Monday, October 7, 2013

Irene Adler



I’ve stopped watching Elementary. It’s not because I don’t like the show. I do. I enjoyed almost everything about it. I loved Jonny Lee Miller’s very human take on Sherlock. I liked how they focused on how he was driven by his addictive tendencies. I liked how they made Watson a smart and worthy character and not just some clueless barnacle clinging to Sherlock’s side. I even liked most of the mysteries.

But I’m not watching Elementary this season, and it’s because of what they did to Irene Adler.

When I was young, my mother used to read me Sherlock Holmes when I got sick. I would climb into her bed and drink apple juice and hear stories about missing blue carbuncles and shady-sounding Red Headed Leagues.

I liked Sherlock. Who wouldn’t? He was the hero. He was exciting and brilliant. He solved mysteries no one else could.

But the character I really fell in love with was Irene Adler.

Irene is only in one story, A Scandal in Bohemia, but she stayed with me, and seeing how she’s showed up in just about every modern retelling of Sherlock Holmes that I can think of, I’m guessing that she stuck with a lot of people. It’s not hard to guess why. Irene was the only one who ever really bested Sherlock.

That’s right the only person smarter than Sherlock Holmes was a woman.

Okay, I hear some of you out there saying that technically Mycroft was smarter, but that’s just comparing stat to stat. An intellectual exercise. Irene beat him in a fair fight down on the field. That makes her the winner as far as I’m concerned.

Irene Adler wasn’t just any woman; she was an awesome woman. She was an opera singer, an adventuress, and a lover to a king, but most of all she was a woman who lived life on her own terms. And those terms included being left the hell alone by a harassing monarch and marrying the man she fell in love with, despite having a life of her own before she met him. Crazy, I know.

Yeah, I love me some Irene Adler. And I get real pissed off when people do her wrong. Which is exactly what Elementary did--big time.

They took this smart, independent character and turned her into a criminal mastermind, one who was responsible for dozens of deaths. She uses her body as a weapon to get what she wants out of Sherlock. She’s evil. But the end, she’s done in by her overly sentimental heart.

Now, to be fair, Elementary isn’t the only one that’s done this to Irene. Those Robert Downey Jr. movies made her into a thief, and that show, Sherlock, made her into an evil dominatrix who only uses her sexuality to gather information for blackmail and helping terrorists.

And they all pissed me off. For a couple of reasons.

Let’s start with the idea that a female character’s only weapon against a male is sexual. The “real” Irene was never attracted to Sherlock. The only man she had feelings for was her fiancé. That’s why he was her fiancé.

She didn’t need to dazzle poor Sherlock with her lady parts to beat him. She had her brains. She saw past his disguise and made one of her own. A more effective one, and she fooled him good. And she didn’t do it for nefarious reasons. She did it to protect herself and the one she loved. She wasn’t some female version of a melodrama villain, flashing her tits instead of twirling a mustache.

Which brings me my next gripe. Is the idea of an intelligent, sexually experienced female character really so frightening that the only role she can play is a villain?

Really? Because please remember that A Scandal in Bohemia was published over 120 years ago, and at the end of the story Sherlock describes Irene as being on higher level than the king. That’s right, a story written in the Victorian era is more progressive than the stuff you can find on tv today. Think about that for a while.

But let be clear about something. These paper thin, stereotypical versions of Irene aren’t just infuriating; they are insulting. They are representative of a lack of imagination and depth that goes into creating female characters in general. And that’s really why I won’t be watching Elementary this season.

7 comments:

Gigi Pandian said...

I totally get your point, but I do think Elementary's reenvisioning was rather clever. And I love Luci Liu's Watson :)

Lisa Hughey said...

I never read Sherlock Holmes. But I am pissed off on your behalf. ;)

Devon Ellington said...

I totally agree with you on every point, which is one reason those modern re-imaginings also offend me.

The Incredible M. said...

Preach it, Sister! I have not watched Elementary, but I am addicted to the stories (my cats are called Mycroft and Sherlock) and Irene is easily my favorite non-core character (perhaps who I want to be when I grow up? There is a list. It is not short.). Also in love with the Laurie R. King books which also present a female equal to Sherlock.

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