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.

Divagation on anthems, flags, patriotism, and identity

Surfing the zeitgeist in pursuit of a cheap and easy blog post, I came across this Guardian article about Cyndi Lauper fluffing a line in the US national anthem, at a 9/11 memorial service yesterday.

It brought to mind the Rutland Isles’ national anthem, which must surely be the subtext for them all.  Here’s Eric Idle, leading a motley crew of performers on the Bill Maher show, just before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the matter of national anthems, I’m all for giving it the Full Monty, so people know where you stand, as it were.  No other anthem surpasses the French in full-throated patriotic fervour.  I give you my personal favourite, La Marseillaise.

Now, while we’re in the mood, where are those bankers…?

Rather than end on a cheap political joke, I’m going to suggest that each of us inhabits a different country, although we might agree on certain broad ideas that seem to bind us together.  Any one flag is guaranteed to be partial or incomplete.  An ideal, individual flag would bear some resemblance to the Buddhist idea of a mandala, an object of individual focus and meditation.

Kurt Vonnegut, in his novel, Cat’s Cradle, invented the religion of Bokononism.  It suggests that we “live by the foma (harmless untruths) that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”  All religion is a lie and so, by extension, are all notions of national identity.  Problem is, where do you find a foma that’s truly harmless?

There’s one term in Bokononism, a granfalloon, which I particularly like.  As much for the sound of the word as for its meaning.  It means “a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless.”  I think a lot of us inhabit granfalloons of various kinds.  Rank-and-file Teabaggers spring readily to mind, claiming kinship with the very economic forces that rob them blind.  The mutual association is actually destructive in this case.

I suppose this is my response to the 9/11 anniversary.  I want to choose my own friends and enemies, not be bound together in a granfalloon dictated by patriotism.