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You could have chosen any random number and walked out of here today with everything you worked for. But you just couldn’t resist it, could you? I’ve always assumed that love is a dangerous disadvantage. Thank you for the final proof.—Sherlock Holmes
The story starts off with the cliffhanger of series one: Moriarty's got multiple snipers trained on John and Sherlock, who's aiming John's gun at a Semtex-laden coat at Moriarty's feet. And then Moriarty's phone goes off to the sound of "Stayin' Alive". After ranting a bit, he calls off the snipers and leaves Sherlock and John, having received a better offer from someone else.
But who was that someone else? Cut to a woman in a lacy thong putting away an expensive phone, picking up a riding crop and entering a bedroom containing a woman tied down to a bed. "Well then, have you been wicked, Your Highness?"
Sherlock and John return to solving cases, with Sherlock shunning the boring ones and John blogging about their adventures. This gains the duo notoriety, and according to John, attracts clients.
John is called to the countryside to investigate the death of a hiker, while Sherlock is at Baker Street, surveying the landscape with his laptop. Both of them are called separately to Buckingham Palace, where Mycroft is waiting for them. Mycroft and his employer tell Sherlock about Irene Adler, a dominatrix who has pictures of an important female person in compromising positions and which Mycroft fears can be used for blackmail, and asks Sherlock to help him.
Sherlock goes to Adler's residence, but his cover story is promptly blown when Adler appears naked in front of him, stunning him and flummoxing his Sherlock Scan. Throw some CIA spooks into the mix with a hidden safe, a locked phone and a booby trap, and Sherlock realizes that there is more in the phone than just compromising pictures. However Adler drugs (and whips) Sherlock and gets away with the phone.
What then follows is an adventure where Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes match their wits, and deal with their intellectual attraction to each other, while Watson acts like a Deadpan Snarker watching from the sidelines, and Sherlock is right, there is more to the phone than meets the eye.
Tropes present in this work include:
- Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female On Male: Irene stabs Sherlock with a hypodermic and beats him around the face with a riding crop. The scene is played out as if it's just Fetish Fuel and Irene is never called out on it. John doesn't seem too worried about Sherlock when he walks in or angry at Irene for what she's just done to his best friend. And we later find out that Lestrade found Sherlock being drugged against his will so hilarious that he filmed it on his phone.
- Possible "Your mileage may vary"...Sherlock certainly plays it as My Greatest Failure, and clearly is shocked and appalled. The music is also 'action/scare chord' music, with each snap made to sound like it HURTS. Watson is just completely, completely confused...note that he just thought they were on the same side, but does make sure Sherlock is okay.
- One thing that a lot of people don't seem to notice is the power play that is going on in that scene. Irene could have easily waited for Sherlock to pass out and simply ripped the phone out of his hand. However, as a dominatrix, dominance is her greatest asset, and she wanted to be "The woman who beat [him.]" She wanted to get the phone, but she wanted the Great and Arrogant Sherlock Holmes to bend to her will and give her the phone (power exchange like that is a big part of a BDSM situation.) Sherlock is notoriously stubborn (refusing to get dressed when visiting Buckingham Palace, for example) so breaking his will, even under the influence of a sedative, is probably a great accomplishment for her. It wasn't supposed to be Fetish Fuel as much as it was Irene making Sherlock her bitch (although it could be, for some.) Lara Pulver did some research on the world of a dominatrix and Steven Moffat got an earful from fetish groups after a bungled bondage scene in Coupling, so the whole "power exchange" part of the scene could have been a case of Shown Their Work.
- And Starring: Lara Pulver as Irene Adler gets this distinction in the closing credits.
- Audio Erotica: Irene somehow gets a hold of Sherlock's phone and changes the settings to play what can be politely described as an 'erotic moan text alert'.
- Hilariously, the closed captions for the episode (in the US at least,) described it as a "woman's gasp," which no doubt confused some hard-of-hearing viewers who might have wondered what all the fuss was about.
- Bait and Switch: John's gotten awfully used to Mycroft having him put into an unmarked car and driven to an undisclosed location for a chat. Only this time, it's Irene Adler. Who's supposed to be dead.
- Batman Gambit: Irene sets one up so well that not even Mycroft, let alone Sherlock, has any choice but to surrender. Until Sherlock figures out her weakness.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: Irene Adler and Jim Moriarty
- Brains and Bondage: Irene Adler. "Brainy is the new sexy."
- Cargo Envy: The infamous sheet.
- Sherlock's coat, depending on who it was wrapped around at the time.
- Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: When Sherlock departs 221B for the airport, Irene stays behind in a bathrobe in his flat, only to greet him at the airport in full evening dress and with her hair and makeup done.
- Companion Cube: Irene's phone is her life.
- Cut Himself Shaving: Played with. After subduing the American Mook who'd roughed up Mrs Hudson, Sherlock phones Lestrade for an ambulance and starts casually describing the victim's injuries: "A few broken ribs, fractured skull, suspected punctured lung. He fell out of a window." Subverted with a Gilligan Cut to the man actually hitting the bins outside 221B, and then doubly subverted when the police arrive:
Lestrade: Exactly how many times did he fall out the window?
Sherlock: Oh, it's all a bit of a blur, Detective Inspector. I lost count.
- Deadpan Snarker: Plenty of them, as is the standard for this show, but John takes the cake while breaking Sherlock and Irene's Held Gaze.
Hamish. John Hamish Watson. Just if you're looking for baby names.
- Destination Defenestration: The fate of the American Mook who threatened to shoot John and beat up Mrs Hudson. Multiple times over, if Sherlock is to be believed.
- Did You Actually Believe?: Subverted when Sherlock proves Irene's infatuation with him was real.
- Did Not Do the Research: Dinky little painted boomerangs sold to tourists don't come back, however you throw them.
- No, you can get returning dinky little boomerangs. It's doubtful that they'd give you anything more than a bad bruise but they do return. Sort of.
- If you slow down the episode enough, the boomerang actually hits him more in the throat or the side of the neck. It makes death-by-dinky-little-boomerang (which looks a little more like wood instead of thin plastic) more believable, but creates a plothole when Irene said he had a "bashed-in head."
- Distracted by the Sexy: John, naturally.
- And possibly Irene. Maybe Sherlock.
- Eagle Land: The American agents in this episode are very much a Flavour 2.
- Fandom Nod: John's insistence on his heterosexuality to Irene might as well have been addressed to the Yaoi Fangirls.
John: Who the hell knows about Sherlock Holmes, but for the record — if anyone out there still cares — I'm not actually gay.
Irene: Well, I am. Look at us both.
- Fan Service: Plenty. Both Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes are naked.
- Faking the Dead: Irene Adler. Twice.
- Fridge Brilliance: At first it seems like the writers goofed with the phones. How does Sherlock receive a text from Irene's phone if she's given it to him? Except she never gave him the right phone in the first place!
- Sherlock is able to figure out immediately that he's going to Buckingham Palace by looking at the man's natty attire coupled with the dog hairs on his legs. And who do we know who likes lots of small dogs?
- Fridge Logic: Plenty, since the story moves so quickly that you'll probably miss the following:
- At the end of the episode, Irene is let go despite the fact that she has just committed high treason.
- Irene sends a critical text message to Moriary behind her back, without glancing at the keypad, in under two seconds.
- Mycroft's counterterrorism plan wouldn't work because when a jumbo jet is bombed, even if all aboard were already dead, the public believes the bomb worked, so the terrorists win. Unless there are no grieving families, in which case the terrorists also win because the game is up. Also, given the time needed for bodies to come off ice and into airplane seats, that plane would have stunk of death, yet no one reacts.
- The point wasn't to keep people from thinking there had been a terrorist attack, but to ensure no one actually died and the terrorist thought their code was still secure so that they would still use it, thus allowing the intelligence community to monitor their messages for something big.
- Sherlock obtains Irene's phone at Christmas but doesn't examine it until spring, which makes no sense. Also, shortly thereafter, Irene says he's had her phone for six months.
- The entire Pakistan scene, while fun, is nonsensical - among other things, there's no reason for the characters to be there.
- Fun with Subtitles: Sherlock's first reading of Irene only gives him "???????". He glances over at John and is able to deduce how he spent his night just fine, but Irene leaves him absolutely flummoxed.
- Gilligan Cut: "He fell out of a window." Cut to John patching up Mrs Hudson's injuries when something falls from the direction of Sherlock's window with a loud WHUMP.
Mrs Hudson: Oh! That was right on my bins!
- Girl-On-Girl Is Hot: John's apparent reaction to learning what Irene does for a living. Sherlock has to remind him to put his teacup down.
- Held Gaze: Between Irene and Sherlock in the space of two very short scenes, leading to John's Deadpan Snarker moment above.
- Heroic BSOD: Sherlock for about five days, after identifying Irene's body at the morgue.
- Mycroft gets a major one after receiving Moriarty's text message. He is so upset he actually takes off his jacket.
- Hit Me Dammit: Sherlock asks John to punch him in the face, as part of his disguise on first meeting Irene Adler. When John hesitates, Sherlock provokes him by hitting him first. John responds by flooring him, then putting him in a headlock and reminding him that killing people used to be part of his profession. This is all surprisingly hilarious.
- The Internet Is for Porn: "If I wanted to look at naked women I'd borrow John's computer."
John: You do borrow my computer.
- Kick the Dog: How Irene treats Sherlock in the climax.
- Lipstick Lesbian / Situational Sexuality: Irene self-identifies as a lesbian, but is plenty willing to 'scold' men in a professional context. She might just make one exception, though…
- Love Is a Weakness: This time, Sherlock's proven right.
I've always assumed that love is a dangerous disadvantage. Thank you for the final proof.
- Which provides some very ominous foreboding for events in The Reichenbach Fall.
- Manipulative Bastard: Irene Adler. Mycroft too, before Irene turns it back on him.
- Mata Hari: Irene's line of work has apparently made her privy to state secrets from all over the world. She uses them as "protection".
- Meaningful Echo: Mycroft: "It would take Sherlock Holmes to fool me, and I don't think he was on hand, do you?"
- Modesty Bedsheet: Sherlock, of all people. Not that he's had sex or anything, he's just too lazy to put some clothes on — even when summoned to Buckingham Palace.
- Mood Whiplash: The pool scene had been the source of huge amounts of excitement and speculation for a year and a half. In the opening scene, the tension builds to enormous levels… and then the Bee Gees start playing. Yes, seriously.
- Moral Guardians: The Daily Mail newspaper protested Irene Adler's nakedness...by printing large images of it.
- Mysterious Middle Initial: John H. Watson finally reveals his much-speculated upon middle name: Hamish.
- Mythology Gag:
- The title itself is a reference to the original story "A Scandal in Bohemia". The early minutes of the episode go through a proper Hurricane of Puns over the names of many of the original stories: The Geek Interpreter, The Speckled Blonde, The Navel Treatment...
- Sherlock's analysis of tobacco ash on his website - in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," Holmes remarks that he has "written a little monograph on the ashes of 140 different varieties of pipe, cigar, and cigarette tobacco".
- The severed thumbs in the fridge are a nod to "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb."
- The bit of dialogue where Sherlock asks "And my client is?" and the government official answers "Illustrious" is another reference to a story title, "The Illustrious Client".
- At Buckingham palace, the government official tells John that his employer likes his blog, "particularly the one about the aluminium crutch". In the stories, one of Holmes' early cases before he met Watson revolved around an aluminium crutch.
- Sherlock's remark that "I'm used to mystery at one end of my cases, both is too much work," is lifted straight from "The Illustrious Client".
- He was also wearing a sheet--well, sheets--at the beginning of that story.
- Many of the details of Sherlock and John's first meeting with Irene Adler ( the priest disguise, the fire alarm ruse, "Goodnight Mr. Sherlock Holmes") are the the same as they were in the original story.
- "Vatican cameos" is a reference to a throwaway line in The Hound of the Baskervilles about a case Holmes had worked on.
- The bit where Moriarty scores a victory, and announces it with a cryptic, gloating message saying "Dear me, Mr Holmes, dear me" is directly from The Valley of Fear.
- Sherlock's remark that "the wheel turns...nothing is ever new" is reminiscent of Holmes saying "There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before" in A Study in Scarlet.
- Really obscure one: John's blog counter is broken, and always says 1,895 hits. The last line of the poem "221B" by Sherlockian Vincent Garrett is "And it is always eighteen niney-five".
- Naked First Impression: Irene's 'battle dress' renders the Sherlock Scan useless… until he figures out the password to her safe from her measurements.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In wanting to one-up (or show off to) Irene Adler, Sherlock accidentally wrecks an MI 6-CIA joint counterterrorism operation. Moriarty was certainly thankful, though.
- No Sell: Irene, being naked, can't be "read" by Sherlock, and he in turn is resistant to her full-court press of seduction. Still, her naked body does make an impression on him, and if the viewer watches closely, he does manage to insult her while he's explaining the crime.
- Not So Harmless / Tranquil Fury: Sherlock, upon realising that 221B has been broken into and the Americans have kidnapped and beaten Mrs Hudson.
Lestrade: Exactly how many times did he fall out the window?
Sherlock: It's all a bit of a blur, Detective Inspector. I lost count.
- Notably, though Sherlock's expression barely changes, his Sherlock Scan suddenly changes to "places I can hit this guy to mess him up."
- Offscreen Teleportation: Sherlock departs for the airport by official transport, leaving Irene Adler behind in a bathrobe in his flat. When he arrives, Irene is already there, in full evening dress.
- Orwellian Retcon: To Watson's blog. That brief final post before they leave for the swimming pool, and all those replies by Harry and Sarah wondering what had happened to them? Well, since nothing happened to them, that post and its comments never existed.
- Pet the Dog: Sherlock apologises for once. To Molly Hooper, of all people.
- The look on John's face is PRICELESS.
- Precision S Strike: Mycroft calls John on Christmas Eve, after Sherlock has just left him to return home to Baker Street. There's a cryptic conversation about John and Mrs Hudson not being able to "find anything" in any of the usual places, and "it looks like he's clean". John then asks if Sherlock "took the cigarette". When Mycroft says he did, John's response is "... Shit." It's the only instance of the word in the series so far, and a standout line from a character who managed to not swear even when he found a human head in his fridge.
- Please Put Some Clothes On: Firstly to Sherlock from Mycroft's men (politely) and Mycroft himself (not so politely). Secondly to Irene from John.
- "Previously On...": The second season begins with a montage of clips from the pool scene in "The Great Game" with juxtaposed voices.
- Shirtless Scene: Sherlock gets an accidental one in the middle of Buckingham Palace, thanks to Mycroft's vindictiveness.
Mycroft: This is a matter of national importance. Grow up!
Sherlock: Get off my sheet!
Mycroft: Or what?
Sherlock: …Or I'll just walk away!
- Shout-Out The flight number from London to Baltimore? 007.
- Took a Level In Badass: Mrs Hudson, of all people.
- Totally Radical: Invoked. By Sherlock. In Buckingham Palace.
John: And that's as modest as he gets. Pleasure to meet you.
- Unwitting Pawn: Sherlock himself becomes one to Irene and Moriarty by giving away the details of a counter-terrorism operation.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Mrs Hudson hides Irene's phone from the Americans.
- Villainous BSOD: Irene sinks into one when Sherlock simultaneously exposes her true feelings towards him and figures out her phone's password.
- Visual Pun: When John is complaining about Mycroft's penchant for sending anonymous black cars to take him to meetings in strange places, he accuses Mycroft of having a "bloody stupid power complex". Cut to the location of the latest meeting: Battersea Power Station.
- Woman of Wealth and Taste: Irene Adler not only has a large house and enormous wardrobe, but her smartphone is a Vertu Constellation Quest, with a price tag of £17,300. She wasn't fighting to get it back just for its contents.
- Will They or Won't They?: Of course not.
- Wham! Episode: Come on, you know every episode of this show is a Wham! Episode.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Molly gives Sherlock one after he's terribly rude to her in public, again. He actually apologises.
- Worthy Opponent: Irene to Sherlock.