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.

  2. Albion19 says:

    Yeah, this one I skip 😡

  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.

  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!

  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).

  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

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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?
    .

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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!

  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(?).

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

    <img src="http://i280.photobucket.com/albums/kk163/i_seek_peace/ScullyEyeRoll.gif"&gt;

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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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