Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sherlock Double Feature: A Scandal in Bohemia (and Belgravia)

I was reticent to give "A Scandal in Belgravia" a try - not because I dislike the show Sherlock (far from it, indeed!), but because the warnings seemed to indicate that this particular episode was much more sexual in nature than other episodes. And while that is the case, "A Scandal in Belgravia" pushes the limits but does not go beyond them (hinting and suggesting to the utmost degree, and yet never explicitly showing anything). Because a friend took the time to clarify the content of the episode and to recommend it to me, I decided to give it a try after all. And yet again Sherlock didn't disappoint - at least in the sense of offering yet another complex and intriguing episode! Before I watched the episode, however, I read the short story "A Scandal in Bohemia" by Arthur Conan Doyle - so today's post will offer a comparison/contrast between the two. [Warning: Spoilers to follow.]

A Scandal in Bohemia

"To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name." 

So begins "A Scandal in Bohemia," in Watson's words. In the modern-day retelling ("A Scandal in Belgravia"), Irene Adler is already known as The Woman before Sherlock even meets her. But there is still the business of the photograph(s) and protection vs. blackmail. And Irene Adler is still as enigmatic as ever (albeit in a more forward way).

Here are some other similarities (with trademark Sherlock twists) between the original short story and the T.V. episode:
  • Watson observes in "A Scandal in Bohemia" that "Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature." The creators of Sherlock certainly capture this aspect of Sherlock's nature well, showing his constant need to be stimulated by his work and his inability (as well as his lack of desire) to function normally in society.
  • In both versions of the story Sherlock is supposedly working for royalty. Although suffice it to say the older Sherlock's meeting with the King of Bohemia in his apartment is quite different than modern Sherlock's "meeting" at Buckingham Palace (where he is rather humorously under-dressed for the occasion!).
  • In Doyle's story Sherlock steps into a fight and pretends to be attacked, thereby putting pressure on Irene Adler to bring him into her home and help him. A similar tactic is used in "A Scandal in Belgravia," except that the creators of the show use it as an opportunity for an interaction between Sherlock and Watson, having Sherlock ask Watson to punch him in the face... (More on that later!)
  • Watson sounds the alarm in both stories (yelling "fire" in Doyle's story but setting off the smoke detector in the modern version) in order to aid Sherlock's search for the photograph(s).
  • And, of course, Irene Adler manages to outwit Sherlock (up to a point in the modern show, however...).
This short story also has a few lines that rung bells for me in regards to the dialogue in several episodes of Sherlock:
  • "You see, but you do not observe." (In "The Great Game," Sherlock says this same line in frustration to Inspector Lestrade.)
  • "I am lost without my Boswell." (Sounds a lot like, "I am lost without my blogger" - also from "The Great Game"!)
  • "The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he [Sherlock] became a specialist in crime." (This brings to mind Mycroft's quote from "A Scandal in Belgravia" - "My brother has the brain of a scientist or a philosopher, yet he elects to be a detective. What might we deduce about his heart?") name a few! I think it's safe to say the creators of Sherlock know Arthur Conan Doyle's work quite well!

"A Scandal in Bohemia" is an intriguing short story - and if you enjoyed "A Scandal in Belgravia" (or even if you chose/choose not see it), this is an enjoyable fast read that highlights some unique aspects of Sherlock Holmes' character as it places him in some surprising situations.

A Scandal in Belgravia

Because "A Scandal in Bohemia" is a rather quick story, "A Scandal in Belgravia" simply uses the bare bones of the story as a launching point for another complex, convoluted, and captivating episode of Sherlock. While the show in general is not for everyone, that especially applies to this particular episode. There's a nude scene, that (somehow) manages to keep from being explicit. There are sexual overtones in general, more gay references (not completely serious), and drug references - not to mention the obvious inclusion of violence (although not gory). Yet, there are some intriguing relational elements of this episode that are not to be missed (well, technically they can be, but they're really interesting!). 

There's the humor that comes so naturally as a result of Sherlock's and Watson's friendship. For example...
  • Watson asks Sherlock to clarify something he said... Sherlock: "I said, 'Punch me in the face.' Didn't you hear me?" Watson: "I always hear, 'Punch me in the face,' when you're speaking, but it's usually subtext."
But there's also a seriousness that pervades this episode. Sherlock seems to do a lot more introspection in this episode than in other episodes. At one point he asks Mycroft, "Do you ever wonder if there's something wrong with us?" As Watson notes in Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia: "All emotions, and that one [love] particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind." And that certainly seems to hold true in this episode, especially concerning Irene Adler. And yet...

Sherlock ultimately shows deep concern and affection for Mrs. Hudson, the landlady. He apologizes (!) to Molly for hurting her feelings. And it's his friendship with Watson that remains a constant throughout his unusual up-and-down interactions with Irene Adler.

Sherlock becomes more aware of his oftentimes cold and sometimes cruel ways in "A Scandal in Belgravia." But growth takes time, and no one is perfect. Slowly but surely it seems that Sherlock in this show is learning that there is life beyond his work, and that people do indeed have feelings (even if he does not always acknowledge any feelings in himself). We as the viewers can see just how wondrous it is when a person such as Sherlock shows that he is, after all, human (as Watson aptly notes at the beginning of the episode) and makes the effort to care about someone else.

As for the plot of this episode, well... I confess after seeing it just the one time so far, I think I got rather lost. Maybe it's just me, but there seems to be a lot going on! I'm sure that, like the other Sherlock episodes, each subsequent viewing will offer plenty of laughs and new insights.

More Sherlock, Please!
  • Read Ruth's thoughts on "A Scandal in Belgravia" on her blog, Booktalk & More.
(Images are from the PBS Masterpiece website.)


buddy2blogger said...

Nice review of the episode.

For a different look at this episode, check out my review .


Amber S. said...


Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

I just left a comment on your review, as well - thanks for sharing the link!


Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

Thanks for this review/comparison-- I was looking for exactly this sort of thing when I found it.

Love it when that happens.

I enjoyed the episode very much, but after it was over it didn't sit as easy as the others before. Took a while for me to realize why--

Ultimately, for all the writers are trying to make Irene look powerful (personality, sexuality) she is still ultimately a woman in danger whose efforts to protect herself were neutralized to her detriment.

Ultimately, she is just a terrified "sex worker" trying to survive the only way (she knows) how, and was thwarted.

I had this painfully vivid image of some call girl getting offed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Probably the only thing that saved it for me was the Sherlock "rescuing" her at the end.

Now to really be excellent they should have her show up again in a later season.

But then they'd face the difficult decision of keeping her the same-- to maintain their imagined idea of female "power"-- and actually portraying her as the smart woman they ultimately want her to be: one who could/would evolve to stay safe in that world.

Anyway, thanks for the comparison.

Faye said...

I've recently become rather addicted to Sherlock and pretty much make my family watch it with me, especially my dad who likes suspense dramas. I really enjoyed the season finale, what a cliffhanger ending! I agree that it isn't the cleanest thing that I have ever watched and I enjoyed reading your comparisons to the book, which I have not read, but I am now intrigued!
I am very much looking forward to the next break-neck paced season!

Amber S. said...


That's awesome! I'm so glad this post was what you were hoping it to be - and I'm glad you found it. :)

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the episode, as well. :) Irene does come across as rather desperate and in some ways powerless in this version of the story. Definitely different than the character portrayed in the short story by Doyle!

The creators of this show make her a rather complex character - coming off strong and in control, then seeming vulnerable, then appearing heartless and in control again, and finally coming across as vulnerable. I confess I'm not sure what to think of her character... I think I probably need to watch the episode more times before I can have a better idea of what's actually going on, LOL!

Again, I appreciate your comment!


Amber S. said...


Yes, I know what you mean! It's an addicting show. :) My family watched the second and third episodes with me, but that third episode kind of shocked us all. Definitely a discussion-provoking cliffhanger!

I'm glad you enjoyed this post! :) I think some of Doyle's works are longer - A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles, both of which I have read, are more book-length. But this particular story, among others, are actually short stories - so A Scandal in Bohemia is a quick read. I haven't read all of the Sherlock mysteries, but from what I have read, they're great reads! :)

Anyway, I, too, am super-excited for Season 3! Hope the wait isn't TOO long!


Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

re: the wait, you might know this already, but they don't even *begin filming* season 3 until 1213.

I'm in the process of trying to quit caring about the state they leave the characters in for a year and a half (I swear Watson was close to killing himself before he got sucked into Sherlock's life and build a new type of warrior identity).

My prediction: Sherlock will continue to shadow his various friends, and it will be for their welfare that he finally reveals himself again.

Probably to prevent John's suicide.

Yeah, I'm morbid, but there you go. I don't think he gives up on life just because of the loss of Sherlock, but because he's back to himself alone, and that wasn't working for him in the beginning.

re: Irene's inconsistent character-- I think the creators were just fixated enough on the idea of a dominatrix that they were playing stopgap with her character, trying to hold it together.

It's a credit the actress that she could pull it off.

Amber S. said...

Amy Jane,

*Sigh* I know they all have other projects to work on, but it is sad to think of that long wait! At least I'm sure the wait will be worth it. :)

Those are some interesting predictions about the next season! It totally makes sense - like my dad mentioned after seeing "The Reichenbach Fall," Sherlock is still a fugitive at this point... He probably has some things to clear up before he can reveal himself. I'm hopeful that, while Watson will no doubt have a difficult time in the meanwhile, he's still grown in his sense of purpose and his appreciation for life and others. It would be so sad if he reverted back to the broken state he was in when he met Sherlock!

As for Irene's character, those are some good points. Thank you for stopping by again to continue the discussion! :)