Mark Watches ‘Sherlock': S01E02 – The Blind Banker

In the second episode of the first series of Sherlock, the famed detective and his partner deal with ciphers (a la The Dancing Men) to try to solve a set of murders that seem to target entirely unrelated people. Also: RACISM. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Sherlock.

You know, I haven’t really had the chance to do something I started off this whole wild adventure with: complain. Loudly. And pervasively. If you’ve noticed, ever since I finished the Twilight series, every series of books and television that I’ve picked up since then has been something I’ve become a fan of. Which is great! That is so terribly exciting for me. I love finding new things to enjoy! But the entire Mark Does Stuff idea was spawned from that original book series, which…well, if you followed along, you know that I nearly had a nervous breakdown from reading those books. And I don’t say that as hyperbole or to make light of that concept. I seriously had extremely adverse physical and mental reactions towards the process, WHICH WERE NOT REALLY ALL THAT FUN. So there’s been a part of me, deep in the back of my mind, that worries that one day I’ll choose a series that I am initially excited about and then I’ll grow to hate it and my very special manger and terror will become entertainment and such. Which is fine, but man…I hate so much stuff as it is.

I don’t want to hate Sherlock. I loved the first episode a great deal. And I don’t think that I’ll end up detesting this, but holy fucking god, this episode did not help me to love this show at all.

IS IT TIME FOR MARK TO BRING BACK THE ALL CAPS RAGE MACHINE? It might be. I can’t promise it. But it’s no longer in the back of my subconscious. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Because jesus christ, this episode pissed me off. (Not all of it, as there is stuff to like and enjoy, but we’ll get to that.)

So let me start off with some perspective, both personal and a bit more public than that. I’m a person of color. I like that term. And my relationship with my race and ethnicity has been rather confusing and bizarre for me. I’m Mexican, adopted by a Japanese/Hawaiian dad and a mother who’s part Irish and Welsh and a whole other host of ethnic backgrounds, all of them neatly and succinctly summarized by saying she’s white.

I don’t speak Spanish. I learned a lot by osmosis and through school. I don’t pass as white in virtually any social situation, though I don’t always get read as being Latino. I get “Middle Eastern” a lot, both because people seem to think everyone from that area looks the same and because I have a heavy beard, which makes them SUPER RACISTS or something. No, seriously, the ridiculous Islamaphobia I have been the butt of, despite being Latino, is mind-blowing sometimes. Thanks, racist people.

Actually, here’s a great starting point to understanding what it was like for me, a brown kid in a sea of white faces as a child, to grow up without people who looked like me. I wrote about my experience as a child of color because of a very important idea that I still have to struggle with to this day. It was much more prevalent in my childhood, but this particular episode of Sherlock reminded me of those days. And if this is a totally new concept to some of you, allow me to elaborate!

When I was a kid, no one had brown skin. I mean….no one! I lived in Boise, Idaho and my twin brother and I were the ~exotic~ foreigners to our classmates. It wasn’t something that was particularly used against us when we were that young, and at times, it was nice to get attention period, negative or positive. The whole concept of exoticism now drives me up the wall, but at the time, it wasn’t as othering as it soon would become. Instead, though, I just simply believed really absurd things because I knew no better. You know, things like “Prince Eric is totally my father,” or “Mom, I am seriously Egyptian, please take me to my pyramid.”

As I got older and moved to a neighborhood FULL of people who looked so much more likely, I became far more aware that what the world presented to everyone else wasn’t any different. I still didn’t know of many people with brown skin on television or in the bands I listened to. (Side note: This is how I rationalized away the homophobia in Bad Brains. They weren’t white and they were playing hardcore and this excited me until I could not be any more excited. Oppression intersects in interesting ways, no?)

If there was anything I was able to pick up at a very early age, it was how lacking minorities were in popular media. I noticed how so few women went to hardcore shows. I noticed that Latinos like myself were caricatures on the television. I noticed how homosexuals were always sassy partners in the movies. And it bothered me so much that I would go out of my way to find and support things that countered this idea that the world was very white and very straight and very male. Of course, I now know this is much more prevalent and damaging than I did when I was just thirteen years old, but there are few things in the world that can make me groan or roll my eyes hard enough to spawn thunder than pop culture that relegates marginalized groups to frustrating stereotypes. (I AM SIDE-EYEING YOU SO HARD, GLEE.)

So, have I introduced myself properly? Feel like you have an idea where I’m coming from? Ok, cool, because WHAT THE FUCK DOES STEPHEN THOMPSON AND EVERYONE WHO CRAFTED THIS EPISODE THINK THEY ARE DOING

I MEAN. OK. LET ME START WITH THE OBVIOUS ONE. “Ooooh, oh my god, Chinese people are soooooooooo ~exotic~ and ~totally weird and foreign~ and have ~totally different customs than we do~ so LET US PAINT THEM AS A CULTURE THAT IS TOTALLY GOING TO PLAN AN OVERCOMPLICATED PLOT JUST TO ~THREATEN ALL THE POOR WHITE PEOPLE’S LIVES~

Ok, despite that I have a Japanese last name (which I love!!!) and that I have an entire branch of my family made up of people who are Hawaiian and Japanese, I make no qualms about being Asian myself. I’m not! So I am no expert on doing the wonderful “ASIANS ARE TOTALLY WEIRD” dance that this episode waltzes all over Chinese people. What I can say is that, as a person of color, I HAVE SEEN THIS USED SO MANY BILLION OF TIMES THAT I CAN SPOT IT A MILE AWAY.

How many tropes can you spot??? LET’S TURN IT INTO A GAME.

1)   Oh no, Asian people are really scary with their gangs and all! Oh no, this is so terrifying, all these Asian gangs!

2)   Asians are totally like, the most amazing acrobats and like, they can bend into all kinds of fun positions so they can MURDER A BUNCH OF WHITE MEN someone call The Sun and tell them to put this on the front page SO WE CAN SAVE THE POOR WHITE MEN BEING MURDERED IN THEIR EXPENSIVE HOUSES AND LOFTS.

3)   Chinese people are totally, like, into breaking the law to bring their non-white products into Great Britain so they can, like, totally take over our markets! Oh no, this is so bad!

4)   Oh, Asians! You steal and kidnap our people so you can murder them with ridiculously inefficient but distinctly Asian apparatuses!

5)   Oh, those silly Chinese! They are so ridiculously talented at whatever they do with their unique skills and we should fear the fact that they are going to TAKE OVER OUR COUNTRY. (That’s a subtext, for the record, as it’s probably the one trope that isn’t explicitly spelled out.)

6)   It’s not my fault that I am in this situation! I am not a bad banker, and capitalism is not an evil economic entity that created the situation where I could lose all this money so quickly! No, it’s totally the ruthless Chinese and their dedication to thievery that caused me to die! None of this is my fault!

Do you get the picture? I know that I have spoken about 2% about the actual plot and content of this episode, but can you imagine how terribly distracting this was? Literally, like every 5 minutes, I was facepalming at the same familiar narrative about a “foreign” culture being presented to me. Actually, that process went a little more like this:

Grimacing —> Wincing —-> Eye Rolling —–> Facepalming —–> Head-Desking —–> Shouting At The Heavens —–> WHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYY

Ok, maybe none of this makes any sense to you, and maybe you’re ready to write off a lot of this as situational or specific only to “The Blind Banker.” What is so disturbing to me about how casual these stereotypes are here is not that I believe some of you cannot recognize them. As it’s been made apparent, quite a lot of people apparently picked up on how ridiculous a lot of the framing was in this episode. Which is good! I am glad people can start to recognize that it’s seriously perfectly fine to look at media and pop culture with that kind of critical eye. These are all good things, yes?

What disturbs me is the fact that these narratives about the Chinese, about Asian people in general, and about all those under the umbrella of people of color EVER MADE IT INTO THIS EPISODE IN THE FIRST FUCKING PLACE. I don’t place the blame or thrust of this complaint on a single one of you who recommended me this show or who watched it an ultimately enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say I dislike the show myself. We’re at 50/50 here and it’s always different for me when I decide I’ve reached the breaking point of a specific show or book or band or whatever. I don’t think I’ve reached that point and I think I’ll be ok going into “The Great Game” and still manage to enjoy the show.

I just seriously wonder what the fuck went on in the heads of Stephen Thompson or Euros Lyn or Steven Moffat or Mark Gatiss or anyone who wrote this script or contributed to it. I wonder if there wasn’t a point that one of them didn’t stop to think, “Well, shit. Are we really going to do this? Do we really need to frame this entire episode this way?” Surely, someone saw this and thought that maybe this was a really awful, awful idea to try and execute, right?

And I know the inevitable is coming, so let me address it right off the bat: I’m not calling any of these people racists. I like to think that I am able to make the distinction between whether a person has written an unfortunate implication or relied on a stereotypical narrative or just framed everything poorly. And honestly, that’s probably what these people did. I know people might say things like, “BUT THEY HAVE ASIAN FRIENDS!” or “THERE ARE CHINESE ACTORS IN THIS AND THEY DIDN’T PROTEST!” and then I’ll just want to lay my head on my pillow and sleep for a really long time because that just makes me tired typing it.

Actions, behaviors, words, and narratives can inherently support casual racism, and that doesn’t mean the person or organization behind it dons a white robe and pointy hat on the weekends. Casual racism is still racism, and sometimes it feels more insidious than out-and-proud racist blather. I imagine that all these people felt they had good intentions for this story and perhaps they even wanted to write an episode that wasn’t full of white people. But that doesn’t mean the end result is something that I necessarily want to support or enjoy. If anything, “The Blind Banker” feels like incredibly lazy writing, and I’d like to believe that Moffat, Thompson, and Gatiss are much better writers than that. We don’t need narratives like the ones presented here to tell a story. Well, not only do we not need them, we don’t want them. I just want to see something different.

And look, don’t take my word for it. I’m a person of color and these narratives are so familiar to me that it pains me to have to write about them IN FUCKING 2011. But when it comes to the distinct flavor of Orientalism and Yellow Peril that this episode seems to bash over our heads, you should seriously read the words of Anna Chen, who summarizes these exact problems much more beautifully than I have.

THOUGHTS

  • Ok, I did do a lot of yelling here. Fair enough. And despite that it’s really, really hard for me to look past the prejudicial bullshit in “The Blind Banker,” it’s not all bad!
  • The opening scenes between Sherlock and Watson were a treat, especially the contrast between Watson fighting a payment device while Sherlock fights a man with a sword.
  • I also enjoyed that the show outright acknowledges the issue of money. How do these two get paid? I feel like I’m not going to have too many questions about that in the future.
  • I did feel that the women in the first episode were a bit disposable and two-dimensional, so I’m glad we get a bit more from Sarah. Who, by the way, goes on the worst date of all time by the end of this episode. Also
  • In the scene where Sherlock and Watson arrive at the Lucky Cat Emporium, it was nice to see that Watson was actually a step ahead of Sherlock. Sometimes, Sherlock gets so lost in his brain that he can’t see the obvious.
  • A wonderfully creepy moment: Sherlock realizing that the killer hasn’t left the apartment he just broke into.
  • It’s also great to see the growing relationship between Sherlock and Watson, from Sherlock’s uncomfortably awkward attempts to be social with Watson by crashing his date with Sarah to trying to “hang out” with him. It’s endearing, really, and also contributes to a wonderfully hilarious homoeroticism between the two. LOOK, I CANNOT IGNORE THE SUBTEXT. Does anyone else feel like it’s PAINFULLY OBVIOUS?
  • Ok, so is the “M” at the end of the episode Moriarty? IT HAS TO BE.
  • Don’t answer this, just thinking aloud: Why did Sherlock let Dimmock take the credit?
  • Ok, this is so bizarre, but LAST SHERLOCK REVIEW TOMORROW. Oh god, WHAT A WEIRD SENSATION.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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239 Responses to Mark Watches ‘Sherlock': S01E02 – The Blind Banker

  1. psycicflower says:

    Mark I love you dearly for this review. Never change.
    As to the episode
    <img src="http://i51.tinypic.com/3345102.gif&quot; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">
    ”I don’t want to hate Sherlock. I loved the first episode a great deal. And I don’t think that I’ll end up detesting this, but holy fucking god, this episode did not help me to love this show at all.”
    So much THIS! I don’t want to hate Sherlock but I was beyond disappointed when this episode aired (and again rewatching it today) because there is so much racism and it is impossible to ignore. Honestly there’s no way I could put it better than you already have.

    But some things I liked. Museum! Conservation department! Storage! Stop judging me!
    I love Sarah. She wasn’t afraid to get into the action and beat someone up with a big stick to help Sherlock and John and she was the one to notice that some of the symbols had already been translated. She didn’t have the best of first dates but she seems perfectly willing to go with it. I loved the scene where Sherlock is frantically spinning John around and trying to get him to remember the now missing symbols but John was practical and just took a picture of them. I also liked John’s struggle with the self serve check out. My pet peeve with those things is how it keeps telling me to remove my items from the baggage area when I’m done. I know, I’m trying to pack my shopping bag! Stop rushing me!
    Don’t worry Mark, it’s not just you. It’s impossible to ignore the subtext.

    Actually, I have another complaint. What exactly happens to the jade hair pin at the end of the episode? Rightful ownership of historical/museum/gallery objects is a fraught enough subject as it is, especially in regards to stolen goods, so given the provenance of the jade pin, it should be going back to China. I mean most countries have agreements about this kind of thing. I’d like to assume that that’s what happened but the newspaper headline is a bit too ambiguous to give a definite answer.

    • Cat_Eyed_Fox says:

      If I remember correctly Sherlock basically told the receptionist how much it was worth and left it up to her. Which also bothered me quite a bit! I know Sherlock's a sociopath so concepts like "right and wrong" are pretty subjective, but like any good Sociopath he should have very strong ideas about possessions, and been all over getting it back to it's rightful owner.
      Or given it to John b/c everyone likes sparkley things right?

    • Rebecca says:

      I loved the scenes with the tea ceremony discussion too and the museum and all that! Love it.

      I hated how in the later fight scene, where the villains have got sarah strapped into a chair and they're fighting to save her life, sarah just sits there. just sits there, looking scared.
      JUST SHUFFLE THE CHAIR SIDEWAYS. YOU WILL BE FINE. Or just fall over? or forward? or anything but just sit still.

  2. Albion19 says:

    Yeah, this one I skip :x

  3. @Blue_Rose_ says:

    I swear the rest of the series is good. It almost makes me forgive him for the new episodes of Doctor Who. But it's really good mostly due to lack of female characters. He does women about as well as he handles race, which is to say that he doesn't.

  4. Christidaae says:

    This is the episode fandom tries to forget, for precisely these reasons.

  5. Kaybee42 says:

    I have nothing the add to this review. Don't mind me, I'mma just write a pointless comment stating:
    I agree with everything you just said because it is TRUTH.
    :)

  6. xpanasonicyouthx says:

    Do I???? I thought they were both pretty awful.

    • lizziecharlton says:

      They are, though I think that The Mail is worse because while the Sun is obviously trashy, The Mail hides behind a thin veneer of what could pass as respectability.

  7. Kaybee42 says:

    Honestly, the sun works almost as well! Maybe we should get the daily star (i think that's the one I'm thinking of..?) in on it too!

    • Sparkie says:

      Well to my mind, the Daily Mail is typically associated with these kind of things, but The Sun is certainly on par.

      • xpanasonicyouthx says:

        WELL AT LEAST I AM ON THE RIGHT TRACK

        • Kaybee42 says:

          I thought I'd add that using the daily mail as an example of racism is more common, and the sun more common for sexism. But yeah, they're both utterly horrible- racist and sexist and just everything in them will tend to disgust me and most people. Well they would if I'd read them since the last time I decided to read them to see just how disgustingly crap they were.
          ^that was going to be added to my comment then y'all replied too quickly! Never mind, I'll put it here anyway :)

        • monkeybutter says:

          Just remember: Uncle Vernon reads the Daily Mail, so you know it's awful!

  8. redheadedgirl says:

    “THERE ARE CHINESE ACTORS IN THIS AND THEY DIDN’T PROTEST!”

    Just to assist in heading that one off at the pass: Sure, actors have to work. And how much work do you think they get if they get a reputation for making a stink about every problematic thing that comes their way? You can get away with it if your someone like Tom Hanks, or MAYBE, if you're lucky enough to become La Meryl Streep, but most actors don't have that luxury. And when there are so few roles for minority actors, and at least a dozen who would take your paying gig in a heartbeat, well, it's hard to choose between moral fortitude and a paycheck.

    Besides, it's not like we know how many (if any) people turned down the roles after reading the script (but they might lose their agent representation pretty quickly if they regularly turned down paying work, too).

    • Elexus Calcearius says:

      This, so much! I mean, its really amazing how few Asian actors there are in Western media. Even when they do get roles, its rarely major protagonists or villain roles, always just side characters.

  9. @s_connor says:

    I love this show so much, but, oh man, the racism in this episode bums me out SO BAD. But! The last episode is crazy awesome and I think you're going to love it.

  10. avpmlessthan3 says:

    Um, well, this episode. I really don’t have much to say about it, actually. I liked it and I didn’t really find it racist or offensive at all, but then I hardly ever find anything offensive even though I’m also a person of color (Mexican, like you). I’m just weird that way :S

    Just to say something positive about this episode, it seems like every episode makes me ship WatsonxSherlock even more. That scene where Sherlock spins John around in the alley? Love <3

    • George says:

      To be honest, the first time I watched this I had no idea of all the furore and I thought it was all right, kinda slow and boring in the middle, but I didn't get the feeling that this is racist.
      Having said that, I've read all of these takes on it and I have to agree, with hindsight, that it's not appropriate or acceptable. I suppose I see a lot of 'casual' racism everyday, so maybe I'm just desensitized?

      • Mreeb says:

        I had a similar experience, in that I was kind of "meh" about the episode and then, upon reflection, realised I had just been presented with racism so casually that I failed to really clue into it. I mean, the acrobat villains made me uncomfortable, but I shouldn't be so desensitized to this that discomfort is all I feel until I think about it. It makes me ashamed. At least it also makes me want to pay better attention to this sort of thing, because it is really not okay in any way shape or form.

        Sherlock and John's interactions are as lovely as ever, at least, and I quite like Sarah.

    • FlameRaven says:

      I didn't notice it either– well, I noticed the orientalism, mostly with the teapot stuff. Like "ooh, look at these strange Asian teapots that have to have tea poured on them to keep them intact!" which was also awkward because in the scene they were obviously just pouring water. The Chinese Circus was also a little painful because it was obviously focusing on the "exotic weirdness" with the crossbow trick.

      The graffiti and the cipher and even the smuggling gang didn't bother me as much, though. I dunno, it seemed fairly plausible to me that people would try to make stupid amounts of money off of various artifacts. (If someone was offering me 9 million pounds for a hairpiece, I WOULD TAKE IT.) And using a common script in Chinese seemed a reasonable way to do it– a simple cipher that most people are going to overlook.

      Although this did turn into a plot hole later– considering how long it took Watson and Holmes to find the actual message, how likely was it that the smugglers would have found it and read it rather than just seeing the "deadman" message and freaking out? That was a little unnecessarily complicated, and THAT I can definitely see as being casual racism, this idea that a Chinese gang had to communicate to its members in ~weird code~ rather than dropping them all a more obvious, clear message.

  11. Hotaru-hime says:

    There's nothing I can really add because I don't really remember this episode that well. I do remember being annoyed by the "OMG CHINEEEEEEESE THEY SO CRAZY AND ELABORATE"
    This is why people made guns. They are quick and effective and the only time you don't want one is when you're around the Doctor or Batman. Because they will fuck you up (unless you are a sanctioned government official like the Brig or Gordon- OH MY GOD I AM SUCH A GEEK).
    Poor Sarah. Shitty way to end a date that got gate crashed by your date's possibly homosexual roommate that has no social skills whatsoever. It's pretty much a giant neon sign that says "RUN GIRL RUN".

  12. Mary Sue says:

    Aaand now I see why my friends told me to utterly skip this episode– because they knew I'd probably put something through the TV.

  13. Xiomara says:

    I have nothing much to add in terms of the BLATANT!Racism, as you covered pretty much all of it. But I do have to add this:

    Yes, that homo-eroticism is as painfully obvious as you think it is. And I LOVE IT.

  14. monkeybutter says:

    I was actually looking forward to your review of this episode the most, especially after your reaction to "Turn Left." ~Mystical Asians~ and the ~dangerous Orient~. I read your blogs because I need a distraction from the serious business that pisses me off, but I really appreciate seeing someone else's RAGE about this. It's not all terrible, but the stuff that you mentioned is so incredibly unnecessary. It's sort of grotesque and distracting, so it ruins the episode. So thanks for the

    <img src="http://i52.tinypic.com/sd017s.gif"&gt;

    Since I have Doctor Who on the mind, I'd also to mention the scene in "Flesh and Stone" where they're shooting at the angels in a tight metal corridor. Um, ricocheting bullets people! I was glad when Sherlock brought it up.

    I agree that the subtext is PAINFULLY OBVIOUS, but I still love how it was addressed in the first episode. People are always going to ship Watson and Sherlock.

    And I still want to hug you over the Prince Eric thing.

  15. Cat_Eyed_Fox says:

    Like everyone said I'm completely baffled by this episode. I mean, when you've got three 90 minute episodes to convince fans and the network to ask for more, yet you waste one of a stupid, overly complicated, racist story? If this was a normal series and was like the 7th in a 13 episode season, then sure, I can just skip 50 minutes of stupid and hope it doesn't happen again, but 1/3 of a season? WHY?!
    It is reassure to know that this wasn't something fans didn't notice and that the outrage I felt was echoed by other fans, but now that I've thought about it I want to know what the hell to creators were thinking? Does anyone have a link to an interview by Steven or any of the others about this? I almost demand an explanation.

  16. Meadow says:

    Yeah, this ep is the weakest of the 3 for sure. I can't wait for your review of the 3rd one, which I LOVE FOREVER.

  17. Anon says:

    Not the writer's finest work. Still find it hard to believe how this manages to make through the entire production process without anyone raising any objections, i mean come on its 2011.

  18. arctic_hare says:

    This episode. *cringes* I'm white, and the racism grosses me out enough that I haven't managed to get through it and move onto Great Game. In months. It's just like – no. Stop. Please stop. This is horrible. I literally cannot imagine how it feels to watch this dreck as a POC (and would never, ever try to presume that I could, ew). :( It's just… yeah. Horrid. And I'm going to stop there and just read what everyone else has to say on it.

    • Meg says:

      *also white and thoroughly disgusted*

      If it helps, there's almost nothing in Great Game that references this episode. And Great Game, IMO, almost makes up for all of the fail in this (except for, you know, not really. what has failed cannot be un-failed).

  19. Cat_Eyed_Fox says:

    Yeah I too suffer from White Middle-class Girl Guilt (I'm in a very liberal, emphasizing LGBT and social justice issues, seminary studying to be professor of religions and I sometimes feel like I'm wallowing in it), but my trick is asking "If we change this to say 'Cirque De Sole' French Canadian acrobats, get rid of all the OMG Exotic Chinese comments, is the story hurt? Does it lose something vital?" if not then it's bloody racist. Yes, we're all unique flowers and our race and culture contribute to that, and our differences should be celebrated. BUT! There is a difference between celebrating and fetishizing differences. And that episode did not celebrate differences, but fetishized being Chinese and Asian. Sarah fought back and defended her friends; the Chinese girl hid over and over again, and if I remember correctly was killed by her brother without defending herself.

    • Hypatia_ says:

      It's also odd how it was somehow thought okay to use Asian stereotypes. There's that bizarre notion that some stereotypes are less problematic than others. I'm Jewish, so I say this from that perspective, but I'm pretty sure that no one would have even thought of using nasty Jewish stereotypes for a similar purpose, and if they did, there would be a truly epic backlash. But somehow, using Chinese stereotypes is okay. It's weird.

      • knut_knut says:

        I think it's because asian stereotypes are typically "good" stereotypes- we're all good at math, study hard, respect our families, etc so I think some people think it's ok use those stereotypes. That being said, I have NO IDEA why they thought ~evil asian gangs with crazy weapons~ was ok

      • Cat_Eyed_Fox says:

        Oh yeah, you see this logic w/ gay characters who are sassy and fabulous, offering Cupid-like advice and make-over magic. Nevermind it's stereotyping and creating neutered Gay Fairy Godmothers. They're not raping kids or skinning people alive so it's just fine!
        Of course there are still productions of Merchants of Venice that explicitly show a nasty, stereotypical, racist depiction of Jews in the character of Shylock. That being said, while both "Blind Banker" and Merchant of Venice are based on literary works from an age where this level of racism was acceptable, many theater groups have tweaked the MoV to make it less racist, even subversive. Why not do the same to Blind Banker? Or better yet, chose another freaking story!

  20. psycicflower says:

    I remember reading a fic back when the episode first aired where the pin got returned so I like to keep that as personal head canon for what happened to it after the episode.

  21. lilah80 says:

    And another thing! Why did Ms. Secretary get millions of pounds from that hairpin? That was looted, her boyfriend stole that. You don't get to keep stolen shit just because the thief gave it to you. It should be returned to the Chinese government, who hopefully would put it in a museum.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      \OMG THIS IS A GOOD POINT.

    • Elexus Calcearius says:

      I always assumed it was returned…did I forget a point that she got the money for that? Because that's idiotic.

      • Openattheclose says:

        That's what I thought too.

      • mkjcaylor says:

        I think that the newspaper says something really quickly about someone making a fortune off of a pin. I think they implied that she did. Also why she was freaking out so much.

        • Elexus Calcearius says:

          I'd assumed she'd freaked out partly because its a really amazing and weird thing to discover, and also partly because she was scared of being blamed for the theft. But if it said so on the newspaper…that really is a fail. “Okay, so you didn't steal it, I suppose its your property, then.”From: notifications@intensedebatemail.comTo: laurabev233@hotmail.comSubject: mkjcaylor replied to your comment on Mark Watches 'Sherlock': S01E02 – The Blind Banker

      • FlameRaven says:

        The newspaper just says 'WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLION-HAIR?" and we don't see anything more, so it's not clear if she turned it in or actually tried to find a buyer and kept the money. I'd think that she would have it taken away since it's stolen property (not to mention EVIDENCE in the case against the smugglers!), but you can't tell from the newspaper title alone. :/

  22. WingedFlight says:

    The trouble is, if there wasn't all this enraging and ridiculous racism in the episode (and I use ridiculous to mean 'completely unnecessary and overly elaborate') this could be a very good episode. I mean – if you take out the idea that it is this big bad asian gang behind the murders, it could be so good. Creepy codes on the walls and in the bookshelves that relate to words in a book? Awesome. The opening double-fight scene? Hilarious. The romantic subplot between John and Sarah? So cute. The apartment isn't empty after all? Chilling. But the unintentional (because I'd be surprised if it wasn't) racist plot is awful – not to mention, it lends the entire episode a feeling of improbability.

    • Cat_Eyed_Fox says:

      Plus we got to see Sherlock's gang of street urchins, which I think is what he called them in the books. I really like the idea that modern Sherlock associates easier with the homeless and petty criminals like grafitti artists than with cops and bankers.

      • WingedFlight says:

        OH YEAH I'd forgotten about that! The Baker Street Irregulars! (I only remember that that's what they were called because during the second world war, the British war effort in America referred to their men there as the Irregulars, a name they got from Sherlock Holmes.)

  23. enigmaticagentscully says:

    Yeaaaaah, I remember this episode…

    I don't recall HATING it at the time, but I remember it making me very uncomfortable while watching it. I think – and I'm trying to be totally honest here – it was the annoying and cliched tropes that made me dislike it, more so than the implied racism (though the two are obviously linked). I'm usually not very good at picking up on stuff like that, but here it was so obvious that it actually made me notice. Like you said, it's just lazy writing, falling back on 'exoticism' to made the villains seem exciting and threatening. Even without going into the racial implications, it just felt like the audience was being patronised.

    It's a real shame, this is just the sort of thing that you might expect from the original Sherlock Holmes stories that should really have been updated. It's just so odd that they updated all the ideas so well, and yet kept this kind kind of casual racism that feels like it SHOULD belong in the Victorian era.

    Meh. I'm pretty sure the next episode is awesome though…

  24. Anon says:

    On a completely unrelated note i saw the girl who plays the secretary at the Edinburgh Festival a few years ago in a comedy show which was brilliant, so its nice to see her getting some tv work. That's about the only positive thing i take from this episode.

    • evocativecomma says:

      That's Benedict Cumberbatch's girlfriend. ;) They've been together for 15 years.

  25. maccyAkaMatthew says:

    I haven't got around to watching this again yet. I think I should force myself to do it. I tend to under-read the racism in things because I don't want them to be racist and because I don't want to view the characters I'm being shown in a racist way (so I imagine that there are sides to them that I'm not seeing). I suspect that if I watched this one again, I'd like it even less – the first time I quite enjoyed the basic plot and felt distinctly uncomfortable about the stereotyping. Uncomfortable and weary – it's not like we get a lot of representations of east Asian cultures or British East Asian people on UK TV, so seeing the same stuff over and over is just dull. My reaction wasn't as visceral as yours, though – although I suspect that another viewing won't lead to me thinking yours is an overreaction.

    I think I probably said all I have to say about Orientalism back in comments about Turn Left:
    http://markwatches.net/reviews/2011/03/mark-watch
    http://markwatches.net/reviews/2011/03/mark-watch

    I even mentioned this episode back then as example of this being a problem in UK TV.

    I think an additional issue with this and with The Ruby in the Smoke and The Talons of Weng Chiang (back in the 70s) is that they are drawing on Edwardian and Victorian pulp Yellow Peril sources. There's an element of pastiche in doing that – so my speculation is that Moffat and Gatiss feel there's some ironic distance as a result. Maybe there is, but I don't think its sufficient. Also Talons of Weng Chiang is one of the holy texts of classic Who fandom – and if anything is likely to push you towards denial of racism, it's that.

    Fu Manchu and other texts of that nature give a sense ingrained history of Britain's exploitative relationship with China and a possible clue as to why British TV makers could have no idea of the traps they were falling into.

    Britain's relationship with its former empire is in some ways a paternalistic one – we still maintain the Commonwealth and there has been some cultural overlap between the UK and Commonwealth countries. That had given a starting point for the immigrants that arrived here in larger numbers from the 1950s on. They still experienced (and experience) a great deal of racism, but there's some familiarity, some exchange, a sense of sharing – and some impact on the culture from immigrants from those groups.

    British Chinese people, by contrast, are a smaller group and are mainly from Hong Kong, a territory seized after the first Opium War and a British colony until 1997. The nature of that relationship is much more nakedly exploitative and imperialistic – a foothold in an exotic land, with no trappings of paternalism (however cosmetic they were in other colonies). Since China as a whole was never part of the empire, there was also more scope for propagandist mythology about the Chinese, especially at times of war.

    There may also be other reasons, but that's my speculation as to why the Chinese immigrant population in the UK hasn't been able to make much impression on the imperialist stereotypes that still persist. And also why the bulk of the British population hasn't really thought them through.

    From my understanding, Orientalism was articulated via post-colonial literary theory (Edward Said's book with that title was published in 1978). By the time I was studying English (1989-92) the influence of post-colonial criticism had made its way to the mainstream (still largely canonical) syllabus, which helped greatly with my awareness. Mark Gatiss is a bit older than me and studied at Bretton Hall, down the road from Leeds, which focuses on practical performance over theory. He's also obsessed with Victorian and Edwardian styles, which takes back towards Fu Manchu. Steven Moffat would have been studying English in the early 80s, which would probably have been to early to encounter much post-colonial theory.

    That's all speculation on my part – but the main point is that awareness can change pretty radically over a comparatively short period of time. So perhaps the next generation of TV executives will do better.

    Having said all that, the BBC was doing this back in the early 1980s:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chinese_Detectiv

    And, as far as I know, has never managed anything similar since.

    • sabra_n says:

      Excellent comment. Thank you.

    • Eager_Ears says:

      This is REALLY interesting. Ever since I saw the episode, I've been wondering where such blatant, stupid stereotyping could have sprung from, so I'm glad to read this.

      After seeing this episode the first time, I just sat there going, "The portrayal of the Chinese characters has no relationship to reality…this is so very weird and uncomfortable." And then I realized how much they resemble characters from (as you say) Victorian pulp fiction, and thought the whole thing was even weirder. It's as if the writers had left in the evil Mormons from A Study in Scarlet! So it's really nice to have your possible context as to why this ugly, unsettling blind spot in an otherwise smartly updated series. Thanks!

    • hassibah says:

      Thanks for the context and typing all that out.

    • ffyona says:

      Excellent comment.

      I'd second your speculation regarding post-colonial criticism. It seems to be a staple now in most art/critical theory/huamanities courses but it is still fairly new and hasn't exactly permeated throughout all of academia. If your degree course didn't have a critical theory component or you didn't go on to university, it's unlikely that post-colonialism is something you would know about.

      I say this because at school (I'm in my early twenties, for context) we learnt next to nothing about the BRITISH EMPIRE ITSELF, let alone the cultural and political implications it still holds in the world. So thirty-odd years after Said first identified (he was the first AFAIK) Orientalism and some two hundred years after the fact, we still have little understanding of our historical relationship with minorities.

      If you compare it, say, to awareness of slavery, emancipation and the Civil Rights movement in the US, we're pretty lax here about our cultural and racial awareness. Hence incredible howlers like this. Other Asian groups are treated marginally better in the media, but the Chinese appear to have fallen into a hole in an already pretty patchy blanket. If that analogy makes any sense at all.

      • hassibah says:

        All the same, at this stage I don't think you have to have know who Foucault is or have studied this stuff at uni to have some idea that writing about race is a really tricky thing and you have to be sensitive about how you do it. Especially if you're an entertainer of any kind you should definitely aware that everything you say is very public and that there are a lot of people that will pick everything you do apart. So I mean "[x race/ethnicity/minority group/issue] in popular culture" as a discussion subject is something that you see a lot in NYT editorials/blogs, and it's not really an obscure academic subject anymore. So for sure I think everyone has their blind spots(I def have mine,) but that they could produce something like this and not stop to think about what they're doing here is pretty amazing to me.

        • monkeybutter says:

          I think that you've gotten the salient point: you don't have to have a strong background in critical theory to know that this episode has fucked up stereotypes about Asians. Why wasn't there someone, at some point in the production process, who said "hey guys, this is bad?"

          • hassibah says:

            Honestly, I have no idea if this is the case, but I wonder if this is a British thing? I was watching Misfits a little while ago and I was kind of shocked by a couple of the throwaway lines. Not personally shocked because the dialog is EXTREMELY ACCURATE to how most ignorant teenagers talk and it was all stuff I had heard before, but I was just completely amazed that it had made it onto a BBC show totally unfiltered, and they wouldn't have thought that someone would complain about it.

            So I don't know, maybe this obsession with/awareness of representation is more common in North America? Do British shows just let this stuff pass because they have a smaller audience and don't really get noticed as much? Just a thought(or I might be totally overthinking this.)

            • maccyAkaMatthew says:

              Misfits is a show made for Channel 4 and not for the BBC. Channel 4 is advertising supported but it is still publicly owned and has a remit to do public service broadcasting away from the mainstream. They're particularly strong on youth dramas. I don't know if they have a diversity unit like the BBC do, but they'll certainly be concerned about representation. They were the people who commissioned Queer as Folk, Sugar Rush, Shameless, Skins, White Teeth, Buried and Britz all of which deal with cultures in some way outside of the mainstream.

              To me, there isn't a necessarily problem with being offensive and provocative if that is rooted in reality – and I think that's an attitude that Channel 4 drama commissioners would follow.

              I think the problem with Orientalism is a British thing, but I think it's a different British thing – its the willingness to accept a bunch of 19th Century stereotypes in place of a serious examination of Chinese culture or of British people of Chinese descent.

              Characters saying racist things about Chinese people, or any other group, would absolutely make it into most British dramas without any fuss. That's because it's the characters who are saying those things and not the drama – and its something of a British drama tradition to go to uncomfortable places and let the audience work out their responses for themselves.

              The Blind Banker is a different beast, though. Firstly, it's not in a realist tradition, so we're already into the territory of potentially dangerous mythology. Secondly, and most importantly, it's not a portrayal of racism it's a racist portrayal in itself – it tells the audience things about Chinese people and culture that simply aren't true. And its not even a case of a negative portrayal being unfortunate given the lack of positive portrayals. If you took the time to research the current Chinese government (or had direct experience of it) you could write some really nasty Chinese characters who were nevertheless drawn from reality and would, hopefully, come across as individuals shaped by specific circumstances rather than as representatives for an entire culture.

              As it is, the characters are so much cyphers that we have the perpetuation of old racist myths.

              As to why that is allowed through – my guess is that the diversity unit is more of a resource than an editorial thing. And creative freedom is important to the BBC. Now I think this stuff should be getting fed back, but I've no idea if it is or not.

              It's hard to step back and get a proper overview though – it'd be nice if someone did a thorough academic study of representation in the British media and got to talk to some of the decision makers as well.

              • hassibah says:

                Oops about the channel, my bad!

                "Characters saying racist things about Chinese people, or any other group, would absolutely make it into most British dramas without any fuss. That's because it's the characters who are saying those things and not the drama – and its something of a British drama tradition to go to uncomfortable places and let the audience work out their responses for themselves. "

                Yeah even still I found that pretty remarkable. I could be wrong but usually when someone comes out and says something like that on an American show it's a villain that's shown to be evil IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY so I was kind of surprised to see the main characters that we're actually supposed to like say stuff like that without it being addressed in a very heavy-handed, after-school special kind of way (as you might have figured by now they are not very subtle.)

                Of course American tv can fuck up just as easily as UK tv and has its share of racism (to put it very mildly,) but I can't really imagine the writer of a show saying "that's the characters talking, not me!"

    • monkeybutter says:

      I just wanted to say that I love the thought you put into this comment, and I also hope that things will change radically in a short period of time.

  26. Sad thing is, were it not for the ignorant racism in this ep, it might have been enjoyable. Because there were plenty of cute moments in it (like every scene Watson and Sherlock are in together ;is a hardcore shipper;). But the racism is just too hard to ignore. Hopefully the Sherlock writers have seen the criticism online and are checking themselves for next season so we don't have repeats of this.

  27. nanceoir says:

    You know, not only is the racism bad and obvious and stuff in this episode, it's also… kind of a boring episode. I started to nod off a little during the whole bit where they find the lady from "The Waters of Mars" and she's becomes Captain Exposition for a while. I mean, I was a bit tired anyway, but still.

    Last night, I was thinking about it, and I'm not sure that you'd have to change the story all that much in order for it to avoid being so… awful. There's no reason why it had to be a GRAND CHINESE PLOT ONOZ, you know?

    I expect so much better than this from Moffat and Gatiss. Really, I do. But, to paraphrase Steven Moffat, sometimes a show is faced with the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do, and it only misses by one.

    • sabra_n says:

      I started to nod off a little during the whole bit where they find the lady from "The Waters of Mars" and she's becomes Captain Exposition for a while.

      Hee, that's the exact same time I started snoozing.

  28. Starsea28 says:

    Yeah… I was bracing myself for this review because of all the stereotyping and racism in this episode. I am middle-class and whiter than white. If even I can see the race fail, WHY COULDN'T THE WRITERS AND THE FUCKING EDITORS? Oh my God, the exoticism and the fake accents and the imperialism, it's so fucking painful. It's like Turn Left turned up to eleven. It's like The Talons of Weng Chiang only a thousand times WORSE because that was made in the 70s and this is NOW and WE SHOULD HAVE MOVED ON, DAMN IT.

    Yeah, the interactions between Sherlock and John are the only times I can take my hands away from my eyes.

  29. Maya says:

    Um, yeah it's kind of sad that out of three episodes I choose to overlook one of them. I don't know if this is also an adaptation of an original Sherlock Holmes story, but if it is I don't understand why they couldn't alter the whole let's-be-racist-about-Asians part of the storyline like they did with the whole MORMONS-KILL-PEOPLE storyline from A Study in Scarlet (I don't know if that was discussed in the comments yesterday but that whole thing is LULZTASTIC).

    So, yeah, I've only watched this episode once while I've watched the others like ten times. So, there you go.

    • Starsea28 says:

      It is a loose adaptation but in the original story, the villains were the Americans.

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      I haven't read the story it's adapted from, but I've heard that the only points of similarity between the novel and this episode are a) the use of books in creating codes and b) gang involvement (though the gang was based in the US in the book). I'm pretty sure the gang members involved were white.

      • Maya says:

        Ooooh, is that the one about the red-headed brigade? If so, that's a ridiculously loose adaptation going on here. Though I suppose if they kept it as it was, it could be discrimination against gingers lol.

        • Mauve_Avenger says:

          I just looked it up. The one I'm thinking of is called The Valley of Fear, which looks like it doesn't have anything to do with redheads.

          Wikipedia says that this episode is also partially based on a short story called "The Adventure of the Dancing Men." Looking at the description for that one, the similarities seem to be a) a woman is scared by cryptic symbols around her, b) the woman has mysterious past, and c) symbols left as a threat to the woman by a criminal.
          The woman and the criminal seem to be white Americans in this one, as well.

          • Maya says:

            Yeah no, I was remembering the whole "copying out the encyclopedia bit" from The Red Headed League.

            Still, WHY IN GODS NAME DID THEY HAVE TO MAKE THEM ~ASIAN~. Seriously, the whole thing would have been less uncomfortable if they'd tweaked the story so it wasn't, you know, racist. It would still be boring though.

  30. mariseul says:

    And the first episode was so good ._.
    I'm Asian(though not Chinese), and these were my thoughts during this episode:

    -ORIENTALISM ORIENTALISM ORIENTALISM
    -Well I guess they're being true to the source material very throughly

    I'm gonna skip this episode when I show Sherlock to my little brother and just explain about Sarah.

    • mariseul says:

      *thoroughly. Goddamn.

    • redheadedgirl says:

      Except, if I recall correctly, the story they sourced this one from had nothing to do with Asia or Orientalism at all. The show inserted it all on its own. Which makes it eleventy billion times worse.

      • monkeybutter says:

        Ugh, fantastic. You know, part of the benefit of modernizing Sherlock Holmes is that you can leave behind the ridiculous late-Victorian and Edwardian mores. There's no need to inject them into other stories!

  31. Inseriousity. says:

    I have never watched Sherlock but perhaps this is because the first part of the show I watched was the last 10 minutes of this and it just looked so ridiculous lol. I never watched Doctor Who until the 4th series though (and now i cant wait til april 23rd) so I imagine I'll end up getting sucked into it eventually.

  32. Carrie Ann says:

    It's odd, this episode. There are some good moments – most of them occur when an actor of Asian descent is not onscreen or being discussed – but otherwise, it feels nothing like the other two episodes, and comes nowhere near their levels of brilliance. The casual racism is like the WTF-icing on the stupid-cake.

    To use a Buffy metaphor, this ep is like the "Inca Mummy Girl" (speaking of cultural/racial ignorance) to the other two episodes' "Becoming Part 1 & 2." You can hardly believe it's the same show, with the same people, who are all capable of doing so much better.

  33. Zac says:

    I'm actually going to skip the racism thing here because as a white boy from Montana I don't think I'm truly in a position to say anything.

    however it makes sense that he gives the credit to the cop, now the cop owes him. Also this was a common habit of original Holmes. He often let the police take credit, until Watson would take issue

  34. carma_bee says:

    Little bit of trivia, the woman who plays Amanda, Olivia Poulet, was Benedict's partner for over ten years (they broke up last month).

    <img src="http://i51.tinypic.com/e0gbat.jpg&quot; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">

  35. hassibah says:

    I'm glad you addressed it (though in an episode like this it's kind of hard to ignore when it's just screaming at you.)

    I like Sherlock okay but I'm not mad about it, the first episode is definitely my favourite by far. Besides all the Blatantly obvious and horrific racial stuff in this episode, it also uses the trope of the oppressed non-white woman who in this case is literally nothing more than a damsel in distress, and helps the white hero bring down the other non-white people he's up against(if I remember the Twilight reviews right it was there, too.)

    But yeah, also a general observation about British tv that I touched on when we were talking about Nasreen: When I got around to checking out Doctor Who I was pretty shocked about the lack of Asian (South or East) characters. It seems to be the same in Being Human (of which I've only seen the 1st season so far to be fair,) and Misfits (which I think has one, but not a major character,) and Doctor Who now where they get killed off left, right and centre (though these shows do have their share of black characters which is definitely welcome.) It was really surprising to me cause I watch a lot of British movies and I'm used to seeing a lot of brown faces. I don't know, is this the norm or the exceptions?
    .

    • sabra_n says:

      *sigh* At least the Sarah Jane Adventures has a South Asian lead now.

      I lived on the East End of London when I did my semester abroad; an England without people of South Asian descent is inconceivable to me. But hey, a New York without PoCs is inconceivable to me, too, and yet we have How I Met Your Mother. :(

      • hassibah says:

        Oh man, I do enjoy HIMYM but that never even occurred to me till you pointed it out, that's how Hollywood warps the brain I guess. It's kind of odd that I can think of more brown characters in American tv than UK (and in Canada too but who wants to watch our shows?)

        I so need to get my shit together and watch SJA.

        • sabra_n says:

          SJA is a delight on so many levels. I need to catch up on most of the last season myself.

      • evocativecomma says:

        Or, you know, Friends. Apparently NO black people live in NYC.

        • sabra_n says:

          Yeah, Friends is an ur-example of that kind of fuckery, but I wanted to use a more recent (and therefore even more inexcusable) instance, so I went for HIMYM.

  36. MsPrufrock says:

    Yeah, I'm just going to go ahead and voice my agreement that the racism of this episode is pretty excruciating and I try to forget about this installment. It's indefensible.

    Also, I only scanned through the comments, but I don't recall anyone mentioning this: was anyone else also bothered by Sherlock's sword fight in the beginning? Against a man in a turban and beige-colored robe, with what's supposed to be "middle eastern" music in the background? The racism/orientalism got off to an early start in this episode, methinks.

    • Calimie says:

      Yes. I loved the fight and the way Sherlock kept pushing down his jacket when they were apart, but honestly, WHAT WAS THAT. Turban, sword, voiceless? the hell??!

      • Cat_Eyed_Fox says:

        Well hey if you're going to go Chinese racist might as well through a turban in there and offend a whole subcontinent while you're at it?

    • monkeybutter says:

      Oh god, I haven't rewatched and completely forgot about that scene. Another reason why this episode is a travesty.

  37. exbestfriend says:

    I think my enjoyment of this show, as a whole, was increased because I accidentally managed to watch the first episode, the third episode, the unaired pilot and THEN this episode. For what it is, which is a crazy racist mess, it has some interesting parts, but even then it is impossible to overlook the lazy stereotypes.

  38. Maybe it's because I'm a young Australian and we aren't exactly oversensitive about racial issues here*, but I didn't get overly negative racist vibes from this episode. As far as I could tell, the villains were depicted as playing to Chinese *cultural* stereotypes (which is not the same as racial ones) themselves. They happened to be an international group (tends to be a necessity if you're smuggling); they happened to have Chinese ties; and they played this for all the advantage it was worth. A viewer who thought the episode itself (as opposed to the characters) was being racist should have twigged to this interpretation when the ringmaster said "from the distant shores of NW1" — it was obvious to me that she was *parodying* the cultural stereotype to hang a lampshade on the fact that she had been deliberately using it previously.

    *I don't mean to say we're a bunch of racists, I mean to say we tend not to see what the big deal is. We acknowledge racial stereotypes as being unrealistic, but we don't see them as *inherently* offensive. We only consider it a problem if somebody is being attacked/oppressed/offended, and I really don't see that happening in this episode at all.

    • Jay says:

      Please do not presume that Oolon Colluphid is speaking for all Australians. Clearly zie is not. Oolon, please go learn some more of our history and open your eyes. Keywords: WHITE AUSTRALIA POLICY, "Oriental" relations during the gold rushes, Indigenous massacres, BOAT PEOPLE. To say that we as a people and a culture aren't racist is complete nonsense. We as individuals may not be, but that doesn't change the impact of our heritage and our current climate. I would posit that we aren't "oversensitive" (which is offensive in itself), we're simply unreflexive. There is little widespread critical analysis of our own behaviours. Which can be terribly damaging and makes change very slow.

      As to the episode itself: Yes to everything Mark. I really liked Soo Lin, simply because how awesome is she to hide in the museum to care for her artefacts. That'll always get bonus points from me. Sarah was great and yes, date from hell. Sherlock and Watson are love of course. Reading through comments – they added the Asian stuff in place of white Americans? SHAME, Mssrs Moffat, Gattiss and Thompson! WTH were you thinking? Let's have some diversity in casting and then do this?? Ugh.

      Generally speaking I "edit" how much of this I watch and usually skip it when rewatching the show. A Study in Pink and The Great Game are basically my canon.

    • Pseudonymph says:

      In addition to not being the spokesperson for all Australians, you are also not the arbiter of what is or is not racist. You also don't get to decide what is offensive.

      You definitely don't get to decide who is being oversensitive, especially when you are insinuating that people of color are being oversensitive about RACISM.

      "I don't mean to say we're a bunch of racists, I mean to say we tend not to see what the big deal is."

      Racism is a big deal. If you don't understand why then you need to educate yourself.

      "We acknowledge racial stereotypes as being unrealistic, but we don't see them as *inherently* offensive."

      They are inherently offensive, it doesn't matter how you see them.

      "We only consider it a problem if somebody is being attacked/oppressed/offended, and I really don't see that happening in this episode at all."

      That is what's happening. People are offended. Racist depictions contribute to oppression. Seriously, Mark made almost the entire review about how white people tend to be blind to racism, especially casual racism. Did you even read the review? There a lot of things wrong with your comment but I this is all I had time to focus on.

    • blue-monarch says:

      Sorry, I’m a young, white Australian too and I spent the entire episode cringing in SHEER DISGUST at how gleefully the show wallowed in its tired-ass racist tropes. To be quite honest, reading it as though the villains were playing up the stereotypes themselves kind of doesn’t hold up – unless you want to suggest that they’re doing the dreaded-and-inscrutable-Tongs thing for the lolz? Which… well, just no.

      Please don’t go making sweeping statements that “we” don’t take racism seriously. Maybe people in your social circles don’t, but myself and the people in my life certainly see what the big deal is, and get what’s offensive about racial stereotypes. Not least of all because they directly affect many of the people in my life (Proptip: There are lots of Australian people who aren’t white and are sensitive about racial issues because they deal with racism ALL THE DAMN TIME)

    • Another Australian here. Also white. And I spent the whole episode becoming more and more horrified at the horrific racial cliches on display here. Just so you know, I take racism seriously. Please don't speak for me.

      Aside from that, while the episode had some good moments, it was mostly boring. It doesn't feature in my head-canon at all.

      Luckily, the next episode is fantastic!

    • Suspicious Cookie says:

      As another young Australian I feel pretty insulted by this comment.

    • Cecamire says:

      As a young (Chinese, if that matters) Australian, I disagree with you. A lot.

      I don’t watch much TV, so what exactly is the situation with Asians in UK shows? In Doctor Who, not counting Turn Left, that scientist in Waters of Mars was the only one I saw. Anywhere. They weren’t side characters, they weren’t even in crowds… they just didn’t exist.
      Admittedly, I only started looking from Series 3 on and am quite unobservant so I’m probably wrong, but… I found it really strange, though, since probably half the people walking on the streets at any given time are Asian in my area.

    • evocativecomma says:

      What you mean "we," White Man?

      A short list from "White Privilege" Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh.

      Take a moment to think about how every single thing on this list is true of you. Then put a little reflection into how you *had no idea* that these were even privileges, because they are the natural state of things in your world, and therefore that's how the world *is*. Then think about all of the people to whom this list does NOT apply. Finally, if you have the brains and empathy for it, think about how it must be to live without these privileges that you take so much for granted that they are, as the piece is titled, INVISIBLE to you.

      1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

      2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

      3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

      4. I can be reasonably sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

      5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, fairly well assured that I will not be followed or harassed by store detectives.

      6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.

      7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

      8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

      9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

      10. I can be fairly sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

      11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which he or she is the only member of her race.

      12. 1 can go into a book shop and count on finding the writing of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.

      13. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance that I am financially reliable.

      14. 1 could arrange to protect our young children most of the time from people who might not like them.

      15. I did not have to educate our children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

      16. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

      17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

      18. I can swear, or dress in secondhand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

      19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

      20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

      21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

      22. I can remain oblivious to the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

      23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

      (more in part 2)

    • evocativecomma says:

      24. I can be reasonably sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

      25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

      26. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

      27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out of place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.

      28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize his or her chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

      29. I can be fairly sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.

      30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

      31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

      32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

      33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing, or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

      34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

      35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

      36. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

      37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

      38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative, or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

      39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

      40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

      41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

      42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

      43. If I have low credibility as a leader, I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

      44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions that give attention only to people of my race.

      45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

      46. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

      • Some of these privileges are downright inappropriate, and even white people do not enjoy them in Australia; the others I share with every citizen of my country, no matter what colour his skin. If anyone is denied the privileges he deserves, he has recourse and will be treated sympathetically by our laws. I pity anyone who lives in a society where this is not the case. You assume I'm white because I enjoy these privilege — who of us, then, is the more racist?

    • To all who've replied to this — apologies if I upset any of you. I had a big reply written but the website ate it, so I'll try to distill it below.

      Where did I say I was white, or that I thought racism was acceptable? Where did I say I considered myself the arbiter of what is offensive, or Australian, or oversensitive? I wasn't saying that the racism in the episode was OK, I said I didn't really see all that much of it. My culture is relatively insensitive to such things, and I figured this probably explained why; I never said that I thought racism wasn't a big deal. I will defend that ours is sometimes a healthy attitude, and that minorities here tend to deal with casual racism (such as appears to be in this episode) by refusing to let it offend them, and are just as keen to use racial stereotypes of the majority. On the other hand, it can lead to situations where we're inappropriately insensitive about real issues, as I appear to have been above.

      I will stick by my assertion that I didn't see anybody being attacked in this episode. The writers may have underestimated the impact, but they didn't set out to insult people.

  39. Imogen1984 says:

    I saw this one first and given it's based on "The Sign of the Four" I kind of get why it's so painfully racist. Because The Sign of the Four IS painfully racist in that special 19th Century English way that only Doyle manages. I mean TRULY. Knowing that a pygmy is your killer because you can see the outline of his toes in a footprint? That's just all types of… fucked up.

    But yeah, your points are all completely valid. The writers should have made more of an effort to make this even vaguely believable.

  40. redheadedgirl says:

    I was thinking of The Adventure of the Dancing Men, but yeah.

    And yeah. I don't even know.

    I suspect that it might have had something to do with the Dancing Men being, at this point, blatantly and obviously a code, and the…. shit, I took Japanese in high school, so my default word is kanji, and that's not right word- CHARACTERS, I mean, being who the fuck knows and going from there,which, well, um, okay, I guess, but… then, going as far as they did with the Orientalism, it's just awful.

    • Calimie says:

      See! That's be a good start: "There's this ancient Chinese number system almost no one uses anymore. Let's use it as a code!" And stop there.

  41. NyssaOfTraken says:

    OK, *now* I remember why I never got around to buying the DVD set. This episode. Although looking at it now, £7 from Amazon is enough to tempt me because even ignoring this episode, £3.50 each for Eps 1 + 3 is still pretty damn good.

    Some of you might remember I debated the issues some ppl had with Turn Left, and I stand by my opinion on that, but this, for me, is a whole different ball game and it's amazing that nobody at any stage flagged up that this was a bad idea.

    Moving swiftly on, then, to the explosive finale tomorrow.

  42. Calimie says:

    Oooh! The Valley of Fear! The one with the Evil Mormons!
    At least is a change but I heard the story is sometimes abriged in America to remove all that nonsense.

    BTW: the beginning of that story is really racist, if you haven't read it you might want to skip it, it's not very good anyway.

    • mariseul says:

      I read it when I was a kid and still taking every text at face value, so I don't remember anything bad about it, haha.
      Interesting that America sometimes abridges the racist bit, I wish Korea would do the same.

      Anyway thanks for the warning! I'd bear it in mind if I decide to re-read the series.

      • Calimie says:

        Okay, I check and it turns out I was wrong. The one I meant that was really racist was "The Adventure of the Three Gables" in which a black man is a thug and is described in a positively sickening way.

        "The Valley of the Fear" begins with Holmes and Watson cracking a code, like in this episode and right now I don't remember any racism. I had mixed both those stories, sorry!

  43. Hermione_Danger says:

    Ah, good. Now we can talk about it.

    Yes, omg, yes, racism. I skip this episode because it's so uncomfortable, just like in "Turn Left" how I skip the entire beginning and also the ending. It's bad and lazy and they should feel bad. In yesterday's review, I disagreed with some discussions of ableism and homophobia in the series, and I still disagree with them. Racism, at least in this episode, however, is a valid and completely correct discussion.

    I did like all the bits with Watson being practical, and the little graffiti kid, and the moment you mentioned when Sherlock realizes he's not alone. Most everything else in this episode is forgettable or offensive, which is why most of the fandom (from my perusal of blogs and *ahem* fanfic) just sort of ignores it.

  44. browncoat says:

    I hope you don't mind Mark if I draw a parallel between my life and yours. Whereas you (and your brother) were the only persons of color at your school, I was the white girl at mine. In elementary school, there was a picture of the school's choir and superintendent hanging in the office. Every time I ran an errand for my teacher, I would see that picture and my glaringly pale face staring back from a sea of brown.

    Unlike yourself, I wasn't made an outcast or othered by the kids at my school, but I was very bummed that I was the only one who couldn't speak Spanish (and that the sun glared off of my face in every picture). It's only now that I understand how privileged I was to have been COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from everyone at my school and to not feel that I didn't belong or wasn't wanted.

    I still really want to learn Spanish.

  45. What you said. I can't bear to watch this episode ever again. SO unpleasant. And stupid in so many ways even without the racism. "Oh hey, let's run off and leave her alone for no good reason, so her brother can come and kill her!" Sherlock would totally have done it if sufficiently distracted, but I expect better of John.

  46. Elexus Calcearius says:

    When I was watching this episode, I definitely got the same undertones as Mark.

    Let me give some background. I'm white- however, I live in China, in a place where a good 80% of the population is Chinese, and the other 20% is also made up of Indians, Filipinos, Japanese, Brits, etc. In effect, you could probably argue that I'm a minority, because well…I'm in the minority. I'm definitely not going to argue that I've got it nearly as bad as people of colour, homosexuals or others, but I do know what its like not to speak the language, to get weird looks on the train, or have people chase me down to touch my hair. More importantly, it also means that I've been immersed in Chinese culture since I was a little girl, and I'm pretty comfortable with other Asian cultures, too. Its not foriegn to me. Its normal.

    So its always so perplexing to see it presented this way on TV. Everything because "ooooh, its so strange and mystical! Oooh!" And its not just this episode of Sherlock. It feels like almost everything Asian in Western in media is presented this way. There are very few Western shows I can point to that haven't had this sub-text (Firefly, being one, despite its lack of Asian actors, as well as ATLA.) This is mostly why I cringe every single time a 'China Town' appears on TV.

    It not that I didn't enjoy the plot (I did! Although it was a little bit slower than the other episodes, IMO), its just…annoying.

    • echinodermata says:

      "There are very few Western shows I can point to that haven't had this sub-text (Firefly, being one"

      Really? I felt that at the very least, the Mandarin was super gimmicky. Moreso because the actors did not do well with the pronunciation, so it was obviously fake to me and thus was basically lalala we're not swearing in English isn't that neat.

      • Elexus Calcearius says:

        Well, it is my own opinion of course, but this is my reasoning. Firstly, I thought the Asian culture was incorporated fairly seamlessly with the Western culture (both in terms of the more posh elements and the 'old West' bits) and I thought it was done fairly respectively. People seemed used to the Asian elements, and it could work well to give both an Ancient or modern aesthetic when needed. The actual concept I actually thought it cool, since when you see the rise of China and other Asian countries currently, it makes sense to extrapolate that this culture would have been integrated with that of Westerners.

        Of course, I would definitely preferred more Asian actors, because they were more 'talking the talk', but I'm not sure whether to blame Whedon, the casting directors, or other unrelated factors for that. But all in all, I thought it was fairly respective of the culture, and positive.

    • monkeybutter says:

      OT, but one of your comments on the first page seems to have your email address in it. I just wanted to let you know, but I didn't want to make it so you couldn't edit it out!

  47. jackiep says:

    Of the three episodes, this commits the greatest sin of being a bit dull compared with the rest (some moments excepted). However I have been rereading the original Sherlock Holmes stories and the sad fact is that in terms of their attitude towards race, they are very much a product of the mind of a white bloke of his time. Not only are women peripheral to the action, except as plot points (exhibit A – Watson's sudden marriage to a woman who never appeared at all in any other story except as a brief footnote to mention that Watson had been made a widower), but non-white people are routinely negatively portrayed. The pigmy for instance was written as barely human! Other people of non-white origin are basically either savages, victims or part of a mysterious mass of "other". In its time, that would not have raised an eyebrow, which does beg the question as to how much older literature should conform to modern standards when language and attitudes change.

    However, there is a lot to love in this too. Sherlock being uninterested in money whilst Watson clearly sees the need for the stuff. The consequences of borrowing a bank card too… Worst date ever and I'm with Watson over his interactions with automated checkouts.

    Incidentally am I the only one who is fine with Holmes being called "Sherlock". That seems natural, right and proper but hearing Watson being routinely referred to as John is just… wrong! He might well have a first name, but dammit chaps we don't use it!

    • ThreeBooks says:

      Maybe the name thing is because we hear "Sherlock Holmes" more often than we hear "John Watson", instead of just "Watson."

      …But yeah, the John thing threw me off. I kept reading the Mark review yesterday thinking, "Who's this John? Oh right, Watson… Who's this John? Oh RIGHT, Watson…"

  48. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I thought it was A Study in Scarlet that's horrible to Mormons, and that Doyle ended up apologizing for it(?).

    • darth_eowyn says:

      Sorry, you're right. And you made me go check!

      I didn't know he apologized for it. That's nice, I guess?

  49. bookling says:

    I literally could not remember what happend in this episode until you mentioned acrobats, and then I was like, OH. RIGHT. THE TOTALLY UNSTEREOTYPICAL CHINESE CIRCUS THING. I must have pushed it out of my brain or something.

    I want to assure you that "The Great Game" is back to being awesome, though.

  50. Twelve says:

    Aside from Sherlock and Watson, this episode is terrible. The only other saving grace is the chick (forgot her name) seems to be having a BALL chewing up the scenery and hamming it up with lines she got. Some of what she says is on the same vein as Lumus (paraphrased) "It'll be hard to do that from…BEYOND THE GRAVE (DOHOHOHOHO)" in the Cybermen episode.

    Otherwise shitty episode is shitty.

  51. Kyle says:

    Now I feel bad about being a white male.
    And yeah, this episode was a bit icky for me as well. I'm tired of 'Ancient Chinese Secret' tropes in the media. Grow up already.
    When I'm writing, I try to write characters based on their personalities, not their gender or ethnicity. Their appearance is usually an afterthought.

    • maccyAkaMatthew says:

      "When I'm writing, I try to write characters based on their personalities, not their gender or ethnicity. Their appearance is usually an afterthought. "

      I'm going to go on off on this one quite harshly, don't take it personally – I just think that anyone who writes or who wants to write (including me) can only benefit from having their assumptions challenged robustly. But its not personal – I don't see it as failing to make a statement that provokes a critical response, we are all always learning.

      Firstly, I'm glad you said "when I'm writing" rather than "as a writer". There a tendency among wannabe writers to look at stuff that's produced and compare it their imagined version where they would, obviously, do much better. Problem is, until you've been commissioned to write for TV and had your episode produced, you have absolutely no idea what pressures you'll be put under and how you would respond to them. It's very easy to look at a finished piece of work and pick holes in it (which most of the authors of the work would also, do I'm sure) it's much harder to sit down with a blank piece of paper and a brief and budget restrictions and a deadline and come up with something that's even filmable. TV writing isn't about starting with a finished product and finding ways to fix the flaws – its starting from nothing and hoping to get the flaws fixed as you go along and before you run out of time. At best the "I'm a writer" gambit is a dubious attempt to attach some authority to your opinions, at worst you get people who get themselves into the "all TV is crap so anything I do is bound to be better" mentality, which makes you wonder why they want to write for TV at all. Anyway, I'll return to this idea later, in context.

      The "I try to write characters based on their personalities, not their gender or ethnicity" idea is OK as far as it goes, as long as you understand that your default writing style is likely to be that of a white man of your nationality, class and background. That isn't necessarily a reason to suppose that what you write could only be cast with actors that fit those demographics. As Sanjeev Bhaskar said in an appeal to casting directors to consider more actors of colour for roles, an actor will bring their own ethnicity to the role, it doesn't necessarily have to be addressed in the script. Thus there are plenty of stories that work equally well regardless of the ethnicity or gender of the actors playing the roles. Deliberate multi-ethnic casting of roles in these stories will usually be a positive thing since diversity of the population will be better reflected and the things that we all have in common will be emphasized. In some ways, it will also be presenting the kind of society we should be aspiring to, where skin pigmentation and other cultural signifiers don't matter.

      That said, though, you are essentially still writing the dominant culture and just giving people who aren't part of that culture a chance to represent it. At best, they may bring some of their culture with them, but although the people themselves are represented and visible, the cultures that come with their ethnicity will remain largely excluded or invisible. It's true that deep down we are all human beings – what isn't true is that deep down we are all white western men.

      Now the ideal solution to all of this would be if the various organisations producing stuff had really effective diversity policies and were bringing through writers, directors and producers of colour, with their own experiences to draw on. Unfortunately efforts in this direction seem to have had limited success (I'm not an expert, but that's the impression I get). One paradoxical problem is that the creative industries in general rely a lot on networking and collaboration. So if you design an opportunity specifically for ethnic minority people they will only meet other ethnic minority people and can network with each other happily in their own creative ghetto, with no connection to mainstream opportunities. On the other hand, if you don't try and target your opportunities, the applicants will overwhelmingly be from the dominant culture. This applies across race, class and gender. The small hope we have is that people only started taking these things seriously relatively recently and there's still time for progress to work its way through the system and show up on our screens.

      As white male aspiring writers, though, there's not a lot we can do about that, beyond not making an unseemly fuss about "unfair advantages" or "political correctness". However, unless the system changes it falls to people like us to make the best efforts they can to improve the diversity of television. To do this, though, you have to acknowledge that there are multiple ethnicities and cultures out there, and it's not enough, in many cases, to think of them as "an afterthought".

      ctd…

      • maccyAkaMatthew says:

        To give an example of the differences, Neil Cross' Luther has a fairly standard "maverick cop" format, which doesn't require any particular ethnicity for its characters. Idris Elba plays the lead role. I'm not sure how he was cast but I think "Holy fuck, Idris Elba is interested!" is far more likely than "Let's do a show about a black cop". I sort of know Neil, this may be a good way to get back in touch, I may point him to this discussion and see what he says.

        By comparison, in Joe Penhall's Moses Jones, Shaun Parkes plays a cop who has been assigned to investigate and African "hard man" ex-dictator (from a fictionalised Uganda) simply because he is black (and so, in the eyes of superiors, the same as what he is investigating). The differences between Black British and African are an essential part of the story.*

        Indira Varma appears in both series, in Luther the ethnicity of her character isn't a part of the story, in Moses Jones it's important that he character is a Ugandan Asian (again, it's a somewhat fictionalised Uganda, but rooted in the real history of that country).

        Now you can argue about how well Joe Penhall, as a white British author, succeeds in representing the cultures involved, but the important thing is that he did his research and went into the whole project aware of the issues around race and identity and it shaped everything he did. If you start from the idea that you aren't in any way racist and that everyone is basically the same then you run the risk of just repeating the racist ideas of the culture you grew up in – in the terrible moment when you're staring at a blank page, all you have to draw on is the dominant cultures ideas. And it takes a strong writer, in the joy of having written something, not to go into denial about the racist origins of their inspiration. This, to me, is part of the context for the problem of the "I'm a writer" gambit that I mentioned at the beginning of this. You may assume that you couldn't possibly produce something as racist as "The Blind Banker" but you'll never know until you're put in that position. Blithely assuming that race, gender and ethnicity are an afterthought in your writing is no guarantee against the malign influence of the culture you grew up in – and you need a degree of honesty and self-awareness to deal with that. Also, I think you need to be prepared to follow your creative instincts even if they take you to a racist place. It's how you revise and research and rethink that that counts, not the original draft. Desperately wanting to be free of racism, despite having grown up as the beneficiary of a racist culture, is more likely to lead to denial than work that will genuinely challenge racism.

        To put it another way, imagine you were commissioned to write "The Blind Banker". You have your orientalist source material. Assuming you have free reign (which you probably wouldn't), what do you do? Do you cut all the Chinese stuff completely? That'd be the easiest way to do it. But that's not exactly making Chinese community more visible on UK TV and I doubt that many Chinese actors would thank you for that decision. Do you write it without any regard for ethnicity and assume that you can manage a "neutral" human that Chinese actors can then bring their own take to? I doubt that that's possible, since at the very least you need to avoid stereotypes and orientalism, so you have to think about ethnicity at least a bit. And I still suspect that you'd end up writing a bunch of white westerners and then asking Chinese people to play them. Now, that wouldn't necessarily be offensive, but it's missed opportunity. What I think you should, ideally, do is research the subject properly and get some genuine impression of what China is like in the world today and try and convey that as best you can. Now you may not manage it, but I think it's important to try and it's something you need to be thinking about from the beginning of a project and having the mindset that race is not an issue won't help.

        Now I suspect that in TV, time pressure can make this really hard to do. This isn't much of an excuse, but it may possibly help to explain why, along with a more general lack of awareness, stuff like The Blind Banker ends up being made. There are no racist intentions, but people fall back on old tropes.

        As I said, the best solution to all of this is more diversity within the creative workforce, but I don't think that writers from the dominant culture should give up and make no attempts to represent anything else. Be aware of the difficulties and make the effort. Apart from anything else, I think an aspiring Chinese British author is more likely to be inspired by an attempt, however flawed, to positively represent them than either complete invisibility or the same old Orientalism.

  52. Stephanie says:

    Moffat and Gatiss have said that Sherlock is asexual, but the reason there is so much reference to people thinking they're gay is because when the books originally came out, there was a lot of talk about why two grown men would be living together.

    Then again, when I read the Holmes books, I thought that Holmes and Watson were clearly in love.

  53. This episode…god, just this episode. I skip it whenever I rewatch Sherlock, because it is just SO PAINFUL. And it is just so fucking annoying that they took the EVIL MORMONS out of Study in Pink…and put the Yellow Scare subtext text into this episode. One step forward, five steps back…

    Ugh.

  54. WinterRose says:

    Wow… I'll give you some spoiler free advice right now. You're going to want to give one particular classic who episode a BIG ol MISS. If this pissed you off, under no circumstances should you watch the Tom Baker, 4th Doctor and Leela Episode: Doctor Who & The Talons of Weng Chiang. Yes it's Doctor by Gaslight wearing a Sherlocky version of the 4 outfit. But the Orientalism there is of a sort only possible by the BBC in the 1970's.

    • Calimie says:

      That's been referenced before, but yeah. Seconded! I've only seen about 3 minutes and those were painful, I don't want to think about the whole serial.

  55. sabra_n says:

    Mark, I AGREE VERY MUCH. This episode drove me absolutely bonkers with its Orientalist bullshit from beginning to end. And even beyond that, it just wasn't good television – I almost fell asleep during Poor Asian Victim Girl's monologue about her past, and Watson looked like a complete dumbass when he chose to leave his protectee at the end, inevitably getting her killed.

    "The Blind Banker" is paying homage to a kind of story that was very prevalent in Victorian times, and I do get that. You know what I also get? THOSE STORIES WERE FUCKING RACIST. It's like when I went to a panto in London and had to sit there in horror as everyone sang along to a song with "ching chong" fake Chinese lyrics. What the ever loving fuck? Of course you want to cite your Victorian forebears when writing a Sherlock Holmes modernization, but that doesn't mean actually unthinkingly adopting their attitudes towards China.

    It's also worth remembering that in the nineteenth century? Britain's foreign policy towards China was the Opium Wars. These "exotic foreigner" tropes don't exist outside history; they came from the mistreatment of real people. (I guess one American quasi-analogy is all those Civil War glorifiers in the South who can't get it through their thick skulls that they're celebrating slavery.)

    This is why I just can't get all that squeeful about Sherlock, not when a full one third of it is devoted to this excrescence. If in the future it puts out episodes that aren't racist (and sexist…), eventually the signal-to-bullshit ratio may allow me to dismiss "The Blind Banker" as an anomaly. But for now, it looms all too large whenever I think about the show.

    ETA: I've read the first few comments now, and…I'm just really relieved that everyone here gets it and isn't rushing to defend this crap. Thank you, Mark and Readers of Mark. Consider my faith in humanity bolstered.

    • hassibah says:

      "And even beyond that, it just wasn't good television – I almost fell asleep during Poor Asian Victim Girl's monologue about her past, and Watson looked like a complete dumbass when he chose to leave his protectee at the end, inevitably getting her killed. "

      Oh totally, I thought the story was really cliche and def not something I hadn't seen in a bunch of mediocre movies before: racism also makes you a really boring writer, apparently! I actually went and checked out this show BECAUSE of the complaints about this episode, I don't know what that says about me. I've been known to enjoy some problematic entertainment, but this really isn't doing it for me.

      • Eager_Ears says:

        "…racism also makes you a really boring writer, apparently!"

        JUST what I was thinking. But really, it's not so surprising that one kind of sloppy thinking engenders other kinds — if you mess up something as important as the avoidance of racism, why would you have the ability to master pacing and character consistency?

        • hassibah says:

          It's true. People defy stereotypes almost all the time IRL. If you can't get outside these boxes on the page you're probably not that great a writer.

  56. Bobcat says:

    Blah. Got to say, I don't mind this episode…

    I think it's obviously the weak link, and I did find the portrayal of chinese people questionable, to say the least. I was watching it and going “wait… really? Is this seriously on the telly?”

    But its portrayal of race, while on the wrong side of reprehensible, is clearly meant to be very Victorian, I thought.

    Before I continue, I'd like to say that I don't think this is a good thing. Quite the opposite, I think that old-fashioned views on race and culture are generally awful, and I'm very glad of all the progress we've made so far as a society. (Although there's still a lot of work to do, doubtless.)

    However, the audience aren't idiots. Or their target audience isn't, anyway. They're not meant to sit down and watch it and think “nothing's wrong, here.” The “chinese smugglers” trope is very old. Victorian, as I said. So old that it's something that nobody really believes any more. Or nobody I've met, at any rate. I will concede that I'm only 21 years old, and maybe it's been a recent problem but it was before my time. But, from my experience, everyone I know knows that chinese people don't spend their time running around in big red dresses or putting on fancy circuses in the middle of London. And I -think-, by invoking it, the production team were trying to write a story that was simultaneously both very old-fashioned and very new. The audience aren't meant to go “right on, this is feasible,” they're meant to go “this is a disconcerting juxtaposition – clearly a VERY old-fashioned type of mystery, being told in a VERY modern way.”

    I think it's the kind of story that can only be told in an enlightened society. Probably a more enlightened society than the one we're in. Like a black and white minstrel show, or a gollywog doll, the vision of China that they invoke is a symbol that's since become fangless and ridiculous. I took it as that, anyway. It's a not a nice thing, but it's an unrealistic caricature from years upon years ago, and I think it's meant to be that. Just as with the lack of female characters, it's holding up a warped mirror to the vibe of the original stories, and the audience are meant to know better.

    Not a sympathetic portrayal at all, and I don't think society's necessarily enlightened enough for such issues to be water under the bridge, yet. Far from it. There's no denying that the production underestimated the sensitivity of the situation, and full scorn for that. But I think they were going for “antiquated and ridiculous” at the expense of our closed-minded ancestors, rather than going for “chinese people are bad.” Trying too hard to play represent Victorian clichés which end up looking out of place in a modern reboot? Absolutely. Portraying racist attitudes with even an iota of sincerity? Not for a second. And I think the audience are meant to realise that it's not sincere, and that of course this isn't how chinese people act in the modern day. I think they're trying to lampshade its ridiculousness as a stereotype, if anything. With mixed results, but I “get” where they're coming from, and so I end up struggling to have a problem with the episode. Quite enjoy it, even.

    I'd also like to point out that the character played by Gemma Chan was given a very sympathetic portrayal. It's not as clear cut as “the evil chinese people conspiring against the whites.” Even though she's part of the smuggling circle, and even though she's asian, she's presented one of us. We like her. We care when she dies.

    I'm not expecting this to be a popular opinion – almost certainly going to receive all the downvotes, and in fairness, that'd very possibly rightly be so. Everyone who's up in arms has every right to be, and I feel very profoundly embarrassed to be so chilled about it.

    I'd also like to point out that I don't defend it to the hilt – it's fair to say that it presumes far, far too much of the audience, and I'd happily admit that it was a dangerous, and probably foolish, piece of television to produce in 2010. If this were an episode of a show that wasn't a tribute to Victorian literature, I'd be dumbfounded. I thought Turn Left was a little dodgy, and this is exponentially more questionable in its portrayals. Maybe I'm making excuses because I want to like it. But the values – while problematic – feel, to me, so clearly not local to 2010 that I can't find it in myself to hate it.

    Ah well. Just my two cents. I'm so close to not posting it, genuinely toying with the idea of just not submitting it, but I think I'm going to anyway. Really hope this comes across the way I intend it to. If anything sounds dodgy, please feel free to ask me about it, 'cause I very much don't want this to come across the wrong way.

  57. echinodermata says:

    I am very late, but in some ways I'm kind of glad I wasn't in the comments as they were happening because the racism in this episode is so grating to me. I haven't read the comments yet, but I figure I'll share my initial thoughts about the episode and this review.

    "and then I’ll just want to lay my head on my pillow and sleep for a really long time because that just makes me tired typing it."

    That's pretty much it. I try to point out the things that I see as problematic, but sometimes I wonder whether it's worth it, and I have experience with being so disheartened when I realize other people can be so quick to excuse what I see as a massive problem. It often tires me to try to defend my position, and sometimes I don't say something even if there is something I'd like to point out.

    But this episode, goddamn. I'm glad you wrote about it length, Mark, but I figured you would, and I figured it would be a conversational topic in the comments. Even if I literally wrote on the spoiler board that I hate that this episode exists, it is sort of nice to have a clear example of racism and stereotyping that's pretty hard to excuse. That people can watch this episode, and if they've ever met a couple of East Asian people, would realize how stupid this shit is. That this is still the world we live in.

    For those that are interested, this was the comment I originally wrote yesterday about this episode (before I knew I was going to be late):

    I refuse to rewatch this episode, because I distinctly remember hating it the first time. Let's see what I remember.

    Asian people are mysterious and exotic, and are criminals and dangerous, and they speak with an accent and say proverbs and know acrobatics and shit, and they die.

  58. Eager_Ears says:

    As everyone has said, this episode has some enormous racism problems, but for me there were some subtle characterization problems as well. I felt like the ways Sherlock and John related to each other in certain scenes were slightly off. There were some very fun little moments, which other people have mentioned, but I felt like there were things that were set up and never followed through on. Sherlock never apologized for stranding John with the vandal’s tools, and while the point was clearly being made in several scenes that he shouldn’t leave John behind (because he needs him for backup) the script never really showed Sherlock realizing and admitting that. IDK, I just felt that there was something slightly sour about the tone of a lot of it — bad feelings left unresolved.

  59. All i really want to say is "Welcome Back Mark!" LOL, I love all your reviews, intensely. But it was so refreshing to have you take offence to something — after that project we wont really mention. A refreshing change of pace. While i want you to of course not have your brain explode while tackling a project, i like the fact that Sherlock started out great, now there's this feeling it could go either way… AND you get to yell, type major paragraphs of mostly unrelated stuff that relate in an unrelated way. Its fantastic! Oshiro FTW!

  60. HungryLikeLupin says:

    I definitely see your points about the casual racism in this episode, Mark. It's not something that's ever affected me personally, so I don't think that it got under my skin the same way it did yours. I was, however, left with the nagging feeling that the episode was just sort of . . . weak, and I think that may have been part of it. I guess, for me, it just made the whole thing feel rather overdone. Rehashing what hasn't been new or interesting for decades, and made the whole main conflict a bit boring. :erm:

    As far as the subtext: it is not just you. It is not even CLOSE to just you. But detailing precisely why I say that would take FAR LONGER than a comment can really contain. XD Rest assured that you. Are. Not. Alone.

  61. mkjcaylor says:

    Okay. I posted a long happy post yesterday (two days ago? SHH DON'T LOOK AT THE TIME) and this one is short.

    Firstly, the way in which I watched this episode meant that there were Chinese subtitles. HAHA. When it started I originally thought it was another Chinese commercial, just with some English in. Oops, nope, it was the show.

    I kinda got bored watching this. Tropes are inherently boring, especially stereotypical ones with characters that are completely uninteresting. And of course, it's wildly racist.

    I have to admit, there is a part of me that is intrigued by the idea that there is a mysterious culture out there with a background incredibly foreign to me, but my intrigue is usually sated by Scifi stories with aliens on different worlds. Or novels about mysterious ancient organizations with Da Vinci in them.

    So, anyway. I got through it finally, today, and I hope that the next episode is good.

    • melmel says:

      Hmmm may I suggest you to… travel ? Even the country next to yours can be extremely different from yours and you could find this "mysterious culture out there with a background incredibly foreign to you". Seriously. It's not because you speak the same language that your culture is the same. :)

  62. thefireandthehearth says:

    … Mark read and blogged (is blogged the right word for this? lol neologisms) Twilight? Why did I not know this existed? What else has he done? Why did I not know any of this beforehand?! Where have you been all my life?

    I can't really comment on this episode, seeing as I haven't watched this series. I will remark that casual racism fills me with rage, and as a person of Japanese descent, Orientalism is one of those things that makes me angrier than I can even begin to describe. In media, we're either waiters, geishas, or yakuza thugs. BUT THAT IS ANOTHER RANT FOR ANOTHER TIME. I'm still boggling.

  63. evocativecomma says:

    Here's how I get through this episode, when I want to watch it again because, as you say, there is such good character stuff with Sherlock and John, and Hoobastank Cumberdude just getting all awesome with himself, and The Hobbit getting an ASBO, and shit like THE PEN OMG THE PEN THEY ARE SO BROCCOLI and how Sherlock keeps seeing the graffiti symbols dancing around in front of his eyes, and getting a glimpse into Sherlock's (obviously AWKWARD) college years (it took me a few viewings to realize that, at one point, he calls Sebastian "Seb," and that he purposefully introduces John as "my friend," almost as if to prove that he *has* friends now, thank you very much, and that John could *totally* see Sherlock getting embarrassed and vaguely ashamed as Sebastian went on about what a schmuck Sherlock was in college, yet nobody else would have noticed it, and yes, John constantly being the one to go, "Dude, chill, I took a picture," or "Yes, because IT'S RIGHT HERE IN HIS DATE BOOK," because Sherlock's thought processes are so complex that he forgets the basic stuff even exists….

    Wait, what was my point again?

    Oh yes –

    Here's how I get through this episode.

    I pretend that the "Chinese" are SPACE ALIENS FROM SPACE and that 'M' got them into the country by giving them EXTREME MAKEOVERS with plastic surgery and shit to make them look Chinese so that they could be in England to catch the guys who stole their SPACE ALIEN STUFF THAT THEY'D BEEN HIDING IN CHINA without them having to live in England for a long time to establish themselves as part of the population–they could just be a visiting circus. SOME of their race had been in England after they'd have EXTREME MAKEOVERS provided by the British Government (thanks to Mycroft) because they were HIDING FROM THE OTHER SPACE ALIENS because they didn't want to live IN SPACE anymore.

    In conclusion:

    <img src="http://www.thechicagoloop.net/tzikeh/ontd/sherlockbreathing.png&quot; width="600">

  64. Esther says:

    Mark, I have to thank you (probably not for the first time) for opening my eyes to things like the racism in this episode. I didn’t consider the episode racist when I watched it, but now it’s pretty obvious to me that it is. Your reviews keep making me smarter. Thank you!

  65. ffyona says:

    I can't edit my comment but I just re-read it and want to apologise for saying 'it drives me mad'. Ableist bullshit on my part. My bad.

  66. @halvedfool says:

    I happened to be in the UK for the run of Sherlock, which was very awesome, because I could watch A Study in Pink on BBC iPlayer, and by the time The Blind Bandit rolled around, I had access to a television in a room where random people would not tromp in and make so much noise I couldn't hear a thing.

    After I watched it, I felt vaguely queasy, but I wasn't willing to write it off completely yet (lol denial). The main thing I associate with this episode is rage, though. Blinding rage. Because when I'd finished watching it, I took out my laptop, got on the internet, and got onto one of the bigger Sherlock comms on LJ. And I found so many people defending it that my queasiness transmogrified into rage. (And there were even more apologists who said that only two episodes had been broadcast and it wasn't faaaaair to judge the show based on only two episodes. ONLY 180 MINUTES OF TELEVISION, but that's not enough to judge, of course.)

    I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes. I remember realising my utter fail in light of Holmes' brilliance because he had counted all the stairs in his house and I had never thought of that. I was very excited for this show, and I was particularly excited for this episode, because The Adventure of the Dancing Men is one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories. I know that the letter 'E' is the most common letter in written English because of this story, and to this day, on public computers, I check the 'E' key to see how well used it's been.

    And then, before the episode aired, I looked up the BBC synopsis of the episode. I saw 'Black Lotus', and foreboding shook me to my core. I still hoped it would be okay — vainly, as it turns out. I am ethnically Chinese; I've lived my childhood in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore — all former British colonies. The Sherlock Holmes stories I read? They were my cousin's books, which I borrowed when I stayed at my grandmother's house in Malaysia.

    So having these two basic things about me and my childhood come into such contrast was jarring in the most terrible way. I wasn't sure how to deal with it when I finished the episode, and I still haven't entirely come to grips with it.

    Another thing I find problematic about reactions to this episode: I have seen criticism in a bunch of other places around the Internet of Soo Lin's pronunciation of 'Spider' because it apparently sounds like a mispronunciation. I saw it compared to Mandarin pronunciation in Firefly more than once, which I find incredibly insulting because I am 99.9% sure that what she said wasn't spoken in Mandarin but in Cantonese. (I'm not 100% sure because I'd have to go back and watch the episode to be certain, and I refuse to do that.)

    Now, I'm not a native Cantonese speaker, but as I mentioned, I've lived in Hong Kong (for the first six years of my life, and trust me, I've absorbed more Cantonese than I realise through Hong Kong television) . Also, my hometown in Malaysia is primarily Cantonese-speaking, so my family uses it a lot even though we aren't Cantonese. I know what Cantonese sounds like.

    Newsflash: not everyone in Mainland China speaks only Mandarin. Or counts it as their native dialect.

    When it's used in this instance, I'm not sure if it's because the people working on this episode put that kind of thought into it rather than 'oh, people in London Chinatown use Cantonese so the carica'. It is also problematic in that a lot of Chinese immigrants are from Hong Kong, and conflating Mainland China with Hong Kong is a terrible thing to do, if that's what happened. (I say 'if' because, if I'm remembering right, Soo Lin mentions that she used to go into Hong Kong a lot from Mainland China, which hey! supports her knowing/use of Cantonese.)

    But seriously, there are a lot of legitimate problems with this episode. Using an actual Chinese dialect is not one of them, and calling that out as wrong enforces a lot of stereotypes about China-as-a-monolith as well as others those of us who DON'T necessarily use Mandarin in (all) casual conversation.

    WOW, this comment is a wall of text. Sorry about the tl; dr. *relurks*

  67. empath_eia says:

    Nothing to add here, everyone else has already captured in words my precise slack-jawed expression of horror at the racism thing.

    If I may add a weird note, though: I'm kind of surprised you think the homoromanticism here is super obvious but never mentioned the Doctor and the Master (in both the S3 and S4 finales). I personally thought they were kind of a lot more obvious than Sherlock and Watson. Stuff like this:

    (in Time Crash)
    Five: Does he still have the beard?
    Ten: No–Well, he's got a wife.

    And from an interview:

    Euros Lyn: "Why doesn't the Master just kill the Doctor?"
    RTD: "Because he loves him. Honestly I think he does."

    And a quote from my friend, who is a Whovian of the highest calibre:

    So that's evidence for the Master side of things. For the Doctor side, you have "I forgive you," and "REGENERATE!" and all the hugs he forced on the Master in Last of the Time Lords, and well….THE END OF TIME.
    "Get out of the way."

    So I'm just curious how you read them in comparison to Sherlock and Watson. For myself, I read Sherlock as asexual (though that may be my own bias as an ace) and Watson as caring about him but not interested in the romantic sense, whereas I read the Doctor and Master as (probably nonsexually, what with the gonad-stealing wizards in the apocrypha, depending on which canon you believe) completely in love with each other's minds — enemies because of conflicting beliefs and circumstances but soulmates on the level below them. (I use "soulmate" because RTD also used it, though my friend can't find the exact quote and neither can I.)

    I realize that ~shipping~ is a really subjective thing, but I felt like Doctor Who gave me more literary permission to ship Doctor/Master than Sherlock gave me to ship Sherlock/Watson, if that makes any sense. Sorry if this comment is even half as odd as I think it probably is, I've got about a gallon of hydroxyzine and other antihistamines swimming around in my system and they're making me a bit drowsy. ^__^;;

  68. monkeybutter says:

    You're probably right in regards to awareness not getting that far. I believe postcolonialism predates Orientalism, but Said's work is what brought it into the mainstream, but that still doesn't mean that it, or just general awareness about stereotypes and institutional racism are widely accepted and denounced. I'm American, so I can't speak about the UK, but I wouldn't say we're any better about reasonably dealing with race or gender or sexuality. But I was also raised in a house where I learned that this sort of thing is ridiculous and wrong, so I could just be make assumptions based on my own experience. And I'm obviously seeking out a forum where I agree with most of the people, so I might be getting an unbalanced sample of what people actually think, so maybe I'm over-estimating people.

    Honestly, I would hope that people continue learning and changing after their formal education so that their opinions can develop and mature. This episode just shows a complete lack of awareness about the world around the writers, director, and anyone else in a position of authority. I don't know if they'll pay any attention to your tweets below, but I hope that they got enough blowback from this episode that they'll avoid doing this sort of shit in the future.

    And the BBC's diversity unit must have slept through their review of "The Blind Banker."

  69. Jaxx_zombie says:

    Basically, this is a BNP approved episode.

  70. hassibah says:

    " If you look at British popular culture there isn't much that shows an understanding of Orientalism or anything that would make an impact on people's instincts when trying to portray people from China or nearby countries.

    I don't really follow British culture more than a handful of shows and BBC news, but there does seem to be a lot of discussions about muslims and like discrimination against muslims, so I don't know if they're totally alien ideas, you can apply the same thoughts to any race/group you want.
    Do kids not get any kind of basic "racism bad" education when they're at school? There's definitely fascist and anti-fascist groups so I con't imagine that people haven't come across the ideas on some level.

    The academic theory is something I've found really helpful sometimes and other times has just been rubbish, but I don't think it's the only way to get introduced to these ideas these days.

    • maccyAkaMatthew says:

      For a European country that wasn't built on recent immigration and which is still 90% white I think we do OK. The British (and the English in particular) aren't as attached to their own culture as some countries and are relative open to ideas from all over the place.

      And yes anti-racism is a powerful force in British culture, especially in sport, where there has been hard campaigning to stamp racism out. Racism still exists, of course, but withing the cultural discourse there's a general acceptance that it's a bad thing and things that were tolerated in the 60s and 70s on TV will no longer happen.

      What doesn't seem to occur, though, is people recognising Orientalism as a form of racism. I think this is partly because Orientalism is rarely specifically derogatory about the people it is portraying. It's about mythology and exoticism but not about explicitly denigrating East Asians. Thus people can picture it as being essentially non racist and Chinese villains as villains who happen to be Chinese. It doesn't really make any sense to me, so I'm struggling to put across how someone can think like that – but I get the sense that a lot of people in Britain do.

      A selection of comments from Gallifrey Base after the episode first aired:

      "Hahahahah. How camp was that? I loved it.

      I love how after a gritty crime thriller for a first episode they just went over the top cartoonish for the second installment. That chinese woman was a wonderfully hammy supervillain. "

      "That episode was absurdly entertaining and fun, loved it from start to finish. 10 out of 10. Downright hilarious in parts (ASBO's, the Chinese lady villain finding lots of "evidence" that Watson was Sherlock…) and the chemistry between the cast is excellent, from Holmes/Watson themselves, to Sherlock and the lab girl that fancies him and Watson's love interest this week (I'm bad with names)… Most entertaining episode I've seen in ages. "

      "Again a fun episode but I kept thinking this was a modern version of The Talons of Weng-Chiang! Chinese gang, looking for a stolen item etc. "

      "Yes,i thought that – but then Talons was a take on Sherlock Holmes. "

      "If that's the worst of the three then I can't wait to see next weeks because that was tremendous. The Dancing Men meets Fu Manchu. Yer actual proper drama, that! "

      "Not quite as brilliant as last week as the plot moved slightly laboriously from set piece to set piece but still well-acted and scripted and highly entertaining. Enjoyed the nods to Talons and The Dancing Men. Really looking forward to next week. "

      "Hmm,I rather enjoyed that. Yes, the cliches were in fine form-Bad Chinese accents and stereotypical Asian music, fiesty love interest(I'm sensing a pattern here with SM) and lack of Lestrade hurt. Not to mention the lackluster ending. But the first 30 minutes were great, loved the swordfight, Holmes athleticism and Watson's row with the self-checkout. Benedict Cumberbatch(how I love writing that) continues to excel as SH and his deductions are brilliantly filmed and SH scenes with Sebastian were well played. It did lose steam towards the end but I was having such a good time, I didn't mind. For a Sunday evening show, it's been a fun ride and much better than any other summer telly. (Even Mad Men)."

      "I hope Dr Fu Manchu turns up at some point – he's got to be out there somewhere, scheming away…….. "

      I was expecting some sort of racism/Orientalism argument in that thread, but nobody even raised it. I'm not naming any of the posters, since it's a private forum, but I know that several would instantly recognise other forms of racism in TV.

      It really seems to be a huge blindspot here. And the kind of awareness that I got via critical theory doesn't seem to have filtered through into much of the public discourse in the UK. Although there were also US posters on that Gallifrey Base thread.

      Edit: when Prince Philip said to British students, in China, in 1986, "If you stay here much longer, you'll go slit-eyed," that was immediately picked up on by the press and the public at large as being racist. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the Chinese didn't take offence and even have a similar joke about students going "round eyed" if they stay in Europe too long.

      Nevertheless, most people in the UK would read that as racist and disapprove of it. Equally, they'd read pronunciation (L/R) jokes as racist although they might take some guilty pleasure in them. When it comes to Chinese people as exotic outsiders, though, it doesn't seem to register with a lot of people.

      • maccyAkaMatthew says:

        And, as I said elsewhere, part of the problem may well be the lack of British Chinese people in the public eye, which could continue to be an issue since there's a comparatively small population to get people from. Still, that's what diversity units are supposed to be for. It's rather telling that in 1977 the BBC couldn't (or didn't) find a Chinese actor for the major role in The Talons of Weng Chiang but in 1971 they managed to find several for pretty big roles in The Mind of Evil – the explanation being that one of them was married to the writer of that episode and so they had a link to Chinese actors that most casting directors in the 70s wouldn't have had.

        Still, maybe Gok Wan will lead us to the promised land…

  71. Psi Baka Onna says:

    I know what you mean, I stopped watching the series after this episode. Shame really, 'cus I enjoyed the first ep.

  72. Jocelyn says:

    I haven't seen this episode since last summer when it first came out and, since I completely forgot any minor details about it, I suppose I never really thought about the obvious stereotypes used. Now that I look back on it though, I remember that this one was definitely the one I found least enjoyable and I'm pretty sure I found the Chinese acrobats a bit much. As a half-Chinese person, I don't find the gang part that bad since China does have their own "mafia" called the Triads and I think there are even some in Canada if I remember from the newspaper correctly (the article was written a few years ago so you'll have to excuse my lack of solid facts), but the other tropes you pointed out are just blatantly casual racism. I do not approve at all.

    I've also always had a problem with the way anyone of colour is presented in either television or film. I find that there must always be a token Asian, Mexican or Latino, and Black, and they must adhere to most of their stereotypes, preferably have an accent, and be subjected to any and all White people. It's just depressing to find out this still happens.

  73. flootzavut says:

    I'm late in the game but I've only just actually seen the episode…

    Just another, and unrelated to anything I've seen so far so forgive me if I'm repeating myself, complaint: I thought Sherlock was supposed to be all knowing and massively intelligent. Soon as I saw the cipher I thought it was a Chinese counting system and that the slash meant 1, although I wouldn't have known what the other symbol meant. (though I dare say with the help of google I could have found out)

    I kind of thought it was going to be something less obvious and that it being a Chinese counting system was just too obvious. I was bemused by that. He was going through all these weird and wonderful glyphs in his head and it never occurred to anyone that the guy who worked on the HONG KONG desk and a journalist who'd just come back from CHINA might be able to be threatened with a CHINESE cipher??! Siriusly. Come on, Holmesy.

    I've never been to China, never studied Chinese or China, have no connection with China, et cetera ad infinitum, and I picked up on it straight away. I just didn't buy that Sherlock would take that long to make the connection.

  74. Sara says:

    First off, English isn’t my first language so this may or may not come out the way I intended.

    I may seem very naive and oblivious now, and I’d like to apologize in beforehand if I do, but I didn’t really think of the episode as racist. Maybe it’s because I’m young, maybe it’s because I’m from Sweden and have blonde hair and blue eyes or maybe it’s because I don’t see people as anything other than people.

    Sure, the bad guys were members of a criminal organisation from China, but I didn’t see them as Chinese. I saw them as criminals working for Moriarty; someone that they were clearly terrified of. He used them as tools and I interpreted the fact that they were Chinese as a way to show just how far his power and influence reach.

    The two men that died didn’t die as innocent rich bankers, they died as corrupt men that had broken the law and angered a powerful organisation by stealing Asian artefacts. An organisation that could have been the Italian mafia (or would that be racist too?), Englishmen (but we already have Mycroft and Moriarty for that) or Russian bad guys (but that’d have been terrible Cold War, which would have been another stereotype), but, yet again, that wouldn’t illustrate the power of Holmes’s nemesis.

    And wasn’t the reason behind the murderer’s climbing skill his other “career” as an acrobat and not his nationality?

    I also happen to believe that Asians makes brilliant bad guys as they can look really terrifying. Of course they aren’t the only ones, but after so many kung fu movies I’ve started to believe that a ruthless criminal with mad martial arts skills is the last thing that I ever want to encounter. I’m sorry, but stereotypes are everywhere and they tend to stick with you. There are some VERY weird ones about Sweden as well. Polar bears and nudity during the winter, igloos, chocolate and orgies are some that I’ve encountered. Often in the same context.
    Then again, maybe I’m wrong. I know that many interpreted this episode as racist and I almost wish that I saw it as well to better understand your point of view. But if I did I’d have to start seeing the colour of people’s skin and I don’t think that understanding is worth that.

    I hope that I haven’t offended anyone with this comment. I offer my sincerest apologies if I did.
    Best regards,
    Sara

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  81. notemily says:

    OMG, so much fail in these comments, I wish I had the downvote button back. Seriously. MAAARK YOU TAKE EVERYTHING SO SEEEERIOUSLY. I think people have refuted that "argument" pretty well in the comments so I am just going to give a huge eyeroll courtesy of Agent Scully.

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  88. AulaCicero says:

    God I love you Mark. I followed you faithfully from Twilight to Harry Potter and now I have landed here. I had feared that after Harry Potter had ended that would be the last we would hear from you. I am glad that has not been the case.

    I had to contain a shout of joy when I saw your reviews on Sherlock. I am glad that you have found so much enjoyment in this series. You can feel and see the love that has been put into this and this is reflected in your reviews. Though I have to disagree about your review on TBB. I don't think they are intentionally racist. They use common stereotypes. Stereotypes in themselves are not necessarily racist. Many people often think of people in stereotypes, before getting to know a person or culture. It panders to the lowest common denominator, but unfortunately many people do it. I have to shamefully admit that I have had more than my fare share of ignorant moments, but I am willing to learn and am always open for criticism.
    A decent person decided to look past the stereotypes and tries to learn something about the person or the culture. A racist on the other hand refuses to change this world view as his life progresses. I admit when I first came to the US I thought that most people in the US where either fat and lazy or thin beautiful stars. I lived in Maryland and found the people there to be very welcoming and accepting of people who did not fit the predefined norm of society, something which still causes problems in Germany. Of cause I also realize the privilege of having grown up in a predominately white area in the suburbs. My motto is treat other people like you want to be treated. Would I like to be judged on my skin color, my IQ, or my financial status. No, therefore I will do my best to treat people with the same respect I expect for myself.

    Great I was going to discuss the Episode and steered of into a whole different area of discussion. To be honest however, the episode was so boring that there is not much to discuss. It is just so Meh. You can tell that Moffat was not involved.

    With kind regards, your loyal fan
    Alexa

  89. MGZ says:

    After my fourth false start I finally watched "The Blind Banker". There were some good moments, but mostly I cringed. Basically, I agree with you, Mark.

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