Written by Prof. Jenn
Reminder: I am writing these as RETROSPECTIVE reviews, so I will be discussing reveals, revolutions of cliffhangers, ends of plots, etc. If you are reading these reviews without having seen the eps, a) what is wrong with you?? Go watch them now! and b) these reviews are not for you till you’ve seen them.
‘The Blind Banker’ is the one ep of Sherlock that has been the subject of the most negative criticism and contention of any other in the series. There’s one main reason for this, in my opinion, but other than the one sweeping problem in this episode, as a basic Sherlock murder mystery it has a lot going for it. Too bad it’s been spoiled by racist stereotypes.
But I’ll get into that later. ‘The Blind Banker’ finds us with some cute exposition of how Sherlock and John have been getting on domestically (though juxtaposed with this we get our first bout of Orientalism: an opponent in robes and a turban fights Sherlock with a scimitar while stereotypical “Arabian Nights” type music plays. Sigh). We learn that John is broke, and so he finds a job (and thereby a girlfriend) as a general practitioner, something he does in the original Doyle stories as well. Meanwhile, an old cohort of Sherlock’s from university asks him to investigate a mysterious symbol left in the bank.
What entails is a very ‘The Dancing-Men’–like foray into code breaking, with the added touch of finding the key to the code in commonly-owned books, like in The Valley of Fear. We end up getting captured by a Tong called the Black Lotus (another sigh), and Sherlock saves the day by the skin of his teeth, as usual. And there’s sacred Chinese pottery and a case of mistaken identity. And aerial dance. Doesn’t sound so bad, right?
Well… Allow me to simply list for you a handful of the Asian stereotypes replete in this ep:
- Oo, the scary Yellow Peril in the form of the Tong.
- Not one, but two Asian woman stereotypes: the China Doll and the Dragon Lady (for more on these and other stereotypes in this ep, read this article).
- The supernaturally agile assassin (ninja, anyone?) leaves an origami lotus at the scene of each murder. Thing is, origami is Japanese, not Chinese. So are ninja. Same comment re: the shopkeeper in Chinatown with the vaudeville accent, asking John in pidgin English if he wants to buy a Lucky Cat. The maneki neko is a Japanese icon.
- I was actually okay with the Chinese smugglers posing as a circus troupe, but others have found this to be a stereotype as well, in the vein of Fu Manchu.
FINAL THOUGHT: All this is unfortunate, as there was plenty of promise with the bickering dynamic duo, John starting to date and go into medical practice, and the beginning of us meeting more of Sherlock’s Irregulars in the form of a graffiti artist. But all of this fun stuff ends up rather tarnished under all the Asian stereotypes.
EASTER EGG: the dynamic between the younger detective Dimmock and Sherlock putting him in his place is nicely reminiscent of an exchange between Holmes and Inspector Forbes in “The Naval Treaty.”
From “The Naval Treaty”:
[Forbes] was decidedly frigid in his manner to us, especially when he heard the errand upon which we had come.
“I’ve heard of your methods before now, Mr. Holmes,” said he, tartly. “You are ready enough to use all the information that the police can lay at your disposal, and then you try to finish the case yourself and bring discredit on them.”
“On the contrary,” said Holmes, “out of my last fifty-three cases my name has only appeared in four, and the police have had all the credit in forty nine. I don’t blame you for not knowing this, for you are young and inexperienced, but if you wish to get on in your new duties you will work with me and not against me.”
“I’d be very glad of a hint or two,” said the detective, changing his manner. “I’ve certainly had no credit from the case so far.”
From “The Blind Banker”:
DIMMOCK: (Without joy): I know who you are. And I’d prefer it if you didn’t tamper with any of the evidence.
SHERLOCK: I phoned Lestrade. Is he on his way…?
DIMMOCK: He’s busy. I’m in charge. And it’s not Sergeant. It’s Detective Inspector.
SHERLOCK: And? The shot that killed him wasn’t from his own gun.
SHERLOCK: No. So. This investigation might move a bit quicker if you took my word as gospel.
DIMMOCK: Anything else I can do? (Pause. No response) To assist you, I mean.
RATING: 2 dancing men out of 5
Feel free to leave your own review of ‘The Blind Banker’ in the comments!