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Sherlock: The Blind Banker

On the second episode, I think we can safely say that Sherlock is settling in well as an accomplished piece of television. The camera crew certainly know how to bring out the interest and atmosphere of architectural settings; I liked the running joke about Sherlock getting into fights when Watson thinks he has been doing nothing; and I liked Sarah too. She's Watson's professional equal, who can handle his case-load better than him, she's game to rush in and help in a fight when necessary, and she noticed Soo Lin Yao's start at translating the smuggler's code before Sherlock did. But at the same time, these characteristics also aren't portrayed as anything we're expected to find surprising in an ordinary woman who also enjoys a nice night out and is truly, genuinely terrified when facing what she thinks will be a horrible death. In fact, she's a bit like Barbara from Doctor Who, really - perfectly ordinary, but amazing with it. Good.

The plot this time was more complex, and felt much more like a proper intellectual challenge than last week's did. That said, wouldn't St Bart's notice that two recently-admitted corpses both had the same highly distinctive tattoo on their heel, without needing Sherlock to point it out? I'd also like to have heard a bit more about Soo Lin Yao's transition from being an orphaned teenage drug smuggler in China to becoming an expert in antiquities working in a museum in London, while still clearly under thirty years old. How did she find the time or the money for the training and relocation? We almost seemed to be straying into lazy stereotyping territory there: "Oh, she's Chinese - of course she automatically knows all about antique tea-pots! They're from China, aren't they?" Indeed, obviously any plot which centres around Sherlock's grapplings with a Chinese smuggling gang runs the risk of implying that all Chinese people are slippery criminals. I felt that the character of Soo Lin Yao went some way towards balancing this out, as did the general shots of people going about their ordinary lives in the Chinese quarter around the Lucky Cat emporium. But it would have been nice just to go that extra mile, and for example make one of the bankers or police officers Chinese as well.

On the queer front (and following up from discussion about this in my journal last week), the running trope of people assuming that Sherlock and Watson are a couple, and Watson (but not Sherlock, I notice) being quick to explain otherwise is still going on - for example with Sebastian the banker - though it isn't as prevalent as last week. That in itself is fine with me, though it could get tedious if overdone. But there was a reference later on which I felt less comfortable about, when Watson turned down Sherlock's plans for the evening because he has a date with Sarah. He comically explains to Sherlock that most people think a 'date' means two people who like each other going out and having fun together; Sherlock protests that that's exactly what he'd been proposing for the two of them; and Watson replies that no, that really wouldn't be a date. And all of that was fine and quite funny, and left room for Sherlock at least to be sort of as romantically interested in Watson as he is ever going to be in anyone, and certainly strongly platonically attached to him anyway. But when after Watson has said that going out with Sherlock wouldn't be like a 'date', he then added, "At least, I hope not", it stopped being so cute and began evoking further unspoken phrases like "because we wouldn't want any suspicion of homoeroticism in this friendship, would we?" That seemed a bit disappointing after last week, when at a couple of points the script deliberately set up ambiguities which made it appear for a while as though Watson was romantically interested in Sherlock. Just that one line made it feel to me as though that door to potential subtexts has been definitively closed now, at least on Watson's side. And the line could so easily just have been omitted, and that door left open instead - which I would much have preferred.

Finally, splendorsine last week put forward the interesting suggestion that although Mark Gatiss' character may well have been revealed to be Mycroft Holmes in that episode, it is quite possible that he is also Moriarty - i.e. that they are one and the same man. I think the final scenes this week with the female Chinese villain (I've forgotten her name already) speaking to her contact over the laptop make that seem a very plausible theory indeed. The facts that her contact has no picture and simply uses the letter 'M' as their alias would both fit - it means that it is someone we will recognise if we see them, while the 'M' remains deliberately ambiguous. But we must wait and see. Since we only experienced this character through text on a screen, the mystery remains wide open - and after the Harry = Harriette joke last week, I think we certainly shouldn't assume that they are male. We never learnt smartphone-addicted Anthea's surname last week, for example - so if that begins with an M, she too could turn out to be Moriarty, and organising her criminal empire over her smartphone. Now that would be cool!

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Comments

( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
splendorsine
Aug. 2nd, 2010 02:55 am (UTC)
I certainly suggested, last week, that Gatiss would have been much more interestingly cast as Moriarty than Mycroft and, as such, hoped that he would turn out to be both. But (I haven't seen the second episode yet, sadly) I find your idea of a sexy female Moriarty potentially even more intriguing. Has this ever been done in a major Holmes?

I wouldn't be surprised if it was going on here, because (a) that kind of female-of-the-species-deadlier-than-the-male battle of the sexes bobbins is just the kind of thing I now expect of Moffat and (b) it would actually be really clever if that "Harry Watson" gag, where Sherlock misses the obvious, was foreshadowing for the audience's false gender expectations!
strange_complex
Aug. 2nd, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks - yes, it was your entry I remembered seeing the Mycroft = Moriarty idea in last week, so have edited to give credit now that I know where that came from. And no, I can't think of any previous Sherlock Holmes adaptation which has re-cast Moriarty as female. It's definitely ripe for the doing, and I very much hope Moffat is on for that!
innerbrat
Aug. 2nd, 2010 07:52 am (UTC)
This episode really upset me with the rampant racism - any review I made of it would simple be a list of racist tropes they shurned out for it.

Having said that, the other thing that got me most of all was:
- The book code used the A-Z, that's fine, but Sherlock was using the index pages and those all have numbers in the hundreds.
- Having decyphered the code using the A-Z, he then realised it referred to a place, and ran to a shelf fo get out a fold out map of London.

Are you seriously telling me that no one inthe entire production thought to point out that Sherlock already had a map in his hands?

I wish I could be less complainy about this show.
strange_complex
Aug. 2nd, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
Regarding the A-Z, it could be that users of the code don't actually use the printed page numbers, but know instead to turn to (e.g.) the 15th page in the index section. But it would have been handy to have some dialogue explaining that. You're dead right about the fold-out map, though. How silly!
venta
Aug. 11th, 2010 08:17 am (UTC)
I noticed the ridiculousness of getting a fold-out map, too, and I'm usually blind to such gaffes.

(Commenting late because I've only just watched episode two, three's still waiting.)
brummiepaul
Aug. 2nd, 2010 08:48 am (UTC)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY PENNY!!!

Hope you're having a good one!
strange_complex
Aug. 2nd, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
Paul! How lovely to hear from you! Thanks for the birthday wishes, and yes - I had a lovely day out shopping with a friend in a local town.

How are things with you? OK I hope. I was sorry to hear your sad news over Christmas, and I imagine things have been a bit tough since then. But I hope things are settling down now and that you're enjoying the summer. Please say hi to Chica and Jun for me!
myfirstkitchen
Aug. 2nd, 2010 08:55 am (UTC)
There was so much in the way of plotholes (why did graffiti boy know to find Sherlock outside the museum, why were they eating across from both the shop and the gang's hideout, why unbranded Google and Times websites but prominent Breitling watch and Daily Express, how convenient is it that supergirl Sarah - much as I love Zoe Telford - spotted the translation first, why go and get another map when he had one, why is he using the index when he needs numbers like 15?), racefail and shite onscreen graphics (the bit at the end). In other words, it was a bit Chibnall. It's alright to have a midseason filler when you have 13 episodes, not so much when you have three. If you're going to hand over the writing to someone else in such a heavily authored series, Moff and Gatiss, hand it to someone who's a bit more than a drama serial plodder.
strange_complex
Aug. 2nd, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
It didn't seem too filler-ish to me, but fair enough.
venta
Aug. 11th, 2010 08:21 am (UTC)
I'm really surprised by this...

I'm coming a bit late to the part, having only just watched ep2, so have just been popping along to LJs I assumed would contain reviews (ie yours and drdoug's) but was pretty much taking it as read that everything would be broadly negative.

Hearing your comments makes me want to watch it again in case I missed something!
strange_complex
Aug. 11th, 2010 09:27 am (UTC)
I've seen quite a few people agreeing with myfirstkitchen about this episode, but as far as plot, dialogue, design and the central characters are concerned I largely enjoyed it. The treatment of the Chinese characters is bothering me more and more in retrospect, though, as is the fact that characters such as Lestrade, Mycroft and Sally Donovan seem to have been dropped unceremoniously from this episode. They could so easily have been there, and in Sally's case in particular very badly needed to be in order to get some proper character development - which in fact (as I now know having seen the third episode) really hasn't happened.
ms_siobhan
Aug. 2nd, 2010 10:44 am (UTC)
I thought it was a rattling good yarn and I particularly enjoyed the circus sequences. I also really liked the Lucky Cat Emporium as I love those cats and it reminded me I should put batteries in the one I've got so he can wave his little paw all day.
strange_complex
Aug. 2nd, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
Yes, the circus sequence was very stylish - I especially loved the guy who flew around the place on the two ribbons.
itsjustaname
Aug. 2nd, 2010 12:10 pm (UTC)
Curses LJ ate my comment again (to be fair I think it's our work system rather than LJ), apologies if I actually end up posting three times.

Much sorter version - I liked it, didn't see last week's but will definitly watch next week and didn't think it was racist.

I think there needs to be a distinction drawn between characers fitting apparent sterotypes and being racist. The tea pots were an essential plot point after all, otherwise she wouldn't have returned to the museum, and I'm sure there are Chinese people who are expert on teapots, just as there is a large Yorkshire gentleman who's a teapot expert. That it takes all sorts doesn't mean that the stereotype is never valid.

Also, to suggest that having a criminal gang of a particular nationality implies that all members of that nationality are criminal unless there are obvious examples why not assumes the audience are racist. I would imagine the average watcher of Sherlock is quite capable of thinking that members of the Tong gang in the show were criminals without thinking that means all Chinese are.
strange_complex
Aug. 2nd, 2010 09:43 pm (UTC)
Don't worry - I just got it the once!

As for the racism issue, I think this episode probably looks quite different depending on whether you view it in isolation, or as part of a wider culture.

If seen in isolation, it doesn't seem too bad. As you suggest, although the plot focusses on Sherlock's dealings with a particular Chinese gang, this in itself doesn't imply that we are meant to take the gang members as representative of all of Chinese culture.

But if seen in the context of western televisual and literary portrayals of Chinese culture more generally, it does look a lot as though it is plugging into and perpetuating a lot of long-established racist stereotypes. Many of the things this episode did with Chinese culture have been done over and over again in stories told by westerners - e.g. emphasising semi-mystical traditions such as the tea ceremony, fetishising Chinese magical displays and focussing on a brutal and hierarchical organised gang culture.

Western story-tellers collectively are certainly guilty of presenting a stereotyped racist view of Chinese culture by constantly returning to these tropes - and this episode did not do very much to challenge or question that. If it were a straightforward adaptation of Conan-Doyle's original stories, complete with period costume and period attitudes, that wouldn't seem so bad, but this is meant to be a modernised re-vamp of the franchise. As I said above, I'd have liked in that case to see it doing a little more to achieve some distance from the old 'Yellow Peril'-style story tropes.
biascut
Aug. 3rd, 2010 09:19 am (UTC)
I just think those kind of stereotypes are boring and predictable. I mean, there's nothing wrong with a certain amount of predictability - we all know that Sherlock's going to solve the mystery, and that the character is going to escape before the weight comes down, and it's still fun to watch it happen. But there's no pleasure in going, "Oh, she is Chinese and Mysterious and A Poor Victim, so she's going to die. Oh, they are Chinese and Mysterious and Evil, so they're going to die too."

It's just makes the whole thing very uninteresting and much less fun to watch, as far as I'm concerned.
failmaster
Aug. 2nd, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
I keep mis-reading your icon as "there is nothing so important as truffles".
strange_complex
Aug. 2nd, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
Well, I think truffles are pretty important too, so go right ahead!
maviscruet
Aug. 2nd, 2010 09:11 pm (UTC)
Good episode - I liked it. I'm a little sad that the running joke about them being a gay couple is over - but only a little. There pushing the character development forwards at a massive pace - so closing that and letting Watson find his love (and I agree a decent love at that) seemed reasonable.

And to quote league of extraordinary gentlemen - M can stand for many things.
strange_complex
Aug. 2nd, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC)
It's a pity that they have only done three episodes for the time being, as I think that means the character development is being pushed forward a bit too rapidly for my liking. If they'd known from the start that they had longer to play things out, they might have taken a bit more time before giving Watson a girlfriend, and I think I'd have liked that better.

Similarly, I'm also worried that the Mycroft / Moriarty thing will all be resolved too quickly and easily next week. It could have been a great running theme to let that unfold slowly over a longer season of episodes - but as it is I assume they'll have to address it next week. Then if they do make more episodes, it'll be too late to get more out of that mystery, as it will already be over.
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
Aug. 3rd, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
Yes, it's just the three for now, plus an unaired pilot which rumour has it will be released in the DVD box set along with the three broadcast episodes. Hopefully a second, longer season will now be commissioned on the back of the success of the current broadcasts, though.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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