Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

When I think of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, I now think of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  That these two actors have so thoroughly eclipsed their predecessors obviously has a lot to do with the medium of television, but it’s mostly due to Steven Moffat  and Mark Gatiss’s brilliant reinvention of a Holmes and Watson for the 21st century.  They set the tone in the first episode of the first series (2010) with  A Study in Pink, and carried it through to A Scandal in Belgravia.  As with Moffat’s other project, Doctor Who, I have to watch each episode twice to get catch everything the writing and acting has to offer.

In A Scandal in Belgravia, Sherlock meets his match in the supremely intelligent and beautiful dominatrix, Irene Adler, played by Lara Pulver.  Her clients from the upper reaches of the British establishment tell her everything, and she has it all stashed away in her cameraphone, protected by a passcode that takes Sherlock almost the whole episode to discover.

This duel of minds and sexual attraction (“Brain is the new sexy”) is the core that runs through A Scandal in Belgravia, relegating the serious business of why these secrets are so important to the subplots that weave around it.  Irene’s first meeting with Sherlock, when she walks into the room naked, was stunning.  It set the agenda for her plan to seduce him into complicity, something she seems to have accomplished until he confesses to feeling her pulse at that opportune and tender moment.  So deducing that she was in fact aroused, and extrapolating from it the passcode for the cameraphone.  What else but SHER?

But Sherlock is also smitten enough to rescue Irene from terrorists about to cut off her head.  “The Woman.  The Woman” says it all.

There is so much to enjoy.  A jumbo jet filled with dead people, so terrorists don’t realize that their plot to blow it up has been discovered, is wonderfully Gothic.  The kicking the CIA agents get is thoroughly satisfying – couldn’t happen to more deserving characters.  I particularly like the way their leader falls out of a window several times after brutally interrogating Mrs Hudson.  And it’s heartwarming to see how Sherlock reacts to her being in danger.  He’s a good boy, and he protects the people who care for him, despite his offhand manner.

That said, he’s also cruel in his honesty.  Poor Molly is humiliated at the Christmas party when she turns up dressed to seduce, armed with the knowledge that she’ll have Sherlock to herself when everyone leaves.  Sherlock’s dissection of her behaviour, and discovery that the present was meant for him, is painful to watch.  His apology is even more surprising.

Then there’s the assumption that Sherlock and John are a couple.  Even Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) accepts that John is now part of the family and can be trusted with emotional secrets.  Irene thinks they are, and so does John’s date at the Christmas party when he stays behind to keep an eye on Sherlock after Irene’s purported death.  At Mycroft’s insistence, no less.  Only John is convinced he’s not gay, and they’re not a couple.  Yet there’s a whisper of jealousy in the way he asks Sherlock if he’ll see Irene again, when she’s revealed as still alive.

John’s blog is a great joke, and making it the reason for Sherlock’s runaway success as a consulting detective is inspired.  Leading as it does to them fleeing the paparazzi in a hasty disguise, which of course means Sherlock grabbing a deerstalker.  What else would he wear?

Terrific stuff.  Can’t wait to see what Mark Gatiss makes of the Hound of the Baskervilles next week.  Robert Downey, Jr. can take his action/adventure, CGI-enhanced Hollywood Sherlock and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

Chelsea Hotel

I recently watched an Arena documentary from 1981, about the famous Chelsea Hotel in New York City.  You know you’re in for something unusual, when it starts with a singing tour guide shepherding his group into the lobby to visit the Chelsea’s equally famous manager, Stanley Bard, before processing through its innards and discovering some of the eccentrically creative tenants.  Much as Mussorgsky configured Pictures at an Exhibition around his own perambulations through an art gallery.  Or possibly The Shining, to which the documentary refers by having a kid riding a tricycle down endless corridors.  A glorious building from a time when hotels and apartment houses had proper architectural oomph.  This video gives an idea of what it’s like inside.

The Chelsea was famous for welcoming innovative artists, writers, and musicians, regardless of whether they could afford to pay at that point in their careers.  An astounding number of creative artists found a home from home there.  It’s a Who’s Who of the arts, everyone from Mark Twain to Madonna, including Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin.  Cohen wrote Chelsea Hotel 2 about Janis Joplin.  Stanley Bard, part-owner and manager, collected talented people.

Needless to say, this kind of Bohemian approach to the hotel business had its critics, and Bard was ousted as manager in 2007.  Joseph Chetrit, a real estate developer, bought the Chelsea in 2011.  In August, he closed its doors to new guests, although there are still long-term residents.  Definitely the end of an era – bankers hold the whip hand now.  Here are Bard’s thoughts on his last day at work in 2007, and a year later.  I predict high-end condominiums, once Chitrit has squeezed out the residents.

In celebration of this bright, sad, beautiful soap bubble of creativity, here’s the first part of the Arena programme.  For the other parts, see 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.