Across three different versions of Sherlock, Irene remains sexual, wielding power over others and a danger to society.
The Irene in the original Conan Doyle story A Scandal in Bohemia is an American, “born in New Jersey,” and an opera singer “retired from operatic stage” (Doyle, 7). As mentioned in class, Adler is a Jewish last name. Immediately Irene is set up as other: female, a foreigner, Jewish and, because actresses and singers were often prostitutes on the side, associated with sexual favors in a time of very strict sexual morals.
Her crime is keeping proof of her dalliance with the King of Bohemia (a picture, letters) when he is about to be married and cannot afford any hint of scandal. Sherlock is asked to retrieve these materials, and uses sympathy to gain access to her house and a fake fire to trick Irene into revealing where the materials are hidden – but in doing so, alerts Irene that he is interested in taking the materials. She disguises herself in “male costume” (incredibly scandalous at the time) and follows Holmes back, to assure herself that her suspicions are correct (18). When they are confirmed, she and her new husband flee and leave Holmes a letter explaining the situation. Holmes has been outwitted, and by a foreign woman no less.
Holmes’ defeat rose from the fact that Irene was able to let her thoughts overcome her feelings – she let logic overrule her emotions, and as such was able to outthink the logical Holmes. This is the opposite of the later Irene incarnations, who instead let their hearts rule their heads.
In the BBC Sherlock episode A Scandal in Belgravia, Irene Adler is not American, but a dominatrix who has involved herself with a female relative of the Queen’s and taken incriminating photographs. However, unlike the original Irene who was manipulated by Holmes into letting him inside the house, this Irene is warned of his coming (presumably by Moriarty) and plans herself for his appearance. We are given a peek at her preparations: a closet full of costumes, and she decides to wear her “battle suit” – revealed to be wearing nothing at all. Both of the outfits Irene wears are considered scandalous.
On the other hand, completely contrarily to the Bohemia Irene whose male costume minimizes her femininity, the Belgravia Irene’s “battle suit” maximizes her femininity. In Bohemia, Irene is attempting to assess the situation subtly, and thus wants to avoid detection; in Belgravia, Irene seems to be trying to overwhelm Sherlock and render him unable to concentrate – which does work: he is unable to deduce anything about her.
However, Irene’s downfall lies in the fact that during the course of her interactions with Sherlock, he falls in love with him. She makes the password for her phone – which she cannot allow to fall into anyone else’s hands – one easily deduced once Sherlock discovers her feelings (I AM SHERLOCKED). When Sherlock makes this discovery, he berates her: “This [phone] is your heart, and you should never let it rule your head.” Irene is defeated due to her feelings for Sherlock, her emotions clouding her judgment and allowing his logic to triumph.
In Elementary’s Season 1 finale The Woman/Heroine, in flashbacks Sherlock meets the love of his life, Irene Adler, and discovers her corpse. However, it is also revealed real-time that Irene Adler is actually a persona crafted by Jaime Moriarty in order to judge Sherlock’s worth as an adversary; when she finds him lacking, “Irene” is murdered and Jaime continues with her crime spree. But in spending so much time with Sherlock, Jaime creates her Achilles heel: her love toward Sherlock. Joan Watson is able to deduce these feelings, and use them against Jaime, manipulating her into admitting her crimes and thus defeating herself.
In both Belgravia and The Woman/Heroine, Irene is a predatory, sexual being armed with more knowledge than Sherlock and uses it to manipulate him, yet in the end she is ruled by her emotions – specifically, her emotions for him – and thus is defeated.
In the Victorian era, Irene defeats Sherlock; yet in both modern incarnations, Irene is defeated by her own emotions and a logical mind (Sherlock’s in Belgravia, Watson’s in The Woman/Heroine). There is a pattern of the importance of logic ruling emotions and a sexual and powerful Irene in all three versions. From Victorian England all the way to modern day, logic is prized as superior to emotion and sexualized, powerful women remain dangerous to society no matter the era.