Everyone’s Freaking Out about the New ‘Sherlock’ Teaser. Here’s Why I’m Not.

If you’ve been living under a rock, you might not know today rings in San Diego Comic Con 2015. With it comes a whole bunch of surprises for those of us sitting at home unable to attend the con, including trailers, extended clips, and interviews with stars and comics writers alike. Tonight, the BBC unveiled a preview clip for the Sherlock Christmas special. Take a look, if you haven’t already.

In short, the internet is exploding. I, however, am not. Not with excitement, anyway, but rather with some low-key rage. To be honest, I’ve been over Sherlock since the first few minutes of Series Three aired last year. To sum up my reasoning in a few words, here’s how I concluded my (very bitter) review of the whole season on my Tumblr:

I love Sherlock Holmes. I love Sherlock. But I’m very disappointed and I wanted to finally be able to say why. In this season, nothing is left to the imagination. The beauty of “The Reichenbach Fall” is negated by the fun-for-the-family, fluffy thrill ride that is “The Empty Hearse.” All in all, I think the creative power of the fandom–in art, in fic, in written theories, in fanvideos, all of it–managed to come up with work celebrating the relationship between Holmes and Watson and the resonating influence of Conan Doyle’s works in the last 2 years far better than this season ever did. I’m so disappointed.

Essentially, I think the Sherlock writers have gotten lazy. They’ve watched us wait years for each season; they know what we want and this season created tropes, stereotypes, and insulting caricatures of what we want as if to say, “Hey. We’re listening. But we think your ideas of, say, Sherlock and John having a meaningful, developed relationship are trite and stupid. You know what would be funny? If Sherlock and John laughed off the fact that Sherlock pretended to be dead, and then they went and got drunk at John’s bachelor party. SO FUNNY, RIGHT? SO OUT OF CHARACTER. SO FUNNY.” Frankly, I thought a lot of aspects of Series Three were out-of-character, misogynistic products of poor writing.

Now, here are my issues with the clip:

  • It appears the episode is set in Victorian times. As my friend Gabrielle pointed out, why are Freeman and Cumberbatch talking in “modern” English accents, in relatively modern, colloquial language? For reference, here’s how Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr tackle Victorian English pronunciation in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films. Much more old-fashioned, posh, etc. Those films aren’t perfect by a long shot, but they’re my favorite adaptation to date (I’m partial to steampunk anything, so).
  • Even the costumes seem overdone, and to be honest Cumberbatch and Freeman don’t even look like Holmes and Watson to me, but weird caricatures of them. This all leads me to believe this episode might be some character’s (perhaps John’s?) strange fever-dream in which he and his favorite detective boyfriend are transported back to Victorian England. If that’s the case, then fine. Make it as campy as you like.
  • But if this is supposed to be a campy little dream-ish sequence, why are there (yet again) undertones of sexism laughed off by the characters? Indeed, Mrs. Hudson is Watson’s “landlady, not [his] plot device”! But Watson seems to think within his narratives Mrs. Hudson functions as his housekeeper performing her womanly duties. If this episode is actually set in Victorian England, fine. Sexism through the roof isn’t ideal, but it’s within the context of the time period. But something tells me, like I said, that this is going on in the conscious (or unconscious) mind of one of our main characters. If so, what is the point of making Mrs. Hudson’s role as a woman a point of argument?!

I really think it’s that Moffat and Gatiss (mostly Moffat; see these various criticisms of his writing on Sherlock and Doctor Who for reference) don’t know when to leave sex alone–leave sexism and gender roles at the door and just write for characters. Of course these issues permeate our daily lives and should be talked about, but instead of finding constructive ways to do so, the Sherlock writers constantly write themselves into a corner in terms of how they treat women. It’s quite tiresome. Women have become the fallback joke for Sherlock which very much confuses me as a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories–unnecessary marginalization of women has absolutely nothing to do with anything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was trying to accomplish with his work. I mean, I never met the guy, but I think I can make the assumption he just wanted to entertain people and make some money doing what he liked to do (and, through Watson’s narration, writing about medicine which he always wanted to pursue). And because Sherlock is a modern retelling, there’s no excuse for the blatant, archaic sexism constantly permeated throughout the show.

My point is–I’m truly hoping despite the clip I just watched that this Christmas special doesn’t set me, as a female viewer, apart from what I am watching. I’m tired of Sherlock doing that; I’m tired of mainstream media doing that. With a popular show like Sherlock there are many opportunities to make something brilliant. And, in the first two seasons, something brilliant was made. I’d love for Sherlock to return to the intelligent, quick-witted, consistent writing I fell for. There’s no way to tell what’s in store from a minute-long clip, but it’s clear the writers’ behavior patterns haven’t changed much so far. I walk into this special, and eventually into Series 4, very warily indeed.


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