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)
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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.