Steven Moffat Is a Sexist Jerk

Or something like that. I was going to go for a subtler title, but that really about sums it up. At least based on a few articles making the rounds. There’s this one and this one, for example. So I can’t claim credit for the idea.

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to project Moffat as antifeminist or sexist or however you like to phrase it. Apparently his idea of a “strong” woman character is someone bossy and irritating (Amy Pond). And YES, I love Doctor Who, and I watch it and enjoy it, even like Amy at times. But Moffat does better writing men than women, no question.

So then we look at his take on Irene Adler in last week’s Sherlock. [Spoilers, Sweeties!] Up to a point she was brilliant. If Moffat had stopped at the moment on the airplane in which she’d pushed Sherlock aside, she’d have been just about perfect, all the sex stuff notwithstanding. But it was all ruined by sentiment—which, not coincidentally, was also her downfall in the plot. Irene had to go and fall in love with Sherlock. And in the last minutes of the episode had to be saved by him besides.

In the original story, Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Irene Adler is described as having steel at her core and the resolute mind of a man. She’s also a bit loose in her morals (for the era), having had a liaison with the King of Bohemia. Although, her being an opera singer, this isn’t entirely outside the realm of the expected.

Doyle’s Adler is a woman transformed by love; her plan to blackmail the King of Bohemia is scrapped when she meets and marries another man. But she’s no fool, nor does her love blunt her brain; although she falls for Holmes’ trick in revealing the location of her incriminating photograph, she realizes it almost immediately and is clever enough to don a disguise of her own and follow Holmes to be sure he is who she thinks. She then swaps the photo for one of her alone, packs her new husband, and disappears.

It is Holmes, then, who suffers from a sentimental streak in the original tale; besides calling her “the daintiest thing under a bonnet,” he chooses Adler’s photograph in lieu of payment for his services and takes to referring to her only as “The Woman.” It’s no affair of the heart, mind—Watson is clear about that—Holmes simply admires the one person, female no less, to outwit him.

The comparison between Doyle’s and Moffat’s versions of Irene Adler is the stuff of media studies papers. It’s almost a shame I’m not still in school to take advantage of it. Moffat’s reduction of Adler’s traits and abilities are glaring; while he makes her smart, she still admits to having needed Moriarty to give her some direction. And her love for Sherlock becomes the key to her undoing. Literally. A marked contrast from Doyle’s take on love being a form of salvation.

Okay, so maybe Steven Moffat is a cynic AND a sexist jerk.

Sherlock: “A Scandal in Belgravia” revisited

Here is what I wrote a day after having seen the premiere of “Scandal” at the BFI. And here is a follow-up I wrote a week later.

I’m pleased to note that “Scandal” played better the second time around. Less distraction, maybe, which allowed me to concentrate a bit more. Though the imitation violin playing was still just about the worst I’ve ever seen. And I think Moriarty blowing a raspberry is just dumb. AND—just to continue being nitpicky—airline tickets actually put your surname first. Even if it were a fake ticket, that doesn’t seem like the kind of detail Mycroft and his people would overlook.

I do still feel slightly unsatisfied by the episode as a whole. Part of the problem might stem from John’s character being unfulfilled. After all, John is supposed to be the sympathetic character, but we get less of him in this episode, and what we do get, aside from a couple strong scenes, is somewhat hazy. This makes sense in a way, since John is clearly having difficulty processing what’s going on with Sherlock. And it’s interesting in the moments when John seems to think he does know what Sherlock feels, but it’s made clear he’s somewhat off the mark. His stating that Sherlock despised Irene at the end? Shows what he knows. (And he’ll know she’s not dead soon enough unless Sherlock changes the text tone.)

I’ve come to the conclusion, after having seen the episode again, that Sherlock must be a bit smitten, though he chalks it up to chemical reaction. I don’t entirely follow what’s going on with Irene, though, since she professes at one point to be gay. Her occupation requires her to be, er, flexible, of course, but . . . One could assume she was lying to John.

As for Sherlock, chemistry aside, he seems to like that someone likes him. And that she’s his equal in many way as well. Because of course John likes him (in his own way), but John is not nearly as interesting, not as clever. And for his part, John finds Sherlock very interesting and a lot of fun and would probably not welcome Irene taking that away. It becomes a triangle of sorts. Or maybe John is just the third wheel on a bicycle built for two.

Certainly they’ve left it open for Irene to return. It’s nice for her that she can rely on Sherlock for a modicum of protection, especially now that her phone is defunct. Well, it’s just as likely she’s acquired a new one. After all, what’s to stop her?

More “Scandal”

I continue to mull over “A Scandal in Belgravia,” trying to pinpoint what it was that left me somewhat unsatisfied by it. One issue is, perhaps, the unevenness in tone. The episode is front-loaded with howlingly funny one-liners and exchanges, only to cut steeply into the dramatic. I’ve wondered whether that was the intent, to show some kind of major shift and change in the characters’ lives, but I’m not convinced that much thought was involved.

Then there is the Christmas gathering scene during which (without giving too much away) a major development occurs and the party more or less disbands. My problem with this scene is that Sherlock receives the news, and we go immediately on to the next thing; the viewer is not privy to the actual dissolution of the assembly. This seems like a small thing, but I liken it to, say, a scene in a movie in which a character realizes his relationship must end, then the next scene is him standing in an empty flat. The viewer knows what has happened—they have broken up—but have been cheated of a key moment, the one in which the breakup actually occurs. You may ask how this could matter for a simple party scene, but it does on a very subtle level. If Sherlock or John were to announce that the party is over, that’s one thing. If Sherlock were to simply exit the flat, leaving the party to slowly separate, that’s something else. It speaks to the internal mechanism that works the series of relationships involved. Action and reaction. Sherlock is hardly the type to be the “life of the party,” but maybe he is a kind of glue. Or are he and John required to work in tandem? Maybe when you subtract either one of them, it’s simply no longer a celebration (bad news notwithstanding). But the true dynamic cannot be ascertained because the scene that would cue it is missing.

Any actor will tell you the key to a character is figuring out what he or she wants, and that’s another big question mark in “Scandal.” Even if the character doesn’t know what he wants, the writer and actor need to have a firm grasp on it, but here it isn’t clear. Though the goal is simple enough at first, things quickly devolve. Sherlock does not seem to want Irene Adler, except perhaps as a playmate—his sexuality, or asexuality, remains unresolved—and if the whole were merely a game of oneupmanship between them, it might have played out quite well because then motives would be understandable and easily acted upon. That alone would have been entertaining to watch. But the relationship, such as it is, develops a mushiness, a lack of focus and definition, that becomes something of a slog. And again, this may have been intentional, the idea being that whatever is between Sherlock and Irene starts in one place and ends somewhere else, but the vague nature of the journey makes the whole of it a tad tiresome. There are no milestones. Sherlock is a decisive and action-oriented character, animated even when thinking—this is necessary to make him worth watching for any length of time—but in “Scandal” the brakes go on and action grinds to a crawl manifested in endless violin playing. This is designed to speak to Sherlock’s state of mind, one supposes, but in execution actually says very little. Sherlock Holmes in many incarnations has long been an emotional cipher, so readers/viewers are used to not knowing how he feels (or if he feels), but when he does—and he obviously is supposed to here—it helps to have a little more insight than excessive use of the violin is able to convey.

One suspects that if it were only a question of having someone “on his level” to play against, Sherlock would be equally infatuated with Moriarty; indeed, “The Great Game” came close to just that. The situation with Irene is different, however, though what prompts the difference isn’t made explicit. Without knowing why Sherlock does the things he does, reacts the way he does—is he being chivalrous? is he in love?—I as a viewer found the resulting miasma confusing. I don’t think the script itself necessarily requires blatant answers, but I did feel like the actor should have known in his own right what was going on internally with Sherlock so that he could articulate it, even if only to show: Sherlock doesn’t know how he feels; he’s trying to figure it out and/or bury it. Is the violin playing Sherlock’s attempt to express himself? Or is he trying to distract himself? I’d guess the former, but then more questions follow: To what end? Is he decompressing? Looking for sympathy? What does playing the violin achieve for him? What does he want?

I’m pulling all this from a week-old memory now, of course, and I may think and feel differently about any or all of it when the episode airs. I’ll give another accounting then, when I’m able to write about the specifics of the episode without spoiling it for anyone. There’s a chance there is more to the emotional undertow than I am remembering, that the plot, too, is more cohesive than I am able to recall. Fans of the show will like the episode regardless; they will be too happy to have new episodes after such a long hiatus to be very picky about any of it; indeed, one must brace for the wave of gushing and excited online chatter sure to come in “Scandal”‘s wake. The producers, writers, actors and network have nothing to fear on that score. Sherlock will continue to be a hit, and “Scandal” will be an iconic episode for having introduced a new take on Irene Adler and ostensibly a new depth of character for Sherlock himself, though I would say in retrospect that in “Scandal” Mycroft is the one who comes off with the most fleshed-out personality; indeed, there seems to be a very clear notion of who Mycroft is, what he is capable of, etc., which is part of what puts the wateriness of Sherlock’s usually equally defined person to shame.

Sherlock S2: “A Scandal in Belgravia”

Screened at the BFI on Wednesday, 7 December.

Pre-Screening

So I must begin with some little drama involving my seats. I had two, you see, seeing as the tickets had come as a pair, acquired (as I understand it) via a charity auction and given to me as a birthday/holiday gift. Anyway, there is only the one of me, and I didn’t have any friends in London at the moment, so for fun I gave the other seat to Sherl:

But then this guy with shaggy hair and glasses came over and decided he wanted Sherl’s seat. I have to say, this irritated me because I held the ticket for that seat–it had been a gift, as had the entire trip been, and not an inexpensive one. So I’m not sure what made this man think he could just have it. You don’t go taking expensive gifts away from people.

Weirdly enough, the people around us thought we were on a blind date.

So I’ll admit to having given the guy a bit of a difficult time about it. I asked him how he had managed to get a ticket for that seat, since I had a ticket for that seat . . . He then said his seat was farther up, but he needed to sit in back in order to duck out early. Why go at all if you’re planning leave early, I wonder? But with a sense of fairness, I traded my seat for his and felt mollified.

[As an aside, if I’d known it was possible, I would have returned the unused ticket so someone else could have it. I didn’t know that could be done.]

Some people (remaining nameless, though you’d recognize the names) seemed to find my appearance in the new seat confusing, as they turned around several times to stare. I guess they were wondering what had happened to Hair-and-Glasses guy. Sorry, gents.

The other little bit of pre-show entertainment came from the chatter around me. People were laughing that Benedict Cumberbatch had entered the BFI with a hat pulled low over his face as if trying to hide. “He thinks he’s going to get raped!” one woman crowed. I suppose it does take a certain amount celebrity conceit to believe you’re such a massive target. Way to win ’em over, Benny. (Though I know for a fact, were he ever to read this, he would try to pass himself off as amused while being privately mortified.)

The Show

We were asked as attendees not to reveal, well, much of anything, so I’ll only be able to give my impressions in broad strokes here.

Let me start by acknowledging that it is difficult, when one has created such a television phenomenon, to consistently deliver the same high caliber of work. Even in the first series, the second episode “The Blind Banker” was met with some fuss about it not being as good as the pilot. (“The Blind Banker” improves with repeated viewing, as some of the best moments are understated and easy to overlook, even if the plot isn’t stellar.)

And maybe “A Scandal in Belgravia” will also seem better the second or third time around. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. I just didn’t like it as much as I expected to.

“Scandal” is full of fan-pleasing moments, but some come at such a rapid-fire pace they begin to border on the absurd or corny. Really, it might have been better to withhold some of these gems for a later date. As it stands, “Scandal” strives to come across as having a cohesive story, but in fact seems to be trying to do too much, or alternatively, it’s almost as if they weren’t sure how to fill/use all their time. In consequence, the episode feels a tad disjointed, with one or two too many change-ups.

The introduction of Irene Adler has been much anticipated, and the episode itself could just as easily be titled “Sherlock’s Crush.” While there is a lot going on between Sherlock and Irene, there were moments when I wasn’t convinced the actors understood their characters’ motivations and feelings (in that specific moment), which left me as a viewer equally confused. And maybe the point is that Sherlock and Irene don’t understand their own feelings, but something about that doesn’t ring entirely true. So my asking, “Why are they behaving this way?” allows facile, surface, plot-driven answers, but a deeper understanding appears to be missing.

As John, Martin Freeman is given a couple of lovely scenes, but comes off as so much wallpaper—or a voyeur—for stretches of the episode, except when required to ask Sherlock whether he’s all right.

And I will address my notes for Benedict to him directly:

You have a lot of people telling you how wonderful you are, and you won’t love this—even small criticisms are almost physically painful for you—but I’m sure eventually you’ll come to appreciate the value of honesty. Point 1: Please remember Sherlock Holmes is a master actor. I don’t know what kind of direction you were given, so it might not be entirely your fault, but your mugged priest bit was whiny and not terribly convincing. Maybe it was being played for laughs? (And no, mentioning the mugged priest is not giving anything away; the original Doyle story has as much.) Point 2: I’ve seen people play the violin. I’ve seen people imitate playing the violin. You were doing neither. At least try to match your movements—up and down with the correct notes, vibrato with your left hand—to the music. It’s a minor peeve, yes, but so very distracting. You are wonderful and talented, Benedict, which is why I’ve come to expect the absolute best from you and have no qualms in calling you out when you’re slacking. (BTW, that fabulous intuition of yours failed spectacularly on Wednesday night. Never let nerves cloud your perception.)

The Q & A

Panel members included Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Lara Pulver. Andrew Scott (Moriarty) and Una Stubbs (Mrs. Hudson) attended the viewing but did not participate in the Q & A. Moderator Caitlin Moran was somewhat unfair in allowing only four audience questions. This either shows a selfishness on her part for monopolizing the conversation, or a nervousness on the part of the panelists who may very well have asked that audience questions be limited.

Moran opened by asking each panel member which scene(s) of the episode were their favorites, but as I cannot elaborate without giving anything away . . .

The awww, how sweet moment came when Benedict related that Una, having been a friend of his mum, was like a second mother to him. He also noted the difficulty not of learning lines so much as having to speak them very fast, as well as spoke about not liking to watch himself on screen.

There was some friendly ribbing of the absent Martin Freeman, who—in the context of Lara Pulver spending swaths of the episode in stages of undress (including complete undress)—they called “Martin Freehands.”

A young boy named Oliver stumped Benedict by asking what to do if one wants to become a consulting detective. “Memory games” was a portion of the stammered response, “and study criminal cases, finding out where mistakes were made.” (I’m summarizing; Benedict’s answer was less succinct but endearingly flummoxed.)

Another question was about the character of Mycroft, and Moffat and Gatiss reiterated what they’d said at the June screening of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which is that Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Mycroft in that film largely informs their take, not least of which is having a thin Mycroft instead of one that is grossly overweight. (At the June screening they had pointed out Lee’s Mycroft had a sinister streak but also a certain amount of care and concern for his little brother; the latter is on good display at key moments in “Scandal”.)

Ideally the whole Q & A (which was filmed) will wind up as a DVD extra.

Summary

Please remember this is by nature a subjective point of view. I’m sure I haven’t won any friends or fans with my less-than-gushing review, and there will be many ready to freshly disagree when the episode airs early next year in the UK and in May in the US. But–much as I do love Sherlock, and certainly feel it deserves praises—I’ve never seen any use in simply and blindly loving everything, even in the best of television programs. As Steven Moffat said during the Q & A when someone asked him what draws him to create spiky, conflicted relationships in his shows: “They’re more interesting than easy, happy ones.” Nothing is perfect, but imperfection is what makes things interesting. “Scandal” is flawed. But still entertaining.

Special Thanks . . .

To Virgin-Atlantic, for their hospitality: as ever, you take the best care of me
And to London, my home away: much love, see you again in spring, and be good while I’m gone

Today: The Noughties Blogfest

This is the blogfest in which you list your favorite movies, music, books and so forth for each year from 2000 to 2009. Ah, a bygone era! (Visit Dave for more info.)

2000

This seems like so long ago. It was the year matchbox twenty’s Mad Season came out, and I remember the first time I listened to it thinking, What the hell is this? Because it didn’t sound anything like their first album. But I continued to listen to it; it fact, it was on almost constant rotation as I wrote my thesis. I also got to see them play in Amherst that year.

Also the movie State and Main. To this day it’s one of my favorites.

2001

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Right? Came out just before my birthday, and what a treat. I grew up listening to my dad tell the stories of the Hobbit and Middle Earth (I had only read The Hobbit, never the others), so this was special to me, to see it come to life in such a wonderful way.

Also: Alias. Loved that show. I want Victor Garber for an honorary uncle.

2002

Okay, I’ll go for something less obvious here. The Mothman Prophecies. That movie was seriously creepy. Oh, and the book Batavia’s Graveyard. More mainstream: The Two Towers, which is my favorite of the trilogy, and matchbox twenty’s More Than You Think You Are.

2003

Runaway Jury. I really enjoyed that movie (and not only because I was in New Orleans for some of the filming of it–more that I love John Cusack). And of course, in television, this is the year Arrested Development debuted.

Notable concert: matchbox twenty with opening acts Sugar Ray and Maroon 5.

2004

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2. The Other Boylen Girl by Philippa Gregory. Also saw Rob Thomas play a special charity concert at the China Club in NYC, along with Jewel and Darryl Hall. Saw Jimmy Buffett play at Fenway Park. And got some of my first written works published.

2005

Rob Thomas’s . . . Something to Be. I saw him live again at Avalon in Boston and also saw U2 live in concert for the first time. Jude Morgan’s Indiscretion. Robert Downey Jr’s rising star with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. And the return of Doctor Who to the television schedule, as well as the premiere of Bones.

2006

At this point I had an infant and did not have much time to watch or read or do much of anything, but I did go see V for Vendetta. And I read Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story.

2007

Hot Fuzz is a classic, is it not? And I loved Alison Weir’s book Innocent Traitor as well as Jude Morgan’s An Accomplished Woman.

2008

Cloverfield. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Weir’s The Lady Elizabeth and Stephen King’s Duma Key.

2009

A year for books: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, One Day by David Nicholls, and Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby.

Also, Sherlock Holmes. And Rob Thomas’s Cradlesong (saw him in concert again). And OneRepublic’s Waking Up.

The American Version of Sherlock?

So I was reading my Daily Variety (and no, I won’t make fun of my husband’s inability to interpret the headlines–or even most of the articles’ content–due to jargon) and saw that TNT was working on a show called Enigma, which is “a modern-day Sherlock Holmes.” Haven’t I already seen this show somewhere?

Oh, yes. Yes, I have.

Well, Sherlock Holmes is public domain. But I wonder how closely the BBC and Steven Moffat and co. will be watching for potential infringement. It’s a murky area, I would think.

And where will they set this American version? New York maybe? Is that the closest we have to a London on this side of the Atlantic? Will the character even be named Sherlock Holmes, or was that just the general pitch for the show?

Curiouser and curiouser.

I don’t watch anything on TNT myself, but I may need to keep an eye on this one.