Sherlock Review: Know When You're Beaten

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The second season premiere of Sherlock, "A Scandal in Belgravia," is my favorite TV episode so far this year.

Stephan Moffat's dialogue is as sharp as Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones, the performances are nuanced and exact and the way the plot twists and weaves back on itself - with the throwaway cases at the start coming into play with the big revelation at the end - is about as entertaining and thrilling as it gets.

The only thing that prevents it from being perfect is that I'm not sure it makes sense.

Stick with me here. Moriarty is about to kill Sherlock and John. He gets a phone call - it's Irene Adler. We're lead to believe she's calling about some scandalous photos she has of a young female member of British royalty, when it's more likely that she's calling about the Defense e-mail she has that can't be decrypted. That's the only reason I can think of that Moriarty would keep Sherlock alive.

Sherlock and Watson

She convinces him in seconds that they need Sherlock to decipher the code.

(This is overlooking the fact that she happens to be calling just as Sherlock is about to die, which is a huge freaking coincidence, but we're given no indication that she had any idea he was in danger.)

Everything that follows is in support of her incredibly elaborate attempt to blackmail the British government - using the airliner to prove the value and danger of her information, and using Sherlock to prove that they have no way to access it without her.

Of course, if she had information as important as the airline plot on her phone that she could decipher without Sherlock, she would have never needed him in the first place, right? Her or Moriarty could have texted it to Mycroft initially with another piece of intelligence. Which makes me think she didn't really have anything else all that damning on the phone. And now my brain hurts.

I'm picking nits though, and, frankly, the rest of the episode is so well executed, I'm hoping that I'm just missing something. Or perhaps it's best not to think about these details and just give in to the many, many charms of the show. As Irene Adler says, I should know when I am beaten.

Other observations:

  • I'm not a psychologist, nor did I sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but Sherlock is one of many characters on TV right now (Abed on Community, Brennan on Bones, Big Bang's Sheldon Cooper) that seems like he could fall somewhere on the autism or Asperger's scale. In Season 1, he describes himself as being a high-functioning sociopath. And we see examples of that both funny - how he doesn't notice when John has left the room or apartment - and cruel - like how he treats Molly at the Christmas party. So for him to grapple with feelings for Irene, someone who can challenge him at his level, is to really see him call into question his view of himself.
  • We see other examples that Sherlock's ignorance of social conventions and the feelings of others isn't as complete as he puts on, from his laughter at the absurdity of appearing at Buckingham Palace wearing only a bed sheet to his kindness towards Molly after he realizes he's embarrassed her.
  • Perhaps nothing gives away Sherlock's true depths like his feelings of affection toward Mrs. Hudson. My favorite moment of the show might have been when he and John admonish Mycroft for yelling at Mrs. Hudson (even if he follows it with "though do, in fact, shut up.") And I enjoyed how he "restores balance to the universe" by dropping the American who attacked her out of a window.
  • Were you able to guess the pass code to Irene's phone? I couldn't, and was angry at myself on second viewing - it seemed so obvious. But hey, it took Sherlock months to do it, so maybe I shouldn't be too mad.
  • Lastly, it's too bad PBS is airing this in spring. Not only does it have to compete with Game of Thrones and Mad Men for viewers, but it really feels like it should be best enjoyed in front of a roaring fire, curled up with cocoa while snow falls outside. I blame it on Sherlock's coat. Or John's Christmas sweater.

What did you think of the episode? Take a look at our list of the night's best Sherlock quotes and share your thoughts on "A Scandal in Belgravia" in the comments below!


Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.8 / 5.0 (119 Votes)

Actually it makes perfect sense. Moriarty was saving himself not Sherlock when he bailed due to the entertaining news he got and he knows there is havoc to be made. simple as that.


I got in to this season late because I did not believe in modernization of Sherlock Holmes. But I must say after watching this version I'm forced to change that idea. I love this version and the cast is brilliant from Sherlock to Moriarty.


First of all - loved the episode. It was fast paced, and brilliant, so I guess I missed all the nitpicks you did as well. But even with those thrown in, it was still a wonderful episode. One thing, though - to all the commenters here. I don't get this thing with Irene. Most fans say that she (Irene from the book) battled Sherlock on his turf and beat him using her wits alone; that she is a dangerous adversary, etc etc... I don't think so. At all. She appeared once and only once in A Scandal in Bohemia, she was warned about Sherlock, and only suspected Sherlock after he managed to find out the location of the photos in question. Certainly, she managed to beat him by scooting off before the officials could get the pics, but she did that more by luck than by cunning. I'm not saying she was dumb, but if she wasn't lucky enough to have been warned about Sherlock's appearance, she wouldn't have escaped. Also, regarding her 'dangerous' tag. She was less of a malicious or dangerous adversary and more of someone who was grasping at blackmail to buy herself some time to get into hiding. I may be off on some points cos it's been a long time since I've read the story, but I'm pretty sure I'm mostly right here.


I just love the new series. I am a die hard Sherlock Holmes Fan. The creator definitely has a hit on his hands with this one. The cast is outstanding. The first episode this season was on par with a motion picture. Since there is really not that much great drama in the Summer, PBS was smart to slip this hit in. I truly hope that it catches on. I do not hear or read much about it online like Downton Abbey, so I hope that it makes it by brilliant acting and writing. Unfortunately, without great PR or Marketing a Really Good Show can fail. Fingers are crossed that this intelligent remake of Sherlock Holmes makes it. I know that some die hard fans may not agree, but the season opener was as captivating as the Sherlock Holmes Movie Version. I was glued to the TV from the moment it started until it ended. I could not get over that it was the series. I especially loved the twist with Irene Adler. Clever.. Very Clever... Time will tell if they can keep up with such stellar writing and acting. The cast and production crew are just brilliant. I am looking forward to watching more episodes. Glad to find this awesome platform from TV Fanatic that gives me the opportunity to share my thoughts on Sherlock Holmesand other great shows.


I love this Sherlock series. They updated it brilliantly and it is great and glorious fun to watch. My only nit to pick is that Irene Adler in the book, needed no sexuality to beat Holmes. She took him on in his arena and beat him on wit alone. That is why she was The Woman. Letting Sherlock beat her and her falling for him, minimized the fact that this was one person, and a woman, that could trounce him at his own game.


The series is good as depicting a modern detective by using gadgets more like James Bond.l However, when I think of Sherlock Holmes I think of the gaslight, and hansom cabs, gadgetless thinking sherlock Holmes. The one that is authentic to the Canon. The best Sherlock Holmes to me is Jeremy Brett.


@Anne - Read your comments. They make sense. But, my brain hurts. ;-) I hoped there were some redeeming qualities about Irene Adler. But, because in this version she's blowing the cover on British undercover agents for money, and by extension allowing terrorists to operate unhindered & kill more innocent civilians, I can't find anything remotely appealing about her anymore. Why on earth would Sherlock let her live knowing this?


(continued from below)....Irene Adler as the crafty foil? Pfft! Sherlock's boy self put himself in her place & ended up with a 6th grade girl keycode! LOL! Brilliant, hilarious & sad at the same time. Must say that I wish Moriarty's influence had been removed from this entire tale because IMO it diminishes Irene. Why would a smart, independent, self-possessed woman agree to an arrangement where she would end up in the crosshairs of terrorists if it went bad, but Moriarty didn't? She looks like a naive puppet of more dangerous people. No...Irene could, and should, be dangerous & lethal on her own, like in the original story. Moriarty's departure from the pool could have remained its own mystery to be picked up in a later, more relevant tale.


I love this series! But, I wonder if anyone else has the following take on Sherlock.....For all of Sherlock's formidable mental abilities, the key to his emotional development is to put him on par with a genius 6th grade boy, and that's not an insult. Look at the way he relates to his brother, Mycroft, and his know-it-all impatience w/Holmes & Mrs. Hudson, and his insistence on keeping the sighing text alert from Irene Adler. Even his stunned realization that Molly has a crush on him, with his contrite apology, is equivalent to the behavior of a brilliant, but immature, middle-schooler who has mouthed off without consideration. I know this because my child entered 6th grade this year, and goodness just have to experience it to believe it. The flashes of sweet insight, gentleness & generosity give a parent hope of the person they may become. But, quite honestly, the self-centeredness & arrogance typical of this age can be a shock. Irene Adler as the crafty foil? Pfft! Our 6th grade Sherlock put himself in her place and ended up with a 6th grade girl's keycode! LOL!


Yeah. I've seen this episode before, but I blew off game of thrones to watch it anyway. I loooove my Sherlock! :) However, I did record game of thrones, and it was amaaazing tonight.

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Sherlock Season 2 Episode 1 Quotes

Somebody loves you! If I had to punch that face, I'd
avoid the nose and teeth too.

Irene Adler

Mrs. Hudson: It's a disgrace, sending your little brother into danger
like that! Family is all we have in the end, Mycroft Holmes!
Mycroft Holmes: Oh shut up, Mrs. Hudson!
Sherlock and John: [furious] Mycroft!
Mycroft Holmes: [long pause] Apologies.
Mrs. Hudson: Thank you.
Sherlock: Though, do indeed shut up.