Monday, February 3, 2014

Masterlist of Sherlock season 3 meta/review posts.

I know some people have been avoiding Sherlock spoilers until the third season aired in the US, so here’s a list of the meta and reviews I wrote when it was airing in the UK:

3x01 review:The Empty Hearse

3x02 review:The Sign of Three

3x03 review: "His Last Vow" Part 1, Part 2 (female characters), and Part 3.

Postscript to “His Last Vow”: What if Sherlock faced the consequences of his actions?

Plus a couple of my Daily Dot articles: Fangirl showdown: “After two years, was the new Sherlock worth the wait?" and How Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss erased the most important female character in “His Last Vow.” 

Tumblr askbox meta: “Why did you think episode 3 of Sherlock was misogynistic?" and its followup, a breakdown of male vs female character roles throughout the series.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

fozmeadows:

The way the BBC Sherlock fandom responds to each hiatus is literally the only time I’ve ever found the phrase “treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen” to be even vaguely applicable. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

theverysarcasticscientist asked: why did you think Sherlock 3.3 was misogynistic? none of the leading ladies were portrayed as evil because of their femininity, and they all fulfilled my two primary requirements for well-designed leads--depth and agency. I think Mary was extremely complex and sympathetic. Janine was not portrayed in a misogynistic way; the issue was that Sherlock was being misogynist--and was justly portrayed as a douche for it (nowhere near as much as he should have been, but still). and Mary was AWESOME.

slavetohiscat:

hellotailor:

at what point did mary have all this agency?

  • the part where her husband talked about her like she was a disappointing purchase, while she stood silently in the background
  • the part where sherlock explained that her Surprise Dark Backstory actually proved that she was ~destined~ to be a ~perfect choice~ for john, because john likes Dangerous Things.
  • the part where sherlock and john literally sit down and decide whether she’s worthy of being helped or not (because she can’t help herself by, say, killing magnussen)
  • the part where john decided to “forget”/erase her entire history so they could be together, conveniently meaning that the writers would never have to extrapolate on the actual substance behind the revelation that she used to be an assassin.
  • the part where sherlock tricked her into revealing her secrets to john
  • the part where she shot sherlock in the chest for reasons that basically boiled down to “there needed to be more conflict in the episode”
  • the part where (despite her suddenly-badass gun skills) she was drugged unconscious for the final scenes of the episode so the men could solve her problems for her?

YES, mary is a really likeable character and amanda abbington’s performance was awesome and fun to watch (especially in the first two episodes), but that doesn’t make any of those things any less true.

n.b. i feel like “not portrayed as evil because of their femininity” is kind of a low bar for “not a misogynistic portrayal of a female character,” but maybe my standards are too high.

amanda abbington did a great job of making us like mary, and mary really was a well-written character in the first two episodes. but in the third? nope. in the first two eps she was presented as a normal person who could cheerfully stand up to sherlock and john as an equal, but in ep 3, two things happened: she was revealed to be a Very Special Badass with a Secret Past, and (rather incongruously, considering that first part), she lost the ability to do anything for herself. for a detailed explanation of the many ways in which Mary’s agency was completely stripped from her over the course of this episode, i recommend this post.

also re: mary, the revelation that she’s a former CIA agent/assassin was really poorly handled, partly because it was discarded without being “used” in the story except in the context of her a) being magnussen’s victim, b) shooting sherlock, and c) betraying john — and none of those were about HER, they were about magnussen, sherlock, and john. her past is something that magnussen knows about and threatens her with, and john decides NOT to know about, meaning that we don’t get to know know either. she’s still a complete blank slate, but a useful blank slate when it comes to providing more manpain for john and more conflict for the story. also, the big revelation instantly made her fit into the stereotypical Steven Moffat Fantasy Woman mold of a ~badass confident lady~ who is disempowered by a main hero dude, thus implicitly proving his superiority because she loves him. i mean, she’s a former spy who can shoot a hole through a coin… but she allows sherlock to trick her into revealing all her secrets… and she shoots him in the chest for reasons that don’t really make sense… but she doesn’t kill magnussen… and then sherlock drugs her…??

Then there’s the fact that she literally attempted to assassinate Magnussen… and yet supposedly, the reason why Sherlock was able to kill Magnussen at the end was because he was “so arrogant that he couldn’t imagine anyone ever trying to kill him.” So the fact that she tried to kill him earlier in the episode was functionally meaningless??

Oh, and there’s that whole thing where Moffat & Gatiss effectively erased the central female character/storyline from the original canon story, because they thought it was inconceivable for a woman to kill Milverton/Magnussen. now, i have zero problem with them “changing” the original holmes stories, because obviously sherlock is totally different from ACD canon. but this change not only removed one of the very few canonical female characters who had the power to solve her own problems (and kill the bad guy when holmes & watson couldn’t defeat him!) but it removed her in a way that said, “we don’t think she ever could have existed in the first place.” what isn’t sexist about that?? plus, they could very easily have had mary kill magnussen in the end, what with her being an assassin and everything. but she was too busy being pregnant and unconscious.

and as for janine — huh?? i mean, while it is certainly plausible that some people in the world might respond in the way she did (ie, by “making the most of the situation” and selling the story of her personal life to the tabloids after her boyfriend screwed her over), it’s vanishingly unlikely. basically what you have to remember here is that janine isn’t a real person, she’s a fictional character. a character who was written by a real man with real biases, in order to create a series of funny scenes where sherlock pretends to have a girlfriend, and then reveals that their entire relationship was a lie. but then sherlock’s completely unethical and cruel behaviour is excused by the fact that she’s an opportunist (or “whore,” in Sherlock’s words), making it totally OK in retrospect that he behaved so badly in the first place. i mean, yes, i think sherlock is written as being somewhat misogynistic/thoughtless, but at no point does the text of the show really criticise him for that. and the fact that she went the route of contacting the tabloids etc in the first place implicitly puts her in the Bad Girl role.

her reaction was purposefully written to be as convenient as possible, because any other option would force us to confront the utter weirdness and cruelty of sherlock’s plan to seduce (and become engaged to!) some random woman, just to break into her office.

TL;DR version: Mary, Janine, and every other fictional character ever = not real people. They serve certain purposes within their intended storylines, and are influenced by the biases and emotions of the people who write them. In Sherlock 3x03, those biases were pretty obviously illustrated in the treatment of Janine and Mary (both by the male characters and by the story itself), and this looks even worse when you put it in context with Steven Moffat’s history with other female characters. But that’s a story for another day.

so basically, the depth of the (female) secondary characters is sacrificed to further the (male) protagonists’s stories. i’m too tired to think about it properly now, but i wonder if this is bad writing in itself, or merely a really unfortunate technique because it means there are no women with proper agency in the show? to what extent can we say the other minor recurring characters in Sherlock are deagencied in the same way (Mrs Hodson, Lestrade, Mycroft)?

Pretty much every time I write about female characters in Sherlock, I get comments and reblogs along these lines: all the female characters are secondary characters, so doesn’t it make sense that their role is to support John and Sherlock’s storylines? Well, yes and no. Yes, it’s true that the secondary characters in Sherlock are technically there to support and flesh out John and Sherlock’s adventures and/or character development. But the male and female secondary characters are treated in very different ways.

Let’s take a look at the basic roles of central female characters on the show:

  • Mrs Hudson = mother/nurse/caretaker/occasional victim.
  • Molly = helping Sherlock and being in love with him. (and even once she’s supposedly “got over him” she’s still a punchline, and her main role in episode 3x03 is to be Sherlock’s mind-palace assistant — which is technically just Sherlock’s imaginary version of her.)
  • Mary = John’s love interest.
  • Janine = Sherlock’s love interest.
  • Irene = kind of Sherlock’s love-interest, in a role that sets her up to be ~powerful (particularly in terms of sex) but eventually implies that Sherlock is her superior — ie, the opposite of her purpose in the original Holmes stories.
  • Sally Donovan = a cop, and an antagonist to Sherlock. Equivalent role to Anderson.

Almost all of these characters are partly defined by their relationship to a male character (although Irene is arguable, I suppose), which is often the case in stories where the only way the writers can imagine including a female character is if they’re a wife, mother, love interest, or victim. The one exception in Sherlock is Sally Donovan… who is presented as unpleasant and an antagonist to Sherlock (as well as a slut, for having an affair with Anderson, for which Sherlock publicly shames her in front of her colleagues.) The male supporting characters are a very different story.

  • Lestrade = Before John came along, Lestrade was the only person who Sherlock liked and trusted on a personal level. This already puts him well above Molly, who he basically uses, even after he acknowledged her intelligence (and usefulness) with a little more respect in season 3. Also, Lestrade and Sherlock have a give-and-take relationship because while Lestrade does sometimes need Sherlock’s help on cases, he also has boundaries (ie, drug use, illegal behaviour), and Sherlock needs to stay on his good side if he wants to keep getting access to juicy cases at Scotland Yard.
  • Mycroft = Mycroft isn’t really defined as being Sherlock’s brother in that very few of their interactions are familial (unlike with Mrs Hudson/Sherlock or Mary/John), but instead are about work. Mycroft definitely has power of Sherlock, and is generally implied to be the smartest and most powerful person in the show. While Molly is introduced a lab tech who is in love with Sherlock and Mrs Hudson is introduced as Sherlock’s landlady/caretaker, Mycroft is introduced as Sherlock’s brother… who has power over the entirety of London, and regards Sherlock as frivolous and idiotic by comparison. They don’t really have ~relationship~ scenes until season 3, at which point Mycroft’s role as a strong and independent character has already been solidified.
  • Villains = Pretty much all of the main villains or antagonists are men. Moriarty and Magnussen can hardly be said to exist to support Sherlock and John’s storylines — except in the obvious sense that the entire show is, you know, technically there to support Sherlock and John. Magnussen and Moriarty are both completely independent entities who are feared and respected in their own right. The only female character who really even slightly measures up to this level is Irene, who is pointlessly naked half the time she’s onscreen, often discussed in the context of her sexuality, and is eventually “saved” by Sherlock.

Lestrade and Mycroft are definitely the two main male supporting characters, and first and foremost they are both defined by their careers. Lestrade solves crimes with Sherlock’s help (or vice versa, depending on the case), while Mycroft ~secretly runs the country~. Mycroft is the one who sends Sherlock off to Eastern Europe, which is not so much “support” as having power over Sherlock’s entire life. Meanwhile Molly is introduced to us as someone who helps Sherlock because she has a crush on him, which is hardly an equal role or relationship to Lestrade. Sherlock and Moriarty both manipulate her A LOT. Janine, obviously, is manipulated by Sherlock. Mary is awesome for 3x01 and 3x02, but as I mentioned in the original post, she’s then systematically disempowered over the course of 3x02.

Now, this isn’t me saying, “I wish all female characters were totally career-based and never had any relationships with anyone!” Individually, I like most of the female characters in Sherlock, even if I don’t enjoy the way they’re treated. But overall, BBC Sherlock shows us a pretty dismal and sexist interpretation of reality, particularly when you factor in other minor female characters like Kitty Riley (presented as an annoying fangirl, and then as Moriarty’s dupe), Lady Smallwood (victim), and pretty much every female character in The Blind Banker. There haven’t really been any situations yet where Mycroft or Lestrade’s agency has been removed in a way that compares to Irene, Mary, or Janine.

theverysarcasticscientist asked: why did you think Sherlock 3.3 was misogynistic? none of the leading ladies were portrayed as evil because of their femininity, and they all fulfilled my two primary requirements for well-designed leads--depth and agency. I think Mary was extremely complex and sympathetic. Janine was not portrayed in a misogynistic way; the issue was that Sherlock was being misogynist--and was justly portrayed as a douche for it (nowhere near as much as he should have been, but still). and Mary was AWESOME.

at what point did mary have all this agency?

  • the part where her husband talked about her like she was a disappointing purchase, while she stood silently in the background
  • the part where sherlock explained that her Surprise Dark Backstory actually proved that she was ~destined~ to be a ~perfect choice~ for john, because john likes Dangerous Things.
  • the part where sherlock and john literally sit down and decide whether she’s worthy of being helped or not (because she can’t help herself by, say, killing magnussen)
  • the part where john decided to “forget”/erase her entire history so they could be together, conveniently meaning that the writers would never have to extrapolate on the actual substance behind the revelation that she used to be an assassin.
  • the part where sherlock tricked her into revealing her secrets to john
  • the part where she shot sherlock in the chest for reasons that basically boiled down to “there needed to be more conflict in the episode”
  • the part where (despite her suddenly-badass gun skills) she was drugged unconscious for the final scenes of the episode so the men could solve her problems for her?

YES, mary is a really likeable character and amanda abbington’s performance was awesome and fun to watch (especially in the first two episodes), but that doesn’t make any of those things any less true.

n.b. i feel like “not portrayed as evil because of their femininity” is kind of a low bar for “not a misogynistic portrayal of a female character,” but maybe my standards are too high.

amanda abbington did a great job of making us like mary, and mary really was a well-written character in the first two episodes. but in the third? nope. in the first two eps she was presented as a normal person who could cheerfully stand up to sherlock and john as an equal, but in ep 3, two things happened: she was revealed to be a Very Special Badass with a Secret Past, and (rather incongruously, considering that first part), she lost the ability to do anything for herself. for a detailed explanation of the many ways in which Mary’s agency was completely stripped from her over the course of this episode, i recommend this post.

also re: mary, the revelation that she’s a former CIA agent/assassin was really poorly handled, partly because it was discarded without being “used” in the story except in the context of her a) being magnussen’s victim, b) shooting sherlock, and c) betraying john — and none of those were about HER, they were about magnussen, sherlock, and john. her past is something that magnussen knows about and threatens her with, and john decides NOT to know about, meaning that we don’t get to know know either. she’s still a complete blank slate, but a useful blank slate when it comes to providing more manpain for john and more conflict for the story. also, the big revelation instantly made her fit into the stereotypical Steven Moffat Fantasy Woman mold of a ~badass confident lady~ who is disempowered by a main hero dude, thus implicitly proving his superiority because she loves him. i mean, she’s a former spy who can shoot a hole through a coin… but she allows sherlock to trick her into revealing all her secrets… and she shoots him in the chest for reasons that don’t really make sense… but she doesn’t kill magnussen… and then sherlock drugs her…??

Then there’s the fact that she literally attempted to assassinate Magnussen… and yet supposedly, the reason why Sherlock was able to kill Magnussen at the end was because he was “so arrogant that he couldn’t imagine anyone ever trying to kill him.” So the fact that she tried to kill him earlier in the episode was functionally meaningless??

Oh, and there’s that whole thing where Moffat & Gatiss effectively erased the central female character/storyline from the original canon story, because they thought it was inconceivable for a woman to kill Milverton/Magnussen. now, i have zero problem with them “changing” the original holmes stories, because obviously sherlock is totally different from ACD canon. but this change not only removed one of the very few canonical female characters who had the power to solve her own problems (and kill the bad guy when holmes & watson couldn’t defeat him!) but it removed her in a way that said, “we don’t think she ever could have existed in the first place.” what isn’t sexist about that?? plus, they could very easily have had mary kill magnussen in the end, what with her being an assassin and everything. but she was too busy being pregnant and unconscious.

and as for janine — huh?? i mean, while it is certainly plausible that some people in the world might respond in the way she did (ie, by “making the most of the situation” and selling the story of her personal life to the tabloids after her boyfriend screwed her over), it’s vanishingly unlikely. basically what you have to remember here is that janine isn’t a real person, she’s a fictional character. a character who was written by a real man with real biases, in order to create a series of funny scenes where sherlock pretends to have a girlfriend, and then reveals that their entire relationship was a lie. but then sherlock’s completely unethical and cruel behaviour is excused by the fact that she’s an opportunist (or “whore,” in Sherlock’s words), making it totally OK in retrospect that he behaved so badly in the first place. i mean, yes, i think sherlock is written as being somewhat misogynistic/thoughtless, but at no point does the text of the show really criticise him for that. and the fact that she went the route of contacting the tabloids etc in the first place implicitly puts her in the Bad Girl role.

her reaction was purposefully written to be as convenient as possible, because any other option would force us to confront the utter weirdness and cruelty of sherlock’s plan to seduce (and become engaged to!) some random woman, just to break into her office.

TL;DR version: Mary, Janine, and every other fictional character ever = not real people. They serve certain purposes within their intended storylines, and are influenced by the biases and emotions of the people who write them. In Sherlock 3x03, those biases were pretty obviously illustrated in the treatment of Janine and Mary (both by the male characters and by the story itself), and this looks even worse when you put it in context with Steven Moffat’s history with other female characters. But that’s a story for another day.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Anonymous asked: So do you actually still like Sherlock? Or did you watch the third series out of a sense of duty?

i enjoyed watching all three episodes this season in that i found them “entertaining”, but the third ep was obviously a pile of misogyny-laced nonsense. i think sherlock is massively overrated and overhyped, but that doesn’t mean i actually dislike it. it just means that i think a lot of people fail to watch it critically, either because they’re used to hearing that it’s The Best Show Ever and/or because they’re obsessed with the fandom and therefore want it to be good (which i do understand).

basically, i find it difficult to believe that sherlock would be so well-received if the audience was watching it in a vacuum. but i’m interested to watch season 4 when it comes out, and to be brutally honest, it’s still 10x better than doctor who is right now, unfortunately. ://

Sunday, January 26, 2014

moriarty:

expectations:

sherlock enters the room, visible bruises and dark circles on his face from endless nights of fitful sleeping. he drops to his knees in front of his flatmate and begins to weep. “john. my friend. im so sorry to have hurt you like this. im sorry i pretended to be dead for the last two years. can you forgive me?”

reality:

image

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dead man’s switch. Sure, Magnussen could store all his blackmail information in his head, but for practical purposes it’s stupid to think that he only relied on his Mind Palace. Particularly when keeping hard copies of his blackmail files is perfect insurance against, say, people trying to shoot him in the head. THIS IS BASIC BLACKMAIL SHIT, GUYS. Someone as clever and well-prepared as Magnussen should have kept a bunch of files on hand to be released via automated email, in the event that he was killed or kidnapped.

Ideal opening scene for season four: Britain is in disarray after a vast amount of secret government files and shocking personal information about public figures was all simultaneously leaked online following Magnussen’s death, like a tabloid scandal version of Wikileaks. Everything is utter chaos, and it’s all Sherlock’s fault for shooting first and asking questions later. — What if Sherlock faced the consequences of his actions?

Monday, January 20, 2014

What if Sherlock faced the consequences of his actions?

I’ve been thinking about the kind of storylines Sherlock could have included this season, if they’d decided to follow events through to their natural end. Sherlock shot a man in the head in front of multiple witnesses, so either he needs to face legal consequences or there needs to be a seriously good explanation for how Mycroft prevents this from happening.

  • Cover-up. This is presumably what will happen in canon, since Sherlock’s only punishment was Mycroft unofficially shipping him off to Eastern Europe. I assume that Mycroft’s footsoldiers are all bound by confidentiality laws and couldn’t tell anyone about what they saw, but Magnussen’s private guards and household staff are another matter entirely. How did Mycroft explain Magnussen’s death, anyway? He’s a very public figure, after all. And while many powerful people would almost certainly benefit from Magnussen’s death, it would still be a major news story, even if they went the route of faking a plane crash or natural death.
  • Actual jail time. Sherlock killed a guy. He goes to court, explains the situation, and is sent to jail. He gets a lenient sentence because the judge was one of Magnussen’s blackmail victims, but he’s still gonna be incarcerated for a couple of years. In the meantime, John and Mary have cool adventures with Lestrade, and visit Sherlock regularly in jail so he can get to know the new baby. He assists in their investigations from behind bars, Hannibal-style, and reconstructs crime scenes inside his Mind Palace. They can even include a chase sequence where he “runs” alongside John, predicting where he’s going to go while tracking down a criminal! Totally awesome. The season ends with him being release from jail, ready to start afresh in season 5. [READ MORE]

A couple of readers mentioned to me last week that technically, Sherlock was “punished” for Magnussen’s murder, in that his assignment in Eastern Europe was implied to be a death sentence. But the fact is that this potential storyline is erased within minutes. Sherlock may accept Mycroft’s legally ambiguous banishment, but it’s immediately cut short. The narrative saves him from having to go through any kind of real personal difficulty, which effectively removes most of the power of Magnussen’s inevitable demise.

It could have been a classic story: Sherlock commits to killing Magnussen because he knows it’s the only way to defeat him, but he also knows that by killing Magnussen, he has to make a sacrifice. Specifically, the sacrifice of his freedom and reputation, which he only just got back. The result of removing that sacrifice from the equation is that the act of killing Magnussen comes across as just another example of Sherlock’s arrogance. — What if Sherlock faced the consequences of his actions?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

In any interpretation of the Milverton narrative, Milverton has to die. As a ruthless blackmailer, he has too much influence over the rich and powerful to stay in jail for long. In Sherlock, Magnussen’s death becomes even more inevitable once we find out that he memorized all of his blackmail information. Basically, death is the only way to “delete” those files, so in the absence of the woman who killed Milverton in the original story, it does make sense for Sherlock to shoot him. The problem is, there’s another character who would have been far better qualified to shoot Magnussen, and guess what? She’s a woman as well.

In “His Last Vow” we learn that John’s wife Mary is a trained assassin, a fact we discover when she literally has a gun held to Magnussen’s head. But instead of shooting Magnussen and solving everyone’s problems, she decides to shoot Sherlock instead, in the hopes that this will (somehow) help her keep the truth about her past a secret from John. In the end, Sherlock has to do the deed.

This means that Mary, much like Gatiss and Moffat’s interpretation of the lady from “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Magnussen,” has effectively been written out of her own story. Supposedly a deadly assassin, she doesn’t get to confront her blackmailer, and instead is drugged by Sherlock so he and John can have a proper showdown with Magnussen. A dramatic scene that allows Sherlock to seem more badass and morally ambiguous than before, while a heavily pregnant Mary gets to wake up from her drug-induced slumber to discover that she’s now free to go back to being Mrs. Watson once again.

How Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss erased the most important female character in “His Last Vow.”

(via dailydot)