Begin with Carbon

“How does he do it?”, a phrase often uttered by Sherlock’s audience both on and off the screen whenever he reaches a conclusion from the simplest bit of evidence.

So how does he do it? Holmes observes the small things. He begins with the minute details, then the bigger picture, not the other way around, (much like how we were instructed to write this piece).

Holmes always preaches about observing rather than looking. In the BBC rendition of Sherlock Holmes, the white phrases in tiny font show the viewer what he is looking at and why it’s significant. However, I think the Periodic Table of the Elements hanging on Holmes’ bedroom wall is the most concrete piece of evidence that observing the small elements of a problem is how “he does it.”

The individual elements make up everything on the face of the Earth and out into space. So to understand any of those large things such as a blade of grass, you must look back to it’s smallest components – the carbon atoms it’s made from.

How Does He Do That
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The Periodic Table
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Observation 2
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Observation 3
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Observation 4
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Observation 5
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Observation 6
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Observation 7
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Observation 8


Sherlock Holmes’ Twin Sister

            “A Scandal in Belgravia,” which is the first episode of the second season of the BBC series, Sherlock, is a modern version of the Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia. In this version, which is in many ways different from the original story, Irene Adler, also known as “The Woman,” is portrayed as the female equivalent of Sherlock Holmes in every way possible. This is first noticed in the scene in which the two are introduced to one another via photographs. In this scene the shot cuts between Sherlock looking at pictures of Irene, and Irene examining pictures of Sherlock. It is important to note that both are looking down at the pictures of the other which implies that Sherlock believes that Irene is his inferior, while Irene does the same indicating that she believes herself able to best Sherlock Holmes. This scene puts the two on the same level in the audience’s mind, and comments that they are very similar in their arrogance.

It is also important to note the way in which both characters are written. Both Sherlock and Irene are dark haired with piercing eyes, sharp cheek bones, and pale skin (as seen in the picture below.) They are both seen essentially naked at some point throughout the show, and most importantly they are both cold and unemotional people. It is clear over the course of the series that Sherlock is a heartless shell of a man who does not care for the feelings of others, and interestingly Irene is scripted as a dominatrix in this version. In order to perform this job one cannot show emotion or care for the feelings of others; emotional connections simply get in the way. Based on the unnaturally similar ways in which Sherlock and Irene think, act, and even look, it is clear that in this remake of Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia Irene Adler is meant to be in every possible way a female version of Sherlock Holmes.


In Sir Conan Doyle’s story “A Scandal in Bohemia,” he presents Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler as equals. In the BBC Sherlock adaptation “A Scandal in Belgravia,” this information is portrayed well, especially through the segment leading up to the two interacting for the first time.

In this segment, Sherlock comments about how he needs to dress for battle while agonizing over what to wear to visit Adler. The camera then cuts to Adler, who is also finding difficulty in selecting what to wear. Finally, she decides on her “battle dress.” Both characters invest a good amount of time and thought into their choice of clothing (or in Adler’s case, nudity) and both use the word “battle” to describe the interaction they know will soon be occurring.

When Sherlock and Watson are in the street near Irene Adler’s house, Sherlock tells Holmes to punch him in the face. Finally, Holmes does as he’s told, and it causes Sherlock’s cheek to bleed, creating a red streak. The camera cuts to Adler, inside the house, applying bright red lipstick. Again, this is a blatantly obvious parallel between the two characters. By cutting and editing the scenes in this manner, the audience has no choice but to recognize the similarities between the two.

Furthermore, in terms of wit and intelligence, the BBC version shows Adler looking at pictures of Holmes on her phone as Holmes is holding and viewing photos of Adler. The audience, or reader, in the case of the story itself, is led to believe that Sherlock cannot be outwitted, especially not by an unsuspecting woman. This segment proves that someone does exist who can challenge Holmes at his own game. Both believe they are being inconspicuous, but they both end up with photos of each other. This is especially significant in the case of equality because Adler’s photos are on the internet for all to view, making it simple for Sherlock to ascertain them, but Sherlock did not realize the photos were taken, displayed by his outfit of sheets and unexacting facial expressions in the pictures.

The one part of the story that appeared misrepresented was Adler’s title of “the woman.” In the Sir Conan Doyle story, the nickname was given by Sherlock out of respect and admiration because she was able to challenge and outsmart him. The show presents it as a nickname given to her in the “professional” world, which diminishes its significance entirely. The name was Sherlock’s acknowledgment of their equality and the BBC adaptation did not accurately depict its importance.

The Use of Technology in BBC’s Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes has always been a great mastermind in literature. He is smart, cunning, and sly and always one step ahead of his suspects. In the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes uses the technology of a well-crafted magnifying glass to assist with his deductions; it was the technology of choice for a first-rate detective in his era. In BBC’s hit television show Sherlock, technology plays an even greater role. It assists Sherlock in his endeavors and it is also used in editing the show to give the viewers an even greater perspective into the classic detective’s mind.

In the episode A Scandal in Belgravia, the first thing that a viewer sees is a cell phone. Obviously when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the original stories from which the show is adapted, cell phones was just a figment of the imagination. However, the use of modern technology is continually present in BBC’s modern adaption. During A Scandal in Belgravia, Irene Adler does most of her major communication with Sherlock via text. Meanwhile, Sherlock is trying to hack into a cell phone for digitally stored, password protected pictures. Watson also uses modern technology in this version: all of his journaling is done on a blog and he is constantly checking his follower count to see how many Internet followers he has! The visual and audio representation of the cell phone and modern technology in this episode particularly keeps the viewers interest and provides additional background information without using dialogue or a voice-over.

That being said, the technology used to edit the Sherlock series also greatly enhances the viewers’ experiences. One of the most prominent features, particularly during scenes with cell phone use and blog writing, is that the text appears for viewers to read on screen. This text allows the viewer to feel personally involved in the plot and almost take on the character of Sherlock or Irene Adler in that instance. Text also appears on the screen for each analysis Sherlock does towards different object or people. It allows the viewer to see the small details that Sherlock comprehends and observe rather than just see. This text has an incredibly important purpose because it explicitly provides information that the viewer may not receive or understand otherwise. The hyperlink below includes a video which illustrates this as Sherlock attempts to analyze Irene Adler and then in comparison, John Watson.

Sherlock Tries to Analyze Irene Adler

The use of technology in BBC’s modern twist of Sherlock greatly differs from the state of the art magnifying glass used in the classic Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Modern technology like cell phones and computers are continually present throughout the show and are used to supplement the plot along with the editing, showing text messages as they appear on screen for the viewer to read. Clearly, modern technology plays a major role in the production and viewer understanding of BBC’s Sherlock.

Blurred Lines


While both versions of “The Scandal in Bohemia” revolve around a woman’s ability to match Sherlock in intelligence, Irene Adler’s choice of dress in the TV series is an important element to consider in modern day society We first see Adler as very confident and masculine: when deciding what to wear upon her first meeting with Sherlock Holmes, Irene Adler decides on wearing her “battle dress”. She also uses imagery of blood and war in a way that could be perceived as masculine and aggressive. Compared to Irene in Conan Doyle’s story, Irene Adler’s personality in Sherlock is bold and powerful. Irene does not come across as dainty and feminine as in Doyle’s edition. Adler displays a masculine personality by being over confident, aggressive and describing her encounter as a battle. Adler’s male like persona is a representation of her ability to think and act like a man and to be in control.

In the same moments, Irene can be perceived as feminine through her naked appearance and her sexuality. This femininity does not take away her dominance but rather assists Irene in outsmarting Sherlock and throwing him off guard. Adler’s nudity gives her an immense amount of power over Sherlock Holmes: he asks her to cover up after the shock of seeing her naked. He appears weak and consumed by the distraction of her nudity. This power struggle suggests that men are still addicted and flawed by their obsession with women and sex and hints that women have the ability to use this addiction to their advantage such as Adler did. Simply put, to remain in control a woman must think like a man but use their feminine values to obtain what they want.

The television series, Sherlock, suggests that nowadays that the correct balance of femininity and masculinity enables someone to be in power. Irene Adler’s blurred lines of masculinity and femininity is what enables her to have more power than Sherlock in this particular scene. At the same time, I would like to pose the question: At what point does using your sexuality for power not become okay? Irene’s nudity also calls into question the normatively of being naked and a role such as a dominatrix has in today’s society. It highlights the commonality of seeing a naked woman in modern cinematography and that there is still appears to be an unbalance of female and male roles in power. While gender roles have become more equalitarian, nudity and sex still play a dominant role in the power play between the sexes.