A Defense of Irene Adler: Part Two

18 Feb

2000irises: A Defense of Irene Adler, Part Two

A Defense of Irene Adler: Part Two
The Plea (and Maybe a Just a Smidge More Rant)

With Guy Ritchie’s RDJ vehicle behind us (and its sequel looming,) we turn our hopes for Irene Adler to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the co-producers and writers of BBC’s Sherlock. Both have hinted that Adler may appear in their show’s second season. I remain reservedly optimistic about Sherlock‘s Irene. If anyone can do her justice, it’ll be Gatiss and Moffat. Thus far, their 21st Century versions of the Holmes stories and characters add sparkle and dash while remaining impressively true to the spirit of the originals. But how will they update Irene? Are the qualities that made her an exceptional Victorian woman still relevant?

I wonder all the time if there’s room in popular entertainment for sexy, brainy women, and by that I don’t just mean librarians in heat.

Irene is beautiful, that’s not surprising for film or television, and easy to manage – look at the gorgeous McAdams. Beautiful is not difficult to write. Even sassy isn’t hard to write. Everyone likes a sassy girl, as long as she’s properly tamed by the end of the movie (McAdams in handcuffs.) But beauty and sass mixed with self-determination and empowerment, that’s another matter entirely. That’s fairly rare.

Is it because filmmakers don’t think modern audiences can handle strong women? Is it because it isn’t satisfying narratively if the girl gets away? Is it harder to identify with Adler if she isn’t Holmes’s feisty second sidekick or saucy love interest? Maybe it just isn’t sexy enough for the infallible Holmes to be upstaged by a cunning woman. We love Holmes, shouldn’t she?

It seems that Ritchie, at least, believes that as far as Sherlock and Irene go, she may win the match, but she can’t win the game. Robert Downey Jr. can be tied to a bed, but only so long as it’s comic, and only so long as we know he’ll eventually show her who’s really in charge. (Again, the handcuffs, the pitiful silent tear.)

Certainly wherever Adler meets Holmes there will be sexual tension – that tension is present in the story as well. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t need Watson to explain their relationship right out of the gate, nor would so many pastiches attempt to resolve that tension. Sexual frustration is fun, we love to see it, bring it on. But can’t that tension remain unresolved? Honestly, isn’t that hotter? Do we really need to declaw Irene in order to affirm Holmes’s superiority? Can’t Sherlock come away from his dealings with Irene with a tiny crack in his invulnerability? After all, many argue that Irene Adler is important to the Sherlock Holmes mythology because she does more than compromise Holmes’s view of women: she humanizes him.

So please Mr. Gatiss, please Mr. Moffat, I beg you. I can’t bear to see another Irene dangling prostrate above the Thames. If you do write Adler into the next season of Sherlock, let Irene Adler show Holmes up, and then let her celebrate by hopping a redeye on the arm of gorgeous man, a self-satisfied smirk on her face.

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3 Responses to “A Defense of Irene Adler: Part Two”

  1. Jaime M. February 22, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    Your analysis of Irene Adler in both of these posts is spot on. My issue has always been that I think Irene gets both too much and not enough credit. Perhaps it’s an issue of quality over quantity?

  2. Darlene February 24, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    That is absolutely true, Jaime. Too much is made of Irene, and I think that’s exactly because she’s the only fully recognized female character. She carries a lot of weight on her dainty little shoulders. :) Quality over quantity is precisely what I’m begging for here. Thanks for reading! Your opinion matters!

  3. okelay January 2, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Oh I wish they had listened! But no, Adler is once again declawed at the hands of Moffat and Gatiss. At the last very second,after making us believe they really had done it right

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