Five Things About Sherlock: A Scandal In Belgravia

The following contains spoilers for both Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia and also the first series episode A Study in Pink.

1. Cliffhanger Un-Hung – But Don’t Worry, It’ll Be Back

The episode began with a recap of where we last saw John, Sherlock and Jim Moriarty – at the swimming baths with a big bomb and lots of unseen snipers.

What worked at the time of the last series’ climax as an echo of Holmes’ supposed demise at the Reichenbach Falls, as per the original Conan Doyle, now had to be wrapped up quickly to make way for this series’ third episode, itself a rather more extensive retelling of the Falls story. It actually looks like Moffat and co. are going to try to end two consecutive series’ on variants of the same cliffhanger.

Did anybody else find it disappointing that there was no clever, seeded “get out” for the poolside stand-off and that Holmes and Watson survived by the grace of an incoming phone call? Not a good start for a “hidden twist” drama like this.

2. Getting The Measure Of A Woman

Things picked up considerably with the onscreen arrival of Irene Adler, but I do have some questions about her representation.

Perhaps if I’d ever met an actual sexy dominatrix of this kind I might be more liable to believe they exist outside of sex fantasies written by men – which, in many respects, I’d have to say this episode was.

But Adler was intelligent, and it was fun to watch her in the way that it’s fun to watch the Holmes Brothers, keeping tabs on what they’re doing, seeing their process, trying to spot their ulterior motives and read their minds.

The first of Adler’s two secret codes in the story was the combination for a safe, and there was a lovely Aha! when Holmes guessed it and entered it. It was nice putting the pieces of the puzzle together with him – or rather, just a second behind him.

It was considerably less nice that the nature of the combination and how Holmes had deduced it had to be hammered hime at the end of the scene. Fully unnecessary, and another moment where the story deflated a little.

The key to making Holmes really work, surely, is allowing the audience to get as close to his experience as possible, boosting their ego a little into the process? Shouldn’t we be allowed to add 1 and 1 as many times as the writers can lay the numbers out for us?

3. Keeping Count

The second of Adler’s codes was to give entry to her chief maguffin “camera phone.” Every time they referred to this item it was as that, a “camera phone.” A bizarrely out of date term.

“Smartphone” I could have accepted, but just “phone” would have sufficed. Were they worried that some members of the audience wouldn’t quite click that Adler’s phone could take and store photographs unless both shown this and then repeatedly told?

Or is Steven Moffat just lagging behind the curve in telecom idioms?

Holmes makes a number of guesses at the combination to Adler’s “camera phone” and, of course, when we see a count down for “tries remaining” we know he’s going to spend them all. The fun is in seeing how many possible codes Holmes can guess, and which of our own speculations get disproven along the way.

Multiple permutations of clues are always good in a mystery like this, and there’s fun to be had in getting a new angle on what was being waved under your nose again and again and again – like the taxi cabs in A Study in Pink, for example. When Mycroft eventually triggers the flashbacks to Holmes’ rejected clients from the start of the story we only see two – barely enough to make a pattern. I couldn’t blame Sherlock for not picking up on this. Three would have been much better but four would have actually impressed, and really sold the idea that the clues were genuinely there for the reading.

4. The Ties That Bind

The episode seems to reveal that Holmes has a genuine emotional contact to Mrs. Hudson that goes beyond anything we’ve seen him express for another living person. Perhaps to soften us up for that there’s a line of dialogue from Watson earlier on in which he suggests strong ties between himself, Hudson and Holmes. “You’d have thought we’d have known that,” or similar.

This is all in counterpoint to Holmes relationship with Adler which is designed to be more ambiguous. It’s very much discussed in the story and there’s little than can be added to the rather transparent and open debate. These particular ambiguities are clear enough on screen that they don’t need anybody to underline any of them.

At the end of the episode the recognisable “ooooh” sms alert is used, and for the second time, to indicate the “surprise” presence of Holmes. Does he not know how to mute his phone? What if Mycroft had called him a minute earlier? Sloppy work, Sherlock.

5. The Bigger Picture

There may have been things in the episode tonight that factor into a bigger, full-series arc. At the very least it’s obvious that Jim Moriarty is still keeping himself busy.

Will the airplane bomb come to make new sense when seen in the bigger picture? Perhaps the relationship between Adler and Moriarty will be important again? Could there be anything else on that “camera phone”?

The episode was also woven into larger Holmes lore and his greater pop culture standing, including that rather winning gag with the deerstalker hat and Holmes own reference to his “good coat.” Kudos, Moffat.

But one reference in the opening scenes to Doyles’ story The Greek Interpreter, here The Geek Interpreter, was a real throwaway. There’s a lot of Holmes stories that will likely be too slight to adapt, at least any time soon, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see references to them in the margins of the episodes.

And besides, as the recycling of the Reichenbach reference will show, they won’t be shy about taking two bites of the same cherry when they want to.