BBC’S Sherlock – A Study in Irene Adler

I’ll be honest, when screen adaptations of Sherlock Holmes appear, I tend to shy away. Don’t get me wrong, I love Robert Downey Jr. as much as the next girl, and Rachel McAdams is definitely my favorite mean girl. But different versions of my beloved Baker Street detective tend to cause me to raise an eyebrow, twist a strand of hair around my finger and question just whether or not I want to keep on watching. I have two volumes of classic Holmes stories on my bookshelf, but I’m a bit of a tough critic. The only person able to break me of my fear was – of course – my lord and master (I’m only half kidding) Steven Moffat. I mean, Moff never steered me wrong with all of his Doctor Who creations, so I decided to hop on into the Sherlock world.

And was I ever glad that I did. Double that glad feeling when I learned Irene Adler (who I love rather unconditionally) would appear in the second season of the BBC’s Sherlock.

The Woman There’s so much to be said about a strong female character, one that holds true to herself and the story she’s telling, but add in bonus points if she actually holds true to humanity. No matter what kind of antagonist (or in this case, antagonist-and-love-interest) appears on our television screens, ninety percent of the time they are ultimately human. (Vampire Diaries, I’m not looking at you with this one, there’s exceptions to every rule.) But there’s humanity in everyone, and it comes with the territory of being a human antagonist. At some point, somewhere along the line, we all come to terms with our Achilles’ heel. Sometimes it’s a family member or a friend, sometimes it’s a physical weakness.

And sometimes, it’s love.

What really drew me in about Lara Pulver’s Irene Adler was how human she was. She held as much humanity as she did wickedness, but it was suppressed under layers of deceit, scandal, and the ideal desire to stay alive. Ultimately her protection was what she desired more than anything, and she went to extensive means to secure it. Irene knew how to survive, and she didn’t offer up any kind of trust to anyone whose path she crossed. There was a ruthlessness to her, but at the same time she was incredibly likeable. That can really be a true testament to a writer – if you’re able to create a likeable antagonist who the viewers actually feel for at the end of the episode, then you’ve done something remarkable.

Steven Moffatt’s Irene Adler was a sleek, sexy dominatrix with a disarming smile and a collection of clothes which likely cost more than a small private island. But she was irrevocably human, and I think that’s what I liked the most about her. There’s a lot to be said about a woman who knows her own strengths, the strengths and weaknesses of those around her, and how to make her way in the world by her own set of rules. It was fascinating, and one of the points of the episode that kept me guessing. I loosely knew the original story, but in true BBC Sherlock style, something will always be different. For all of my love for Scandal, I think the scene I enjoyed most was between Irene and Sherlock, before a fireplace on Baker Street. Turn down the lights, start a fire, let Irene’s hair down and watch what happens. That may well have been my favorite scene of the entire episode, not just because I’m all for the emotions (ask Chan, she’ll tell you), but because I love character development. And to see two brilliantly developed characters in that kind of an intimate setting with that kind of a charged exchange, it really was brilliant. Because anyone can draw up attraction, but intimacy is another matter entirely. And intimacy is what I took away from that scene.

Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes

In the end, it’s love (more appropriately, sentiment) that determines the outcome of the episode, and if you haven’t seen it yet then I’m not telling. But if you have – and I’m sure more of you have than not – answer me this: was I imagining things, or did someone else’s pupils dilate a bit at the end of that episode? Was that a shadow? A trick of the artificial light? Steven Moffat hard at work again to make viewers think too much?

What’s my verdict? Lara Pulver was a perfect choice for Irene Adler. She had the grace and composure as well as the intelligence and sensuality to bring the character to life in a modern day setting, and she really seemed to embrace the role. Benedict Cumberbatch can never be anything but the epitome of Holmes, but I really loved the emotional range that came about in this episode, and how well he played every part of it. And without question, I believe wholeheartedly that Moffat continues to do a great justice to the Holmes stories. Season one was the first and therefore monumental in itself, and I love how season two focused on three of the most well known stories with some of the most essential moments for Sherlock. The only complaint I presently have is not knowing when season three might begin, but I can be patient! At least, I think I can.

Til next time!

Damsel Nikki


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