Sherlock Review: Know When You're Beaten

at . Comments

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
  • 5.0 / 5.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
User Rating:

Rating: 4.8 / 5.0 (119 Votes)

I've seen this ep a few times, but I was drawn in again as it played across my tv screen. May I say, though, if you think this ep taps into Sherlock's emotions, wait til 2x03, "The Reichenbach Fall". I swear to god, that is the best episode of TV I have ever seen in my life. I literally wept for the last 15 minutes of it. I screamed, cried, convulsing, shook my fist, and eventually just curled up, taking it as it came. You do not want to miss it, really. The best episode of TV I've ever seen, and I've seen quite a lot.
On a lighter note, The Hound of the Baskervilles is up next week, and I'm warning you, watch it with a light on, or else you won't sleep for a week. A truly chilling episode, complete with an unseen beast, an isolated, dark forest, and a paranoid Sherlock and John. You MUST tune in.


Plus, once she starts selling one secret, her other clients will then know she has incriminating info and is willing to sell. They will then take steps against her blackmailing them as well (like sending assassins or those American agents). So, if she is to sell her secrets, they must be sold at once, and to someone who would be willing to pay her the asking price because they can get the REAL value out of her information. Ergo, enter Mycroft. I hope this helps.


(POSSIBLE) SPOILER Moriarty didn't want to kill Sherlock, Irene's phone call or not. Meeting him was just part of the game. He has another plan for Sherlock and him and their issues. The bigger question is whether Sherlock would shoot that bomb or not. Was he determined enough to die with John only to get rid of Moriarty?


y helped Adler plan out her blackmailing scheme against the British government. So you see, the airliner wasn't to prove the value of her information to Mycroft, it was to pay Moriarty for his services. The information she has on her phone: codes like this one, incriminating photos, knowledge that someone knows someone/thing they're not supposed to, and other secrets like weapon designs, nuclear launch codes, and etc - they're useless to her because she either can't prove the value of her information (like in this case, where she needed Sherlock AND Moriarty's help to prove the info's true and get the terrorists to pay for the info), or she can't get any real use out of them (like with the royal photos) because they would only give her a few million - nothing to a woman like her.


From what I understood, Irene Adler had a client who worked for Mycroft Holmes. When the client met with her, he somehow let her know that the Mycroft's people infiltrated the terrorists' organizations, so much so that Mycroft could now know with great accuracy the identity of the terrorists' next target. This identity is then encoded (the one that Sherlock deciphered), and the government works toward foiling the damage that would have been done by the attack while keeping the fact that they now have an inside ear on the terrorists' operations under wraps. Adler's "coin" with Moriarty, then, is her knowledge that the terrorists were infiltrated. I imagine her conversation would have been something like "Mycroft Holmes has infiltrated x, and if you leave Sherlock alive I can prove it to you. I can get Sherlock to tell you the terrorists' next target." Moriarty can then go to the terrorists and demand payment for proof that they were infiltrated. And in return for her help, Moriarty helps Irene Adler plan out how she's going to blackmail the British government. So you see, the airliner wasn't to prove the value of her information to Mycroft, but to pay Moriarty for his services and/or sparing Sherlock's life. Does that help?


You think this one was amazing , wait until you get to the 3rd story - The Reichenbach Fall - it will blow your frelling minds! "As for "And now my brain hurts" - that's a very common side affect of watching anything written by Steven Moffat." - HAH YES!

Aint born typical

It was the 3rd or 4th time I've seen this and I sill found the dialogue and suspense brilliant as ever. I also think this episode set a stage for what will be explored throughout the continuation of the whole series (which sadly only has 3 episodes): whether Sherlock actually can connect to someone emotionally. In Scandal in Belgravia he appears to not understand emotional vulnerability to the point of cruelty (poor dear Molly Cooper), but he gets attached to a relative stranger who challenges his brain. At the same time he feels very protective of Mrs. Hudson and throws her attacher out of the window (awesome moment). The guy is an enigma, but is oh so much fun to watch. As for "And now my brain hurts" - that's a very common side affect of watching anything written by Steven Moffat.


In the UK, this was shown over the xmas period. That mug of cocoa and the roaring fire did set a perfect scene for its showing

Tags: ,

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.