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A Scandal In Belgravia   * S2E1

Directed By
Running Time
90 minutes
Written By
First UK Broadcast
01 January 2012
(8.8 million viewers)
Produced By

Surviving their encounter with James Moriarty in surprising fashion, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson find their reputation ever increasing in the following months. They end up finding themselves chartered by the highest office in the land to recover a collection of compromising photographs in the possession of a ruthless, seductive opponent - Irene Adler AKA: The Woman. Sherlock finds himself intellectually tested against this intriguing foe, but John is perturbed by his friend's reaction to her. When the case moves beyond simple Royal embarrassment and into the realms of protecting international security, Sherlock must ultimately confront the complex nature of head verses heart to prevent a major incident.


Eighteen months we waited, and guessed, and surmised. Did they just jump in the pool when the vest exploded from Sherlock’s gun shot? Did Lestrade or Mycroft come galloping through the doors of the pool to the rescue? In the end, the deployment of the Bee Gees to dissolve the incredible tension seems the only way to do it, an incredible get out of jail card that should feel like a huge cheat, but instead is nothing less than perfect, and a thematic link to what will come later in the series. It is also perhaps most telling that the saviour on the end of the line should be Irene Adler, indirectly appearing at the opportune moment to save Sherlock and John, just as Sherlock appears at the climax to save her.

But before discussing that, The Woman herself should come under proper scrutiny. After James Moriarty, Adler has long been seen as Holmes’ most famous opponent, though she has been twisted so many times in so many different media into a romantic foil. By taking her from the singer of the original text to a full blown dominatrix, Steven Moffat is not cheapening the character. Rather he is taking the most basic notion of what she is – The Woman, in his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex – and uses her to aggressively confront and counter all those other adaptations that simplified her into the love interest, by forcing Sherlock to deal with notions of romance, sentiment, and sex while never embracing them in a literal sense. Here it is something much more challenging, both to the character and to the audience. At times the sexual tension is palpable.

The ending of course caused controversy. Why build up a strong female character only to place her in thrall to a male by the conclusion? Well, perhaps another way to look at the ending is the beginning of the evolution of Sherlock Holmes in the series. For all his talk of sentiment being a chemical defect found in the losing side, he clearly believes Irene Adler worth saving, in the same way he is protective of John and Mrs Hudson. The main thrust of series two is the evolution of his character, and here we see the first steps along that road.

By far the most fun and freewheeling episode of Sherlock thus far, Scandal in Belgravia is built off the bones of the original Conan Doyle story, completing its modern parallel narrative in the first thirty minutes and then spinning off in its own direction. It’s a far more confident piece of work in every respect than anything in the first series, the writing cutting loose with one liner after one liner, a complex narrative to match The Great Game, direction and visual imagination the better of most motion pictures, and an epic, evolved score. It’s a settled piece of work, free from introductions and instead bringing these great characters into sharper focus now we know them, and a clear sign that series two would be one of those great sequels – not resting on its laurels, but bettering and pushing forward. Well worth waiting eighteen months for.