Join 3,554 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


You've got to worry when a woman comes off worse in 2012 than in 1891.
January 4, 2012 3:05 AM   Subscribe

Is Sherlock sexist? Steven Moffat's wanton women - as River Song would say, spoilers.
posted by facehugger (113 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh boy, I was hoping this would show up on the blue.

Slatternly's excellent take on the episode:
This was so nearly a plot of my dreams: a queer female sex worker outwits one of our greatest minds, remains calm and collected throughout with a hit of exploring the performativity of sex work?

But then Steven Moffat wrote it.
It's also worth noting that there's an infamous quote from Moffat regarding his feelings on women, from this interview in 2004:
"There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands. ... Well, the world is vastly counted in favour of men at every level - except if you live in a civilised country and you’re sort of educated and middle-class, because then you’re almost certainly junior in your relationship and in a state of permanent, crippled apology. Your preferences are routinely mocked. There’s a huge, unfortunate lack of respect for anything male."
However, Moffat has often claimed that he was deliberately misquoted (whilst telling those that disagree with his writing to "grow up").

For what it's worth, I haven't seen the episode in question, but I did have the misfortune to witness the Downfall of Amy Pond, aka the latest season of Doctor Who, where Moffat's female characters were one by one stripped of their narrative and personal agency and reduced to mewling damsels whose only function was to Love The Doctor.
posted by fight or flight at 3:17 AM on January 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


Sorry, this interview.
posted by fight or flight at 3:18 AM on January 4, 2012


I re-watched Coupling not long ago, and i have decided that Moffatt is Jeff mostly, with him writing the rants that the other male characters go on about (specifically the "lesbian spank inferno" one.) As much as his run on Doctor Who has shown it, his Sherlock is even worse for it. I admit i've got a weakness and soft spot for the Jeremy Brett run, and frankly the best done adaption there has been.
posted by usagizero at 3:33 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, I lost respect for that completely at the moment that her having involvement with women meant that she was a lesbian and therefore disallowed from being attracted to men except for some sort of demeaning purpose.

Or I could be snarky and say that I'm now going off to wake up my SO to tell her she isn't allowed to think that Benedict Cumberbatch is hot anymore. She's going to be heartbroken.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:35 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good article. I thought this episode of Sherlock was pretty good overall, but Irene Adler certainly got the short end of the empowerment stick.

Coincidentally I happened to watch this soon after an episode of some generic CSI/NCIS-type thing that also featured a stock-character dominatrix who constantly talks in sexual innuendo, and Adler here didn't seem much deeper.

As someone pointed out somewhere, there are some odd things about the stock-character dominatrix. Firstly, they're completely defined by their profession: constantly talking in sexual innuendo in both professional and private life. If you had an accountant character who did nothing but query restaurant bills and talk about his installment purchase plans when off duty, it would be an intolerably obvious cliché, but it seems to be tolerated here because of the sexy sexiness.

Secondly, in most BDSM porn it seems to be mostly the case, maybe 90% of the time, that it's the man who dominates the woman in a mixed-sex pair. On TV it's almost always the woman dominating the man. I think it's the same sort of thing as on TV women usually stalk men as in "Fatal Attraction", while in real life it's usually men who stalk women. The exceptional case is treated as the norm because it's more interesting.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:48 AM on January 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Two lines in 'The Wedding of River Song' made me lose my last shreds of respect for Moffatt. One was "Hell in high heels" - hello, 50s hardboiled detectivew cliche - and the second was "What happened to time?" "A woman".

Then there's the fact that he took a kickarse character like River Song and transformed her into a mess who almost destroyed time because she couldn't handle her emotions and loved a man too much. Ugh.

Personal rant: My bloke and I grew up with Who and he's a massive fan. He owns every existing skerrick of footage (except the two newly discovered episodes) and is even credited on a Who DVD (he provided the restoration team with a crisper copy of one of the missing episode soundtracks than they had access to). We were so excited at the re-invention and loved the Eccleston and Tennant years. And yet in two short Moffatt series, we've gone from it being the TV highlight of our lives to something even my bloke isn't sure he can be bothered watching any more.
posted by andraste at 3:57 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Very interesting piece. I don't entirely agree: I actually liked Adler--she seemed to be Holmes' worthiest opponent to date (in this new series), but I did find the reveal of her manipulation by Moriarty to be out-of-the-blue, unwieldy, and disappointing. The last minute "rescue" was also pointless and stupid.

But, I liked that the feelings Holmes and Adler have for each other each cost them a great deal in the universe in which they operate, that is somehow separate from people like Watson (and us)--I didn't feel that she was punished for being sentimental any more than he was. She had much more at stake, of course, but it was her choice to try to extort money from Mycroft, and it was a good thing that she was foiled by Holmes.

In the comments, the author put some links which expand on her and others' problems with Moffat's female characters (especially Amy Pond), which I'm about to dig into now. Here they are, in case anyone else is interested.
posted by sundaydriver at 4:01 AM on January 4, 2012


Secondly, in most BDSM porn it seems to be mostly the case, maybe 90% of the time, that it's the man who dominates the woman in a mixed-sex pair. On TV it's almost always the woman dominating the man. I think it's the same sort of thing as on TV women usually stalk men as in "Fatal Attraction", while in real life it's usually men who stalk women. The exceptional case is treated as the norm because it's more interesting.
That may be the case but how many professional male dominatrices (Dominators?) have you ever heard of? I don't mean guys in porn, but men who get paid to dominate women? I don't think I've ever heard of a single one.

So while it may be one way in porn I think, in terms of people who have the job of being a Dominatrix, tend to be women... in fact the term is as gendered as 'starlet' I can't even think of a common male term for a guy who does the same thing (Maybe just 'dom' I guess)
posted by delmoi at 4:21 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also liked the Adler character, right up until the point that she revealed that she needed the "consultant criminal" Moriarty - it just turned her into a pawn (as the Guardian article argues) and that was really disappointing. And now that I think about it, a woman who is using her sexuality as her strength ("i'm going to wear my armour") is desperately unoriginal and pretty limiting. I also thought the last-minute rescue, while exciting, was a little farfetched and more appropriate for Dr. Who than Sherlock.

It's a shame, because on a whole I really enjoy Moffat's writing, and I am a huge fan of Sherlock. I read this article yesterday and I almost wish I hadn't, because now i won't be able to unsee his admittedly one-dimensional portrayal of women.
posted by ukdanae at 4:31 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


but I did find the reveal of her manipulation by Moriarty to be out-of-the-blue, unwieldy, and disappointing.

out-of-the-blue ? The opening shot of the episode showed his involvement. And I don't think she was manipulated, she consulted Moriarty.
posted by Pendragon at 4:35 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


This episode played out a seduction plot so tired it was a cliche back in the 18th century. Man meets prostitute, man seduces prostitute, man dumps prostitute. (eg. The Rover) The fact that Sherlock then saves her from certain death at the last minute of the ep just clinches his total domination over her, and affirms her complete loss of agency. Of course it also turns out she never had agency in the first place: she was just Moriarty's woman first, and Sherlock's woman later.

I also thought the last-minute rescue, while exciting, was a little farfetched and more appropriate for Dr. Who than Sherlock.


Yeah, the camerawork and crappy costuming made this feel exactly like a Who scene, which was not a good thing.
posted by mek at 4:35 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Pendragon: "but I did find the reveal of her manipulation by Moriarty to be out-of-the-blue, unwieldy, and disappointing.

out-of-the-blue ? The opening shot of the episode showed his involvement. And I don't think she was manipulated, she consulted Moriarty.
"

You're right--I forgot about that establishing shot. I guess I was thinking about how odd it was for her to be puppeteered by Moriarty, when she seemed to be capable of thinking and acting for herself.
posted by sundaydriver at 4:45 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


So far this was the worst episode, but I still enjoyed it. Can't wait for the next episode, penned by Mark Gatiss. Mark Gatiss also wrote my favorite episode of last season, and he plays an excellent Mycroft.
posted by Pendragon at 4:46 AM on January 4, 2012


I imagine Moffatt will helm both Sherlock and Doctor Who for a couple years more at least. Both are sturdy franchises; both can take lots of punishment. Both are subtly lessened by his attitudes on female characters.

I just wish I could make some of my friends see this.
posted by ZeusHumms at 5:11 AM on January 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


So far this was the worst episode, but I still enjoyed it.

It has been proven with both science and magic that the worst episode of Sherlock was the really racist and uninvolving 1x02. I will accept no other answers.

I basically liked the episode, I see the article's point, but on the whole, I'd say that Irene Adler has never been that great of a character. Zero Effect made good use of her, and that's about it. Too often Adler degrades into a winky, not-as-empowering-as-you-think rendition of "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better."

The Sherlock mythos should introduce other female characters who are more interesting.

As someone pointed out somewhere, there are some odd things about the stock-character dominatrix. Firstly, they're completely defined by their profession: constantly talking in sexual innuendo in both professional and private life. If you had an accountant character who did nothing but query restaurant bills and talk about his installment purchase plans when off duty, it would be an intolerably obvious cliché, but it seems to be tolerated here because of the sexy sexiness.

FWIW, I knew a real life stock-character dominatrix who did exactly this. It was amusing at first, and then it became ultra-repetitive.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:24 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


My biggest qualm with the episode was that I enjoyed the (sometimes not so) subtle relationship between Watson and Holmes a lot more before it.
In this episode they just had to shout everything at you: "YOU ARE LIKE HIS BOYFRIEND!" - "I AM NOT GAY!" - etc.
I could have done with a bit more innuendo and subtleness. They're just ruining my slash that way.
posted by ts;dr at 5:28 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Then there's the fact that he took a kickarse character like River Song and transformed her into a mess who almost destroyed time because she couldn't handle her emotions and loved a man too much."

I never got the River Song love. She was always a mess of a character; at best, a 1 dimensional cipher obviously set up to be the "mysterious woman" - a deliberate number of hints given to pique interest, with a shrewdly-calculated number held back to to make you want more - but who should have remained cryptic. I'll reserve judgement on the Sherlock episode until after I've seen it - but note that the whole purpose of Irene Adler in the original story was also to remain cryptic, and the only dimension to the character is "she beat Sherlock Holmes".

I'm not the brightest when it comes to the subtleties of characterisation and scriptwriting, so when even I can see what you're doing it's a pretty good sign that you're laying it on with a lead trowel. Which is something Moffat does quite regularly, although not to the extent that RTD does…
posted by Pinback at 5:33 AM on January 4, 2012


I disliked the ending very much. It's one thing to show Sherlock getting the best of another villain using his intellect and wit. It's quite another to have him rescue a damsel in distress. Ugh.
posted by Fizz at 5:34 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never got the River Song love. She was always a mess of a character; at best, a 1 dimensional cipher obviously set up to be the "mysterious woman" - a deliberate number of hints given to pique interest, with a shrewdly-calculated number held back to to make you want more - but who should have remained cryptic.

Pretty much this. River was always best at a distance. Ditto for Adler.

What are some cases of a River/Adler type of character actually turning out well, even after we've gotten up close and personal with them?
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:37 AM on January 4, 2012


Aeryn Sun.
posted by mek at 5:45 AM on January 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


I haven't seen any of the Moffat Holmes stuff so I walked into this thread thinking of the canonical Holmes and scratching my head. Upon reading I remember why I don't miss watching TV very much.

Personally, I find this sort of thing roughly a zillion times more offensive than the low cut strapless chain mail hauberk (previously and previouslyer) precisely because it's not about superficialites but intrinsic quality. Of course, I also think that people who feel the need to rework Sherlock Holmes into the present probably also sacrifice kittens to the serpent god (or at least don't have a single interesting idea in their head) so Moffat starts out in a hole as far as my opinion goes but makes up for it by being an enthusiastic digger.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:47 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


What are some cases of a River/Adler type of character actually turning out well, even after we've gotten up close and personal with them?

Seconding Aeryn Sun.

Also:

Zoe from Firefly
Alice Morgan from Luther (who is also, imo, the best Moriarty since the original)
Selina Kyle / Catwoman

There are more, but I can't remember them right now. I will keep thinking.
posted by fight or flight at 5:57 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stephen Moffat drives me round the bend. He's obviously funny, intelligent and imaginative. His scripts are much better paced and have much more flair than RTD's work.

But then... his treatment of women. Ugh. He seems to view being female as a weird character trait that comes as a surprise even to women. He's also a very good example of someone who clearly thinks he's writing "strong female characters", because he makes them good with guns and sassy cross-talk - but then turns them into adjuncts to the male characters, whose plots all revolve around love or babies or both.

"What happened to time?" "A woman." I actually physically winced. The pathetic grasp at noir style and a knowing man-of-the-world air just collapses, painfully, into geeky sexism. Yuck.
posted by lucien_reeve at 5:59 AM on January 4, 2012 [17 favorites]


Alice Morgan I'll give you, but I don't think Aeryn or Zoe fit the rubric. YoSaffBridge from Firefly fits pretty well with the "mysterious woman" trope though.
posted by kmz at 6:03 AM on January 4, 2012


When you get up close and personal with a character - at least a three dimensional character - you're going to have to love 'em, warts and all. The question is, if you were writing the further adventures of Irene Adler, could you make her an obsessive manic depressive with a cocaine habit (to borrow some of Holmes harder to market character traits) and still make her "turn out well" instead of just being the female Doc Savage?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:07 AM on January 4, 2012


Re: Aeryn Sun, I haven't see Farscape, but I'll make sure to change this at some point.

Re: Zoe, I'm sorry, but she's nothing like the River/Adler archetype. She's a loyal soldier who's also happily married, not a wily, cryptic Woman of Mystery who bests the tricky main character. Were you thinking of Saffron?

Alice Morgan is much more like it, though, and Kyle/Catwoman, when written well, is pretty awesome.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:08 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


So this is a bit of a tangent, for which I apologize, but it was inspired by reading friends' discussion of this very issue. I've long felt that fandom, with its foundation in the Big Name Fan, is bad for genre media. Mind you, I'm not saying that fans are bad, instead that the internet native cadres of superfans are bad because they distort audience reaction to content and have a negative influence on wider acceptance of the material.

In the three/four years since those initial comments, I think we've seen the rise of the dark twin to the Big Name Fan, the Big Name Detractor. While there are still people who rush out to be huge initial supporters of a particular new bit of media, years of corporate ad campaigns and social media blitzes have sort of tainted the role. Once, you could be a Big Name Fan and the content creators would look to you. Now, it seems that the creators are walled away by media buzz types who seek to artificially create fandom. This makes people wary and some downright cynical, so the Big Name Detractor is born (I use Detractor in lieu of Snark or Nit Picker or whatever, still trying to get a handle on what the heck to call'em).

The BNDs, like the BNFs, seek to carve out their corner of the internets by championing their opinions regarding certain media. For both groups, there is a certain impetus to be first to do so - "I knew this show would rock from the start!" and "See, I told you it would suck!" And if you can't be first, well, be vocal and when in doubt, take a hard line (ala the Republican primary candidates). Hard line views stir the pot, swell controversy, and encourage more hits/comments/links, which in turn validates your position and encourages you to be more strident yet.

I'm not saying that criticism is bad or shouldn't be done, but just as devout fandom is not good in the long run, so is devoted detraction. It sets up a similar echo chamber with a similar impact as I got into with the first link in this comment (Creator sees reaction of vocal minority, creator changes future content based on minority's opinions, work suffers). The rush to react and the intractability of said reaction isn't great or even helpful.

To bring this ramble back around to Sherlock, I enjoyed the first series and was looking forward to the second. I didn't know when it would air because I'm in America and it takes awhile (in internet time) for that stuff to make it over here if it's not under the black flag. I found out that the second series was airing mainly from seeing people's reactions to the first episode. When I talk about how this is not in the long term interests of the genre, this is what I'm getting at: my first exposure to the new series is 'Sherlock degrades women' So now, I'm wondering if this is something I should still look forward to? Is it something I should go out of my way to see as soon as I'm legally able (My region-free DVD player and amazon.co.uk have been wonders for scratching my Lewis itch. No doubt they will tap the Endeavour vein as well).

And to what end the detraction? It's not like the show's creators can change the coming episodes in reaction to fan opinion - the show's principals are now probably knee-deep in Middle Earth - no matter how valid the points, but I can guarantee that when the second episode of the series airs, people will be going over it with a fine toothed comb looking for similar infractions. For a similar example, look to the disappointment that was Starfire in Red Hood and the Outlaws. The internet rightly blew up over that and it continued to so with issue #2 as the BNDs came out with knives sharpened to eviscerate the work in exchange for hits, even though Issue #2 was unable to be changed in reaction to reader feedback once #1 came out. At that point, it felt like it became less about the real problems with the presentation of women in the New 52 and more about getting pageviews.

A friend of mine had a good insight about how fandom seems intent on seeing only trees, no forest. I tend to agree - both BNFs and BNDs seem to focus on a single tree and by that tree, judge the entire forest. It's okay for a nice forest to have a crappy tree and it's totally fine for a run down forest to have a nice tree. But, to belabor the metaphor, when I'm seeking opinion on where to go for a nice hike, I really want that opinion to focus on the whole forest, not a single tree. We see it again and again where one tree damns or justifies the forest and since it is much easier to damn a tree, entire forests are being put to the flames unfairly.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:10 AM on January 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't think Aeryn or Zoe fit the rubric.

I was thinking of them more as early River Song/women of fortune types, although I'll grant you they're much less mysterious than she was. Maybe I'm just stuck on ladies who are good with guns.

YoSaffBridge does fit very well.

What about Faith from BtvS?
posted by fight or flight at 6:11 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The question is, if you were writing the further adventures of Irene Adler, could you make her an obsessive manic depressive with a cocaine habit (to borrow some of Holmes harder to market character traits) and still make her "turn out well" instead of just being the female Doc Savage?

I would much, much, much rather see/watch a story about a trickster with mental and drug problems than a story about an all-powerful hero with no significant flaws, but I think that people in general still have an irritating tendency to make female characters into Strong Female Characters - sexualized, objectified, and without those flaws which make characters interesting.

Oh hey, you know what was a TV show with an engaging, Adler-esque main character? Veronica Mars. She was indisputably the likable genius hero, but she was also smug, arrogant, and, very occasionally, deeply unwise. It's sad that her ilk are rare in pop culture. (It's also sad that Showtime was never able to develop that flash-forward version of Veronica Mars with her as a n00b in the FBI.)

What about Faith from BtvS?

Definitely fits.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:17 AM on January 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


In the three/four years since those initial comments, I think we've seen the rise of the dark twin to the Big Name Fan, the Big Name Detractor.

Neither of those terms are well defined, constant, or mutually exclusive. The biggest fans of a work are often the first and loudest to criticize something because they rightly or wrongly feel a new installment is inferior. Not to mention, BNFs don't become BNFs just by being something's biggest/first cheerleader.

It's not like the show's creators can change the coming episodes in reaction to fan opinion

By that logic, criticism of creative works is always pointless.

When I talk about how this is not in the long term interests of the genre, this is what I'm getting at: my first exposure to the new series is 'Sherlock degrades women' So now, I'm wondering if this is something I should still look forward to?

This is an article in the Guardian. Not an LJ or Dreamwidth post. (Not that there's anything wrong with those.)
posted by kmz at 6:22 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


As far as I could tell, Sherlock Season 2 is supposed to air on PBS' Masterpiece Theater in May, but there was one page on PBS' website that said it was airing in the later weeks of January. It's possible that this was supposed to be changed when Sherlock was pushed back at the BBC.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:26 AM on January 4, 2012


I'm not saying that criticism is bad or shouldn't be done, but just as devout fandom is not good in the long run, so is devoted detraction.

Except the major criticism isn't coming from fandom at all... it's coming from The Guardian. The "fandom" links involved are pretty even-handed, and go out of their way to heap praise on Donna's run on Dr. Who. What you're complaining about isn't new, and it has nothing to do with fandom, you're just pissed off at The Critic, a trope as old as time.
posted by mek at 6:29 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


What really broke the first episode for me was not just the misogyny but the tone. Moffat seems to be trying to go in a darker direction for Sherlock at this point, turning his somewhat clueless insults into deliberate cruelty -- his obliviousness to Molly's flirting now takes the form of obviously inappropriate comments about her appearance and what he sees as worthlessness, he makes ubermenschy comments about how "Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side," etc. Done well, it could be a good deconstruction of the idea of Holmes fandom, a reminder that the hero-worship we have for the supercapable doesn't mean they see us as anything more than an annoyance.

But that all gets derailed by how much Moffat clearly loves the character of Sherlock and is unwilling to have anybody but him (or occasionally John) take center stage. So we end up getting an incredibly cruel, unsympathetic, and downright creepy character with no acknowledgment that he's supposed to be anything but a hero that we root for, then rewriting canon so he always comes out on top. Then we get a conflation of that character with male logic, and all his victims with female emotionality, because the characters Sherlock reserves most of his ire for in this episode are all women. I'm going to keep watching for flights of the dead and locked-room puzzles, but I feel like Moffat doesn't really realize how loathsome he's made the characters and their world.
posted by Tubalcain at 6:35 AM on January 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Well, yes, that's the point. It's a programme about sociopaths. The scene with Molly was interesting because it was clear that he didn't want to be cruel (because he's shocked when she confronts him) but it's the only way he can talk to people.

As for the article, it's just the Guardian trolling their readership for page hits. They do this all the time with anything that's perceived to be successful among their demographic. Why do you suppose they employ Julie Bindel and Tanya Gold at all? For their penetrating insights? Trolling the readership makes for page hits. And what do page hits mean? Prizes!
posted by Grangousier at 6:41 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I admit that the BNF/BND label is not the best one - just using what I've called'em in the past. If you have an alternative, I'm open to suggestions.

By that logic, criticism of creative works is always pointless.

Criticism of incomplete creative works is. Even though episodes of Sherlock are presented as two hour movies, they are still part of a series that is not yet complete.

I think a big part of what I'm reacting to is the rush to judgment. I wonder if that would help define the BNx's better? That there are those out in internet land who have an interest in judging a work not only quickly but intractably for, as Grangousier just pointed out, prizes.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:44 AM on January 4, 2012


Additional blogosphere input: Foz Meadows on women throughout S1, and the post on A Scandle in Belgravia. I think the second is a little less spot-on than the first, mostly because of the handling of the BDSM elements.


fight or flight's very first quote at the very top of this thread is the money one for me. This episode could have been so, so, so amazing. And then Steven Moffat, the man who wrote River Song and Amy Pond and nameless-black-gay-spouse!, happened to it.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:47 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I disliked the ending very much. It's one thing to show Sherlock getting the best of another villain using his intellect and wit. It's quite another to have him rescue a damsel in distress. Ugh.

Well, many of the original Holmes stories involve him rescuing a damsel in distress. Sometimes literally finding them in locked towers. The Copper Beeches. The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Speckled Band. The Abbey Grange. The Solitary Cyclist. Charles Augustus Milverton. Sometimes it feels like that's all he does! So that aspect fit the character of Holmes, although not Irene Adler. She was the one who outsmarted Holmes; she should have been able to keep herself alive. Which is the reason that sting ending disappointed me. You'd expect that from Doctor Who... it doesn't really fit on Sherlock, outside of the reality that the Doctor Who formula is very successful so, in a historically hilarious reversal, we now have Sherlock imitating the Doctor.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 6:51 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grangousier, that's not really what I'm complaining about. I'm completely fine with that direction, and like you said, it's a show about sociopaths and could work really well as one. The problem that I'm talking about is that Moffat still seems to be working partially with the first-series portrayal of Sherlock as a sort of amusingly oblivious Asperger's case, and seems to be unwilling to portray him as somebody who is fundamentally Not A Good Person. Instead, we get him as an anti-hero that we're still supposed to be sympathetic towards, plus the previously-mentioned unwillingness to ever have Sherlock be anything less than completely dominant over the rest of the world.
posted by Tubalcain at 6:51 AM on January 4, 2012


That there are those out in internet land who have an interest in judging a work not only quickly but intractably for, as Grangousier just pointed out, prizes.

Hmm, I don't know. Of all the rants I've read about Sherlock and Who, most if not all of them have been from people who are or were fans, who were disappointed with the canon for whatever reason and wanted to express it. I know more than a few people who, like andraste's partner, have been loyal fans for a long time, only to come across something they can't agree with and have decided to share that disagreement in an effort to understand it.

I think I'd feel better about your argument if you could provide some examples of BNDs and why you consider them so.
posted by fight or flight at 6:54 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, yes, that's the point. It's a programme about sociopaths.

It's telling that out of all of Sherlock Holmes's characteristics, Moffat decided to pick the two that, you know. Involve the most scenes of Holmes being smarter than everyone else, and the most scenes of Holmes being mean to other people.

Compare the way Sherlock is shot to the Granada production. Yes, the Granada pulls the tone from the original, bu there is an awful lot more emphasis on the mystery itself rather than SHERLOCK IS THE SMARTEST GUYS HE IS SO MEAN, BUT ALSO SO SMART AND PEOPLE STILL FANCY HIM.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:55 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interesting that no one's yet brought up Mrs. Hudson, who is, in Doyle and in every other adaptation I've seen, a one-dimensional utility background character, and who in this episode was shown turning the "dithery helpless elderly woman" stereotype on its head (and, granted, to Sherlock's advantage), and displaying resourcefulness, guile, and physical courage. I'm not crazy about the treatment of Irene Adler here, or of female characters in the series generally, but as a verging-on-elderly woman myself, I do like Mrs. Hudson being given a bit more depth.
posted by Kat Allison at 6:55 AM on January 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't know, she does risk her life in the Granada adaptation of the Empty House, and Holmes clearly credits her bravery. Again, taken directly from the original stories.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 7:02 AM on January 4, 2012


When I talk about how this is not in the long term interests of the genre, this is what I'm getting at: my first exposure to the new series is 'Sherlock degrades women' So now, I'm wondering if this is something I should still look forward to?

Sherlock is generally very well-written and extremely well-cast, well-acted, and well-directed. 1x02 was relatively lame but still watchable, even though it was ridden with Orientalist stereotypes. 2x01 was generally fine, but the article has a point about Adler, and just from a general story perspective, I wish they had excised the last fifteen seconds or so of the episode.

Sherlock is generally pretty awesome, flaws and all. My SO and I look forward eagerly to the next episode.

Also, getting back to the article: I'd hardly consider Adler to be "proto-feminist" merely by dint of her having outwitted Holmes. The character had always been objectified as a Mystery, as The Cipher, as The Woman, as The One Who Got Away. She's a part of Sherlock's world, not the other way around. The fact that her character was clever is no more a proto-feminist statement than the character of Puss in Boots was an early example of the animal rights movement.

What really broke the first episode for me was not just the misogyny but the tone. Moffat seems to be trying to go in a darker direction for Sherlock at this point, turning his somewhat clueless insults into deliberate cruelty -- his obliviousness to Molly's flirting now takes the form of obviously inappropriate comments about her appearance and what he sees as worthlessness, he makes ubermenschy comments about how "Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side," etc. Done well, it could be a good deconstruction of the idea of Holmes fandom, a reminder that the hero-worship we have for the supercapable doesn't mean they see us as anything more than an annoyance.

But Moffat doesn't have to do that deconstruction himself, overtly in the script. The audience does it for him, when the audience recognizes Sherlock as being callous and cruel. Hand-holding the audience through this process would be tiresome and condescending. Holmes is engaging because he lacks a good portion of what makes us human - not just that he has remarkable abilities, but because he doesn't fit in. His rabidly antisocial tendencies help make it all the more interesting when he apparently defends Mrs. Hudson, or when he obviously falls for Irene Adler.

This isn't new, either. In 1x01, wasn't he described as being a functional sociopath? In 1x01, wasn't it shown that his passion for solving mysteries almost drove him to an effective suicide, were it not for the intervention of Dr. Watson? And wasn't it a surprise when, in 1x03, he's obviously shaken when Watson is threatened?

But that all gets derailed by how much Moffat clearly loves the character of Sherlock and is unwilling to have anybody but him (or occasionally John) take center stage.

Well, the show is called Sherlock, not 'Locky and Friends. At the end of the day, he ought to be the center of attention. Watson, et al. lend valuable assistance, but Sherlock takes center stage, and if Sherlock were to grow too much into becoming like a regular person, he'd become a bore, or at the very least, no longer Sherlock Holmes.

For example, I don't want episodes where Sherlock apologizes to Mrs. Hudson for being brusque, tells Dr. Watson that he'll be more considerate from now on of his time and energies, and has a nice, pleasant dinner with his brother where he says that he'd like to bury the hatchet and to recognize the full potential of both their familial relationship and mutual, cooperative respect of one another's professional sphere.

So we end up getting an incredibly cruel, unsympathetic, and downright creepy character with no acknowledgment that he's supposed to be anything but a hero that we root for, then rewriting canon so he always comes out on top.

He certainly is cruel, unsympathetic, and fairly creepy. Many people find that interesting. All the various versions of Sherlock Holmes have had him as cold, sarcastic, and bizarre. It makes for interesting stories.

To take another angle on it: if you looked at the qualities we would want in our friends, family, fellow citizens of the world, etc., and if you looked at the qualities we find interesting to follow in a main character, they would not all line up. Most people don't want stories about nice, fair reasonable, level-headed people who basically try to get along with people. We want interesting stories about people who want something but who face obstacles on their path to getting that something. We also don't need hand-holding to learn than we shouldn't act like Sherlock Holmes in real life.

I'm not crazy about the treatment of Irene Adler here, or of female characters in the series generally, but as a verging-on-elderly woman myself, I do like Mrs. Hudson being given a bit more depth.

A very good point.

It's telling that out of all of Sherlock Holmes's characteristics, Moffat decided to pick the two that, you know. Involve the most scenes of Holmes being smarter than everyone else, and the most scenes of Holmes being mean to other people.

Telling of what? Moffat's Sherlock is colder than most other Sherlocks, but it's relentlessly interesting, and he isn't really any meaner than House. Contrariwise, Moffat's Eleventh Doctor is usually cuddlier than most other Doctors, except when threatened. They're both just angles on existing characters.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:04 AM on January 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think I saw a different piece of TV...

While I didn't like the way the ending was shot (and how it was sprung on the audience), I saw it more as a case of Adler manipulating Sherlock into rescuing her, as she'd been manipulating him all along. After all, he got there somehow. The clear implication is that he'd been searching for her for the intervening time despite his feigned indifference to her - she lost her phone full of information, and got a more valuable form of protection in the form of Sherlock's infatuation with her. This is clearly something that Sherlock regards as a weakness on his part, since he hides it from Watson.

The script even went out of its way to mitigate Adler's nudity - Adler uses it to manipulate people, calls nudity her 'battle dress', and parlays it into control, information, and protection from powerful people. Sherlock, on the other hand, ends up inappropriately naked in public because he throws a petulant fit at his older and more powerful brother, who eventually scolds him back into his clothes.

The entire episode seemed set up, in part, to play Watson off of Ader, and to a lesser extent, off of Molly. ("I'm not gay!" "And I...am. And look at us.") Adler and Watson are, in a sense, competing for Sherlock's attention, with Adler (the smarter and wilier of the two) winning out in the end because Sherlock views her as an equal.
posted by Wylla at 7:07 AM on January 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


I think I'd feel better about your argument if you could provide some examples of BNDs and why you consider them so.

For Sherlock or for media works in general? I admit that the BND idea is new to me and I'm still trying to get a handle on it myself. I guess some of it comes from an effort to weed out (or at least be more aware of) the sources of negativity in my life, so have not sought out the snark in some time but have become more aware of it as I find it. The last time I attempted to find some bad movie/media podcasts to supplement The Flop House and How Did This Get Made, I found a lot of ones that were forgettable but for their cruelty.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:16 AM on January 4, 2012


I've called the "BND" idea "antifans"--there seem to be a lot of people who develop a fandom on hating on their show (at the same time they're writing fanfic for it.)
posted by Electric Elf at 7:29 AM on January 4, 2012


It's rather a misinterpretation to look at the final scene as 'damsel in distress' -- which is usually reserved for a hapless woman who is in the wrong place at the wrong time, but still deserving of rescue.

Irene Adler is neither hapless nor in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Consider: she had a piece of very important information; she's a woman for whom power means everything, and yet she had no idea how to handle this inscrutable data; she consults a consulting criminal, who advises her on how to proceed. In the end, by getting Sherlock to crack the information, she foils the plans of the terrorists -- so of course they're going to try and behead her. In the context of the situation, it's appropriate. Granted, she didn't understand what the data meant until nearly the end (when she shows up, coiffed and saucy on the plane -- land speed record for grooming, I'd say) but she didn't shy away from anything -- she was ready to push all the way to the end. The only thing the data meant to her was more power, more protection.

Sherlock saving Adler from the beheading was disappointing only in that she wasn't worthy of it. While she's no Moriarity (yet), neither is she a moral neutral. Sherlock saving Adler reveals his hope that she can be redeemed.
posted by gsh at 7:32 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel like the 'manipulative sexuality' angle is really overplayed, though, Wylla. It makes me really glad for Mrs. Hudson, who is as far as I can tell the only female character on Sherlock who is not defined almost entirely by her sexuality. Irene Adler is a dominatrix, Molly is a vehicle for jokes about flirting with Sherlock, Anthea's lines are primarily rejections of John's romantic overtures, John's girlfriends are basically defined as "she is a girlfriend of John," and Sally, one of the few female characters in the show who's not a girlfriend or a corpse, is effectively put down with a line about her affair with Anderson. You could maybe count the woman from the ill-advised second episode, but that's stretching it a bit.

It's not that there's no place for these characters, but it seems reflective of a sort of "woman = babies and boyfriends" mentality that flattens the female characters. Sherlock, John, Moriarty, Mycroft, and Lestrade all get their own tics and goals, and are fantastic characters, but the only woman who comes remotely close to par with them is Mrs. Hudson, who still often ends up in the mothering role. Sometimes I wish Moffat would just write all his characters as male, then give a random casting director carte blanche to cast some of the men as women.
posted by Tubalcain at 7:34 AM on January 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I got really tired of the fact that we never see the Adler character not being sexual. You'd think a professional dominatrix of all people would gladly put sexualisation aside when not working or playing-- indeed, to a professional, sexuality derives its value from being confined to the dungeon and one's intimates. But no, we get that sex-doll acting style with the sighing voice-work where you sort of sing-song on a continuous exhalation rather than talking like an actual person. Because Moffatt's Adler isn't a person, she's an object.

Moffatt must know that women watch this show. Why can't he grasp that a woman who constantly, adeptly uses her sexuality as a survival tool is also a human being?
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:06 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


delmoi: "That may be the case but how many professional male dominatrices (Dominators?) have you ever heard of? I don't mean guys in porn, but men who get paid to dominate women? I don't think I've ever heard of a single one. "

This is exactly because most doms are men. A submissive woman looking for a dominant man would never have to pay for it, while it seems submissive men are much more common than dominant women. Thus, the market for professional dominatrices.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:14 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't decide which one is worse, this Sherlock episode or the Doctor Who Xmas special:

"Look, I affirm women's strength because BABBIES" *facepalm*
vs.
"Powerful women must be shamed and defeated! Then they can be proper damsels in distress" *double facepalm*
posted by speicus at 8:19 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's rather a misinterpretation to look at the final scene as 'damsel in distress'

I don't think it's a misinterpretation at all. The cellphone represents her power, and it's only when it's taken away from her that she becomes worthy of rescue or redemption, as you put it -- a damsel in distress. She didn't start out that way, but that's the pretty clear meaning of the ending.
posted by speicus at 8:25 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also liked the Adler character, right up until the point that she revealed that she needed the "consultant criminal" Moriarty - it just turned her into a pawn (as the Guardian article argues) and that was really disappointing.

Holmes & Moriarty have always been a duality, evenly matched opposite sides of a coin. Making Adler Holmes's equal spoils that. Coins don't have three sides.
posted by scalefree at 8:43 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, so, focus on the ending. She has he power away from her, she's made to be vulnerable even though she's supposedly outwardly pushy and strong, and in the end someone else saves her through no evident involvement of her own. Such a stereotypical girl!

Now... what happened at the beginning of the episode again?
posted by gracedissolved at 8:53 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


...okay, I have no idea what I did that. She has he*r* power *taken* away from her.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:55 AM on January 4, 2012


it was a great piece of entertainment, you guys remember what that is, right? or does some check-list need to be filled in until something qualifies as being such?
posted by canned polar bear at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


it was a great piece of entertainment, you guys remember what that is, right? or does some check-list need to be filled in until something qualifies as being such?

Does something being entertainment mean it's immune or opaque to analysis? The fact that's it's great entertainment means analysis is all the more meaningful.

If you don't care, that's fine, but comments like this are hardly better than "your band sucks", "do I have to own a TV", etc.
posted by kmz at 9:37 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I mean, I'd say a major checklist item for me is "not writing several prominent characters in a way that seems to betray a deep disinterest in how half of humanity actually operates." Worse characterization makes worse writing makes worse entertainment.

I love the series, but believe it or not, it actually enhances my enjoyment to analyze where I think something succeeds and fails.
posted by Tubalcain at 9:39 AM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Moffat should be placed in a hydraulic press for preparing Fuller's earth (or was that a coiner's press for preparing amalgam?) and compacted into a small briquette. cf: The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb.

It is well known that Holmes and Adler hooked up in Montenegro when Holmes was on the run as Sigerson. See Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A life of the world's first consulting detective, particularly the Great E-O Theory. Furthermore, there was issue of the Montenegran meeting of Holmes and Adler: their son who became a famous detective himself.

Flogging is too good for that cad Moffat. He probably smokes his cigars with the band on! Get me my riding crop! (*advances on the miscreant with loud blithering noises*)
posted by warbaby at 9:50 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I got really tired of the fact that we never see the Adler character not being sexual.

We also never see the Sherlock character not being a sociopath asshole. They are characters in a work of fiction.

Moffatt must know that women watch this show. Why can't he grasp that a woman who constantly, adeptly uses her sexuality as a survival tool is also a human being?

Moffat must also know that men watch this show. Why can't he grasp that a man with a brilliant mind and a long-established disdain for humanity could be kind every now and then and have puppies in his house and call up his brother and ask if he can buy him a nice lunch?

Right, because he is a character in a work of fiction.
posted by jbickers at 10:43 AM on January 4, 2012


They are characters in a work of fiction.

I don't understand your argument here. The fact that they are fictional hardly precludes their creator from criticism.
posted by fight or flight at 11:48 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was really turned off by the role of women in the Who Xmas special as well. Moffat's an excellent storyteller and he's great at writing witticisms and snappy comebacks, but his weaknesses, including the way he writes women, are getting to me. I'm also worried that he's making Sherlock his serious character and turning the Doctor into a juvenile ninny who can't ever act like an adult, like a space Peter Pan or space Michael Jackson (Captain EO, I guess).
posted by painquale at 12:08 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


They are characters in a work of fiction.

I don't understand your argument here. The fact that they are fictional hardly precludes their creator from criticism.


Yeah, I know that, but it seems like Moffat always gets this weirdly skewed sort of criticism that rings really hollow with me. It's almost like some people have it in for him personally rather than his writing. He's not the first person to make Holmes dark (the Jeremy Brett Holmes was plenty assholish at times) and he's not the first person to make the Doctor "a juvenile ninny" (most of the Second Doctor stories), but some people like to act as if he is.

And perhaps it's just because I'm a man and I am therefore inherently designed to see things differently, but I don't understand the "Moffat hates women" thing. Amy Pond is the far-stronger of the two in her marriage (her husband took her surname, for god's sake). River and Donna kick ass. And the whole message (at least, to me) of this year's Who Christmas special was, "women are amazing, and not just because they can be moms or wives, but because they are simply fucking amazing and even this 1000-year-old time traveler sometimes just stops and stands in awe of them."

But again, that's just what I get out of it, and my view on it might be skewed.
posted by jbickers at 12:53 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


>Right, because he is a character in a work of fiction.<

I understand this. What I don't really understand when people get upset about the way characters act in a work and want it to be different. There seems to be a really large group of people who are always saying "I don’t know why he’s such an asshole in that story". It’s because he’s an asshole in that story (I know someone who won’t watch anything where people have affairs, and gets upset about it). I think most movies and TV shows have really poor writing and the characters are badly done, I don’t watch them if I can help it. I don’t complain and try to get them changed.

The sexist argument that keeps coming up (at least here) sort of reminds me of the time when The Black Guy could never be the bad guy in movies or TV. It was better than the Black Guy always being the criminal, but that was it. Some real live women have the behavior you don’t like in shows, many fictional ones do too. Mandating that women should never be portrayed in a way you don’t like isn’t a great idea. I can understand complaining about how you feel about the way fictional women act in general, as a whole, but it breaks down when you complain about individual shows.
posted by bongo_x at 1:05 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Moffat has trouble sometimes with his female characters, but with the criticism laid at the feet of Irene Adler, I get the feeling that people are now so invested in the Sexist Moffat narrative that they'll see sexism in anything Moffat writes.

Btw: Donna Noble was an RTD creation.
posted by seanyboy at 1:06 PM on January 4, 2012


>I don't understand the "Moffat hates women" thing. Amy Pond is the far-stronger of the two in her marriage (her husband took her surname, for god's sake).<

Yeah, I was wondering if they were ever going to have a strong, decent male character on Dr. Who. All those parts always go to women.
posted by bongo_x at 1:07 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was wondering if they were ever going to have a strong, decent male character on Dr. Who. All those parts always go to women.

I think you're taking the piss here (hard to tell over the Internet, of course), but folks who are put off by the sexism they see in Moffat's stories should go back and revisit some of the Tom Baker stories. That guy was a straight-up misogynist who talked down to women all the time, and for many people, he is "their favorite Doctor" and the recipient of much warm fuzzy sentiment in Who fandom.
posted by jbickers at 1:22 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


(and seanyboy, you're right about Donna of course, my bad.)
posted by jbickers at 1:23 PM on January 4, 2012


I really enjoyed this episode despite the glaring plot holes (Holmes threw someone out of a window more than once and he's right as rain a few days later?).

I'm finding it difficult to get up in arms with a portrayal of a woman who is clearly considered Holmes's equal, and who in the end is defeated by a titular character who always wins. The whole point and pleasure of the show is that it's a wish fulfillment scenario where Holmes always wins - just in ingenious, charming, sexy, unpredictable ways.

It's apparent Irene gets to him in ways no other opponent has previously, and due to her intelligence rather than sexuality. That she didn't ultimately win in this particular super-charged re-imagining should be no surprise. No one is ultimately going to beat Holmes, it just won't happen. My biggest criticism is the bland choice of actress - imagine what a young Judi Dench would have done with the role.

While we're here, can we talk about the use of the word 'agency'. It seems to have become a meaningless jargon word that reduces female character depictions to the question of whether they take control of the action or not. I can understand the reaction against tedious Hollywood depictions of heroines who have to literally be talked through their own lives. But the word just seems to shut down conversations - 'but she doesn't have agency!' - without ever getting round to discussing what 'agency' would mean in any particular universe/context.

Why exactly does a character have to have 'agency' in order to be considered worthy? Is Alice in Wonderland an inferior fictional character because things happen to her, rather than having been caused by her?
posted by Summer at 1:28 PM on January 4, 2012


I'm finding it difficult to get up in arms with a portrayal of a woman who is clearly considered Holmes's equal, and who in the end is defeated by a titular character who always wins.

But he doesn't always win. A Scandal in Bohemia turns on that point (and there are other stories where Holmes fails in some way see - The Yellow Face, Five Orange Pips).

The great thing about Adler in ACD (despite all the stories where she and Holmes get it on) is that not only does he beat Holmes at his own game, but there is nothing romantic between them in the story at all - only Watson's extras to the narrative.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:08 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes but I'm talking specifically about Nu Holmes. I haven't read the originals and so don't know how they compare. I just can't imagine this Holmes ever being beaten, ultimately.
posted by Summer at 2:12 PM on January 4, 2012


women are amazing, and not just because they can be moms or wives, but because they are simply fucking amazing and even this 1000-year-old time traveler sometimes just stops and stands in awe of them.

Setting aside the fact the crown scene in Doctor Who read to me very clearly as "women are amazing because they can produce babies! IT'S WHAT MAKES THEM STRONG!", the general statement that women should be placed on a pedestal because they are women strikes me as problematic.

I'm finding it difficult to get up in arms with a portrayal of a woman who is clearly considered Holmes's equal, and who in the end is defeated by a titular character who always wins.

Here's the thing: in the original Doyle story, Holmes does not win over Irene Adler. In fact, she pwns him so hard that he asks for her picture like a little fanboy and always speaks of her reverentially after that. In contrast, not only does Moffat's version have Sherlock win, he "wins" over a weeping, on-her-knees, forcibly head-scarved Irene Adler who is about to be executed.

That's a pretttttty big difference. I mean, I generally don't have problems with things getting updated or swapped around and reinterpreters putting their own stamp on things, but that is a marked, marked difference. (And I don't even know what to tell you about the race angle on that scene, what with terrorists wielding scimitars in Karachi.)

Also, for the record, in the Doyle stories, Sherlock does not always win. For example, A Scandal in Bohemia is part of the The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collection of short stories. There are twelve of them in the set, and Sherlock comes off as smart, but he loses to Adler in Scandal, doesn't manage to do more than temporarily scare the dastardly stepfather in A Case of Identity (and admits that he can't do anything else), fails to keep his client from being killed in The Five Orange Pips or apprehend the murderers despite being really heated up about failing to protect his client, and doesn't catch the counterfeiters in The Engineer's Thumb. Arguably, he doesn't even come off as smart in Pips, because five pages or so in, the modern American reading that story starts yelling DUDE, IT'S THE KLAN and HAVE YOU CHECKED THE BUSHES FOR DUDES IN WHITE HOODS AND/OR BURNING CROSSES.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:13 PM on January 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


The Who Xmas Special struck me as Moffat trying, very clumsily, to counter the criticisms that he had de-powered his female characters. It's a shame, because it would have been fine if [SPOILERS, SWEETIE] the mother had just been the strong one by dint of keeping herself and her family together and they didn't bother bringing her womb into it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:16 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


joyceanmachine - I hear you, but these seem to be bigger problems with Sherlock itself rather than the portrayal of Adler specifically. TFA doesn't compare the two in this way (which would have been more interesting IMO).
posted by Summer at 2:20 PM on January 4, 2012


fails to keep his client from being killed in The Five Orange Pips or apprehend the murderers despite being really heated up about failing to protect his client,

He's clearly not infallible in Moffat's version, either. He comprehensively loses to Moriarty in The Great Game.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:20 PM on January 4, 2012


Why exactly does a character have to have 'agency' in order to be considered worthy?

I don't believe they do, so long as they are written well and have some kind of depth beyond their lack of agency. I'm also not sure that Alice is a good example of a character without agency -- she does, for instance, choose to eat the EAT ME cake, and her final act of defiance is what breaks Wonderland apart.

I used the term "narrative agency" to describe Amy's situation because I believe once she's shoved in a box, made pregnant, and dumped out to wait for her menfolk to rescue her, whatever ability she had as a character to influence the world is diminished. In that hideous The Girl Who Waited episode, this is all but underlined -- she's left alone in a strange world and manages to cope, manages to change both it and herself, and what happens? She's discarded like yesterday's newspaper because she's not the young hot girl Rory fell in love with. The Doctor slams the door in her face and, oh well, come along Pond, do try not to get pregnant again, there's a good girl.
posted by fight or flight at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is a totally different topic from the sexism discussion, so forgive if this is a derail, but I think it's important:

in the original Doyle story, Holmes does not win over Irene Adler. In fact, she pwns him so hard that he asks for her picture like a little fanboy and always speaks of her reverentially after that. In contrast, not only does Moffat's version have Sherlock win, he "wins" over a weeping, on-her-knees, forcibly head-scarved Irene Adler who is about to be executed.

That's a pretttttty big difference. I mean, I generally don't have problems with things getting updated or swapped around and reinterpreters putting their own stamp on things, but that is a marked, marked difference.


Why do you feel that you are entitled to having "Belgravia" end with the same major plot points as "Bohemia"? At what point did Moffat or Gattiss ever promise us a remake of that story, right down to the ending?
posted by jbickers at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2012


I think the feeling of many people is that the original storyline was simpler, more effective, more engaging, and less annoying than the updated version.

The real art of that particular story is in its ambiguity and coyness, not in having everything shoehorned to fit into a larger mythos.

Which is somewhat at odds with the acceptance and promotion of Moriarty (really only appeared in two stories, one written after the story where he <spoiler>apparently kills Sherlock</spoiler>) and Mycroft (forget if it was one or two stories, but he's absolutely disinterested in Holmes' life) as major recurring characters. But both of those are now standard parts of the larger post-Doyle Holmes mythos, so I guess they get a free pass from many.
posted by Pinback at 2:39 PM on January 4, 2012


Why do you feel that you are entitled to having "Belgravia" end with the same major plot points as "Bohemia"? At what point did Moffat or Gattiss ever promise us a remake of that story, right down to the ending?

The point isn't that Moffat has to use the same ending as ACD, but rather that if you didn't like the ending to Belgravia there's a very stark comparison that can be made to Bohemia. Just as there's no requirement that they follow ACD canon, neither were they forced to depower Adler.

On another note, ugh, just saw that the writer of the terrible second ep of the first series is writing the finale this year. Doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence at all.
posted by kmz at 2:52 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why do you feel that you are entitled to having "Belgravia" end with the same major plot points as "Bohemia"? At what point did Moffat or Gattiss ever promise us a remake of that story, right down to the ending?

I don't feel entitled to that.

I do think that Moffat is clearly picking and choosing what he wants to take from the original Holmes. He uses the "Irene Adler is a smoking hottie" and "Irene Adler has a job and sexual history that at least some people would find scandalous and/or titillating" and "Irene Adler sleeps with royalty" elements, and he makes approximately eight billion references to the notion of Irene Adler in pop fiction, never mind her total non-scandalousness in certain aspects of the actual Holmes canon (like being nice to clergymen, and ultimately, just wanting to settle down with her boo and be faithful to him forever). However, he dispenses with the biggest and most prominent characteristic in the Irene Adler vocabulary ("Beating Holmes and how") by throwing it off a ten-story building and then setting fire to it in the dumpster.

There should be a good reason for that, especially when so much of the rest of what Moffat uses in connection with Irene is just soaked in what can be read as stereotypical mainstream fantasies/misconceptions about BDSM, sex workers, and female sexuality. See: dominatrix who makes all kinds of innuendoes and entendres in daily speech, dominatrix who is hypersexualized and uses her body as armor, dominatrix who is Personally Into You The John/Man, woman who says she is not-heterosexual is actually into you, a man!

I'm not saying that these are necessarily untrue, or that they can never be handled skilfully and interestingly and in a non-problematic way in a story -- it's just that a huge number of them show up in the episode, and in Moffat's single biggest chance in the episode to walk the walk and have the episode embody Irene as a woman who is queer and sexy and aggressive and it not taking away from her being smart, competent, and a genuine, full match to Holmes, Moffat takes a sharp turn that isn't found by canon (even if he were obligated to follow canon). Instead, he chooses to do something that looks an awful lot like the "she might be a top, but every dominatrix is secretly yearning to be saved by a strong man!" fantasy.

It's disappointing, to say the least. In the context of Moffat's choices with Amy Pond (the girl who waited and was then kidnapped and held in facility and forced to give birth to daughter who is taken away from her!) and River Song (she became a badass in order to be worthy of the Doctor!), it's downright enraging.
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:02 PM on January 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


While some of what you all say may be true, I do think you're expecting too much of what is designed as simple, if complex entertainment. Plus this is just the first episode. My assumption was that she was simply rubbing Sherlock's face in it by suggesting he'd been bested by two enemies.
posted by feelinglistless at 3:02 PM on January 4, 2012


"On another note, ugh, just saw that the writer of the terrible second ep of the first series is writing the finale this year. Doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence at all."

Critics who've seen the final episode have said it's right up to standard.
posted by feelinglistless at 3:04 PM on January 4, 2012


Plus this is just the first episode.

Of the second series.
posted by fight or flight at 3:06 PM on January 4, 2012


Critics who've seen the final episode have said it's right up to standard.

Do you mean it's good or are you being sarcastic and you mean it's bad?
posted by Summer at 3:15 PM on January 4, 2012


I'm still disappointed that Professor Moriarty didn't turn out to be a woman in the S1 finale. Talk about a missed opportunity.
posted by hot soup girl at 3:17 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm still disappointed that Professor Moriarty didn't turn out to be a woman in the S1 finale. Talk about a missed opportunity.

Professor Jemima Moriarty.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:23 PM on January 4, 2012


Lady Moriarty will always, always, always be Alice from Luther. IIRC, they even made her an astrophysicist ferchrissake.
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:30 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Plus this is just the first episode.

Of the second series.


Third series, actually.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:37 PM on January 4, 2012


On another note, ugh, just saw that the writer of the terrible second ep of the first series is writing the finale this year. Doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence at all.

Enh. That's just the writing credit. I kind of assume that the overall structure of each of the episodes is figured out by some combination of the three writers together and then each one takes an episode and goes and writes the actual script itself (fills in the outline they've created together).

My problems with the second episode of the previous set are more structural/over-arching things than what I'd expect to have come specifically from that one dude, so hopefully it'll be fine.
posted by sparkletone at 3:44 PM on January 4, 2012


Back when I first read the original Holmes (many moons ago) I thought the whole scandal was that Adler dated the king for a while. Rewatching (and rereading) everything with an older set of eyes, I'm not surprised too much that Adler's character was taken the direction it was, and I thought she did it pretty well for the most part.

The canon Sherlock didn't give a half wit towards women and love and the softer emotions, and the current incarnation seems rather indifferent (to say the least) about that as well. Then you contrast that with a hypersexual Adler who got Holmes to run halfway around the world to rescue her (how the hell did he do that?) and trade text messages all day with sexual moans (and please, Holmes couldn't change that?).

To me, it just smacked too much of the writer(s) getting wind of fandom thinking Holmes is TEH GAY (can't blame them, given the first season) and going "MUST CORRECT THIS". (I sort of grimaced too when Watson was going "I'm not gay" and Adler saying"I am", because that sorta smacked of UNGAYING when the SPECIAL PERSON comes along", but that might be too picky.) The original had Holmes genuinely admiring Adler because of her brilliance; in this piece, her brilliance was tampered by her sexuality and WHY Holmes was paying her special attention (and respect) was blurred here.

"I would have you right here on this table until you begged for mercy twice." "I've never begged for mercy in my life." "Twice." Again, Adler being a dominating sex worker isn't that far of a stretch, but I felt this conversion lost (maybe more than) a little of her personality in the meanwhile.

All in all, I still like the series, but I was a little disappointed. Maybe I'll catch some nuances once I get some captions (bloody hell, the actors talk fast).
posted by Hakaisha at 3:45 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why can't he grasp that a man with a brilliant mind and a long-established disdain for humanity...

Are we talking about the same Sherlock Holmes that, in The Adventure of the Abbey Grange, appoints himself judge, declared Watson the jury and after 'due trial" found the killer not guilty by reason of self defense only after confirming that said killer is unwilling to flee into the night and allow the female protagonist to face the full (if bumbling in Holme's view) force of the law?

Shielding a criminal from the police, despite his serious crimes (but in defense of his beloved) is only a plot point in only two of the Holmes short stories, but apparently Doyle didn't grasp that people wanted their heroes to be cold and unswayed by such petty trifles as love.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:47 PM on January 4, 2012


To me, it just smacked too much of the writer(s) getting wind of fandom thinking Holmes is TEH GAY (can't blame them, given the first season) and going "MUST CORRECT THIS"

I don't understand where you're getting this from. The long-running joke/assumption/whatever about the original Conan Doyle stories is that Holmes and Watson were more than just friends, and the first series of Sherlock made fun of that possible subtext constantly.

Just to pick one example, in the final scene of the first series, after Holmes takes the bomb off Watson, Watson makes some comment to the effect of, "LOL. I'm glad no one saw you undressing in a dark pool at night, people already think we're gay." and Holmes dismisses it with a "people do nothing but talk" comment. The moment's played for humor (and it is funny), but that's just one of a TON of examples of them having fun with the idea of people assuming Holmes and Watson are a couple. That's continued in the start of the new series.

It's not the writers trying to defuse homosexual subtext in the Holmes/Watson relationship, it's them having fun with something people have said about the pairing for years based on the original stories. The Robert Downey Jr. movies do this to a certain extent too.
posted by sparkletone at 3:55 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Moffat has been pretty explicit that while there might be some ambiguity, he doesn't think Sherlock is gay, doesn't intend to write the show that way, and even if Sherlock were gay, he wouldn't go for Watson.

Warning for a big ol' side of Benedict Cumberbatch engaging in stupid stereotyping.
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:04 PM on January 4, 2012


It's not the writers trying to defuse homosexual subtext in the Holmes/Watson relationship

It's a tabloid, but... "The show's co-creator Steven Moffat had previously said that the racy Adler was introduced as Holmes's latest foe in order to offset the gay undercurrent between him and his sidekick Dr Watson."
posted by mek at 4:29 PM on January 4, 2012


.Warning for a big ol' side of Benedict Cumberbatch engaging in stupid stereotyping.

Sigh. All their backtracking is getting irritating. Fandom's going to do what fandom's going to do and there are much weirder things than making John and Sherlock gay lovers.
posted by book 'em dano at 4:59 PM on January 4, 2012


It's a tabloid, but... "The show's co-creator Steven Moffat had previously said that the racy Adler was introduced as Holmes's latest foe in order to offset the gay undercurrent between him and his sidekick Dr Watson."

Ha. If true, then consider my statement partially retracted. The jokes in the show about people thinking the two of them are gay have been numerous and in it since episode 1, series 1 though.
posted by sparkletone at 9:06 PM on January 4, 2012


Well, the reason I was really getting the UNGAYING vibe (and I never even read any of the tabloids or interviews) was because basically the first season was having so much fun with the gay lovers joke (surely helped along by the canon work), and then second season comes along and boom, all of Holmes' attention is on Adler. The, ah, hypersexualized Adler. All of his attention is on her to the point he mysteriously shows up halfway around the world to save her from getting beheaded, keeping tabs on her long after she ran away.

To me, the original Holmes was genuinely admiring of Adler's smarts, admitted his sound defeat, but he didn't strike me as the type to follow the actions of participants of a case long after the case has been closed. That just seems like unprofessional over-interest. In this case, Adler was defeated and the case closed once Holmes cracked her cell phone. To show up halfway around the world to save her neck was unprofessional veering into personal interest to me. Now if this had been just anybody it'd be unprofessional enough, but this is Hypersexualized Adler, so...yeah. If all the poking-fun-at-gay jokes had continued to the usual extent maybe that wouldn't have mattered so much, but Watson was much more ignored in this ep than the rest.

Yes yes, I know, sex worker Adler knows how to use her sexuality to her advantage, blah blah, and again, I can see the correlation in turning her into a sex worker, but because of that, I just think it was kind of...detracted from her brilliance. (And I wish she didn't even need to be "rescued" at all at the end, which to me took away from her brilliance, cunning and manipulativeness displayed all episode even though she lost, but that's a totally separate beef.)
posted by Hakaisha at 2:18 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


He's clearly not infallible in Moffat's version, either. He comprehensively loses to Moriarty in The Great Game.

An episode written by Mike Gatiss, the best writer of the three.
posted by Pendragon at 3:05 AM on January 5, 2012


Two points - far from "ungaying" Sherlock and Watson, this episode went out of its way to confirm and repeat that Watson, despite his denials and general heterosexuality, is really madly in love with Sherlock, competing with Adler for his attention, etc. He even directly confronts Adler and essentially admits that this is the case. (Again..."I'm not gay!" "And I...am. And look at us.")

Also, the Adler-as-sex-worker angle is more overt than in the original story, but not something the new series made up. The original Adler reads as tame to us now because "a woman adventuress who works in the international theater" no longer has a scandalous ring, but at the time, that wasn't the case.
posted by Wylla at 3:20 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


An episode written by Mike Gatiss, the best writer of the three.

Surely you mean Mike Gatting, the retired County and Test cricketer?
posted by Grangousier at 8:17 AM on January 5, 2012


Yeah, I got really tired of the fact that we never see the Adler character not being sexual. You'd think a professional dominatrix of all people would gladly put sexualisation aside when not working or playing

but she doesn't only work as a dominatrix (though the program suggests this is also a big part of her personal lifestyle too). she also works as an international supervillan adventuress lady of mystery too. the program doesn't really show her much outside of work...
posted by Bwithh at 1:01 AM on January 6, 2012


Adler saved Sherlock's life at the opening of S2E2. Seems fair he do the same in Karachi.
posted by Feisty at 5:43 PM on January 9, 2012


We were so excited at the re-invention and loved the Eccleston and Tennant years. And yet in two short Moffatt series, we've gone from it being the TV highlight of our lives to something even my bloke isn't sure he can be bothered watching any more.

I was too. Thought most of it from the beginning was utterly pathetic. Russel T. Davies is George Lucas all over again. The good episodes during the runs of Ecc and Ten were the Moffat penned ones. I am very disappointed he has continued on with Davies' nonsense. Even Gaiman's episode was awful.

I imagine Moffatt will helm both Sherlock and Doctor Who for a couple years more at least. Both are sturdy franchises; both can take lots of punishment. Both are subtly lessened by his attitudes on female characters.

I'd say, in the case of Who, majorly lessened by any characters. I'm not the type to believe I can gather Moffat's attitudes to characters, male, female, or otherwise. I just feel that what he used to produce was good stuff, now, in the case of Who, it's feces really. In the case of Sherlock, it's been ok, but this episode was creeping into Who territory which would be really sad.

it was a great piece of entertainment, you guys remember what that is, right? or does some check-list need to be filled in until something qualifies as being such?

Indeed. This is fiction, not real life. These are characters of literature, not of a documentary. I don't see any sort of manifesto or attitudes in regard to women, men, dogs, or Americans in real life and I certainly don't see how one can say Moffat has this or that attitude toward women unless he was writing propaganda or memoirs or essays. Creative works are seldom criticised as creative works. Instead we get socio/politico and the worst of the bunch, biographical frameworks cast over them, which is fine, but when it ignores the literatureness of a work as it were, then we can go wide off track. It's all back to George R.R. Martin must be a creep sort of thing. Fiction takes from real life of course, but then it follows it's own rules. As the Beatles learned, if you take a camera and shoot real life, you're not going to get a good story. You're not even going to get a bad story for that matter.

When Wilde wrote the Decay of Lying I wonder if he realized far his insight would go...

Yes but I'm talking specifically about Nu Holmes. I haven't read the originals and so don't know how they compare. I just can't imagine this Holmes ever being beaten, ultimately.

Didn't they, in this very episode, refer to unresolved cases?

women are amazing because they can produce babies! IT'S WHAT MAKES THEM STRONG

The Mother Earth motif is a staple of literature. Females give birth so in terms of symbolism or metaphor, they are used and are often a powerful source of creation. The other side of the coin when using the natural world and natural or biological worlds is that women can be cast as Nature has often been perceived, and so we get the cruel Goddess thing, like the cruel world of nature that both creates and destroys. Now if people want to watch creative works or read them and not realize they are creative works and ignore the standards of metaphor, symbols, structure, etc. and make the mistake that therefore women are great, men are sociopaths, and this is what the real world is, that is indeed a problem, but it's their's, not an author's, and not the work itself.
posted by juiceCake at 5:20 PM on January 13, 2012


The surprising thing to me about the show under Moffat is that -- somehow -- the percentage of episodes whose resolution hinges on some sort of believe/think/feel-really-hard-and-good-will-manifest has increased dramatically. The worst offender is still the awful London Olympics episode from before Moffat's tenure, but if you look at the previous season (the recent Christmas episode included, unfortunately) I think you could categorize all but three or so of the story lines under this rubric. It disappoints me every time. There should be a name for it: "Credo ex machina"? "Fides ex machina?
posted by nobody at 5:11 AM on January 15, 2012


"the percentage of episodes whose resolution hinges on some sort of believe/think/feel-really-hard-and-good-will-manifest has increased dramatically. The worst offender is still the awful London Olympics episode from before Moffat's tenure …"

People bag that episode, but I thought it was one of the less annoying ones of Tennant's tenure (btw, I'm not a Tennant fan). It at least had some genuinely simple-but-suspenseful moments (e.g. the bit with the cat), and, since the ending was basically an ad for the 2012 Olympics and BBC's coverage, it had an excuse (other than poor writing) for being stupid.

But I challenge you that the worst offender was the Dr. Dobby / Jesus ending to Last of the Time Lords.
posted by Pinback at 2:15 PM on January 15, 2012


Yes but I'm talking specifically about Nu Holmes. I haven't read the originals and so don't know how they compare. I just can't imagine this Holmes ever being beaten, ultimately.

There are unsolved cases mentioned by Watson in the original, canonical Holmes stories. They're famously kept, along with cases the world is not yet ready for (such as the affair of the good ship Mathilda Briggs & the Giant Rat of Sumatra) in a battered tin dispatch box protected in a London bank vault. Many Holmes stories written by others than Conan Doyle begin with the discovery of the tin box by someone or other.
posted by scalefree at 4:02 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


And if the phrase "Giant Rat of Sumatra" doesn't make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you have no business reading or watching anything regarding Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
posted by scalefree at 4:06 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, as problematic as I found aspects of Belgravia (despite finding it overall quite entertaining), and thinking Baskerville was good but not great.... Reichenbach really came through. Excellent close to the second series. And Moffatt/Gatiss have confirmed on twitter that a third series was commissioned at the same time as this second one, so hopefully the wait won't be as long even with Cumberbatch's star rising and The Hobbit and stuff.
posted by sparkletone at 12:48 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really solid run overall for Series 2. Third episode was unquestionably the best. Yeah, there were some problems with this series, but if I only wanted perfection, I'd look at an equilateral triangle for four and a half hours.

This series was on about an even keel with the last series. Series one had a somewhat better first episode, but also a significantly worse second episode. Third episode in each series was of comparable quality, down to the cliffhangers. Here's hoping it's not another year between seasons for Series 3...

In other Moffat-related news, Tintin was kinda awesome.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:07 PM on January 16, 2012


Well thank god for Molly Hooper.
posted by book 'em dano at 12:32 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Well thank god for Molly Hooper.

Indeed. Actually, I have a spoileriffic question about the last episode; hover HERE to read it and hopefully help me with my puzzlement.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:57 AM on January 17, 2012


hot soup girl, I think that's exactly what the writers want you to puzzle over before the return of the third series.

Fureybpx frrzf gb or zbivat rira zber fgvssyl guna hfhny qhevat gur pyvznk. Vf ur jrnevat obql cnqqvat naq/be n onpx oenpr?
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:12 AM on January 17, 2012


hover HERE to read it and hopefully help me with my puzzlement

Having seen it 3 or 4 times at this point and thinking a bit:

V nffhzrq fur cebivqrq ng yrnfg gur snxr Fureybpx pbecfr (va inthryl gur fnzr irva gung Nqyre unq n snxr pbecfr gb hfr sbe ure bja "qrngu"), ohg cbffvoyl zber. V'z thrffvat Zlpebsg vf urnivyl va ba gur jubyr guvat nyfb, ohg znlor abg.

If you want a full explication of my theory as to what happened in the end, MeMail me, I guess. I'm not comfortable posting that long a comment where every word is rot13'd!
posted by sparkletone at 11:34 AM on January 18, 2012


« Older Lee Hardcastle Claymation remakes John Carpenter's...  |  Vinnie Jones + Bee Gees + a go... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments