I had intended to begin this blog earlier, but the first word for my first post was so perfect that I wanted to save it. Just as this blog starts with a pool, so did the first episode of the new series of Sherlock, picking up from the cliffhanger of the last series.
This was, of course, the episode which introduced Irene Adler, the Woman, Sherlock’s feminine foil. Now, forgive my lack of knowledge in the area of Holmes canon; I’ve never read any of Conan Doyle’s work, much to my own disadvantage, I’m sure, and my verdicts of Rachel McAdams and various and sundry other adaptations have been less than impressed. But perhaps, even in the recent Hollywood films, one has to be slightly lenient with the knowledge that the context of the plot is a Victorian society. One might have hoped that in a modern retelling, Adler would be a strong, independent and deeply intelligent woman, and if it were not possible that she could be a match for Sherlock Holmes, it would be her intellect rather than her womanly sentiment that would let her down.
Because her downfall turned out to be the fact that she, a woman, betrayed herself by her romantic feelings for Sherlock, a man, and that’s just a bit fucking grating. It’s one of the reasons why I so dislike main female characters. Look at Doctor Who, written by Sherlock creator Steven Moffat, and Torchwood, created by Russell T Davies. Supposedly a champion of strong female characters in science fiction? Take Gwen Cooper. Take River Song. Even Amy Pond, at first. Gwen has feelings for Jack, an emotionally complicated character who manages to override his own weak romantic feelings. River Song and Amy Pond both nurse a soft spot for the Doctor, who might even rival Sherlock in terms of apparent asexuality, arrogance and apathy.
That’s not even touching on the failed possibilities of exploring the hints that Adler was a lesbian. It would have been too much to ask, would it, to further that option, to champion a powerful LGBT female character, without having her get romantically infatuated with a man. It might be too much to call it love; I, cynic that I am, hesitate to call it such. An obsession driven by power, perhaps, by intelligence, rather than compassion. Or perhaps that’s just me being optimistic.
When I first heard about Adler being a love interest for Sherlock, I feared the outcome. I despise the need for modern television to turn everything into a matter of sex. (As a writer of fan fiction, this may seem hypocritical, but I do have a logical reason for thinking this.) Mainly because I wanted to like Adler. I wanted her to be a good character. I didn’t want to immediately hate her, which I felt that I probably would if she made Sherlock fancy her. Because I don’t think there’s any need, any need at all, to make Sherlock have that kind of human emotion. Certainly no need for him to want to have sex. Asexuality is a perfectly normal sexual definition, and as Sherlock is an exaggerated figure of calculated unemotional amorality, is there really any need to pander to the supposed wants of the majority of viewers by adding a romantic element? But I’ll admit I wasn’t too disappointed with the outcome. I was prepared for worse. I was even prepared for (horror!) kissing. At least Sherlock managed to keep his tongue in his own mouth. But unfortunately each positive character development has an equal and opposite display of casual sexism; Sherlock maintains his control, Adler is the weak woman. Fantastic.
Partially, slightly, I did get the parallel of the overly sexual Adler with the underly sexual Sherlock. (Or maybe I just liked looking at her. Shut up.) But still, isn’t the cliché of a woman having to use her body, beauty and sexual prowess to gain power over others getting a bit… well, cliché? Do we have to resort to picking a female stereotype out of the writing bin rather than, I don’t know, being a little original?
From my rants thus far, you could be forgiven for assuming that I really didn’t like this episode. Actually, I did like it. A lot. It just made me a bit angry. But not, I suppose, for doing anything horrendous. Just for not doing something brilliant. I adore Sherlock, which is why I want it to be the best it could be. It’s like my child. (Oh, and that mention of Adler being a mother who would instinctively look for her child… I’d forgotten about that.) So let’s move on to the bits that I did like.
Firstly, Moffat seemed to write in several elements that I’d written in my own fiction, which makes me feel a bit smug. Admittedly, we’re probably both playing obviously to the public. But it was still things that I wanted. Down to little details like Sherlock with a cigarette and a crumpled yawning Sherlock, and more casual homoerotic references. Or maybe I’m just easily pleased. Plus, I do like the characterisation of Sherlock. I’ve often wondered precisely why Moffat chose a character reference that’s more like Asperger’s than Sherlock’s self-identification of sociopath. But it does mean that, while most probably identify with John as the audience’s conduit, I identify slightly more with Sherlock. Not because I’m a genius or, unfortunately, a detective. On a much more shallow level. But I do like it when I spot my own character traits. Even though that probably means I’m a bit weird.
Also, it was a good plot. Not sure that I liked it as much as series one, but… maybe I just like a good serial killer. I think it set up the rest of the series well. I probably should have read the original Conan Doyle first, and I probably will at some point. Maybe I’ll give a proper review when I’ve done so. But overall, despite anger at some points, my overriding feeling is still that it’s the best show on television at the moment.
Oh, and John Simm and Martin Freeman look nothing alike, whatever my Mum says. That annoyed me too, but I can’t really blame Moffat for that.