I've found my favourite Irene Adler. The first episode of the new season of Sherlock is the best episode of the series and I highly doubt there'll be a better one. "A Scandal in Belgravia" features an extraordinary harmony of plot and theme. It's the best thing Steven Moffat's written since Doctor Who's "Forest of the Dead".
It's a pastiche that riffs off a number of ideas introduced in the original Conan Doyle stories, one of the most prominent being Irene Adler. We don't really learn a lot about her in "A Scandal in Bohemia", the story in which she originally appears. We know she's immensely clever and enjoys the thrill of trafficking in the world of powerful politicians, using blackmail to hold nothing more than the ability to move about this world with power and autonomy. And we know she outsmarts Holmes, that she's the one woman for whom he has respect. Moffat's instincts are infallible here as he navigates through a series of plot twists, as Adler and Holmes continually one up each other reaching higher and higher stakes. It's a contest between Adler and Holmes, and at the same time it's a contest between mind and heart, or rather who's letting heart dictate their actions, on top of the original subtext of whether or not that's ever a good idea.
"A Scandal in Belgravia" fulfils the promise of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes better than The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes did. Moffat never goes all in--we never get a statement that says more about Holmes' heart than the original stories did. Instead, Moffat teases out the ambiguity. Making Adler a dominatrix is the perfect compliment to this, it helps underline the sexual energy that's so potent because it presents questions that are simply never answered.
Lara Pulver as Adler delivers this material so much better than Alex Kingston does as the similarly sexually provocative River Song character on Doctor Who partly because Pulver has the look down more than the soccer mom-ish Kingston and partly because the chemistry between Holmes and Adler here supports this stuff. Gods, I wish Moffat would stop writing what he thinks six year olds would like to see. He's so much better when he writes for an adult like himself, and I suspect the six year olds would prefer it too.