sex politics side but in the books Mycroft is smarter but lazier than Sherlock. Here he is outsmarted by him. The fascinating character of Mycoft should drive the question, why does Sherlock do what he does. In this episode Mycroft does ask the question, but in words not in character.

  9. Wherever a thing happens, somebody will pop up and say they’re a victim of it.

    As a bear of little brain, I feel tremendously hurt and victimised by the way Sherlock is so anti dim people.

    The entire episode hinged on the fact that only a clever person could solve the problem. This is appalling discrimination.

    Feel my anger, BBC.

  10. Nobody seems to question that Irene is a lesbian. She only claims that, to Dr Watson. She lies a lot in the film. Could she be lying then?

    Also I agree with the point that EVERYBODY has to be outsmarted by Holmes. Men or women, otherwise it’s not Sherlock Holmes. That’s not sexist. Would you like all the smart, defeated villains to be men? Would it be racist if a black person was the defeated villain? Stavvers’ analysis is really good, but like the TV show, (in her opinion) – in my opinion the last paragraph spoils it, give the game away a bit, shows prejudice perhaps.

    1. So the original story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in which Irene Adler outsmarts Holmes, is ‘not Sherlock Holmes’?

    2. But hence my comment above in the books Sherlock is outsmarted by both Mycroft and Adler. Here neither. It’s a shame because with both characters originally they represent a weakness of Holmes his unknowing lack of respect for women and his inability to not help people. He cares a bit too much to be a true thinking machine. Key point, this is a less inspired Adler character and this story had worse gender politics. In the original she was his equal, here she needed him.

      1. I think Adler outsmarted Holmes in a sense. Holmes may have saved her life, but he did not save the day. The terrorists still received the information, and she still didn’t give him the pictures. Yes, she was a team with Moriarty, but from our perspective, she did most of it. I like to think that Jim’s “advice” wasn’t a lot. Just a little help, so that her intelligence showed through. Jim wouldn’t deal with her unless she was intelligent, and SHE called HIM in the beginning of episode. I don’t want to hate this episode, really.

    3. I didn’t think she was a lesbian. I believed her when she said it was part of the game. Although I found the episode very watchable, I was disappointed that Adler was robbed of her victory over Holmes.

      I’m also disturbed when I see readers praising the character of Molly Hooper. Yes, she’s sweet and resourceful, but she’s so safe and stereotypical.

  11. Oh good god. You’ve watched a woman get paid (handsomely I suspect) to portray character on TV. And still you find fault. You are what is wrong with chicks everywhere,

    1. I presume you mean that ‘chicks’ should just be thankful we actually get paid for stuff. Rather than being housewives?

      1. Woah! Take a step back! It’s a TV series! He was just stating what he thought of the comments, perhaps not in the best of words but this is nothing to do with women being housewives!

    2. “Chicks everywhere” is a small minded relegation of women to a monolithic category that ignores differences of race, gender and class and it ultimately refuses to recognize either the agency or power of women.

  12. First of all Adler saved Sherlock and Watson at the beginning of the episode by phoning Moriarty. Intentionally or not, it’s interesting that no one has mentioned this and focused instead on the outrage that a woman could be helped by a man who loves her.

    It’s strange that people seem to be focusing on the idea that once again we are being presented with ‘the woman needing saving storyline’ while missing the fact that the Adler, when she is being a ‘good’ female character, is manipulative and at the very least amoral whilst using her body as a weapon.
    It’s also very striking that her character is seen to be weak when she shows emotion and strong when she does not. I see it more likely that Sherlock is the weak character here needing saving from emotionless rationality. The fact that he is affected by a female character is neither here nor there.
    So if a woman is cruel to men she’s strong. If she falls for one she’s weak. Quite a choice.

    Finally the idea that this is another example of a lesbian being turned straight is ridiculous. I just saw two characters who were fascinated by each other. It’s pretty clear that Sherlock falls for her too but no one is troubled by the idea that she could by turning him straight.
    I’ve often noticed that it is often the gay men and lesbian women who talk of “everyone is bisexual anyway” are often the ones who get the most irate about a gay person ‘turning’ straight. So much anger, as if who we fall in love with and desire were a game of top trumps.

  13. It’s ever so easy to over-analyse stuff.
    1) It’s a TV program. On TV. Part of a series. Which began an opening scene with Moriarty letting Holmes off while he spoke to someone on a phone. Remember? Moriarty is a necessary element in the series; so he’ll be used.

    2) she’s fascinated by his *mind*. That’s made clear right from the start: she looks at pictures of him, knows about his cases. Isn’t the thing that attracts people to each other really their minds? The body doesn’t stay attractive as long as the mind.

    I think @rozkaveney has it – an even more complex arrangement than it appears at first (or second, or third). You’d have to believe that if two people that amazingly smart existed, they’d work like that.

    As to her apparently not being lesbian for one person… well, maybe it’s Bob and Rose. Nobody would believe Russell T Davies that that was true either.

    1. It’s ever so easy to belittle others’ opinions by calling them ‘over-analysing’.

      You go on to analyze the episode in your own terms but I take it that’s not OVER-analyzing because it delivers the correct opinion?

      When other people have a problem with something and you do not happen to share it, it’s not because they’ve gone looking for problems that aren’t actually there. It’s just that they have a different but equally valid, opinion.

      Understanding this idea is called ‘not being a solipsistic asshat’.

  14. I suppose that Mrs Hobson saving Sherlock’s hide by hiding Irene’s Blackberry in her cleavage means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things… (I am of course being completely flippant as this isn’t the point!)

    I only have a couple of thoughts really on this and I’m sure people won’t agree with me but:

    i) The gay thing. Irene made it clear in the earlier parts of the episode that she was perfectly happy as a dominatrix to both sexes. She tells John that she’s gay, but in response to him stating outright that he isn’t – it’s snappy writing more than anything. I would prefer to interpret this line as her saying “I’m on the LGBT spectrum”. I don’t think Irene has been degayed by Sherlock in the slightest.

    Should the script have sacrificed a punchy line to have Irene say “I am queer” instead of throwing John’s words back at him? I don’t like the line for the sentiments you have expressed, but I suspect that Moffat/Gatiss and the Beeb don’t think that most viewers will have minded.

    I THINK it was only that line that conflicted with the interpretation of Irene as bisexual, really, wasn’t it? Besides, I see her as being “kratosexual” in this instance (I hope that’s a real word…) – she both wields power and is attracted to it (maybe that’s a very male-centric view of her, and I apologise if so).

    ii) Not having Irene win. At first, I was disappointed in this. But thinking about it some more, Sherlock has explicitly never been a direct adaptation of the Conan Doyle stories – how much got smooshed into this episode from all directions, after all. The character of Irene as presented in this episode is infinitely more complex and intelligent than the Irene of the original Scandal in Bohemia, who is of course at first deluded by Sherlock’s disguise as a clergyman and only twigs once the fire alarm is raised.

    Besides, it’s not as if Irene loses entirely. Yes, she “loses” her blackmail material – which she has admitted she had no intention of doing anything with anyway. But she DOES ruin MI5’s 007 airplane plot completely – and Moriarty didn’t even know that’s what was coming, just that she had some potentially useful information. As an audience we’re left with the “final” image of Sherlock winning with regards to the phone – but she actually got what she wanted anyway. So perhaps they are more equal than we think…

    Plus, while it’s Moriarty who points her in Sherlock’s direction, absolutely EVERY implementation of the plan is Irene’s. She merely feeds him back the information at the end of it.

    1. People on the LGBTQ spectrum wouldn’t call themselves “gay” unless they meant it; it’s only the those who don’t know anything about it who assume everyone who is anything aside from 100% heterosexual is “gay,” and it’s really insulting.

      1. Wait – I do. I’m b if you ask me to define myself, but I’ll happily use gay or lesbian to describe myself casually in some contexts.

      2. I’m bisexual, but I occasionally refer to myself as gay/lesbian, depending on the situation – if I can’t be bothered to explain/qualify etc

  15. Nobody seems to question that Irene is a lesbian. She only claims that, to Dr Watson. She lies a lot in the film. Could she be lying then?

    Also I agree with the point that EVERYBODY has to be outsmarted by Holmes. Men or women, otherwise it’s not Sherlock Holmes. That’s not sexist. Would you like all the smart, defeated villains to be men? Would it be racist if a black person was the defeated villain? Stavvers’ analysis is really good, but like the TV show, (in her opinion) – in my opinion the last paragraph spoils it, give the game away a bit, shows prejudice perhaps.

  16. I think a large part of the problem was the placing of the show. Had it been, say, a one-off, they may well have gone with an ending closer to the original story.

    However, Moriarty is the ‘big bad’ at the moment. He was introduced last season, and since the final episode of this season has been publicised as “The Reichenbach Fall”, it seems fair to assume he’ll be central to that episode as well.

    If you take Holmes, and have him take on people who beat (or draw) with him twice in the season, it becomes a season in which Holmes is beaten more often than he wins. So, instead, Holmes has to establish his dominance in this episode, in order to further build up Moriarty and the rivalry with him.

    Really, they should have done this one last season instead of the racially dubious Chinese episode. It would have been a much better episode, plus they may have gone closer to the original ending.

    Obviously, it may be that I’m wrong in this, and Gatiss and Moffatt decided that they really wanted to make Irene Adler less effective just because they didn’t like how effective she was in the original story. But I suspect that the fact the story is part of a series meant compromises, and Moriarty is a more important character than Adler, rightly or wrongly.

  17. Now now dear, most men will have been able to determine that it wasn’t an iphone she was trying to keep from Sherlockl. Whilst I cannot say with any authority what phone it actually was (it looked a bit “Blackberry-ish” to me), I wouldn’t highlight my ignorance on a public forum by using a brand name as a generic term for a smart phone. Now toddle off and do the hoovering.

  18. Why must people do this?!? Actually makes me feel embarrassed to be female. It’s a television show and nothing more. A good one at that.

    1. And the more things go unchallenged, the more they stay the same or get worse. A lot of people, clearly like yourself, believe that feminism has won, so why keep going on about it? If that’s what you believe, then I challenge you to think of ten films with at least 2 main female characters who talk about something other than men in that film.

      Now do you start to see why it’s a big deal to have a powerful female character getting neutered for TV?

      1. I must say.. that’s actually a film technique.. to only have women as main characters talk about either men, fashion or kids. You have them talking about anything else, and the film doesn’t sell. As sad as this may be, it’s entirely true.. unless its an action film, but even then the girls still talk about those things..

        1. … isn’t that a restatement of the problem?

          “Sexism is over, feminism has no point.”

          “Really? Then why don’t you name some movies that pass the Bechdel test?”

          “Ah, well the reason I can’t is that movies don’t sell if they’re insufficiently sexist.”


          (I get the reason people do this: because they’ve decided the subject has changed from “society is sexist” to “moviemakers are bad people”, and thus they need to defend moviemakers. But my point is that you can’t have it both ways.)

    2. Eurgh. The old “it’s just a tv show” argument. Right, because dissecting a form of media is totally weird and embarrassing and everyone should just shut up with their silly “opinions.” And lol at your apparent embarrassment at seeing a female writer complain about a great female character being undermined. Just because that doesn’t personally bother you doesn’t mean people shouldn’t write about how it bothers them. You clearly lack empathy and intellect. YOU make ME embarrassed to be human.

      1. What a horrible thing to say about someone you don’t even know! How dare you tell ‘meh’ they lack empathy and intellect when you know nothing about them! You should be embarrassed at yourself for saying such a thing and how very hypocritical it was of you! Shame on you!

  19. Another reading of Irene being naked when she first meets Sherlock – she was already planning to use a face-battered body to apparently hide. This allowed Holmes to identify her as dead (and since it’s Holmes, incontrovertibly), and thus set up the reappearance later. Very cold blooded indeed…. And it is not Holmes’s emotions being manipulated, it is Watson, with Holmes it is a contest of intellects.

  20. I never once saw it that Irene is in love with Sherlock, she is merely fascinated by him, she sees in Sherlock the same thing Moriarty does, an intellectual equal so brilliant that she can finally have some fun. Irene is the complete equal of Sherlock and Moriarty in intelligence, power, ruthlessness and force of will but she is then made better than them in the fact that she is more human. She understands human emotion and is thus not left without friends and bored of the world, she has fun. I don’t believe that she sees an attractive uber-male hero in Sherlock who can come rescue her and who she will forget her sexuality for, in Sherlock she sees an equal who she can both manipulate for her own means and who she is completely fascinated by because he is as brilliant as her. The same goes for Sherlock, he doesn’t love her, he admires her, he is as fascinated by her brilliance and she is of his. Irene isn’t undone and “loses” because she is female and falls for “a crush” or some other sexist stereotype, she is undone for exactly the same reasons Sherlock is undone, temporarily at least, they are both fascinated by the idea of finding an equal in each other.

    1. Except the everso infallible Sherlock points out that she exhibits the chemical signals of love, or at least lust, and we are expected to believe that this is the case. So they threw that out of the window.

  21. Hard to know if we can believe anything Adler actually tells us- whether she’s gay or not, for example. ACD canon would have her be married, though that’s conveniently overlooked here and not conclusive proof either way.

    Series one showed us Moriarty obsessed with Sherlock- I really saw Adler in this episode as similarly obsessed. And, like with Moriarty, Sherlock was intrigued by her… enough that he made every effort in the end to save her life. I assumed that the ‘sorry about dinner’ comment was to be a tacit agreement that he would help her.

    And while I’m here… she *did* beat him, utterly, in their first contact. She escaped and took the phone with her- only months later did she get in contact again. Yeah, she’s working with Moriarty- but so is everyone else. She’s not the first woman we’ve been shown as working with/around Moriarty, either, so it shouldn’t be surprising. The entire canon so far has been associated with him.

    And following from that, she saved his life in the opening scene- that phonecall to Moriarty was surely from her? So doesn’t he then owe his life to her from then onwards? I doubt that implication would be missed by anyone involved.

    Re: sexuality again… if we, as the audience, can be convinced that John (straight man) can be attracted to Sherlock, then surely a gay woman can have an exception, too? I like the interpretation of fluid sexuality that the show is putting across- making every interaction simultaneously more complicated and simpler.

  22. An interesting view, and one which I think is right. Leaving aside the feminist critique, by weakening the main character, the ending weakened the story as a whole.

    However, I’m not certain that in the original Adler is quite the independent woman, acting on her own initiative that you (or indeed Holmes himself) implies, as she seems to indicate in her letter:

    “MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,—You really did it very well. You took me in completely. Until after the alarm of fire, I had not a suspicion. But then, when I found how I had betrayed myself, I began to think. I had been warned against you months ago. I had been told that if the King employed an agent it would certainly be you. And your address had been given me. Yet, with all this, you made me reveal what you wanted to know. […]
    “Well, I followed you to your door, and so made sure that I was really an object of interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good-night, and started for the Temple to see my husband.
    We both thought the best resource was flight, when pursued by so formidable an antagonist; so you will find the nest empty when you call to-morrow.”

  23. Its worth noting that the series likes to play around with your preconceptions of Sherlock Holmes – Moffat uses the fact that we all know about Holmes to create red herrings and to surprise the audience.

    So its not about whether Irene has to win against Sherlock, or whether Sherlock has to outsmart everyone – neither of those decide whether its proper Sherlock Holmes – Moffat is playing with the stories. So just because in the original Sherlock Adler wins, I don’t think its sexist to make her lose in this version.

    I think that Moffat actually seems to write some fairly female-empowering stuff – his Dr Who xmas special had a strong woman saving the day and Mrs Hudson was shown to be a very strong character (she, after all, is Sherlock’s safest place).

    As for the Moriaty thing, it smack of “we have an entire plot, how do we shoehorn Moriaty in? He can be their consultant!” rather than “a man has to be in charge”.

      1. exactly the female character’s only strength in the Doctor Who xmas special was that she was a mother. it was all mother lion looking for his cubs then saving an entire race by womb-magic…

  24. One of my tutors was recently discussing how the reasons that push main characters to do things in movies/books are usually different for men and women. E.g. heroic war movies: the men are doing it because it’s the right thing, to save the country, because they’re heroes; the women are doing it because their brother/husband/whatever was killed. For some reason they are always limited by this emotional side.

    Well, the fact that a badass, clever, super-smart character like Irene Adler was changed with a snap of the fingers to a silly 13 year old who uses her crush’s name as her password, good lord, seriously? It just left me staring at the screen with my mouth open. Unbelievable. Because women, as smart as they can be, are deep down just silly emotional creatures. Congrats to us.

    1. I was linked to this post by an acquaintance of mine and, as I said to her, it and some of these comments come off rather whiny. There’s a lot of points the original author has based on inaccurate evidence or things that have multiple interpretations – the complaints about Moriarty, for example, or believing that Sherlock made a lesbian fall for him when it’s just as if not more possible that Adler was jerking Watson’s chain when she told him she was gay – but those have been covered already. This one hasn’t.

      The thing I found wonderful about this episode is how well it lends itself to alternate interpretations of a lot of what Adler does. For instance, the first time she and Sherlock meet face-to-face (i.e. the scene where she gets naked, as most people will fairly remember it), my immediate reaction was more that Sherlock’s scanning wasn’t working because she’d knocked him off-balance in the same way most men – Watson included – would have reacted in the same situation. I can see where the original author was coming from, but Sherlock tends to read plenty of details from things other than clothing. And, after all, he does make one observation. Either way, clever scheme.

      The point I’m meandering around to get to is this: Adler knows plenty about Sherlock, I would guess enough to know he functions on an entirely different level to the rest of us mortals. Hell, the man is a sociopath, everybody looks like a silly emotional creature stacked up against him. She wants a code she can be confident he won’t break and won’t pick up on from any one of a million details, and believes that using his name is so far out of left field that he’d never come to that conclusion logically. And she’s almost right: he logics his way to two incorrect answers, she counters his bluff into giving him the third. Not exactly silly 13 year old using her crush’s name as a password, is it?

      tl;dr: If you want to take it at face value and write Irene Adler off as a ‘silly emotional creature’, be my guest. I don’t think you’re giving her or the writing team enough credit.

      1. If I wanted to create a code no one could decipher I would use a random combination of numbers and letters (perhaps using a generator or two differente generators)… For the second password (the one that destroys the phone) I would use a word or a phrase that people can deduce.

    2. My two cents: I think she used the name of her crush to throw off Sherlock. For how could Sherlock ever think that he was the object of her sentiment, until the last 10 minutes of course, when he discovered that he was betrayed, and he had to find a way to win, and thus deduced the impossible: that the code was in front of him all along, plain to see.

  25. Being a dominatrix is certainly not a step up in class for this character. As an opera singer and adventuress (although not her own terminology), Adler was, like other Americans of her time period, wooed by royalty. In her case, she was also wronged by royalty and outsmarted both the King and Sherlock Holmes.

    She was straight. Holmes was asexual. The relationship with Watson is not homosexual, but homosocial. To suggest otherwise may be titillating and prurient and oh-so-hip, but does nothing to improve on the original in which an extremely bright young woman “gets a little of her own back” as Eliza Doolittle might put it.

    How disappointing it is to hear about this!

    1. Thank you so much for writing this, and for sharing your studies of Conan Doyle’s work with the world. 🙂

  26. Several things. First of all, the advice Adler had from Moriarty was mainly concerning what to do with her intel. Yes, she also hard some info about the Holmes’, but to say that Moriarty instructed her every move is pushing it beyond the truth – she “misbehaved” plenty before, and without his help. Also, the power plays and the ways she delightfully manipulated people before and acqured information is her credit alone playing men and their feelings has been her battlefield way before Moriarty, she certainly didn’t need any help there – and we haven’t even reached Sherlock yet. Secondly, she does outsmart him. Twice, as in the original story. First by getting her phone back, secondly by manipulating Sherlock and y’know, ruining an intelligence operation in the planning for years, making both Holmes brothers look like imbeciles. Sherlock fell for it, hook, bait and sinker, and only managed to save the day after having lost to her on that level. No one did that before. Thirdly, on the whole gay thing… there are a number of gay people who find themselves attracted to members of the other sex on occasion, just saying. Far more important, however, is the exact quote. In context: She’s said that Watson and Homes are a couple, to which Watson said “…for the record, if anyone out there still cares, I’m not actually gay.” And her answer is “: Well I am – look at us both.” Implied: “Attracted to a person we wouldn’t be attracted to normally.” (He’s the hero, he’s Sherlock Holmes – he’s just that fascinating) This isn’t tacked on at the end, she says herself that she is attracted to him, in the very same breath as she reveals her sexuality.
    Quite honestly, compared to most of the stuff I see, while not perfect, this is as good a female character as you’re likely to get on TV. Of course, there’s always room for progress. But let’s not focus on the negative (or be tempted to see it when it’s not always there) and salute what has been accomplished. Moffat’s Irene Adler has my respect, and my admiration – not because of the men in her life, but because of her very own strenght. THE Woman indeed.

    1. And you’ve said it all there! Well done! Very well done! Good on you for supporting such a wonderful man in such wonderful words!

  27. The original Irene Adler was not “a controversial opera singer who had affairs with the nobility to a dominatrix to the rich and famous”. She was a successful opera singer who, like the pop singers of today, met a lot of famous and well-to-do people, had a lot of men interested in her, but had one relationship with one person, a prince who promised to marry her but was only stringing her along, as he was too much of a snob to marry someone who wasn’t of royal birth. When that was over she had another relationship with just a regular guy whom she did marry. So much for sleeping around, and so much for being a gold digger/social climber. She is only a villain if one thinks that threatening to expose the prince to public opinion as the cad that he was is “evil”. Conan Doyle himself calls it justice, and not being a helpless victim. She gives up on her revenge not because Holmes or anyone else forces her to, but because she doesn’t want the prince to become a permanent feature of her life, as he would be if she took the picture to the papers. Which, btw, wasn’t a scandalous pornographic photo either, but simply a picture were they appeared together as a couple. Why hasn’t anyone actually read the novel?

  28. Out of nowhere, Adler reveals that much of her security arrangements and her outfoxing of Holmes is down to advice received from Moriarty.
    This is in spite of the fact that Adler has previously pointed out to Watson that she is gay“.
    Oh dear Stavvers. Two incidences of taking Irene Adler at her word. Very silly mistake.

    The gay thing: Well, we know she has affairs with women, we also know she has affairs with men – she could have been using “gay” to refer to her bisexuality, and then whether she’s lying outright, by omission or not at all is unclear.

    As for Moriarty – all she says is “I can’t take all the credit – I had a bit of help. Jim Moriarty sends his regards”. Now, based on all we know of Miss Adler, isn’t it rather naïve of you to assume this help and advice was given voluntarily or even knowingly? A woman who is capable of getting what she wants out of Holmes is probably quite capable of getting what she wants out of Moriarty, after all.

    Though obviously I am rather taken with the woman myself.

    1. And, this occurs to me hours later, we SEE her get help from the very start. Someone sends her the information about Sherlock- so the reveal shouldn’t be startling at all (we should just be paying more attention).

      1. Clearly we saw but we didn’t observe.

        I don;t know if someone helping her necessarily makes her dependent on a man, even if it is Moriarty. They even juxtapose it with Sherlock Holmes being briefed about her in parallel, which at the very least sets her up as his equal. And like I said, there’s no reason to believe that she’s being honest about her intentions with her informant.

      2. Though in my defence, I saw, observed and clean forgot about it. It’s also her that contacts Moriarty at the beginning, and not the other way around.

        1. The problem is not necessarily how they presented the dominatrix character from this show. If this was an original character, then it would been ok. Not great, but not enough to exasperate people. Instead they took a character canonically Sherlock’s intellectual equal, canonically capable of taking care of herself and canonically moral and made a deliberate decision that in BBC Sherlock mythos that just wasn’t going to work.

          They made her a criminal, they made her intellectually dependent on male characters (Moriarty was the one who told her how to put the information she had collected to use, he told her how to interact with Sherlock), and at the end she required someone else to intervene and save her rather than being able to save herself.


          And really, when you look at the other female characters in Sherlock it is kind of disheartening.

          1. Conan Doyle was not known for drawing strong women characters. Mostly they existed to be victimised and rescued. Adler was an exception, and that does make it disheartening to see the character abused by the BBC, but the Beeb are catering to a demographic that subsist on fanfic and speculation about the sex life of Sherlock Holmes. We should remember at the end of the day that this series is anything but a straight-up modernisation of the canon. It’s a parody, and the writers are having great fun toying with the emotions of a frenzied fan base.

      3. Well, in the short story she was already a blackmailer, a seducer of royalty and, even more harlotously, an opera-singer.

        Yes, she gets information about Sherlock and strategic tips from Moriarty, but like I said, she deliberately says nothing about how or why he gave her what information, so there’s no reason to believe she was “intellectually dependent” on him, when her superpower is getting information by outwitting geniuses.

        Hopefully we’ll see more of her in later episodes, but let’s wait until then before deciding whether Moriarty is pulling her strings, the other way round, or both.

        1. Harlotously? The blackmail – I always had my doubts about the reality of the blackmail in the story, but that is a personal thing. Otherwise, neither sleeping with royalty nor being an opera singer is illegal – either in the original or now.

          I disagree, obviously, about her dependence. She didn’t come up with her own plan to use the information – that was Moriarty, and her claim there ties in with the rest of what we saw -, she needed Sherlock to work out what the information meant and she didn’t save herself at the end.

      4. Yeah, harlotously. Actresses and singers were considered lowlifes on a par with whores by the Victorians.

        I don’t know who came up with the plan to use the information – what I do know is that she contacted Moriarty and not the other way around. She obviously had some idea already. And, yes, she needed Sherlock to work out the information, but she had to play a very long game to trick him into doing it. He lost that round. They discovered the flight. Unlocking her phone isn’t a win – it’s just cutting his losses and getting a little revenge.

        The end I’m not going to defend – unless it was a plot by both of them to fake her death, which, frankly, I wouldn’t put past her. But what makes the whole episode fun is this colossal tangle of three geniuses competing to use each other as pawns, and I don’t see why someone who is capable of tricking the great Sherlock Holmes into decoding state secrets would dance like a little puppet for Professor Moriarty.

      5. Alex – are you saying that Sara Bernhardt, to take an example actress from the same era, was considered a lowlife on a par with a whore?

        I think you have been reading to much 18th century history, or possibly Regency romances. 😉

    2. We have a fake Irene Adler, dead. Does she provide the corpse herself, or is that the help she had from Moriarty?

      It’s tempting to see Moriarty and Mycroft as the people who can do such things, while Holmes and Irene have limits.

      We don’t really know everything, we don’t know what else has passed between Holmes and Irene, but it’s possible to see them of mirrors of each other. Maybe brother and sister, rather than lovers.

      I don’t outright like the ending. But the idea of Holmes setting out to fool his own brother makes it more than just a rescue by the man. And it is possible that Holmes has chosen that path rather sooner than we might have thought. And are we seeing deliberate ambiguity, or simple bad writing?.

  29. All this rage about Irene saying she’s gay but she’s attracted to Sherlock…
    Can we please spare a thought for John? If anyone out there cares, he’s not actually gay, but everyone (fandom and canon alike) always jumps to the conclusion of him and Sherlock having a Thing. I think, particularly where Sherlock and attraction is concerned, viewing things from a gender neutral perspective is pretty important.

    1. Those two situations are not comparable, though, since heterosexuality and homosexuality aren’t treated equally, nor are men and women. We live in a society where heterosexism and sexism are facts.

      So, when you make a straight character attracted to a person of their own sex, you have just that: a character whose sexuality is more fluid than they might have thought while straight people have lots of other straight representatives in media to choose from. If you make a homosexual character attracted to a person of the opposite sex, however, you’re repeating the old heterosexist patterns of ignoring, ridiculing or degrading queer characters, whether or not that’s your intention. Since there are so few well-written queer characters out there that matter, every of these occurences weigh heavily and are a slap in the face of queer people longing for representation.

      Same with male characters vs female characters: If you create a weak male character, it’s just that: a weak character. But if you create a weak female character, again you’re repeating sexist patterns unless you establish other female characters to counter this. (And Sherlock has a track record of questionable female roles already, which just adds to how Moffat handles Irene.)

      It’s a lose-lose situation, yes, but pretending that we can just ignore gender issues just doesn’t work.

  30. THANK YOU for this, and for the continuing discussion in the comments. I’ll need to think it through a bit–and possibly write my own response–before I really know how I feel about this characterization, but I’m very glad people are discussing the problematic elements as well as the positive ones.

  31. As a feminist, I find this article frankly embarrassing. There’s so much actual misogyny out there and having articles like this waters down the real cause and pushes feminist discourse into an area of ridicule.

    Such a classic case of looking for evidence to support an argument rather than drawing a conclusion from the evidence available.

    The most embarrassing thing is that I would have probably written an article just like this when I was in my mid-twenties (before I stopped being so short-sighted and stubborn).

    1. Oh, come on. The original story was about ‘… how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a woman’s wit.’ Those are Conan Doyle’s own words, taken straight from the story itself.

      In this version, Holmes is not beaten, and moreover the woman needs to be rescued by him. The central feature of the original story, the aspect that made it uniquely memorable and important to Holmes, is not merely altered but reversed.

      And that’s not problematic?

      1. I think if you go back and watch, Irene certainly did beat Sherlock – and more than once. She may not have right at the end, but certainly she did when she managed to drug him and escape with her phone. And again, when she faked her own death she managed to fool him. And again, when she got the info about the plane from him.

        And if you want to compare the book with the show, you can pretty much stop with the first time she beats him – that’s where the book left off. But the show isn’t the same as the book, and Irene is around for a lot longer now than she was then.

      2. If you cherry-pick changes from the original story, you can make an argument for any point you choose. This is a brand new story that extracts elements from the original.

        These are characters in a story — and most definitely not characters that represent an archetypal women or man. At most you could cite this as a culturally symptomatic example of a patriarchal overtone within popular media by her ‘innate femininity’ being ultimately a weakness. But in and of itself, it has no misogynistic qualities that I can see.

        And as an additional point: is a woman simply adopting typically masculine characteristic (eg. emotionless) really feministic? Wouldn’t it be more empowering for traditionally feminine characteristics to be the factor that allows the party to ‘win’? I don’t think that this programme is promoting Sherlock’s lack of emotion as a positive characteristic. This is exemplified in the Christmas present scene.

      3. This is getting a little silly. Once more: the main point of the original story has been reversed. Addressing that reversal is not ‘cherry-picking changes’.

      4. I disagree that the main point of the original story was reversed. For me, the main point was that there was a character who could outsmart Holmes. And she did on several occasions throughout the episode.

        I saw the ending as being about a role-reversal for Holmes as he gave in to sentiment and emotion over logic.

        This is weird for me as I’m usually fighting the feminist corner, but on this occasion I really disagree that there was anything wrong with this episode.

    2. All this comment does is indicate your own arrogance and ageism.

      How dare anyone hold an opinion that you have now decided that you are above, goodness!

      1. Ageism? Against myself? Now that’s some bizarre criticism.

        This article is arrogant, anachronistic, biased 2nd-wave feminist nonsense. The author has decided that Steven Moffat (whose name they haven’t even bothered to look up how to spell properly) is a misogynist and poorly attempted to find evidence to support this. How is coupling heteronormative and binary obsessed? Because it centred around 3 heterosexual couples? It’s not Judith Butler but that doesn’t make it heterosexist. People are now tweeting “Fuck you, Moffat, you misogynist cunt” on the back of this article.

        Moffat has created many very strong and deep female characters in his work. Not fetishised women, but genuinely strong and female. Just look at the last series of Doctor Who: River Song, Amy Pond, That sinister woman with the eye-patch, that woman with the brain tumour in “The Almost People” to name but a few. Now an innocent man is being demonised. It’s both unjust and a kick in the teeth for feminism.

  32. I agree with every word you say here.
    The funny thing is that Moffat is a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, he is a geek when it comes to the canon. And the one thing he chose NOT to bring to the 21st century was the woman outwitting the great Sherlock Holmes.
    I have reached the conclusion that deep inside he hates her for that (I know the feeling, I don’t like people beating my favourite detective, I want him to will every time.) and he just could not resist the temptation of seeing her DEFEATED. I read something about Irene and Sherlock somehow framing Mycroft and becoming equals, which would be fine? (no it wouldn’t but anyway) except for the other canon part in which even Sherlock Holmes admits that his older brother is even smarter than the consulting detective.
    That’s why I resent Moffat for this portrayal. Not because of the sexism per se, but because I know he sacrificed sticking to a canon he worships in order to convey this message, whatever the message is.
    I had dreamed of seeing an Irene Adler fooling both the consulting detective and the consulting criminal. I feel utterly betrayed and I only have myself to blame for my out-of-reality expectations.

  33. On the bright side Mrs Hudson showed some cunning in addition to suffering fits of the vapours.

    I found the constant use of the portmanteau ‘cameraphone’ far more irritating. Is this because Sherlock has a vast audience of the elderly who are not yet quite up to speed with the notion of ‘phones which take pictures? How very patronising.

  34. I agree with roz that this was not a sexual relationship.

    Yes at the end we saw that Sherlock rescued her, but her whole character is based around the fact she looks after herself by manipulating people particularly men. The question is why did Sherlock rescue her? Adler knew once she lost the phone that she would be dead, so how did she ensure she would still be safe regardless of the outcome?

    The code to the phone is a big part of this. SHER is too easy a code, as most of us who have been forced to select a strong password know it would have been far easier to do a number substitution ie 5H3R or 543R or some variant. By choosing the simplest version, Sherlock solving it revealed a flaw in his character that Adler would be delighted to see. Vanity, the only reference to Adler feeling love of a romantic nature is by Sherlock saying “this reveals your heart”, and only a vanity would assume you are attractive/interesting enough to change a person’s sexual orientation.

    So why did Sherlock save her? Because despite the small insight he got, she is still a puzzle he hasn’t solved and he can never let that go.

    We also saw in this episode Sherlock being kind to Molly when he realised the present was for him and his reaction to Mrs Hudson maltreatment, both showing a more emotional side to his character which tends to be hidden.

    In some ways it is the male characters that have been used more than Adler herself who in many ways revealed very little and survived despite a number of people wanting her dead.

    1. Finally sense!. Irene manipulated Holmes even to the very end, and this doesn’t demonstrates anything but power. yes she used her emotions, and she played him like a violin.

  35. Great opinion!!! I live in the States and haven’t seen the episode yet, but descriptions of what happens in it abound, and I’ve seen far too many people (men and women both) really turned off by how Adler is portrayed.
    From what I’ve seen of the trailers, I’m pretty turned off, too. Dominatrix? Why?? If she’s so super-brilliant, why isn’t she teaching quantum mechanics somewhere? If they wanted to write a female character that would ring Sherlock’s chimes, for god’s sake, make the woman a biochemist. Let them hang around a lab together discussing polypeptides. I’d think that would make him miss her when she wasn’t around.

    BTW, I don’t think Moffat wrote any of Sherlock season one. I think episodes one and three were written by Mark Gatiss. Episode two was someone else, I forget his name, but I think he also wrote the script for “The Reichenbach Fall.”

    I’ve never been much of a Doctor Who fan, but a friend who is lent me the past season on DVD, and in general I find Moffat’s writing WAY too frenetic and baffling (and I’m no slouch in guessing plot details before they happen). Even worse, I don’t find much emotional whoomph between characters in his writing. He needs to slow down, and to THINK about what makes people tick, or he needs to let Gatiss do all the writing.

    When I heard that Moffat had written “Scandal” I got worried. Now after reading a lot of critiques of the episode, I’m even more worried that when I finally see it, I’m going to wing something sharp and heavy right through the screen.

    1. No Moffat wrote the first episode last year.

      Anyways I agree with the comments this episode was largely disappointing because of the portrayal of Irene Adler, a great character in the original canon. I think Moffat wrote himself into a corner by having Sherlock look really pathetic up to the point when it was revealed that he actually had one upped her. In the original story even though Irene beat Sherlock in the end he never was pathetic. Doyle presented a better balance between the characters & in the end Irene was able to gain Holmes respect.

      Of course there was still a bit of sexism in the original story. I believe Irene was described as having the mind of a man. But you would think in the 21st century we would be more progressive not less.

      1. Thanks for straightening me out that Moffat wrote the first ep of season one. Not sure why I thought it was Gatiss! Maybe because “Study in Pink” wasn’t convoluted or too-quickly paced, and its characters had depth. I just wish he’d done the same justice to this script.

  36. I’m a big fan of the Sherlock TV series who has never read any of the original ACD books (so far – I’m going to have to now!). So I watched the Irene Adler episode with no preconceptions about the character or plot at all. My own reaction: loved it, loved Irene, disliked ending. I felt uncomfortable as hell when Sherlock figured out the password, and when I examined my discomfort I realised I didn’t believe it, pure and simple – didn’t believe her password would be so simple, so teenage-girly. Then the whole beheading thing for me was just silly, tacked on. I’m not surprised to hear that these were changes to the book’s original plot. It IS a feminist issue, but also a writerly one. Whatever the rationale behind them, the changes simply weren’t convincing. What a shame.

  37. How about an alternative reading of the ending. Adler does her spiel about how Holmes meant nothing, and Holmes does his ice-man (and it seems pretty obvious that when Adler mentioned Moriarty’s nicknames of Ice-man and Virgin that we were supposed to think of Sherlock as the Virgin and Mycroft as the Ice-man, when in fact it should probably be the other way round) spiel about how we knows Adler is in love with him whereas he actually feels nothing for her. As far as we can tell at this point, Adler has thus been beaten by Holmes – rather than twisting him around her finger, he has tuned the tables and caused her to fall for him while he himself feels nothing.

    However, if Holmes felt nothing for her, then why did he go off to rescue her? Adler has a tremendous intellect, and is always one step ahead of Holmes (at least). How unthinkable is it that to prove he really does have feelings for her, she contrives a situation where he will have to let her die or come to her rescue? A truly unemotional Holmes who does not care for her at all (as we are supposed to believe) would not necessarily go off to Karachi to rescue her. By turning up and doing so, she proves that he does indeed have feelings for her. Her smile at the end could thus be read as either simpering weak woman pleased to have been rescued by her Prince Charming / Knight in Shining Armour, but it could just as easily be read as Adler having proven that despite Holmes’ denials, he is in fact besotted with her and that she does thus have control over him. That is shy she smiles at the end.

  38. I’ve just been scrolling through the comments here and I have come to the realization that a mainstream, popular, international TV show episode has just sparked real conversation and debate about nuanced non-binary sexuality/asexuality/non sexual love/intellectual attraction–at a level where pretty much everyone accepts all these nuances as NORMAL–and whatever you may think of Moffat/Gatiss/Moftiss/Godtiss, I find that to be quite an incredible cultural achievement.

  39. Interesting discussion, thanks everyone. I agree with the original post. Holmes is clever but not infallible. Adler casts a major shadow over the other stories in the reader’s mind. BBC should have done better by her.

  40. The biggest problem, in my view, is that Irene Adler was and remains a token female. If you take the work of a sexist Victorian author and adapt it to a modern day setting without challenging the original sexist assumptions, you still have the work of a sexist author: most of the interesting, diverse, multi-faceted characters are male and the few women of interest still fit into essentially Victorian stereotypes: the femme fatale, the loyal servant, blah blah. Analysing what Moffat does to one character is really missing the point.

    A more pertinent question is why he doesn’t give us a wider range of more interesting women in the series by the simple move of switching some of the important male characters to female without comment and making their gender irrelevant, or relevant in more nuanced and varied ways. Then no single female character would be forced to carry as much significance as Adler has been made to do. More generally, we end up talking endlessly about the minutiae of female characters because there are so bloody few of them to talk about; that is a much bigger problem.

    PS: I’m with those who’ve made the point that just because at one point in the episode she tells Watson she’s gay doesn’t mean she’s telling the truth. After all the other lies she tells, you believe her just at that moment? The reading that the two of them plot together to fake her death is just as plausible as the one that he rescues her; which is to say, neither is very plausible – you’re suddenly worrying about plausibility just at that moment, after all the silliness of the previous hour and a half?

    1. Not quite sure that Adler was a token female. To start with, A Scandal in Bohemia is the first Sherlock Holmes story, which means that Adler was the one person to have outwitted Holmes for quite a while. Holmes was outwitted by Adler and Moriarty and considered Mycroft his intellectual superior. Token woman among three people?

      He was also baffled by the case of The Yellow Face, where the person he sets out to spy on is a woman. There are a lot of women in the series, actually, and I did not find most of them “typical Victorian stereotypes” (no more than the male characters, at least ;).

  41. “Updating Sherlock Holmes is like fitting wheels to a tomato, time consuming and completely unnecessary.” – Dr Johnson (alternate universe Black Adder Dr Johnson)

  42. I settled down in anticipation to see what Moffat would make of The Woman.
    What did we get? Another bloody dominatrix…….
    Need a woman to be the intellectual match for a male genius? That’ll be a dominatrix then.
    This wasn’t hommage to ACD but to CSI.

  43. Not sure I agree with you there. I had the feeling that Irene told about Moriarty to hurt both Sherlock and Mycroft even more and maybe get her upper hand back.

    Plus, on a general note, I don’t get how everyone saw Sherlock saving Irene. When did that happen?

  44. I am a feminist. I have studied feminist theory to postgraduate level. I wrote my thesis for my Masters on the role of women in horror films. Since graduating, I have had a variety of feministic articles published in various national periodicals.

    Despite this, I find there to be a large leap of logic between “Ultimately, Sherlock outsmarts Irene Adler in this version” and “Ultimately, Sherlock outsmarts Irene Adler in this version because she is a woman and he is a man and therefore Steven Moffat is a misogynist”. (despite his writing many strong female characters throughout his other works … and conveniently ignoring the other changes he’s made from the original stories such as Mrs. Hudson being a much stronger character).

  45. I think you’re just taking this way too seriously. Irene will be back, and Irene will always be the brilliant, taunting character she is. This was just one episode, give it a break.

  46. I think you’ve forgotten her involvement with both men AND women. The first part of the show there was mention of her ruining an author’s relationship by having an affair with both husband AND wife. I believe she was indeed lying when she said she was gay, since the facts show she is in fact bisexual.

    I really don’t think the whole “oh-look-a-lesbian-fell-for-Sherlock” theory has any merit.

    I’m female, not some troll or whatever you people think I am. This is why I don’t like feminists despite being a woman myself. You’re reading way too much into things.

    1. She can Dom men without being sexually attracted to them, or without the scene even being sexual at all. And the married novelist wasn’t identified as a man, I don’t think, just a married novelist, and she had an affair with “both parties”. She can still be a lesbian.

  47. Being a hardcore Whovian has taught me this much about Moffat: he’s a sucker for love saving the day. When Irene’s character changed at the end of the episode, I didn’t take it as weakness- nor did I disdain her dependence upon Moriarty (it’s a nice tie-in to the plot of Season 1, after all). Yeah, Mofffat and co. don’t have a lot to work with in terms of three-dimensional female characters (thanks again, Doyle, for imparting your lovely views on us), but I think they’re doing a damn fine job with said material (point in case: MRS. HUDSON).
    To go back to complaints about deviating from canon, remember that the original Adler plot involved ONLY the scandalous pictures, NOT any other information that she had squirreled away. Moffat faithfully followed the canon in that Adler bested Sherlock concerning the photos, and then, rather than leaving us hanging, like Doyle did (and I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for it), Moffat gives us a follow-up that imagines further meetings between the two.
    I loved how he juxtaposed Irene’s extravagant sexuality with Sherlock’s comparative asexuality, as it highlighted the “braininess” of their attraction to each other. I saw nothing “weak” about her tears, or her “SHER” passcode; instead, I was moved by how Moffat understands how meeting someone who ‘gets’ you can change you. Irene’s attachment to Sherlock went beyond her sexuality into something much deeper, and Moffat highlighted that beautifully- particularly in Watson and Irene’s back-and-forth, which is one of the best things I think I’ve seen on television in a long time.
    Though his plot does, in the end, negate the canon (in terms of Irene’s letter), I’m happy to sacrifice it for a story focused on love that’s centered around a brainy connection, which is something I think many a geek can sympathize with.

  48. I find it rather annoying that articles like this still pop up cos they take away the fact that it was a bloody TV show at the end of the day. A TV show that I thoroughly enjoyed. Articles like this always seem patronising to me like as though because I liked the show, I am somehow a moron for not being in uproar afterwards.
    Everyone involved in making this has said that it was the story of ‘Sherlock and love’ and that is how I saw it. And if you think he wasn’t beaten at the end when he still believes that love is an emotion that weakens a person then…
    Also why does no-one take offence to ‘Irene Adler’ always being refered to as ‘the woman’? There is only one that matters? And it can only be that woman who beats Sherlock can it? Right got it. Now, tell me that isn’t insulting…

    It will matter to some people whether this opinion came from a man or a woman and that, I feel, is part of the problem.

    1. Because in the original story she is “the woman.” And yes, to a Victorian author, she is the only one that matters. Yes, it’s sexist. But it’s canon. This is about Moffat’s changes, not the original.

  49. I suppose I should thank many of you in a curious way for giving me the best laugh I’ve had all week skimming over these comments. I’ve often wondered why “the revolution” you lot harp on about so much consistently fails to materialise and the answer can be found by merely glancing at ‘blogs like this one. The current generation of “feminist”/socialist crusaders are clearly so utterly consumed in inane pseudo-intellectual naval gazing and remorseless tedium I’m shocked you managed the non-event spectacular that was “Occupy” St. Paul’s. So self-righteously earnest it doesn’t even requite parody.

  50. Using sex to get the better of men? Conan Doyle’s Sherlock wouldn’t give Moffat’s Irene Adler the time of day as she pretty mcuh confirms every prejudice he has about women!

    1. It is not about sex but power and submission and therefore not entirely feminist at all (for feminism is about equality). Can people stop thinking in gender politics and start thinking about individuals and the underlying themes that actually occur in the show? She is an individual, not a representation of women everywhere. Why is it that all women characters must by strong, thought about in the collection as representing “we” women, while all men characters are automatically given autonomy? Why is it that as soon as a woman enters a show it is suddenly about female power vs male power instead of her individuality vs his? Most of these comments and the original post can’t even recognise their own sexist mindsets that prejudice them against every female representation, and that makes them attack any weakness in the female character which labels the writer as sexist.

  51. I just want to say, regarding Adlers love for Sherlock, even though she says to Watso shes, what if we assume, she is lying? Lets say that at this point she already has a very vague idea as to her feelings for sherlock from her passcode, but she doesnt want it to consume her thoughts so she tries to convince herself shes a lesbian. Or u coulld say that by saying this to watson he might pass on the message and therefore let sherlock know that she wouldnt be interested in him and as such not suspect her of letting sentiment cloud her thinking. These assumptions seem possible since after all Adler is the character who outsmarted sherlock, one of only 4(or 5) in the books, and the only woman – supposedly- to do so. Finally it doesnt really matter if she asks for advice from Moriarty, it almost shows initiative, that she knew to investigate her target and learn how he thinks from the consulting criminal who observed him very closely in series 1. She was still the one who put the plans to action and the one who came up with some of the plans. I dont see how u can make the connection between 1 fictional woman being manipulated by a genius whos mind is “of the first order” and saved by an equally intelligent genius, into women are nothing without men. She is clever and probably portrayed to be smarter than most women, but that doesnt mean she cant be outsmarted by 2 of the possibly smartest people in the world. It just means shes outmatched and lost the “game”. She is still the same genius from the books who outsmarted holmes with a little background information and eventually developed feelings for him, shown by the wrapping paper mirroring her lipstick, pupil dilation and her elevated pulse.

  52. I was under the impression that Sherlock saving her at the last second from the beheading was a fantasy on his part? No? Doesn’t that leave him the more ‘vulnerable?’

    1. Ah finally, someone who agrees with me!!! I can’t see how this wasn’t a fantasy of his, although not many people seem to think so… If he did save her, it just doesn’t add up- why does mycroft think she is dead if she isn’t, ok he says ‘it would take sherlock to out smart me’ when talking about her death but both mycroft and john agree that he was in london at the time of her death, wouldn’t it have been a bit obvious if sherlock had just popped off for a day or too around that time, john seems to spend all his time with sherlock. why did sherlock save her? ok he was in love but he had never acted on this at all (except for maybe one text and not arguing back with her), why chose then, the very moment before her death to save her? if he had been really trying to look after her he would have not let the situation escalate that far. Why did he want her old phone? Surely, if he had saved her and set her up in hiding, he would still have means of contacting her if he really wanted to, so why did he place so much sentiment in the phone? Why did sherlock look so sad when john told him the news? If he had saved her, he could have put on a cool front, pretending not to care and even being amused by their attempts to trick him. Instead he is deadly serious and almost on the verge of break down when he is bitterly reminded of her death. Finally some cinematic points, why was the change over between the scene where he saved her not just normal like in every other scene? There was a slow fade, a moment that looked as if it was through a film camera and then the scene, and then a slow fade out again to black- surely that indicates some kind of fantasy. Also the super hero why in which saved her and was swinging the sword about was a bit too good to be true, even for sherlock 😉 And finally, why was it raining outside so heavily that day? Doesn’t bad weather and rain indicate sorrow and grief at all? Why would he be sad if she was dead? Sorry for rambling on, just so pleased that someone understands this 🙂

  53. Interesting article. I must say that I didn’t read the episode in that way at all — although I’m unfamiliar with the original story so maybe I’d be more angry if I were looking at it as a comparison.

    I saw her character very much as an equal to Holmes. I also didn’t see the very ending as that significant to her character, but rather to Holmes as he gave in to his emotion. She saved his life with the gun in the safe and he saved her life in return. She outsmarted him on several occasions and he outsmarted her in return.

    The ‘gay’ issue is interesting. In my mind there are 3 possible factors to this: 1. If looked at from a Saussurean, perspective, one could argue that due to our heteronormative culture, ‘gay’ could simply mean ‘other’ as a cultural identifier (like Black can mean mixed race). She says ‘gay’ but means ‘not exclusively heterosexual’. 2. She was lying to distract Watson. 3. Her attraction to Holmes is not motivated by a sexual desire but by an excitement to have met someone of equal intellect.

    As far as her being a dominatrix, I can’t really comment as I don’t know the original story well enough. But from my perspective viewing her as a new character, there’s is nothing wrong with doing that as your profession.

    I’m normally first to jump on sexism when I see it. I wonder why I have no problem with this. Maybe the narrative is too open to interpretation or maybe I’m losing my touch.

  54. Totally agree, with the article that is, not with the majority of the comments (here and to this guardian article) that seem to mostly be in the vein of:

    “I enjoyed this programme. I like to think that I am not a sexist. I did not notice sexism in this programme. Therefore this programme is not sexist, and anyone who says it is definitely an over-sensitive feminazi windbag”

    Repeat in slightly different words, ad nauseum

  55. You obviously don’t remember Press Gang. Lynda Day was the most kick-ass female character on TV for years, and was also written by Moffat.

  56. The creators of Sherlock clearly know the original stories inside out. There are lots of punning references to the originals — Geek/Greek and Naval/Navel for example. And take the baby name instance: Hamish. Now, although he’s Dr John H Watson, the ‘H’ is never identified in the original — where he is occasionally Dr James Watson. Hamish is suggested outside the canon as the explanation for this dichotomy.

    And although we are used to thinking of Sherlock as an über-rational thinking machine, we also know that he was beaten several times — once by a woman — not just any woman, but The Woman.

    Here, we are shown that he’s not flawless — think of the episode in A Study in Pink where he’s reading John’s phone, and get’s it right except for the last detail. He’s shown almost as an idiot savant, autistic and lacking any social graces; but he does apologise to Mollie after his gaffe about her Christmas present, and he does comfort Mrs Hudson in a way that seems genuine.

    The ending to Belgravia is controversial, and is seen through feminist eyes as evidence of female weakness having to be rescued by a man. Well, I think this is just another Procrustian error.

    Why was Sherlock in Karachi? We know that Irene’s execution has been planned by Mycroft who thinks that only someone like Sherlock could scupper his plot. So is Sherlock there just to get one over on his brother, or is there something more?

    The initial attraction between Irene and Sherlock is cerebral — at least on Irene’s part, a mutual respect for their intelligence and the ability to deduce each others’ thoughts. How does Sherlock know where the phone is in her house? She, indirectly tells him; and how does he know the safe is booby-trapped? Again she tells him, wordlessly.

    Sherlock identifies “Irene” in the morgue (it would be a mortuary in England, but let it pass), yet he has had a very close inspection of her body; surely he would see that it isn’t the real her? He may not have been able to read her at their initial meeting — he only got ????? when he tried. But he would have remembered her body details.

    Irene beats Sherlock when she dopes him to get her phone back, and again when she gets him to decipher the plane “code”. And you would have to know of her attraction to Sherlock to realise the code for her phone; it’s not anyway otherwise obvious.

    I don’t think that Irene is being manipulated by Jim; rather she has gone to him for background detail about the two brothers. Wouldn’t any sensible person do that? That’s not weakness, it’s strength, knowing your own weakness — your lack of information.

    Mycroft is gay, or so Sherlock and John think at Buck House; and in the previous series Sherlock identified Jim as gay. So is Irene gay? You can’t really believe what she says, and Mycroft indicates that she slept with a man and his wife. What’s Sherlock’s sexuality? Initially, he appears asexual, uninterested and disinterested.

    I think we’re supposed to see a progression from cerebral attraction to something sexual between Irene and Sherlock. Irene knows what sexual is, though despite her protests, her tachycardia and pupil dilatation betray her. Sherlock doesn’t know what sexual is, which is why he can’t read her, and yet he feels some attraction to her other than the cerebral. Remember, he’s flawed, not the icy logician he thinks he is.

    So, at the end, Irene texts “Goodbye Mr Holmes” when she thinks she’s going to die because she recognises her true feelings; and Sherlock is there, not just to outwit Mycroft, but because he recognises something beyond logic, even if he doesn’t know what it is.

    1. OK, I’ve just reviewed Belgravia. Sherlock did seem to think that it was Irene in the mortuary, sorry morgue. Strange that he could have been fooled by a body double. So she beat him three times. Sorry for that, mea culpa.

  57. Good reading of the film. I must say I wasn’t bothered by the Moriarty issue — it didn’t read to me so much as him turning out to be pulling her strings, as just that he was yet again the “consulting criminal” being called on by another criminal. But the ending where Holmes goes all Navy Seal/James Bond to rescue her as a damsel in distress… not good. But today, every writer is always thinking of sequels and future installments and never wants to just let a character go, always wanting to leave the door open for her to return, etc., blah blah… In this instance, it made for a crap ending to an otherwise brilliantly written episode.

  58. You’ve made a very interesting analysis of this episode and I agree with a lot of what you said.

    I keep thinking of the fact that although Sherlock beat the crap out of the agent who roughed up Mrs. Hudson he saved the woman who works with the man who strapped a bomb to his only friend. I’m not saying Irene deserved to die; but she is deeply involved in an intellegence failure and at the very least an accessory to a murder. Yes, Sherlock Holmes has been known to let a murderer go from time to time but usually because it would not serve justice to turn them in. We can only assume that the loss of intelligence because the terrorists are now wise that their code has been broken will cost some innocents their lives. Is Sherlock’s desire to get one over on his brother so important to him that he would be ok with that? I didn’t see a lot of remorse in him in discovering how he got played. The only thing that separates this Sherlock Holmes from being a Moriarty is that he is NOT the ‘high-functioning sociopath’ he claims to be. So why is he starting to act like one? Sloppy writing, Mr. Moffat.

    I know Moffat/Gatiss cherry-pick things from the Sherlock Holmes canon and as a Sherlockian it’s a delight to see those things so well done. But I think he missed the point of the original story: Sherlock Holmes has a massive ego and is forced to face his own hubris by being defeated by a person he underestimated simply because she is a woman. It is a humbling episode for him but he does take it in good humor and ultimately respect for Adler, much like the mutual respect of equally-matched adversaries. Moffat has stated that they want to show Sherlock grow and develop more humanity over time, mainly because of the influence of John. He really missed an opportunity here to give us that character development by not letting Irene Adler hand Sherlock his arse on a plate with an unqualified win. It would do this Sherlock some good, frankly, because he is starting to act more and more like House. Telling a little girl that her grandfather was taken to a room and burned? C’mon, Sherlock is not so thick that he doesn’t know how unacceptable that is. Sure, it’s funny but it’s a cheap shot at at this character’s expense.

    I really do hope that Moffat is playing a long game with us and that a lot of what we saw will turn out ultimately to be entirely different. That the whole the was planned, like another comment said above. We can only hope.

  59. Personally, having not read the original, I didn’t like that she was a dominatrix. That made me think of some poor, damaged women who only had her body to get her by. No one thinks of a clever adult film star. Irene Adler as crooked opera singer would have been way more interesting.

  60. I honestly think we might be reading too much into the situation precisely because the character is female. Sherlock himself has needed rescuing and no one would have thought he was less a man, or less brilliant because of that. He’s such an inept when it comes to social situations, and we still think this is just part of the character. No one is pointing fingers at the writers because of that. Yes, it’s a female character, with the same complexities and the same tendencies to fail and getting such a girlie code, and from someone like that, would have also made it difficult to crack. On the other hand, being related to the theater, as the original Adler was in ACD’s book, was no different from being a prostitute back in the day, so making her a dominatrix quite accomplishes the same thing for this day and age. If such a woman, who uses her sex appeal as a weapon, were trapped by fundamentalists, I believe she would be in a tight spot. Sadly, there are countries were women are arrested and worse when they are about in public without male company so for me, having Sherlock go to the rescue is a good solution, just as having Watson—without making him any less a doctor—so expertly shoot a man to save his friend.
    There are a few characters that started out as male (such as agent Salt in the Angelina Jolie movie and some others) but I bet it would be difficult for us to point out which ones, precisely because we expect male writers to mess female characters up. If the character has a flaw, my God, it’s because they don’t respect women. Not being perfect makes a character believable. Besides that, it’s mostly our society that forces most people to identify as either gay or straight when the truth is far more complicated.
    (Who knows, maybe her full name is Irene Gay Adler). The episode has been great and the discussion about it as well.

  61. I’m having problems understanding why this is such an issue. If the character of Irene Adler was a man, and had been outsmarted in the same way (maybe he’s gay and he too ink Sherlock just a bit lush), no one would have anything to say about it. Because we’re talking about Sherlock Holmes.

    Him outwitting her in the end, is somehow sexist? She calling for advice from a man is sexist? I think that for females to be treated as equally as everyone would like in television, people have to stop hoping that women will always be the best and the brightest characters on tv. There are a lot of smart, savvy women on television (wouldn’t everyone just love to see a showdown between Holmes and Dr. Brennan?)

    In my opinion, Sherlock saving her was nothing more than an indication of his respect for her. She did beat him, in every sense of the word: she outsmarted him, she manipulated him and she ended up being successful regarding the terrorists. Just because she had advice from a man that makes her weak? Think to Bonnie and Clyde or other such couples. No one ever accused Bonnie of being anti-feminist just because a body with a penis happened to be helping her out.

    1. It’s an issue because the story has been changed from one in which she outwits him in the end, to one in which he outwits her in the end AND has to rescue her. Yes, we’re talking about Sherlock Holmes, but in the original story, even Sherlock Holmes can be beaten by a clever woman.

      That was the WHOLE POINT of the original story.

  62. I do not accept for one moment some of the attacks on Moffat’s record, he isn’t perfect by any means but his female characters in the empty child, the girl in the fireplace etc are varied and hardly among the worst offenders on TV, quite the opposite in many cases. I was disappointed by the christmas episode which was really poorly written by his standards, but I’d hardly go further than poorly written.

    It’s worth noting that, quite apart from the fact adler consistently shows or exhibits attraction to both sexes (and is quite pragmatic in her approach to honesty) she says she’s gay after inviting watson to the power complex, seemingly knowing sherlock has followed them, and tells him she’s gay directly inbetween sending the text, and hearing the text received sound, at which point she simply smiles. Given she ‘gave’ him her measurements– the key to the safe, as sherlock himself later remarks, here she is simply getting a little too cocky, having repeatedly defeated and manipulated holmes. She does the same thing twice, puts something deeply personal, and which she has given the necessary clues to in plain sight, into a password.

    In this sense, she quite likely told watson she was gay because she knew sherlock was listening, and was throwing him off track. He saw through it because of her physiological responses– which are very hard to fake, though, not always impossible (a collection of specific physical signs taken together would be extremely indicative). He didn’t take what she said for granted.

    She sought out information from moriarity– this is not the same as giving him all the credit and saying she couldn’t have done it without a man. She sought out information from someone who knew her prey better, this is called preparation, lots of smart people do it. It isn’t a sign of weakness.

    Finally, she utterly demolished holmes, finally walking past him, ignoring him, saying she wanted to talk to the adult. Mycroft treats holmes similarly, almost with pity. He was left silently staring into space until he finally worked out her one weakness, her hubris in placing the password, yet again, within his reach. As he says, she could have chosen something truly random and escaped, but she had to taunt him. And she nearly won, again.

    The final scene was not intended, I think, as an indication of her weakness– certainly no more so than the preceding scenes were an indication of his– it was an indication that he has hidden emotional complexity, and is not merely a sociopath. This is reflected in mycroft’s statements to watson, which also imply, somewhat, though this is reading into it I admit, that he may have suspected holmes had intervened and saved adler, and that he was avoiding telling sherlock directly for precisely this reason, and that his musings on his brother’s feelings are in part drawn, not from his coldly leaving adler to her fate, but from the fact he strongly suspects sherlock did indeed save her.

    It would, I think, be over-reaching to suggest sherlock “turned her straight”, or that she became a damsel in distress suddenly. These scenes served other purposes. It is in fact needlessly insulting to suggest that that is all that’s happening.

  63. 90% of the episode was awesome. But some of it was simply unwatchable. Not because of feminism… the word is, sadly, “vanilla”.
    I have no problem with nudity -she showed nothing to us, and Sherlock about did the same-. The Moriarty contact is no problem either, it’s just a tool to connect the story to the opening scene -and after all, she didn’t obey Moriarty, she just used him to get more fun with her information-. But why reduce both layers of the original character (opera singer / artist and “whore”) to plain whore? Did SM believe our brains wouldn’t be abble to process a richer character? (or that men can’t expect anything else on a female character?) That should annoy even men: all of us deserve more respect as viewers.
    And Sherlock saving her with a sword … that’s someone else, not Irene Adler, and it’s not even interesting: women are saved on every single show. That’s vanilla. The refreshing difference is the opposite, the woman winning on her own: even Conan Doyle realized that, one century ago.
    She’ll better save him at Reichenbach to equal the counter, otherwise I’ll find the show rather disappointing. Vanilla is okay as a side dressing, but not at the main place of the main courses.

  64. Stopped caring about whatever you have to say when I read;

    ,,The feminism-fail is hardly surprising when the series is written by Stephen Moffat, whose previous works include heteronormative, binary-obsessed Coupling and episodes of Doctor Who which include womb-magic resurrecting the dead and saving some trees ”


    *$* Here’s an internet buck, go buy yourself some class.

    1. It was that bit that most turned me off this article. I’m a feminist and also a follower of Moffat’s work. This article comes across as biased against him rather than objective. Moffat has produced many strong female and gay characters throughout his career but it’s like the author of this article went “Right, Steven Moffat is a homophobic misogynist … now what evidence can I find that supports this theory?”. But having read some of her other articles it seems that she tries to provoke people rather than win them over. She clearly cares a lot more about her intellectual ego than making the world a better place. Sad.

  65. Elevated pulse, dilated pupils,… are signs of excitement, body’s excitement. It is heavily, if not 100%, implied that she’s attracted sexually to Holmes. If Moffat intends to write her as a bi which is quite obvious at this point, it will be wiser that he shows some records later to back it up. Her having sex and playing dominatrix to men in the past could be seen as power play. It’s all about control. Funny, though, how she identified herself and was identified as a lesbian by others but in the end, went bi/ straight for Mr. Brilliant Sherlock Holmes. Using his name as the password for the most precious thing to her in the whole world, Ms. Irene Adler turned herself into a giggling teenager. “I won’t even last six months”, she said. How laughable.

  66. I’m sorry I don’t agree with you at all on this. Irene Adler well and truly did trick Sherlock at the beginning of the story and her equal intelligence to Sherlock was present throughout. I don’t think the ending in anyway put her down or took this away from her. Moriarty is the ‘super-villain’ of the story and working with him is always going to put you underneath him, he is the ultimate of villains, so therefore its not any knock to Irene’s character at all to be working with him. Also, since when does Moriarty give ‘help’ to people? Its more likely that he attempted to use Irene as a way of getting at Sherlock, which is again no knock to her character. The fact that she had fallen in love with Sherlock is also in no way sexist! Can strong intelligent women not fall in love? And its not like it was only Irene falling for love, Sherlock himself fell in love too, which allowed her to manipulate and trick him quite a lot throughout the episode. Sherlock ‘turning’ her from gay to straight also has nothing to do with sexism, and who’s to say she even was defiantly 100% gay int he first place?
    I believe the hero-like ending you described was completely false. Sherlock did not actually save Irene and was merely having a childish fantasy about playing the hero, and therefore she ACTUALLY DID DIE at the hands of the gang. Again this highlights Sherlock’s weaknesses if anything, as it displays his short comings in not being merciful towards her and handing the photos over leaving her with no protection, continuing to love her despite her criminal behavior (so not being objective), allowing her to die even though he didn’t want her too and dreaming of being the ‘hero’ in the situation to stem his own grief.
    Therefore, I don’t think that the episode was sexist in anyway as it showed Irene, an extremely similar person to Sherlock, who had unfortunately chosen the wrong side of the law, as the ultimate equal to him.

  67. I’ve read loads of defence for Moffat’s retelling of the Holmes classic but seriously she was humbled, discredited and no longer an equal by the end of the episode. They even had to go as far as use the hijab to complete the picture of subservience and humiliation. They couldn’t stomach her being Sherlock’s equal but to make it clear had her on her knees in a hijab crying. Why else use the hijab??? Something associated with oppression and misogyny??? I wear a hijab it’s my garment of choice. Believe it or not there are perfectly empowered, dignified, feminist hijabis out there. Not impressed with the sexist damsel in distress ending. Even less impressed with the culturally ignorant usage of the hijab.

  68. I disagree with all of what you say, for reasons some have put better than I could.
    But I’d like to tackle the ending (with the terrorists), because I saw it as a scene which showed how strong she was.
    First, it showed what she had accomplished – This wasn’t some minor plays she was playing – and for the most part winning – with royalty and terrorist. And she did this mainly by herself. She finally got caught, but that’s part of the game, and a game she played so well that so many people wanted her dead.
    Then Sherlock rescued her, but it wasn’t a damsel in distress rescue. First she had earned Sherlock’s respect that he was willing to go completely out of his way to help, compare that to the beginning where he refused to leave his flat because the mystery wasn’t worth the effort.
    And although we didn’t see the complete fight it can be assumed that Sherlock didn’t kill all the bad guys while she just laid there – He let her know he was there a signal and the fought together – as equals.

  69. I think you missed the begining – she saved Sherlock’s life and it’s him, who owed her a favour… She promissed Moriarty something and she gave it to him at the end – the information about the flight for Sherlock’s and John’s life. She wasn’t a real criminal. Sherlock finded how it all was when she mentioned Moriarty’s name in Mycroft’s office. That’s why he finaly knew she loves him… No?

  70. I think you’re reading far too much in to the sex of Adler and Holmes. It has been some time since I saw or read anything where the focal character loses. They may die, rarely, but it is always a win even in death. There is a formula that works with the Jersey Shore generation and to depart from it is to lose money. BBC is less guilty of this than American TV, but they still follow pretty much the same outline.

  71. I read your text, but not the 164 comments.

    I have to say that you did a great critic to the implicit sexism in the show.

    Irene Adler is a great character because of her independence. Connecting her with Moriarty and making her fall in love for Holmes just narrowed down the choices that the writers will have for the character in the following seasons.

  72. Agreed, I felt much more ‘Irened’ for most of the chapter. But the script had to bless our hero, at the end… he is still god even if he falls head over heals for ‘the’ woman. See you in their next encounter. Swishhhh

  73. I don’t think that Moff was saying that Adler had fallen head over heals for Sherlock, but yes, she was attracted to him. He seems fairly indiffrent to her throughout most of the story, until the final scene when he puts the phone in his desk. That is the only indication that she ever got to him. And what is so wrong with a (possibly) gay man and gay woman wanting one another? We like to put sexuality in boxes. Why? I am 32 and I still have no idea what my sexuality is. I like men, women and anything inbetween. I can think like a straight man, a straight woman, a gay man, a gay woman, a bi, tri, poly, or A. But why does that matter? I am so glad that Moffett explores this, because NO-ONE else does. In Dr.Who his creation of Capt Jack and later capt John was great. Sadly Jack seems to have been boxed in as gay now.

  74. To be quite honest, I don’t find Moffat’s writing to be half as clever as he obviously thinks it is. His characters always come across as impossibly smug, and two dimensional. His only saving grace on Doctor Who is that his stories are marginally better than RTDs, and not quite so dripping with “subtle as a sledgehammer” gay propaganda.
    I weep for the generation on only know the “new” Doctor Who series, and not the original.

  75. Just want to point out that The Woman actually says “I don’t think so, do you?” shortly after finding out that Sherlock has been listening to their( hers and John’s) conversation regarding their sexuality.

    John Watson: Who the hell knows about Sherlock Holmes, but… for the record, if anyone out there still cares — I’m not actually gay.
    Irene Adler: Well, I am. Look at us both.
    *Sherlock’s Message tone*
    Irene Adler: I don’t think so, do you?

    1. Actually, this is one part I didn’t get. The “I don’t think so, do you?” — what did it mean? What did she not think?

      1. The way I understood that was it meant that the Woman didn’t think she was gay (anymore?). I don’t know. But I am convinced that she was never really gay. She was probably bisexual.

        1. Is that really so? That would be a very incorrect comment to make…hey, I’ve met this great man, and now I’m not gay any more! Could there be any alternative explanation? Anyone?

          1. Let me clarify that. She could’ve just been saying that she’s gay to Watson. Or. We could go with that idea about how it’s possible that her perception about her sexuality changed because she met Sherlock. it could just mean that she’s Sherlock-sexual and not now homosexual-turned-heterosexual. I don’t know.

      2. I haven’t watched it in a couple of weeks, but if I remember correctly I thought “I don’t think so… do you?” was an unrelated comment referring to the fact that somebody was hiding and listening to them. IE: “I don’t think that was Sherlock spying on us… do you?”

        I also don’t think that she’s saying that Sherlock permanently turned altered her or Watson’s sexual orientation, but that he’s so great they both might make an exception.

    2. She’s scaring Watson is with the prospect of Sherlock’s arse. It says from the start that she’s had relationships with men and women, but at the time she’s in a relationship with a woman.

      Her partner’s sort of set up as a Watson equivalent, but she’s also sort of an assistant, and also seems to be her sub. Watson likes to pretend he’s friends with Sherlock on equal terms.

      The exchange of “I’m not gay – I am” is just her being mean to Watson. He says “I’m exclusively attracted to women – so I can’t fancy Sherlock”, so she replies “so am I and I still do, oh by the way you’re also his sub-bitch-butler-assistant”.

      The Woman’s main super-power is scaring people with their own sexuality and Watson’s an even easier target than Holmes. .

  76. I have to agree with Jennifer (near the top). You’re making a big thing out of nothing. The only reason that you’re seeing sexism is because you’re looking for it. “One explanation of some of the facts.” Although I do agree that the original Adler is far better than the new one. But you’re blowing it way out of proportion. Jennifer’s point is valid. Its not that a woman needs help because she is a woman, its that she isn’t the main character (regardless of gender) and thus needs to be saved by the main character. We wouldn’t be having this problem if along with the modernization, they made Sherlock female. Sherly saves Irving Adler because he is a weak male? No. it would again be because Irving was not the main character. “Only explanation of all of the facts.” Occam’s Razor, the answer with the fewest assumptions is the strongest. “When you hear hoof-beats, think horses, not zebras” or the more apt quote “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.”

  77. Dear Angry Woman,
    I am a big fan of your writing, in general. I agree with you that it was cruel to the character to let Irene be slaughtered the way she was.
    However, there’s one problem you don’t seem to be considering at all: that Irene was blackmailing the nation and helping terrorist cells. She was a threat to the security of the nation, and that is why she could not be allowed to win. She admitted that her demands would be burning a hole in the wealth of the nation, and you still want her to win? Just because she’s a woman? Are we womankind really so weak that we must be shown to be grabbing every victory, even immoral ones, to make us feel that bit powerful? I think not. We’re better than that.

    Irene is a sexy character. Don’t be blown away by her sexiness. She was also on the wrong side and it is never desirable that the wrong side should win.

    As for help for Moriarty, she only took his advice regarding how the information could be used, because he was a consulting criminal. She did everything else on her own, it is mentioned NOWHERE that she was acting as a pawn. In fact, she saved Sherlock’s life as much as he did hers; hers was the phone call that delivered them from the pool.

    Also, the last part where Sherlock saves her and stands at the window thinking about her, it’s there simply to show that Sherlock reciprocates the “chemical defect” she had, he respects her as much, she is not just another ball of sentiments that means nothing to him. She had made Sherlock deviate from his track of romance as much as he had made her deviate.

    Remember where Adler and John meet? John: If anyone out there still cares, I’m not actually gay. Irene: Well, I am. And look at us both.

    I really think the point there was that human sexuality is not clearly defined and rigid all the time (100% gay/100% straight, these concepts are flawed), it is a much more fluid concept. I thought it was queer-friendly, in fact it sought to erase the very notion of “queerness” in sexual orientation. Nothing is queer, and love is individual-specific. I’ve been attracted to women a couple of times in spite of being straight, and I really think that’s the fluidity they were referring to.

    Thank you, in case you came this far.

    1. Can you please realise that she, helping/being a terrorist is an idea from the screen writer, the same way all of the rest that was been commented? So someone speaking about she didn’t win has nothing to do with “desperately wanting every female character on screen to win, no matter the situation” and “blatantly ruining the original story and succumbing to the general sucky portrayal of women in the popculture”?

      Yes, being just a story… it’s just boring, because of the mentioned reasons above.
      But being seen in the context of pop culture and it’s attitudes towards women, this story just turns for some reason into the perfect example of how much women are treated exactly the same time, with the exact same reasons every frigging time…
      See, I do want to believe… that people create original stuff and every story is for itself and does not have anything to do with stereotypes or personal issues… However, me wanting to believe that and that being true are two very, very different things and unfortunately, that’s not the case.
      Because either there is the biggest coincidence how women are always treated the same or… there is a reason and background to it. 😉

      1. Sorry, I don’t see women being treated that way every time in Sherlock. At least, not any more than the men are. If the character of John Watson happened to be a woman, you would treat that as a feminist issue too, wouldn’t you? It’s shameful how he is treated.

        I think the reason is not “blatantly ruining the original story and succumbing to the general sucky portrayal of women in the popculture,” it is “blatantly ruining the original story and succumbing to the general sucky over-glorifcation of Sherlock Holmes.

        Sherlock is over-glorified, and abysmally so. Not Men, no.

        1. Well, because Watson hasn’t been a woman, every possible interpretations is purely fictional. If he was a woman, we would have discussed how the change is handled. But because we are talking about an actual change – that of Adler, I do believe the discussion could be contained without any possible imaginary other changes. Because we can only speculate what could have been or could have not been until next week, no?

          I find Sherlock Holmes amusing and entertaining. The character himself got the man-child treatment as well. Which is extra crappy. Having a smart and intelligent character? Well, colour me interested, because I am bored to death by characters with the intelligence of a garden variety rock. But there are very different ways the story and the characters can be handled. We are not talking about is Holmes over-glorified or not. We are talking how characters and particularly a female character is handled, because it is something that for the people here, it obviously important. I suggest to keep the discussion in the borders of the actual, how about that?

      2. Precisely what I was suggesting. You may discuss how a certain character is treated and how you do not approve of the treatment, but she is not treated that way because she is a woman, that is quite clear. Every character, irrespective of gender, is manhandled in a similar ways. That is why the argument of feminism is irrelevant here, or at least in order to make it relevant, you need to cite more specific arguments than “look how they made this character beg instead of making Sherlock beg.”

        1. Sorry, what? You completely lost me. Either my English skills are abandoning me or I am missing something.
          First, what do you mean with the term “manhandling”? Second, how did you jump to the conclusion that all characters are manhandled (do you mean that in negative way, a positive way, completely neutral way…???
          Third, how does the fact that, according to you, all characters are “manhandled” devalues any feminist analysis? Forth, how did you reach to the conclusion that all characters are treated the same way? Fifth, just… what the fuck are you talking about?

          1. I understand that I lost you. A short stint with the dictionary and a re-reading of my comments should answer most of your questions, if you are indeed eager to have them answered.
            The only question I found relevant was, “How does the fact that all the characters are manhandled devalue (no “s” there, please look up Wren and Martin in case I’m wrong) any feminist analysis?” It does not devalue feminist analysis, of course, which is why I’m glad the author took up this topic and gave me the space to disagree respectfully. I’m simply saying that since the concept of feminism is rooted in UNEQUAL treatment of men and women, you would be standing on shaky ground if you bring up feminism in an area where men and women are treated in an equally derogatory way. All the characters are dominated by Sherlock here, irrespective of their sex.
            The only manifestation of sexism I have been able to see so far is the last scene where Irene is rescued by Sherlock. She had fought her battle bravely, and she should have lost it with dignity. Keeping her alive that way was inglorious.
            As a last word, resorting to swearwords when running out of arguments is probably the least classy debating technique in the world. I believe you’re better than that, since you took the trouble to read till the last comment on the thread. We can either sort this out like graceful, dignified women, or leave it unsorted, but I don’t see why you’d want your last word to be that desperate.

            There now, go on and have your last word. Hope it’s classier than the last one. 🙂

  78. And yes, Sherlock IS shown as the “uber-dude.” But he’s nearly superhuman in every other episode too. The character of Sherlock has been that way right from the time of Doyle. I don’t think that was new here.

  79. TL;DR- The show centers on Sherlock.This episode attacked Sherlock’s claim of being unemotional by using someone who embraced emotions to rival him.Both characters are doing power plays/facades.The ending shows his character growth.
    The show focuses on Sherlock, hence the title. Therefore, all other characters have to reveal some side of Sherlock through their interactions with him.

    Sherlock is portrayed as unemotional, unsocial, and innocent ( in this episode, he wears a white robe.This has several meanings-innocent, philosopher, and hiding his true skin.) To him, this is the source and/or protection of his mental abilities.But, this is a facade to hide his true desire/weakness- to be adventurous.( His desire to be a pirate, his seeking adrenaline.) Irene is his foil and rival.

    Irene is his opposite rival. She embraces her sexuality ( dominatrix, being nude, etc.) She embraces emotion successfully.She’s more social. She also as enough intellect to play the game successfully. This maddens Sherlock.

    She has something Sherlock doesn’t have-she can be both intellectual and emotional.Hence, at the end, Sherlock relishes telling her emotion is a weakness. But this is hypocritical since she hurt him first emotionally unlike anyone else had done before.She had played him when he thought no one could play him, especially emotionally.

    She also was playing a facade. While Sherlock disguised himself as someone with no emotion, she disguised herself as someone in control of her emotions- as someone emotionally, mentally, sexually mature. But her password at the end reveals that at the end, unlike Sherlock who displayed his innocence, she hid her inner childish innocence.

    The episode also showed how Sherlock has becoming more accepting of emotions, allowing him to be more caring and yet more deadly. For example, he showed a lot of emotion saving Mrs.Hudson. The way he tenderly cared for her, and how his anger made his mind into a lethal killing machine. This scene foreshadowed the ending.

    By saving her, Sherlock had to admit he had feelings, that she had stolen his most prized possession-his heart. She had unmasked and played him.
    Though the plot points in the original and this work differ, in both works, an intelligent, classy, “adventurous” woman rivaled and humbled Sherlock.

  80. Firstly, she was too clever for sherlock, but likewise he was too clever for her. Both succeeded in tricking the other into loving them. Irene adler is a dominatrix, she isn’t supposed to fall in love with someone, she is supposed to control any and all sexual situations, as per her job title. Sherlock isn’t supposed to feel because feeling is normal and he strives so hard to be anything but normal; other people feel, and he uses the knowledge of how they feel to manipulate them without feeling anything himself, it’s who he is, and who he has been portrayed as since the beginning of the series. Both of them overcame the defenses of the other, and succeeded in outwitting them, thus irene adler is still the first person to outwit the great sherlock holmes, but it came at the price of having been another in a long line of people to succumb to sherlock’s genius.

    next, i’m surprised it has taken this long before anyone will have mentioned what i’m about to mention, especially because so many clearly intelligent people have commented here, but i’m pretty sure irene adler is dead. yes, they showed sherlock saving her, but really? he disappeared to a different continent, snuck into a terrorist organization, killed at least one person and saved her, and no one noticed? What i feel is a far more likely scenario is she was killed, and he loved her. he loved her so much that he stole a memento from the british government that represented her life, the phone was her, and he kept it, so she would always be with him. he loved her so much that he imagined a scenario in which he had been capable of saving her, but he failed, and in failing he felt something, something that hurt not because of the failure, which is a feeling he is familiar with (we know he has unsolved cases, so failure isn’t entirely new to him, he hates failing because it is normal, but he has experienced that feeling before), but because of the knowledge that he will never see her again, and that is an entirely new feeling for him, so he is going to instead cling to the sliver of a chance that she is still alive, even though he knows, deep down, that she isn’t. Irene adler is dead.

  81. Cannot actually believe what I’m reading here. *face palm. Right. First of all, I believe this portrayal of Irene Adler was liberating, feminist, and brilliant. FIRSTLY, she outwits him, by appearing naked, as she knows that he picks up things from clothing, and he won’t be able to deduce much from her without it. Round one goes to Adler. Secondly, she stabs him with something to knock him out which she had casually hidden in her room. She got him in a position where she could do that, got John out of the room, and that was it! She got her phone back! She fought AGAINST THE MAN for it. Then she just casually pushed herself out of a window. Woow round two to Irene. Not to mention the thing with the phone text :L tbh for part of it I think she wanted to make Sherlock fall for her, to prove a point, but besides that. She managed to fake her death once, by herself, trick Sherlock into decoding the plane message for her, making it possible to alert terrorists the british government knows what’s garn on!! I don’t know how many rounds she’s won now. As for moriarty, his threat had to remain all the way through the season. Sure, he gave her a direction in which to go. But she got all those documents, information, pictures, by herself. And remember, she had a hell of a lot more info than in the original. She gained that all by herself. Amazing. Yeah she fell for Sherlock. So? As Moffat says, they are each other, in different genders. They fascinate each other. Also, she was clever in a sense, making the password SHER locked. He doesn’t do sentiment. Had he not have checked her pulse he would never have guessed(I admit, she slipped there. A bit cocky in her confidence of her own abilities of seduction pherhaps?) m And what your all missing, by the ending? HE FELL FOR HER. Admiration, love whatever. She was the woman who beat him, even more so by the end. Because he made him totally aware of the power of attraction and love. She did that to him. So congrats to the amazing Sherlock team, I wish I was as awesome as Irene Adler, BOOM.

    1. 1) in the same scene when she appears naked, we see Sherlock deducing things from John’s FACE. Later in the same episode, he rambles about Molly’s make-up. Irene was wearing a LOT of make-up. Sorry, he was rendered unable to make deductions because she was naked. She knew this would throw him out of his element because Moriarty had told her so. Nothing special there.
      2) She didn’t FIGHT AGAINST anybody. She drugged a man and BEAT HIM while he was on the floor, when she could have just waited one second to take it herself. That’s not smart, that’s downright MEAN. Or desperate (I don’t know which I like less)
      3) The thing from the phone is the lamest thing that television has ever seen. It was proposed as a joke on Tumblr while the episode was aired. Nice for a silly romantic comedy, hardly up to the standars Series One had established. But that’s up to each person’s taste.
      4) The fooling Sherlock into deducing the information for her has a HUGE PLOT HOLE, which is why was Sherlock able to know the keys she pressed the first time, but not the second when she entered the real ones. Trust me, I’m not the sort of person who finds plot holes, but that was so horribly obvious even I cringed at it the first time I saw the episode. That leaves us with WHEN she changed the password to “SHER”.
      5) Irene Adler has no sense of moral. She is very far from being a female version of Sherlock. Sherlock says it himself in the third episode (SORRY SPOILERS HERE), that he is on the side of the angels, even if he’s not one. Being GOOD does not come naturally to him, he chooses that side. Irene Adler sells information to terrorists. Exactly how does that make her equal to Sherlock?
      6) Sherlock speaking of LOVE, CARING and SEX (the dilated pupils, etc) like they are the same thing is the proof that there is no differentiation from sexual, romantic or platonic attraction here. It all boils down to SEX, which for Irene is “have you begging for mercy”. Nice. So her considering herself GAY and falling for a man is rather offensive. It’s like saying “Smart (gay) woman falls for man because, well… that’s what a smart woman does.”. It’s just… NO. Gay means attacted to the same gender. I think it’s pretty clear she was not “intellectually” attracted to him, right?
      7) The only beating she does is literal, and establishes her as a horrible person. Hardly what I want to see of a woman who is supposed to be smart.
      8) The fact that Sherlock is attracted to her (I refuse to call that LOVE, really, it’s just wrong) is the last straw that makes this episode a sort of (really bad) Alternat Universe in BBC Sherlock…. The last minutes of the episode made some people laugh, some others think that it was something Sherlock imagined (it was not, the writer made it clear that it actually happened) and made me so awfully disappointed in the show that I fear that (SPOILERS FOR S02xE03 HERE) the explanation to Sherlock being alive will require a lot of LOVE for the show to believe.
      Finally, if you want a liberating, feminist and brilliant woman, I keep suggesting people should meet Lady Heather from CSI. She appeared in a couple of episodes (of which I saw only two, I admit). In YouTube you can find the last scene of the first of those episodes. Now THAT is a brilliant woman. If you want a feminist portrayal of a woman (if by feminist you mean not submissive), you do NOT make her a dominatrix and Lady Heather explains WHY in some other scene (they are all in YouTube).

  82. I haven’t read each and every comment on this thread, so I don’t know if this has been pointed out already, but I just wanted to say that the plot in this version of the story is MASSIVELY more convoluted and complicated than that of Doyle’s original. Adler is still responsible for every bit of cleverness she was in the original and then some. The machinations of Moriarty in this adaptation go beyond the scope of the original story, so it isn’t so much a matter of Adler doing any less as it is a matter of there being much more going on which she isn’t responsible for.

  83. I agree with most of what was said in the original post here. I don’t think this has been brought up already, but I find it even more problematic that in her ‘weakest’ moment, Irene is dressed as/associated with the concept of a ‘Muslim woman’.This to me complicates the issue because it suggests that in her weakest form, when she is being saved by Sherlock, she is not only a weak female character, but a weak female character associated with Islam. I think this portrayal of Muslim women is even more problematic for this eposde.

  84. All those of you who are gay please raise your hand. All those of you who are straight and think you know how gays think, please sit down and shut up. Thank you.

    Can a gay person fall in love with a person who is NOT their gender preference as a sexual partner? Surely. Been there and done that. However I was not stupid enough to think it would “cure” me or that it should go beyond “Damn I wish she was a man.” Love and lust really are two different things.

    Next, I didn’t even see the gender politics. Why? Because Watson had to be rescued by Holmes. Mrs. Hudson had to be rescued by Holmes. So Irene had to be also. It’s only a case for women’s right if you really think women are smucks and should do it all alone to prove they aren’t.

    As Homes said “Dear God, what is it like in your funny little brains? It must be so boring!”

  85. I found your post while doing research for a blog post I am writing myself on prostitution in pop culture.

    Wow! What a lot of response you’ve gotten on this issue. The homosexuality bit is more about the fluidity of human sexuality. Irene, a gay woman, finds herself in love with a man and Watson, a straight man also falls in love with a man. As Irene says “look at the two of us”.

    Interesting point about the needing of the stong female character to get help from a man when in the original she outwits Sherlock all on her own. She’s still a very strong character and very smart as we see in her solving of the mysterious boomerang death. I think mostly it was written this way because of continuity and the development of the relationship between the hero and the villan. There are only three episodes per season and that leaves very little room for that. They need to have Moriarty involved in some way in each episode. Too bad it was at Irene’s expense.

    I would like to link your article to mine when I am done.

    Here is my take on the gay issue:

  86. Oh about the pulse taking thing, it was still a moment of affection. It’s just part of his nature and he does that kind of thing automatically because it’s second nature for him to observe these details. In the scene on the plane you can see that it takes him a while to realize that he knew she was lying about her feelings for him. He wasn’t taking her vitals purposefully to use the information. I thought it was a very intimate moment.

  87. As a North American heterosexual male who has just found Sherlock (thanks iTunes), I am at a loss to understand some of the commentary displayed on this board.

    At its most fundamental, the premise of this show seems to be that NOBODY is smarter than Sherlock Holmes – some reach his level but none surpass it. Not Watson, not Adler and, I suspect, not Moriarty. (Haven’t watched all of Season 2 yet so no spoilers). The sex of Sherlock Holmes is irrelevant to the discussion.

    I found the characterization of Irene Adler to be fascinating. She was obviously extremely intelligent. She used everything at her disposal to move herself forward – her intelligence, her looks, her sex appeal, her positions of trust with others, etc. Granted, I have never taken a feminism course but (leaving aside the Machavellian traits) how could any of that be portrayed as a “damsel in distress”. Because Sherlock saved her in the end…come on. One action does not negate all the others.

    As for the gay issue, the only thought I can add to the commentary is that other than Adler’s statement to Watson that she is gay, there is no “proof”. Maybe she was lying? Perhaps it was still part of her overall plot to ensare Sherlock? Just a thought.

    The end result is this…Not only did I find this episode to be the best episode of the show (thus far), it is one of the best episodes of any television that I can recall in a long time. I sincerely want to see more of her in future episodes to come.

    Scott P.

    1. The problem is exactly what you said about nobody being more intelligent than Sherlock Holmes. Irene Adler never actually met Sherlock Holmes. She is famous because she outsmarted the great Sherlock Holmes, which does not happen in BBC’s aSiB.
      This Irene Adler was, above all, an amoral woman (no, that has nothing to do with her being a dominatrix, no. It has to do with the only “beating” she does being literal, with a riding crop, to a man she just drugged, who is on the floor. That’s not smart. That’s just mean. (was that even necessary? even a dog can take a phone from a drugged man’s hand). Smart would have been to not show up naked when the numbers that are protecting that thing you claim to protect with your life, are your measurements, which nobody would ever be able to guess/deduce (Sherlock doesnt’ guess, remember that) had you just wore clothes.
      aSib’s plot is really weak, it is far too weak for Sherlock’s standars. Sherlock doesn’t make any sense at all, John is a puppet that doesn’t make any sense at all either (he is there saying things when they are needed for the plot, magically disappears when he is not needed).
      The damsel in distress situation is real, she played it so she could get what she wanted, but ended up playing a game that was bigger than her and needing a … oh, god, I really find it painful to refer to those last minutes.
      Those last minutes obliterated not only Irene Adler as a character (let me remind you here that Irene Adler is a character that only appears in one story, she never meets Holmes, manages to outsmart him, and run away with what Holmes wanted, and marries the man she was in love with, leaving behind only a picture of herself for Holmes, and a note in which she almost mocks him. That’s what makes her stand out from all the other women in Sherlock Holmes canon, because there were others, and even others in which Holmes was also very much interested)… I was saying that those last minutes not only obliterated Irene Adler as a character, but also John Watson, because are we suposed to believe that he didn’t notice Sherlock was missing from Baker Street at the time Irene Adler was murdered, according to Mycroft?? He also leaves Sherlock alone with her while he is in his (SORRY HERE POTENTIAL SPOILER FOR HOUNDS) “Mind Palace” (a rather vulnerable situation). It also destroyed the BBC Sherlock Holmes, who is now someone who loses it for a woman because she is naked (the “she shows up naked so he doesn’t have anything to make deductions from” argument falls during the very same scene when we see that Sherlock uses EVERYTHING to make deductions, not just clothes. We can see how he deduces stuff from John’s FACE. The only reason why he could be rendered unable to make deductions from a woman’s choice of hairdo and make-up (and unable to tell a dead body in front of him is not the same woman, for God’s sake… we are expected to believe a lot of realy unbelievable stuff in this episode) is because he was thrown off by her being naked. Also, he makes deductions of a woman’s make-up in the same episode, a couple of minutes later. So either that was a terrible mistake, or just the need to show a naked woman (which was supposed to be outstandingly smart, remember?)
      Sherlock is also a superhero now. Capable of infiltrating a terrorist cell on his own, fooling Mycroft himself (another crime to the canon. Mycroft is, according to Sherlock Holmes himself, one of the few people smarter than him), but this last I am willing to believe was a bluff on Mycroft’s side. Actually, I WANT to believe that. (I am sure we’ll see a lot of Mycroft in series Three)
      Did you know that the writer had to make it clear that those last minutes ACTUALLY HAPPENED?? People were more willing to believe that due to some error in editing, something that was a hallucination came out as a memory.
      But I was saying something about the damsel in distress. You speak of her using her assets to get what she wants. Isn’t that what we all do? How is that being smarter than Sherlock Holmes? And let us remember that Moriarty had been given her all the information she needed to play the Holmes brothers. And still she ends up crying, begging for mercy, and being rescued from execution. Even if I were willing to grant that she was in fact smart (which I think is clear that I do not), “he who laughs last..” goes the adage. In aSiB, she loses. Which is the exact OPPOSITE of the very spirit of Irene Adler in Doyle’s stories.
      I deem all the terrible flaws of this episode a frantic backpedalling in the homoerotic relationship they built for Sherlock and John in Series One. Notice how in an episode that revolves around Sherlock&LOVE, the core is really Sherlock&WOMEN (Irene-Molly-Mrs Hudson) and there is even some interactions with Mycroft, but John is just in the periphery, there is no aknowledgment of him as a recepient of LOVE here, even when he killed for Sherlock, he follows him everywhere, and is is partner in everyday life.
      BBC’s Irene Adler was a bad version of CSI’s Lady Heather. Go find the last scene of the first episode in which she appears, that is what Irene Adler would be like if she was a 21st century dominatrix. Actually, watch all the episodes that have her, you’ll get an idea of what a SMART and STRONG dominatrix is supposed to be. (Sorry if they also destroyed her in some episode I missed. I stopped following CSI ages ago)
      Oh, and don’t worry, there will be more Irene Adler in BBC’s Sherlock. Far more than necessary. (No, really, I hope the last scene will be explained as Sherlock messing up the last of Adler’s tricks, he last faking-her-own-death and Sherlock admitting he was outwitted. I hope. But what will happen is that she will be who helps him while he is “dead”. It’s the horribly obvious choice I hope the writers won’t make, but fear they will)
      Yes I know. I have to work on my summarizing skills. Sorry for boring you.

  88. Unless I’m misremembering, she actually used the word “lesbian” to describe herself, not “gay.” So either it was a lie, or a bit of a heterosexual male fantasy and/or perhaps bisexual erasure.

    1. I care. As a fan of Sherlock, I care A LOT.
      And this is hardly politics, this has more to do with art than politics.
      The sexism is just another spot and I care very little for it. So the writer is a misoginist and doesn’t even know it because he doesn’t seem to begin to understand it.
      The whole plot is wrong, the character is all wrong. Woman or not, it’s irrelevant.
      The point here is there is a character in the Sherlock Holmes canon that has certain characteristics and happened to be a woman. All those characteristics were obliterated in favour of a terrible characterization to fit a poor plot that is seriously below the standards that this show had us used to.
      I think that whatever they intended to do was a frantic backpedalling in the homoerotic subtext that tinted every scene in the first series. Writers were so desperate to say that NOOOO, they were just joking that they made a mess of making Sherlock Holmes fall for Irene Adler, at the same time they needed her to be a villain to continue the Moriarty line, and for some reason they decided to make her also an utterly AMORAL person. Couldn’t bring her to win (like she does in A Scandal in Bohemia) because this time she was on the side of TERRORISTS (nice woman to have Sherlock Holmes feeling attracted to), needed Sherlock to stumble because of her and the one thing they could come up with was for her to show up naked.
      This thread is about Irene Adler, but she was not the only character that suffered in that episode. Mycroft was portrayed as little less than idiot (that goes on the whole series, actually), John just doesn’t make sense. He is there if the plot needs him to be there, he disappears when the plot needs him to be elsewhere. Sherlock himself is completely out of character only to go back to being himself in Hounds, as if nothing ever happened. So much for the LOVE we are supposed to understand Sherlock feels in aSiB.

      1. These episodes don’t exactly happen one after the other. They often happen with a few months in between. In fact, the episodes themselves can span over several months, like this very episode (which was at the very least >6 months long).

        If you’re going to harp on the differences in characters between the TV show and Sherlock literature, you can just look at Moriarty. While they stay true in the first episode with regard to Moriarty being some mysterious man that protects a sizable number of criminals in Britain, he is certainly not shown as a mad man. Watson never once meets him. He is portrayed as rather old, or middle-aged at the very least, not in his late 20’s-30’s.

        Furthermore, even Arthur Conan Doyle was inconsistent with his characterizations. Watson is sometimes a little less than Sherlock and, at others, a little less than an idiot.

        While I don’t agree with how you read the characterization and the events of aSiB as sexist, I understand a bit about where you’re coming from, given Moffat’s history of misogynistic characterization of women; but, if you haven’t noticed, this entire episode was about vulnerabilities. Sherlock was arguably vulnerable to the advances of Irene Adler. If not that, then he was most certainly vulnerable to his hubris. Mycroft is vulnerable for the very same reason and then some because of the fact that he is part of the government (his mistakes may mean that many people will get killed). Even the British Royal Family is vulnerable precisely because they are the British Royal Family. We can see this emphasis on vulnerability when Irene Adler comes out naked. She says at some point during that encounter that disguises are always self portrait. She is vulnerable. Without a doubt she is. The very fact she uses a mobile phone to store incriminating pictures, to protect herself, says a lot. You can read this in a misogynistic way, that’s really up to you; but I don’t precisely subscribe to that kind of thing. She knows she is vulnerable. As I said earlier, the entire episode, in my opinion is about vulnerability. In fact, I’d say that the entire series is about vulnerability, something that I can definitely not say about the Sherlock Holmes short stories.

        1. I know this is downright off topic and is not something anyone would want as a reply so I apologise in beforehand, but what does the verb “to harp on” really mean?

          I’ve seen it used in different places before, but haven’t got a clue otherwise than that it’s something close to nagging. Is it nuanced, do English speaking people associate it with females in general or something? Just thinking that as a noun harp (harpy?) wouldn’t refer to a man.

          As to my ingorance, I’m just an average teen from a Scandinavian country, so I wouldn’t know and am actually curious.

          (To at least have a poor go at pretending I’m somehow discussing something related to this massive chain here:

          I like the new Sherlock Holmes series, mostly. I’ve read one of the books when I was smaller.
          The article by stavvers and the following discussion has been interesting, and thanks to this I had a big revelation about aSiB episode: Adler didn’t die, that fading-like, fantasy-like scene in Sherlock’s head was actually memory! Fooled me totally, the way he was acting when and after Watson’s transparency gave him the news)

  89. Hi all,

    You all seem to forget that holmes in the episode was in fact tricked. The first being when she recovered the phone at her house and escaped which in essence was actually the end of the original story. The rest was the modern adaptation. Secondly, she had ensured that Holmes couldn’t tamper with the phone. Furthermore holmes was stumped with the phone for six months until the end. Lastly Moriarty’s assistance is unknown and we cannot guess if all she did was per to his instructions and that she didn’t add or omit anything as to her own whims. She seemed quite brilliant. Besides, using moriarty as a consultant fits quite well with how they have been running the show. Admittedly how they got to whole ‘she is in love with sherlock so I’m her pin’ was tenuous at the least and could have been better done. The seeds for that attraction were planted right at the beginning though. The mind games concerning the hiker, the visit to his apartment, the flirting on his phone which he never responded which was unique, since he never responded and that she kept on trying.
    Relax with the Moff bashing and bra burning. It wasn’t that bad.

  90. Hi all,

    You all seem to forget that holmes in the episode was in fact tricked. The first being when she recovered the phone at her house and escaped which in essence was actually the end of the original story. The rest was the modern adaptation. Secondly, she had ensured that Holmes couldn’t tamper with the phone. Furthermore holmes was stumped with the phone for six months until the end. Lastly Moriarty’s assistance is unknown and we cannot guess if all she did was per to his instructions and that she didn’t add or omit anything as to her own whims. She seemed quite brilliant. Besides, using moriarty as a consultant fits quite well with how they have been running the show. Admittedly how they got to whole ‘she is in love with sherlock so I’m her pin’ was tenuous at the least and could have been better done. The seeds for that attraction were planted right at the beginning though. The mind games concerning the hiker, the visit to his apartment, the flirting on his phone which he never responded which was unique, since he never responded and that she kept on trying.
    Relax with the Moff bashing and bra burning. It wasn’t that bad.

    1. I’ll repeat this because people seem to have missed it:
      Moffat’s Irene Adler does not trick, outwit, outsmart or play Sherlock to get the phone back.
      She BEATS him.
      After drugging him.
      While he’s on the floor.
      (apply this test: take something from someone’s hand and run away and see what the law in your country has to say about it. Now drug someone against their will, beat them while they cannot fight back and then take whatever you are after from their hands while they are fainting. I don’t know where you are from, but attacking someone hardly equals outwit, trick or outsmart them.)
      The fact that she refers to herself as “the woman who beat you” in that context is an outrageous mockery to the very essence of Irene Adler, who did in fact beat Sherlock Holmes, even when they never oficially met.
      The fact that she was aided by Moriarty (which, by the way, is not a fan assumption, and people arguing that makes me wonder WHAT EPISODE they watched, since it’s made perfectly clear by Irene herself) makes a character who was JUST A WOMAN, into the sort of criminal who gives terrorists information so they can blow an aeroplane. (She says she doesn’t know what that information she has was for, but I bet even this Irene Adler was not stupid enough as to believe she had the secret coordinates for Colonel Moran’s secret birthday party. The assumption is that it was her who called Moriarty while he was at the pool, to tell him she had the information she needs Sherlock to descypher). The fact that she ends up being saved of execution in the hands of probably the same terrorists says that she was not even a smart criminal, either.
      And the saving information for her own protection part…. She keeps those files in a phone. Which she keeps in a bobby-trapped safe that opens with her measurements. And then she shows up NAKED in front of the man who is behind those files. So much for a smart person really protecting something. (the smart woman then goes to John for assistance to have the phone back. Very smart that one. Surely John would be willing to help her??)
      Doyle’s Irene Adler was a SINGER. She was not even a thief, or any sort of outcast who lived outside of the law. Insisting in making her a criminal (on top of making her a love interest, which has been repeatedly stated that she was not) shows either a lack of imagination, which we all know is not Moffat’s case, or some all the issues that are discussed in this thread, meaning it’s simply IMPOSSIBLE for him to come up with a strong, intelligent, resourceful, witty and respectable female character he doesn’t even have to make up from the scratch, because she already exists.
      The episode was fine for a light telly watching Sunday evening. I won’t argue that it was entertaining because it is outstandingly acted, brilliantly filmed and edited and Moffat knows how write a script, even if it is as flawed as this one. But the minute you give it a second thought, it crumbles.

  91. My biggest qualm with the portrayal of Irene Adler will be what it has been for almost every adaption of Sherlock Holmes that involves her(besides, of course, the canon A Scandal in Bohemia): That she is his love interest. In the original story, Watson explicitly states that Sherlock is not in love with Adler. He respects her intensely, calling her “The Woman” as a term of his respect for the woman who actually bested him. And, it can be assumed since they only actually met in passing and she got married to a man who we can reasonably assume that she cares for, she is not in love with him. Adler is incredibly brilliant, a mind that matches Sherlock’s blow for blow, so why is it necessary to make her the femme-fatale? Why can’t she just be his intellectual opponent like Moriarty? In most adaptations, she’s been up-graded(or, arguably, down-graded) to something that she just isn’t.

  92. Ok so, lengthy analysis:

    II suppose if you look at it in terms of laughs-last-laughs-longest, it definitely goes from Adler winning in the book reversed so Holmes wins in the TV show. But I’d actually say the opposite – in the original short story, Holmes rats out her secret hiding place but she cuts her losses by escaping. Seeing as she has to leave the country I’d hardly say she wins. Her only victory is noticing that she’s been tricked at all. Moffat reverses this so she wins overall and he ends up having to save face.

    In the original, Sherlock is impressed that a woman bested him at all, but otherwise she’s just another criminal whose secrets he unveils. In the TV show, Moffat goes out of his way to set them (and Moriarty) up as equals. Rather than one trick to solve the mystery and a clever escape, Moffat reworks it as a drawn-out to-and-fro between them. They’re briefed about each other in parallel. They both have subs/sidekicks/assistants and get a sexual thrill out of whodunits and mind games – though Sherlock and Watson are in denial about having sexual urges and being the slavebutler respectively. All three characters have different, but equivalent superpowers: Sherlock can fight and solve things, Adler uses sexuality not just to manipulate people but to scare the shit out of them (especially Watson). She also seems to be a pretty good cat burglar on the side. Moriarty is very good at turning other people’s skills to his own ends. They all sort of have moral alignments – Sherlock upholds the law, Moriarty likes chaos and watching the world burn and Adler mostly cares about self-preservation. But really, their only real concern is playing with each other – Sherlock bollockses up his brother’s ghost flight and Adler puts herself in danger.

    Crudely totting up scores, Sherlock finds her phone, guesses codes to her safe and phone then saves her life. Four points.

    Irene Adler hides anything he can deduce about her (actively paints over, it looks like, as his deduction skills still work on Watson), except for the combination to her safe. This he can only work out when she gives him a clue and tells him he’s seen it already. She regains her phone while stealing his. She sneaks into his bedroom to return his coat undetected by Watson, and leaves her phone in his living room undetected by Watson, Mrs. Hudson or even Sherlock. Then, finally she strokes his ego just enough for him to crack a code for her. That’s six or seven points already, one of which being enough to completely wreck Mycroft’s plan.

    There’s also a couple more points you could possibly give her. She might have colluded with him to faker her own death – Mycroft hints that it’d take Sherlock to outwit him, and we might find out more next series – she saves him from Moriarty right at the beginning, not necessarily inadvertently, and seems to set the whole thing between her and Sherlock up on her terms for her amusement. Also, she changes his ringtone. Presumably, to do that she would have to work out his password – which, while he takes almost the entire episode to do, she manages before he’s even woken up.

    On top of this, she can play him at his own game at least as well as he can her. She whispers the solution to the boomerang mystery in his ear. She disguises herself perfectly without even wearing clothes, while reading him from his own disguise. This is what the scene with Molly is for – unlike Irene Adler’s sex games, when Sherlock crudely and transparently manipulates people with his sexuality he’s fucking horrible to them. I suppose you could compare this with what Pati says about her beating him – she’s amoral and sadistic at fighting, one of his skills.

    Moffat might have his flaws Coupling Christmas Specials, but one thing he uses Irene Adler and River Song for is to run rings round the ingenious male protagonist. While original Sherlock just marched in, tricked Adler and then she slipped through his fingers, in Moffat’s version she’s leading him round by his nose for most of the episode. Even when he manages to outsmart her, it’s just by doing something that she did to him with barely any effort. Even the naked scene gives her a much richer characterisation than she had before. She’s addicted to danger and powerplays and lives by her wits, and her “battle dress” is, as off grey says, showing herself at her most vulnerable.

    At the end of the day, Moffat took a character who simply manages to escape Holmes, to one that keeps him guessing and tripping over himself for nearly an hour and a half. Yes, she now sort of works like a love interest, but because Sherlock sublimates his sexuality for whodunits, so they spar intellectually instead of fucking. For there to be a proper struggle between them he does need to add weaknesses, which means Moriarty can exploit both of them, not just Sherlock. She went from an unusually clever villain to a second Moriarty. The most drastic change is, unlike in the original, you don’t end up with Holmes frustrated at the end.

    1. “and leaves her phone in his living room undetected by Watson”

      God, I hate what a useless idiot Moffat turned John into in this. But then, if he’d been written properly, he would have nabbed Irene after she drugged Sherlock, and she might have actually had to experience consequences for her actions. God forbid.

      1. Watson’s meant to be an idiot. Or at least slightly stupider than the reader. Moffat has exaggerated his good-natured stupidity and Holme’s utter-prick genius because this Sherlock is an affectionate parody at its heart.

        But anyway, you’ve misquoted me. She leaves her phone there undetected by Watson, Mrs Hudson and Sherlock. Sherlock, Sherlock only guesses it’s there when it rings. This isn’t Watson being stupid, this is Irene Adler being a highly gifted cat burglar (which, as you see when she vanishes out the window, is why he doesn’t catch her).

        And then, Sherlock is just as amoral. He doesn’t for one minute consider what damage he might do by cracking Adler’s client’s code for her – any more than she does. He’s also quite happy to rob her of her only form of protection even though he knows it will probably cost her her life. That’s the brilliance of the series – everyone (except Watson) is amoral. Mycroft is willing to use far nastier things than a riding crop on Adler, Sherlock is scarcely interested in justice, Adler seems to have no agenda of her own, and even Moriarty doesn’t care about making money or staying alive – all these characters care about is playing cops and robbers, and Sherlock is the goodie because he happens to like playing the cops. The amorality is one of the clever parts of the adaptation and it’s just silly to complain that this one semi-villain character doesn’t get enough of a comeuppance.

      2. Alex said: “Watson’s meant to be an idiot.”

        No, he’s not.
        And Mrs. Hudson was most likely downstairs (in fact do we know if she was even home)? And Sherlock was drugged.

        “(which, as you see when she vanishes out the window, is why he doesn’t catch her)”

        She talks to him before she leaves. He had time to catch her.

        “He doesn’t for one minute consider what damage he might do by cracking Adler’s client’s code for her”

        You do recall that in that scene, she was blackmailing Mycroft, right? Was he just suppose to let her?
        Oh, and he DOES suggest that Mycroft could put her in jail, which might offer her some protection (in fact, why didn’t Mycroft do that?). So, yes, he DOES consider the consequences.

      3. You’ve confused two scenes. In the first one, she pops in to return the coat while Mrs Hudson is downstairs and Sherlock’s out cold dreaming of boomerangs. The second one is six months later and she’s not even in it. Sherlock gets a text message telling him where in his flat her phone is, and goes and gets it.

        So either she broke into his house, utterly undetected by the world’s greatest detective, and left her phone there, or she left it there before and hid it so well the world’s greatest detective still hadn’t found it after half a year.

        Yeah, she is blackmailing Mycroft in that scene. Morally, Sherlock has to choose between letting MI6 lose face, and leaving a woman in enormous danger. What he actually decides to do is to win at Cluedo. No, he’s not entirely amoral, but like with Adler and Moriarty, the game comes first.

  93. I agree with you, but I still think she beat him in the end, like Sherlock said she let her heart rule her head, and he proved to her, by rescuing her, that he did too, I like to believe the smile at the end was satisfaction.

  94. You’re describing what I call the Doolittle Principle: a powerful woman with a mind if her own is presented early on, but by the end of the story, she’s been domesticated and “does little” else than what the man wants her to. Finally, she’s rescued by the man.

    Feminist theories aside, I still liked this episode of Sherlock. Both of them were too goddamned stubborn to admit their love and respect for each other. It was a classic flaw-centric love story. I would have preferred a smarter closing image than “the man saves the woman,” but it was otherwise a superb episode.

    This episode of Sherlock was a classic example.

    Pick any show from any genre with a powerful woman presented early on. What happens to her at the end? 95% of the time, she’s either intellectually defeated or physically rescued by the man: My Fair Lady, Pretty Woman, iRobot, The Davinci Code, Star Wars, Cinderella, The Matrix, Indiana Jones, The Hudsucker Proxy.

    1. Mr. Walters I agree with a lot of what you said, especially about the Doolittle Principle. That is probably the biggest problem (one of many) I had with this episode. Yes, the writers have been taking these characters off in different directions than in the Canon, especially Moriarty, and that’s allowed, but would it have been too much to ask for them to at least not give into the tired old trope of the woman having to be rescued? Please.

      But I do have a quibble (and maybe it’s not with you) with your idea that Sherlock and Irene had “love and respect” for each other. Did they really? That’s not what I saw. But what I did see confused me so maybe it’s no surprise that someone else watching might have a different interpretation.

      What I saw was a jaded sex worker ‘falling in love’ with a virginal (allegedly) hero. Perhaps the main attraction to her was the difficulty of the conquest. I guess on some level that made sense, but what didn’t make sense was the vulnerability we saw in her at the end. Wow. Weeping and begging for her life to Mycroft and Sherlock. Jesus. Was that the real Irene or an act?

      But some of Sherlock’s reactions made even less sense. He couldn’t ‘read’ her because she was naked? Really? She drugs him, beats him up, steals his coat yet he Also, let me get this straight: some guy get an ass-kicking for roughing up Mrs. Hudson but Irene Adler, who is working with the man who STRAPPED A BOMB TO HIS BEST FRIEND gets a pass? She ain’t THAT hot. I’m not saying he should have roughed her up, too, but her association with Moriarty should have been a deal-breaker for him to want to have anything to do with her in the future. And that would have been the case if Moffat hadn’t decided to tack on the inexplicable-on-so-many-levels rescue at the end. But I suppose he decided Sherlock had to have the last word somehow.

      Love and respect? That’s not what I saw.

  95. Scandal in Belgravia is sexist and a poor version of the originial FROM THE START! The original story has a much stronger, brighter, prettier, sweeter, more talented, more bohemian, and less criminal Irene Adler (Note a Jewish last name). See my essays on the topic at For a great writer like Moffatt, I find the show was a tremendously let-down; it needed more daring casting and less sensationalism. Come on– a naked, lesbian dominatrix! NOT brilliant at all. What if she’d been the smart bohemian (the original title refers to more than the King) unwittingly caught up in a political scandal, and figuring out how to protect herself and aid Sherlock – Hey! wait…. that was the original story. What’s more, the original dealt with sexism, and even what was then racism if you consider Irene’s last name. I don’t care what was done in the Spider Woman. That character wasn’t even Irene Adler.

    If you still think this Scandal in Belgravia is great until the end, I dare you to read the original ( and maybe my essays). THINK! It makes you beautiful.

  96. i have read alot of all the supposed anti feminist from moff but did anyone realise that at the begining of the episode in the recap, it was irene adler that saved holmes from moriaty buy calling him when he was trying to kill him at the pool even if all she wanted to do was bring him to her knees as being smarter why would he write it that way if he was trying to make her seem like she was a woman who neede rescuing in the end.
    i read the original and the respect that holmes had for that woman was real it may not have been perseved as the remake made it out to be but sir author conan doyle knew what he was doing introducing her to homles he will forever refer to her as the woman out of respect to the only mind that has ever challenged him
    and really who didnt want to see homles finally get some action lol

  97. “why not extend the scene where she is beating Sherlock Holmes with a cane? And perhaps, let’s see him beg for mercy. Twice.”

    But this version of Irene is an awful person who screws with peoples’ lives, tried to blackmail a gov’t official just to try and prove she could, and might have committed two murders. Why do we want her to best Sherlock? The original Irene beating Sherlock, sure; she was basically a decent person. THIS Irene is a horrible human being, so I’m glad she lost.. and I really wish Sherlock hadn’t saved her.

  98. My very uniformed opinion is that this is less about woman power than it is about fundamental Hollywood “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back.” or the “meet sweet”. Just because Irene Adler told Holmes that she relied on Jim Morarity for her evil plans doesn’t mean she is actually telling the truth. It is a kind of courtship ritual. What better way to mask her true brilliance than to suggest that she needed help. This is just foreplay. Holmes doesn’t rescue because she is a weak woman – its an opportunity to have a second date.

  99. Just saw Season 2 on PBS in America. I think it would have looked pretty silly if Holmes had been outsmarted two weeks in a row. That might have been another reason why Moffatt and company had to modify the Adler/Holmes dynamic. Otherwise, we’d be asking ourselves, “What’s so great about this guy after all?”

  100. Last we see Moffat’s Irene Adler, she’s not married, but escaping death in Pakistan! How is that not ten times more exciting than the trajectory of Doyle’s Irene Adler? I also don’t think it’s a flight of fancy that Moffat chose Pakistan for for this sexually- liberated woman’s near-death experience. Irene confronts repression head-on (pun intended).

    1. I think you’re right. I thought that was all very exciting and I also thought it had a message. Thanks for pointing that out.

  101. I grow tired of the constant distraction regarding the sexual orientation of Holmes, Watson and Adler, as though none has ever considered Platonic Love as a moving principle. What I feel makes this story unique is simply the revelation that Adler does Love Holmes, Adler surrenders herself to that Love, and Holmes, in this story, surrenders his own Love to her. It was great Television.

  102. Forget the canon (I can’t but for the moment…),
    the last ten minutes took a character who had been carefully constructed as brilliant (well other than that little item of having NO backup plan), strong, independent, and as fearless as possible given her circumstances and profession, and turned her into a sniveling little girl. Even if this had been completely original material and we had no idea of who any of these characters were…it made no sense.
    And, even given how brilliant. clever, and tricky Sherlock may be… he managed to get out of London unnoticed by his roomy/dogsbody and landlady – who seems to be around 24/7 – without any of the intelligence agencies run by his smarter brother noticing, infiltrate a terrorist cell, save Ms. Adler, while faking her death so convincingly that even, again his smarter brother, believes it, and return to London in 2 days time, 3 days? Hell, Batman, Spiderman and Ironman together would have trouble pulling that off.

  103. I do agree that the last part of this episode ruined the brilliance of the tense push and pull between Sherlock and Adler, though to me it felt like Adler is so wickedly charming that even the seemingly asexual Sherlock Holmes ended up going out of his way (and his country) for her sake. Honestly, how much girl power could I expect from a woman who provides “recreational scolding” for a living?
    I personally feel that her “defeat” was a collateral damage of Moriarty’s obsession, which used Alder as a pawn in his obsessive “Holmes game,” and precisely because she let Moriarty take the wheel, she got “carried away.” Now, Moriarty can be any gender or genderless and still be as crazy as shit, and anyone that played by Moriarty’s advice – regardless of gender – was bound to kneel before Sherlock. So overall I don’t think the episode has too much to do with sexism.
    But the ending did disappoint me big time. I’d much rather prefer she actually died or actually thrived instead of putting Sherlock on the spot. (But again, maybe they wanted to emphasize that she earned a special place in Sherlock’s heart.)

  104. I see what you’re saying here, and it is rather disappointing that Irene Adler couldn’t outsmart Sherlock Holmes in this. Probably, the conclusion that we can draw here is that Moffatt is gay for Sherlock, and since Cumberbatch plays him, it’s all just too much for him. And he just wanted to give himself little warm fuzzy feelings when Irene’s phone said, “I am Sherlocked.” I got little fuzzy feelings from that. And honestly, perhaps if he had never typed that, I probably wouldn’t be so obsessed with him right now, because that honestly through me over the edge. It was all just to damn sexy for me. I want to be an empowered woman and agree with you, but sometimes we just gotta let one slide. And since it’s Sherlock, I think I’ll let this one slide. But I do really like what you wrote, and you’re so right, I’m just so so weak.

  105. Really, isn’t it just as clever of Irene to realize that Moriarty’s expertise could be of use to her? Why should she have to think of everything herself? Sherlock may think of everything but he, unlike Irene, often can’t get people to do what he wants. Nobody’s good at everything.

    Also, I think you may have over-romanticized Doyle’s Irene Adler. She had an affair with a king: either she was in love with him or was using him. Then, she either fell in love with Godfrey Norton or dropped the king when he was no longer of use to her and found another man. Is that really so feminist? Sherlock outsmarted her in that version too, finding the location of the photograph pretty easily: she just beat him to the punch by running away before he could catch her. She NEVER out-thought him, just moved faster, which maybe is pretty impressive all on its own.

    Go on to the final episode of season two (mini-spoiler) and see how, although Sherlock’s been terribly unkind to Molly Hooper, he needs her and her alone to survive. Maybe see if Molly will do as a feminist role model for you: the good, patient, and persistant if somewhat shy medical professional, instead of the dominatrix.

  106. I’m also not certain Adler’s character was meant to be gay. That scene is open to some interpretation, and I viewed it as her bantering with Watson. When he says “I’m not gay,” she responds with, “I am. Look at us both.” Which could be her way of saying, “now we’re both liars.” I find it difficult to believe she cares much about one particular gender in regards to sexuality, seeing as she referenced being with both men and women in the show (“I know what he likes,” and “I know what she likes”). Now, it could be just a job to her, but more likely she just enjoys it, regardless of the client.

    As for how it ended, it was kind of disappointing. However, I think it was more about defining this current Holmes that’s being recreated. Adler only ended up in trouble with terrorists because Holmes took away her safety net. Holmes showed remorse two other times in this episode alone for inadvertently causing harm to a woman (once with Molly and once with Mrs. Hudson). You could see this as sexist, I guess, or as evidence of some of Holmes’ humanity.

    As for her contacting Moriarty, that makes sense and isn’t terribly demeaning. It doesn’t make her Moriarty’s pawn. Very likely she knew she was going up against two very clever men, and wanted to make sure she used the right weapons appropriately. Somehow she knew Moriarty was familiar with the brothers, and she contacted him. It’s not made clear to what extent Moriarty influenced her, so I prefer to see most of her actions as her ideas, but with somewhat of an understanding of Sherlock and Mycroft.

  107. I agree with earlier comment — Mycroft must have known about Sherlock saving Adler — he’s the British government, for goodness sake!

  108. Perhaps the main, overbearing reason here is simple: to show that Irene Adlar might not return, but is certainly not dead. Perhaps the actress is unsure about returning. However, killing Irene would devastate viewers, so there’s the dead-notdead-dead-notdead switcheroo that WILL give fans closure, and a sweet ending knowing the character survives, even if the actress might not return.

    Of course, the writers could’ve chosen a more feminist way to go about it. They simply couldn’t come up with a better idea. Portraying Irene Adlar simply escaping forever will always leave a thread hanging and the hope that she returns (such as in the American movies). Maybe the way she is “saved” here ensures that even if Irene won’t return, she has battled all out with her wits against Sherlock, has proven to be better repeatedly. Despite being “saved by a man”, the character can choose to be forever away because it’s her choice and abandons her past life. The writers could not think of something more politically balanced. There is a more feeling of closure.

    1. In addition, why can’t it be argued that Irene holds Sherlock by a string? Otherwise, why would Sherlock travel all the way to the Middle East to save her? Perhaps his flaw is also sentiment towards her. Irene might have known this to begin with. She expected Sherlock to save her from the terrorist. It speaks about the influential power of the woman, that she is practically ensured her safety and by a Sherlock who would risk anything to save her.

  109. Wish people wouldn’t say ‘woman’ when they mean female. It isn’t an adjective and it sounds demeaning. You wouldn’t say ‘a man character’, would you?

  110. I never read the Sherlock books, I only know the characters by vague reputation. I understood though that Irene Adler was the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes in the book and I was just cringing so badly at the end of the episode when suddenly Sherlock appears at the end of the episode to save Irene. If I remember correctly, Irene Adler was caught by terrorists of the Middle East? If the terrorists were stupid enough to let a white man sneak in, I expected that Irene Adler would be smart enough to slip out.
    I loved the episode, but I have to admit, the ending ruined it for me. The writers just couldn’t stand seeing Sherlock being beaten, they had to give him the last laugh(win?).

    1. I think you should read up on what Moffat had to say about this.. He has his reasons and none of which being because they ‘just couldn’t stand Sherlock being beaten’. They’re quite valid reasons too.

  111. Like Sherlock says previously in the episode, he believes showing emotion is a weakness and that was what caused Irene’s downfall. In the end, it really is a draw because he admits he cares for Irene by saving her from the terrorist group. Thus showing that he has emotions (also seen when he keeps her cell phone as a keep sake) and also gave into his weakness.

  112. You are my soul mate! I echo your words completely as I sat next to my husband spewing forth those same words!!!

  113. We just saw the episode last night and we concluded that she really did die but in his head Sherlock had to save her to keep going on.

  114. I think you’re missing two very important things:

    First, are we certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the original photos that Irene received of Sherlock are of Jim’s doing? Given how Mycroft stated that he felt bad for sending his brother into Irene’s path, how do we know he didn’t set up everything?

    Second, the “rescue” scene. If you consider that sentimentality is frailty, at least from the perspective of Sherlock, then so is his obsessive need to keep Irene’s phone. Given Irene’s intellect, wit, and sharpness on her toes, especially as a companion to Sherlock’s, then the last scene makes sense if looked in a different manner. Mycroft wanted destroy her, after the plot with the plane went to pot. Well, I’m assuming that Mycroft wanted that, given how he reacted to Jim’s text to him. Thus, it would make sense that the last two scenes with Irene are the set up, and execution, of a plan to completely fool everyone who believes she needs to be dead. Sherlock wasn’t saving Irene, he was merely a willing accomplice to her whims, given his affection for her. I can’t say that he loves her, but he does have an affection, it’s obvious in the longing he displays while holding the phone, and looking out the window.

    Here’s where things get tricky. Neither Sherlock nor Irene “won”. Yet, at the same time, they both did. Irene made Sherlock human. Sherlock focused Irene’s power. They elevated each other to a higher plane, and honestly, that’s fantastic writing. So many of the comments are so busy getting lost in the details, that they’re missing the subtext. They’re missing the point. They’re missing the forest for the trees. Irene added a profound dimension to Sherlock, that I suspect will be explored at later points in the series. At the same time, Sherlock reciprocated in-kind.

    The issue isn’t sexual orientation. The issue isn’t sexism/feminism or any of that. The issues isn’t whether Sherlock “won” or Irene “won”. It doesn’t matter. It’s the impact of the characters on each other, and how it drives the storytelling, that is most important. That’s why Irene never ceases to be a strong character.

  115. I find it odd that so many people seem to not get where you’re coming from. Regardless of any “reasons” it is no question that Adler’s character is considerably “depowered” in this incarnation. Seems like a kind of backlash against the character when you also consider her handling in the recent films as well. Being a member of another group that often gets portrayed as not necessarily being the sole master of their actions, I noticed too the subtle ways in which the writers undermined her motives. Seems a lot of people are just comfortable with such portrayals, or that the fanboy mentality is at work in that the first season was so strong and so well loved, Moffat can now do no wrong and woe be unto any that dare naysay him.

  116. This feminism rant is wrong.

    Female characters are not meant to be super heroes. They will need help at times from men.

    The same for Sherlock, There are times he needs help from Watson.

    And to say, no woman needs a mans help is very unrealistic.

    1. I don’t think the blogger is saying “no” woman needs a man’s help. Heck, everyone needs somebodies help at some time, but Adler is the only female character to outwit THE Sherlock Holmes in canon. People thought it would be cool to see how a modern day telling of that story would go, but instead we get the usual portrayal of women in most stories of this type. It was a bit dissappointing to say the least. Feminism has nothing to do with it.

  117. I think he may of taken her pulse because he was insecure in himself, not understanding his own brain for once must be scary now that he has all these alien impulses for Adler. ( Hate to admit this as a young man of 18 years but as much as we deny it men sometimes are insecure which i think is depicted by the fact Sherlock hates to be beaten, it makes him feel weak, women are often approached by men so they are naturally more confident whereas men dont, we like to plan things out ) So the only logical scientific thing he could think of doing to ensure she felt the same way about him was to take her pulse as he did understand love as he states but maybe nobody has ever stimulated his brain enough for him to care.

    This then shows yet another weakness of Sherlocks (The first been the fact he cannot stand to be beaten) … his heart, its not that he doesn’t have a heart just nobody before has ever been of any interest to him as im geussing looks wouldn’t matter to him he gets stimulated another way.
    This also shows that Adler did in fact win as she clearly won his heart with her brain, she made the world’s best detective care for her (he replied to her, was deeply upset when he believed her to be dead and saved her in the end when he could of left her to die), i see her story as only a victory.

  118. I would just like to leave in that her going from wearing absolutely nothing, which in Western culture is SUPPOSED to be a symbol of female empowerment (even though that’s bullshit and is something men want women to think so they’ll show them their tits), to wearing Islamic garb, which in Western culture (not hating on the Muslims, you guys can be pretty cool sometimes) is a symbol of female oppression symbolizes how she went from being a strong woman to being a pawn of the male forces in the story.

  119. You’re kidding me, right? Irene Adler was incredible from the beginning to the end.

    First off, I highly doubt Irene Adler is homosexual. She said she was homosexual, but she says a lot of things. Given her occupation being shrouded in deceit and blackmail, we can safely assume that a lot of what she says are lies. She’s frequently said to have had affairs with both men and women. The writers didn’t buff up Sherlock Holmes as being so incredibly that even homosexual women fall for him; at the very least, Irene Adler was bisexual.

    Second, you don’t have to have a woman solve all her problems on her own for her to be a feminist character. Would she have been more feminist if she pulled a machine gun from under her dress, shot both the Holmes brothers and reclaimed her phone herself? I don’t think so. Although Irene Adler associated herself with Moriarty, she never allowed herself to be manipulated to the full extent that the other criminals were. And the expression on Irene Adler’s face when she told Sherlock that she’d taken ‘advice’ from Moriarty on how to deal with the Holmes brothers implies that she was taking a dig at him. Irene Adler. An adder snake. She knows exactly what to say to wound people, and she knows that Moriarty is a sore spot for Sherlock. She was rubbing her association with Sherlock’s nemesis in his face. It doesn’t mean that Moriarty faxed her a ten step plan on how to foil Sherlock and that she followed it to the letter.

    You’re looking in the wrong place for feminist messages. Irene Adler isn’t just a symbol for strong women in the books, but she was Sherlock Holmes’ equal. Not ‘equal for a woman’, just equal. The fact that she lost and was rescued had nothing to do with the fact that she was a female. If she were a man, you’d have nothing to criticize.

    Every character has their strengths and weaknesses. I admire Irene Adler all the more for having weaknesses than some gun toting bad ass chick with a flat personality. If that’s what you’re looking for, go read some shoujo manga.

  120. I realise I’m probably really late to the scene.
    I didn’t read Adler’s loss as some sort of huge anti-feminist statement, and yes, I have read the books where she won.
    I thought the ending was weak because Sherlock whipped in to save her without any real explanation, but I don’t think that the episode was sexist. I didn’t see it that way when I viewed it, and I think you could be reading alittle too much into it.
    I think the events were more the issue of Sherlock himself being ~overpowered~ so to speak, as a male character, rather than any sexist message being employed — they were afraid to have Sherlock ‘fail’ in general, as opposed to ‘fail against a woman’.
    The ending was disappointing, yes, but I don’t think it was the reasons you stated.

  121. I don’t see how accepting a man’s (Moriarty’s) help weakens Adler. And at the end, it feels clear to me Sherlock had been keeping tabs on her… it just happened to be a man that saved her. And, knowing her character, she has gone on to be a powerful woman after Sherlock saved her. Likely she disappeared before he would even have had a chance to speak to her.

    But I don’t want to enter that argument. I just wanted to comment on the pulse/pupils bit.

    I wanted to just put out there that… to me, anyways, Sherlock didn’t actively take Adler’s pulse. I think that it was just Sherlock being Sherlock: he takes in everything about a situation and files it away. Adler was very close to his face and her wrist resting lightly on his fingers… and so some information he would have filed away would have been her dilating pupils and quickening pulse. Then later while Adler and Mycroft were talking, Sherlock was thinking (possibly in his Palace) and remembered those facts…

  122. It took me some time to realise that this blog is about a different show than the one currently screening in Australia. That should have been elementary after reading a few entries but being a mere male it took a few more that it perhaps should. I like the Irene Adler in Elementary – or I did until she was revealed as Moriarty. Or is she?

  123. I liked that in elementary she (jaime/Irene) was smart enough to pull a fast one on Sherlock and managed to completely break the poor man. seriously that is one bad-ass bitch and the game is still on between the two.that was awesome.

    this Irene took a sharp turn for the worst. particularly Jim Moriarty’s role in the whole situation. if she doesn’t get away with the whole thing, fine. that’s the point of the show. is that Sherlock is smarter than everyone on earth. but for her to be Rescued by Sherlock, be in love with him even though shes a lesbian and be part of Moriarty’s little game is bullshit. i wish it had gone like this. she almost gets away with everything but last minute Sherlock figures it all out that, deduces that she’s a lesbian and for all the crap she put him through she really gets her head cut off. Y’know in the same way that male villains die. equality y’all. bloody, gory, gross and so not pretty. i think the best thing to do to a female villain is give her a death as gruesome as you would give a male villain. it shows her to be no different. no better, no eviler and as deserving as her male counterparts. because what makes Moriarty great is that he deserves to get his head cut off and villain is only as bad as the death he deserves. the more evil the villain, the more gruesome the death. giving her a bad-ass death like a beheading would have been an awesome way to end a great female character. it would’ve been so intense and game of thrones-y.
    Great female characters who died bad-ass deaths you ask? game of thrones spoilery below!

    C****** ****k. She got her throat sliced open! Shes a mother of five (and one bastard)! <<<<thats enough of a clue to figure who it is without spoiling anything for those who dont know.
    and she sliced some chicks throat open and then got her throat sliced open!! thats fucking badassness. we need more dead women in TV shows. Women who die gloriously gory deaths like the men do.

  124. In my opinion, Irene won in the end. Irene’s goal was always to manipulate Sherlock into caring (just a bit mind, ’cause this is freaking Sherlock we’re talking about here) for her. Maybe she started out wanting to use his feelings to crack the code. And that obviously failed. But in the end Irene won without a doubt when Sherlock went and save her. In my eyes, this scene isn’t showing weakness from Irene from having to be saved but showing that in spite of it all, Irene did manage to succeed in her goal of manipulating Sherlock. Maybe she didn’t get the Queen’s ransom, but she walked away with her life. I’m quite sure she much prefer her life intact.

  125. Unfortunately, it seems that people must be overcompensating and hyper-reactionary to anything against their views these days. Certain feminists, it seems, must posit their view that women only have oppressive and humiliating roles in television unless they are far above their male colleagues and desexualized completely.

    Holmes and Adler are matches and perfect foils to one another apart from Adler’s “sentiment”. While it takes Holmes some time, he unravels her schemes before her. One might even say she wanted that as her whole goal was to make Sherlock care for her so she could manipulate him into saving her and in that, she succeeded. By that logic, Holmes “rescuing” her from the terrorists could be seen as Holmes acting in just the way she expects, the text she sends before her death a probe to see if she was right.

    To the author, do you want Irene to act in the way you hoped she would or in the way you hoped she wouldn’t? Maybe you wouldn’t have been nearly so happy if Irene had won completely, left with the phone and been victorious because you couldn’t attack the TV industry, the writers and producers, and men everywhere for forcing her to be some trope. You want her or, better yet, you NEED her to be that trope so you aren’t wrong.

    I don’t care if people reading this disagree or agree, hate feminism or adore it. I support feminists and equal rights and privileges for all, regardless of gender, orientation, race, religion, etc. However, I don’t tolerate people pushing extreme views and if they choose to attack something needlessly, I will react in kind.

  126. Stavvers: Like Moffat’s Irene, you’re awesome for 90% of your review but end up really spoiling it all.

    See, being a female dominatrix is not any more or less “awesome” than being a male dominant. Both are arousing to some and disgusting to others. To some, you know, sexualizing violence is simply off-putting – regardless of the genders of participants.

    And no, beating someone with a cane (again, regardless of gender) is not a triumph worth salivating about. It is just an act of gratuitous violence, no more, no less. Moreover, given that these two had up to that point been competing on intelligence and resourcefulness, such resorting to physicalities looks more like a loss than a win.

  127. Actually, the reason she showed up naked was to give Sherlock her measurements, which was the password to the vault storing her camera phone. When Sherlock keeps saying that he doesn’t know the password, she says “I already told you”. He eventually figures it out.

  128. hello,it took me 48 hours to become a fan of the series.i just read the first 10 comments so i have no idea if someone mentioned my point before me.
    i just realized how heavy the impact of this topic must be by scrolling down this page.i must wonder that noone within the comments i have read mentioned the romantic pointof view.first its a christmas episode ,second the writer clearly choosed “the woman” that is more beautifull without the red lipstick,her lips,for me, seem fuller or lesser edgy without the one woman sherlock seems to get a real crush on.she is clever and strong enough to compete and challange sherlock.”real” is the term ,because all watcher must know that sherlock constantly has a very traditional sense of humor that drives every episode.his sense for details are portrayed as a hostile weapon he uses in every a sort of obsession to his abilities.this peaked in the moment in which he says sorry to his “very lovely” female assistand,forgot the name,for the labelled xmas gift. so the sexist issue is a permanent circumstance presented ironicly and selfaware.because of this choice the writer made to portray sherlock, the need of the watching crowd to see sherlock actually love someone or be nice to someone, is huge.they spin some funny suspence around it, as we could clearly recognize by the buddymovie element around sherlock and watson. my point of view is builded on two observations 1.we can see the whatapp conversation ,we see her begging for a dinner with him and having some nice needs to share some small things with him (view on the moon) we could not see if he replied..2.her tears when she is confronted with her death and her last move (writing a message to sherlock)

    romantic point of view:

    the writer , just placed the content of the book in a more romantic,stereotypical cinmatic way that fits perfectly with the chistmas thing and “our” debatable unfeeded need for seeing sherlock actually not having a casual view on a girl or beeing nice to someone who earns beeing treated nice.
    and the real point about the woman is.. that the writer gives us some hints to expect the woman sacrifizing herself for love awwwww.because sherlock never came to dinner with her,noone loves this coldhearted woman .the ordinary people want her on a way she wont give,the rich want to be beaten and the powerfull see her as an evil reptile.
    it is not far fetched that she actually (i mean the password) really wants sherlock !
    so, if she wanted to,she could have got out the situation herself !
    she was tired(its a christmas story) and prefered sacrifizing herself except living in a world in which her love denies her.

    and,the moaning sms-alarm is just what the crowd expects of sherlock.
    being sexsist ,reducing her to a sexual fantasie !! one could think that the writer is aware of this assumptions, so choosed this to peecock a little.

  129. I’m actually surprised to find some good quality content here – keep it up -, as you’ve said, Irene Adler was reducted to a bunch of nothing at the end of the show just to show how great Sherlock was. Wrong. Sadly butchered one of the most memorable characters ever. And for what? The same oh-Mr. Sherlock-needs-to-save-the-day? No and a thousand times no.

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