Sherlock,Series 2: “A Scandal in Belgravia”

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ BBC “Sherlock” returns to PBS with three more installments in series 2. As the series 1 ended with the threat of sinister by introducing Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Jim Moriarty, series 2 brings us smutty sex and sexism well dressed. Yet that’s okay because “Brainy is the new sexy” and the writing is smart if not a bit self-congratulatory and arrogant.

MASTERPIECE MYSTERY! “Sherlock, Series 2: A Scandal in Belgravia” full-length episode. Premieres Sunday, May 6, 2012, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET.

Benedict Cumberbatch returns as a young Sherlock Holmes and young is a relative term. Benedict Cumberbatch is in his mid-thirties. Holmes would have likely been about twenty in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first story “A Study in Scarlet.”

To bring you up to speed, in series 1, Holmes and Dr. John Watson meet during “A Study in Pink.” In “The Blind Banker,” xenophobia rises as the deducting duo investigate a Chinese smuggling ring. And what could make a better cliffhanger than having Sherlock racing to save Watson as he battles against a psychopath named Moriarty in “The Great Game”?

If you’re new to the “Sherlock” series, skip down to read about series 1.

The name of this episode is an obvious nod to “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the story that introduced Irene Adler. In the original Arthur Conan Doyle story she was an American opera singer. Yet actresses were women of independent means and in Victorian days they were scandalous. She’s described as an adventuress which suggests she was a courtesan, having wealthy and influential lovers. She seems to have been modeled after the dancer Lola Montez or Lillie Langtry.

Scorned by her love, the future King of Bohemia, she threatens his marriage to a pious European royal because she possesses a compromising photograph.

In Steven Moffat’s script, Adler (Lara Pulver) is a dominatrix who has a compromising photo of a minor female royal. You’d think with the divorce of Princess Diana and Prince Charles and Prince Andrew and the astoundingly blundering Fergie, it would be hard to create scandal among the royals but perhaps homosexuality and lesbianism is all that’s left. Belgravia is the pricey Central London district which is southwest of Buckingham Palace. The Duke of Westminster, Gerald Grosvenor,  owns much of it through the Grosvenor Group’s ownership of the Grosvenor Estate.

Moffat’s solution to episode 1’s cliffhanger that had Holmes and Jim Moriarty at a standoff is silly in that dastardly villain sort of way. Moriarty (Andrew Scott) decides to leave Holmes and Watson (Martin Freeman) alive having received a better offer on his cellphone. Doesn’t one turn one’s cellphone off during movies, theatrical productions, doctor’s visits and airplane departures? Apparently super villains are too important to even consider vibrate.

“If you don’t stop prying, I’ll burn you, I’ll burn you,” Moriarty warns. It’s hard to take a super villain seriously when his ringtone is the disco anthem, “Stayin’ Alive.”

The better offer appears to be connected with a royal and the person at the other end of the phone call is Irene Adler.

What is masterful is how we run through a variety of cases. A montage of various clients who come to consult but are deemed too boring by Holmes to take on. Subtitles are used to show us both what’s on the computer or cellphone and what Holmes deduces.  Watson’s blog has caught the public’s imagination, making the duo minor celebrities. Attempting to dodge the tabloid press, Holmes nicks a hat from the wardrobe room and we have him in the infamous deerstalker cap. So much for being a master of disguise. This leads to the clever headline, “Hat-man and Robin.” A bit precious, don’t you think?

Holmes now has a rating system by which he decides whether or not to leave the flat. Too boring? Send Watson and a laptop and use Skype. Holmes sits watching and talking while wrapped in a white sheet, and seated at home–naked.  Watson is on the scene in the country when both he and Holmes are summoned to Buckingham Palace. Watson by helicopter and Holmes by men in suits.

Mycroft, Sherlock’s older brother, is present if only to give further employ to co-creator Gatiss. Mycroft is something like a minder and Sherlock’s supervisor from the real world. Mycroft has summoned the two and like a willful child, Sherlock refuses to get dressed.

Although Sherlock demands the identity of his client, the name of the client isn’t revealed, but one is allowed to consider all the female royals. One has been photographed in compromising lesbian sexual scenes and Sherlock must find the photos.

Sherlock isn’t much up on gossip or world developments which makes the ending seem a bit preposterous. So when asked, Sherlock can’t identify the women in the photo and, instead of Sherlock giving the exposition to Watson, Mycroft provides it.

According to Mycroft, the woman is Irene Alder and she was the center of two political scandals in the last year” and she broke up the marriage of a prominent novelist by becoming sexually involved with both sides. Professionally, she is known as “The Woman” and though we later learn, she fears for her life, she has a website advertising her services as a dominatrix and she tweets.

Someone is already aware that Sherlock has been naughtily nude save for a white sheet at the palace. Those photos have been sent to Irene Adler and she prepares for her first meeting with Sherlock. Oh, what to wear? Not the white suit that we first see her in. Not the black lace negligee that plunges almost to her navel. Then there’s that black lace number with a plunging back that requires no underwear.

Sherlock and Watson concoct a silly story to gain entry into the posh residence of Adler. Here Moffat gives us tasteful nudity. Adler is fully madeup but nude. All the naughty bits are carefully covered, either by well-positioned items, camera angles or her coy poses. Without her clothes, Sherlock can’t deduce anything. Is he distracted?

No word on whether the carpet matches the drapes? Whether she’s right handed or south pawed. Does she shave or wax? Moffat’s playing a bit unfair yet this particular episodes got much attention across the pond because of the early evening nudity.

Sherlock deduces where Adler has hidden her cellphone with the photos, but some brutish Americans break in and threaten to kill Watson if they don’t get the phone. The encounter turns deadly, and while Watson, Adler and Sherlock defeat the American agents, Sherlock is easily downed by Adler.  Adler escapes after announcing, “This is how I want you to remember me, the woman who beat you,”  and Watson drags a drugged Sherlock back to their flat.

Mycroft complains that the government can’t touch Adler, not while she has those photos, but Mrs. Hudson scolds Mycroft for sending his baby brother into danger because family is everything.

In a snarky fit, “Shut up, Mrs. Hudson,” Mycroft snarls, only to be reproved by both Watson and Holmes.  Adler is still doing business despite these threats to her life. What’s the wisdom of hiding in plain sight? Was this written pre-phone hacking scandal?

Mrs. Hudson proves to be more clever and motherly than one expects and yet what about the real mother of these two Holmes men? Sherlock at one point asks Mycroft on seeing tearful mourners, “They all care so much. Do you ever wonder if there is something wrong with us?”

Mycroft replies, coldly, “All lives end; all hearts are broken.”

Adler does, it is later determined has some protection and Moffat’s script makes her neither brilliant, nor talented.

“Jim Moriarty, sends his love,” she purrs near the end. “He gave me a lot of advice on how to play the Holmes boys.”

Sherlock counters that “sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.” He continues, “I’ve always assumed that love is a dangerous disadvantage. Thank you for the final proof.”

Yet the portrayal of Moriarty hovering and needing constant information on Sherlock leads one to wonder if Moriarty, whom Sherlock first disclosed as being homosexual, doesn’t have a twisted stalker like crush on Sherlock.

Moffat’s version of Adler is hardly original. Consider the recent Guy Ritchie movie where Adler was also working with Moriarty and somewhat in love with Sherlock and ultimately both defeated and saved by him.

At the end of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” we had Irene Adler as a woman worthy of being a queen, but at the end of “A Scandal in Belgravia” we have the suggestion of Moriarty as a different type of worthy queen. Is Adler more than the harlot with a heart of gold, the damsel in distress?  At this point, it doesn’t seem so. Wouldn’t one hope for much more in the 21st century? If “Brainy is the new sexy” why can’t a woman be sexy in a brainy way without taking her clothes off?

“A Scandal in Belgravia” references: “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Greek Interpreter,” “The Speckled Band,” “The Naval Treaty,” “The Illustrious Client” and “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
MASTERPIECE MYSTERY! “Sherlock, Series 2: A Scandal in Belgravia” full-length episode. Premieres Sunday, May 6, 2012, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET.

Series 1

This is a thoroughly modern detective. Holmes is very much into today’s technology. There’s a suggestion that he has a drug problem and he doesn’t smoke a pipe–he uses nicotine patches . He doesn’t wear that distinctive cap (yet). Holmes coolly analyzes, but he’s not always right yet his arrogance borders on childish willfulness as he pridefully labels himself “a high-functioning sociopath.”

Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) is shorter than Holmes, but not portly. He’s an ordinary man who seems to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder having just returned from the war in Afghanistan, but really misses the adrenaline rush of war.

Moffat and Gatiss felt recent TV adaptation of the Victorian consulting detective had been to reverential and slow, harking back to the Basil Rathbone interpretation in 14 movies between 1939 and 1946.

Series 1: “A Study in Pink” is somewhat based on the first Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet.”  Watson  (Freeman) bumps into an old friend who just happens to know someone, Holmes, looking for a flatmate. They take up rooms at 221B Baker Street under the landlady Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs).  Holmes investigates what appears to be a series of suicides but are actually murders or rather suicides under duress. The murder knows of Moriarty and we meet Holmes’ older brother Mycroft (Gatiss). Unlike “A Study in Scarlet,” this story doesn’t involve a lost love, Mormons or revenge. References: “A Study in Scarlet,” “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League,” “The Problem of Thor Bridge,” and “The Adventure of the Creeping Man.”

“The Blind Banker” involves the disappearance of a Chinese pottery expert (Gemma Chan) from the National Antiquities Museum, the supposed suicide of a banker who worked the Hong Kong desk at a finance house and the murder of a journalist.  All three end up being linked to the Black Lotus Tong who are apparently also under the control of the mysterious “M.” References: “The Valley of Fear,” The Adventure of the Dancing Men” and “The Sign of the Four.”

“The Great Game” pits Sherlock against a serial murderer who wants attention by behaving badly. He forces a third party to call and deliver a message that is a puzzle for Holmes to solve during a set timeframe or someone will die. Holmes realizes the culprit is Jim Moriarty, a man he had previously seen with a co-worker.

MASTERPIECE MYSTERY! “Sherlock, Series 2: A Scandal in Belgravia” full-length episode. Premieres Sunday, May 6, 2012, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET.

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