It’s Not Just the Feminism

My family has been looking at me strangely since the special; I was much angrier, and much more disappointed, at the special than they were – in fact, they liked it quite a bit. But my reasons go deeper than just the feminism. The feminism is actually representative of the larger problem: Their utter and complete disrespect, even disdain, for Conan Doyle’s conception of the characters.

I liked “Jessica Jones”, and “Jessica Jones” was admittedly feminist propaganda (like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). So why was I not (as) bothered by that show?

Well, there were a couple of reasons. First, “Jessica Jones” did not go out of the way to mangle classic characters in order to make its points. Second, “Jessica Jones”  just made the feminism a part of its world. It was there, but at the same time they were telling their own story, the solution of which did not involve secret female assassin leagues to educate the menfolk in feminism but instead the death of one insane, extraordinarily dangerous, sociopathic serial killer and rapist.

“Sherlock” has a different responsibility. It is an update of the classic Conan Doyle stories, and an update of the characters of Holmes and Watson. The changes made were logical changes necessary for the update to make sense, and to fit the aspects of the characters of Holmes and Watson the creators decided to emphasize – for example, given Moffat and Gatiss’s emphasis on Holmes’ arrogant side, it made perfect sense to update Holmes as an atheist (sorry, atheists, but his dick-headedness fits many atheists I know perfectly – and I mean that fondly).

“The Reichenbach Fall” is, still, the best episode of any television show I have ever seen. Everything about it worked perfectly – and one of the reasons it worked is that it honored Conan Doyle’s original story while improving on its weaker points and staying respectful of creation. The result was an experience that improved upon the original story in virtually every aspect. Moriarty shooting himself in the head remains to this day one of the most shocking, game-changing moment I’ve ever seen in a show or movie.

“The Abominable Bride”, in contrast, spat on Conan Doyle’s grave and ground its heel in the great man’s face. For Moffat to make his insane, over the top point, it was necessary for him to butcher all of the main characters. That it was all Just A Dream or acid trip or something doesn’t change that. All it means is that Moffat knew he couldn’t get away with this shit if everybody acted the way they were supposed to.

To make his point, Sherlock and Mycroft HAD to be anachronisms, John HAD to be a dick, Mary HAD to be both bitchy and perfect at everything, smarter than Sherlock and possessor of a vagina (Which also makes her naturally superior, at least in Sherlock’s head, because she is the “good guy” in the “invisible war” with men who aren’t fighting them and generally living their lives like normal people).

In case you didn’t already get this, Mary is also smarter than Mycroft in the “real” world, able to hack into MI5’s website with almost no effort, and she makes it a point to show the world that she is the leader of the family, not John, forcing John to verbally acknowledge her leadership and smirking condescendingly when John complies, because apparently John is a pussy.

That this may be Sherlock’s drugged out hallucination is not relevant. The point is that this is the story Moffat told, and thought was a good story. He thought Conan Doyle was wrong, and Sherlock would be a better character if, instead of being distrustful of women, if gentle and kind to them, he was a proto-feminist in the 19th century. He thought it would be better, instead of making Watson a gentleman and a bit of a ladies man, to make Watson a dick, so as to make the league of feminist assassins seem more justified.

This was bad, inexcusably bad, and “Sherlock was on drugs” is not enough for me, at least, to forgive the insult Moffat threw in Conan Doyle’s face. What a terrible special.

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6 Responses to It’s Not Just the Feminism

  1. Krul says:

    Remember the scene when the maid fails to do her job and mouths off at Watson? What’s weird about that, aside from the fact that we’re expected to side with an unrepentant lazy screwup against her long-suffering employer, is the fact that it’s presented as a men-women thing. What, do you expect us to think lower class men had it any better? They were expected to be respectful and obedient to the upper classes too, including upper class ladies. It just doesn’t make any sense.

  2. Syllabus says:

    given Moffat and Gatiss’s emphasis on Holmes’ arrogant side, it made perfect sense to update Holmes as an atheist (sorry, atheists, but his dick-headedness fits many atheists I know perfectly – and I mean that fondly).

    See, this always bothered me about adaptations of the originals (and I don’t just mean this one, I mean even the older ones), because in the books he is most definitely not an atheist. I mean, he wasn’t exactly a pious Christian, but he was at the very least an old-school deist. He’s constantly making references to “higher Judges” and the “goodness of Providence,” and that’s just not the kind of language an atheist would ever use.

    He thought Conan Doyle was wrong, and Sherlock would be a better character if, instead of being distrustful of women, if gentle and kind to them, he was a proto-feminist in the 19th century.

    There’s more to it, as well. The idea that Moffat seems to be operating under is the standard “hurr durr women were property and could be beaten with the laundry hurr durr.” Whereas in the books, whenever you get within a mile of a woman being touched, abused, beaten, or anything like that, Watson about gets ready to beat the bugger to death with his own hands. And in the cases which involve women either knocking off their husbands or having someone else kill them, when the husband was abusive, Holmes pretty was pretty much happy to say “I think the fucker deserved to die, and as far as I’m concerned you can walk free so long as you don’t kill again.” I’m thinking in particular about The Adventure of Black Peter. So that just doesn’t scan.

    And the episode is even internally inconsistent. One moment Watson is enough of a proto-feminist to give a tip of the hat to Molly dressing in drag and being a doctor, and the next he’s supposedly being an awful misogynist to the maid or something. That’s just sloppy writing, and Moffat should damn well know better.

    • Syllabus says:

      (That should read “Holmes was pretty much happy to say…”)

    • See, this always bothered me about adaptations of the originals (and I don’t just mean this one, I mean even the older ones), because in the books he is most definitely not an atheist.

      Agreed, but given the attributes of Sherlock’s character Moffat and Gatiss chose to emphasize I have no issue with it in this specific case.

      Whereas in the books, whenever you get within a mile of a woman being touched, abused, beaten, or anything like that, Watson about gets ready to beat the bugger to death with his own hands. And in the cases which involve women either knocking off their husbands or having someone else kill them, when the husband was abusive, Holmes pretty was pretty much happy to say “I think the fucker deserved to die, and as far as I’m concerned you can walk free so long as you don’t kill again.”

      Absolutely. See also: “Charles Augustus Milverton”. Both Holmes and Watson thought violence against women to be amongst the most unforgivable crimes.

      People are under the very mistaken impression that Conan Doyle could not or would not write strong female characters. In fact, Conan Doyle was quite good at it, and there are several. Sure, most aren’t as smart as Holmes, but most men aren’t too.

      Irene Adler doesn’t actually do that much to “beat” Holmes. She just runs away. If Holmes took her more seriously, there are several ways he could have caught her. The idea that Conan Doyle didn’t notice that Holmes had something of a blind spot there is utterly false.

      And the episode is even internally inconsistent. One moment Watson is enough of a proto-feminist to give a tip of the hat to Molly dressing in drag and being a doctor, and the next he’s supposedly being an awful misogynist to the maid or something. That’s just sloppy writing, and Moffat should damn well know better.

      See, people keep throwing the “he was on drugs” thing at me, but I don’t think that works. If the only way you can tell the story you want to is to come up with an excuse to have your characters act inconsistently that should be a sign that you’ve written a shitty story.

      • Syllabus says:

        See, people keep throwing the “he was on drugs” thing at me, but I don’t think that works.

        It doesn’t remotely work. “X is on drugs” or “it was all a dream” is an excuse for generalized absurdity or general magical realism, not for specific moments of general illogic but not absurdity.

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