I didn’t much care for how Steven Moffat changed the character of Irene Adler in 2012’s Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia (where are you, season 3???), but I freely admit that I enjoyed how well Lara Pulver and Benedict Cumberbatch meshed onscreen. Their respective performances as Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes clearly indicated that there was…something between them. What precisely that something was puzzled me for a bit. Irene, we learn, did fall for Sherlock, and we know this because he took her pulse.
Sherlock’s feelings–if he even had them–are more complicated and engimatic. His brother Mycroft and the ever-loyal John Watson certainly thought that Sherlock had fallen in love with Irene, with Mycroft’s scolding his younger brother for letting “that Adler woman” get to his head and John’s randomly volunteering baby names. But, as Mycroft later admits, anything involving Sherlock is inevitably more complicated than it first appears.
While it certainly seems quite likely that Sherlock developed feelings for Irene over the course of “A Scandal in Belgravia”, I don’t think it was love–especially not after his spiel about how love was a weakness. I believe that Sherlock’s interest in Irene was more mental in nature, more of a fascination. Here was a woman who did not behave as he expected someone like her to behave. She was unpredictable; more importantly, she was intelligent. Her brain was more than a match for his; she was someone he could respect as an equal. Now the case can be made that Moriarty was also Sherlock’s equal, but that was a different case altogether–he loathed Moriarty and everything he stood for. Although Sherlock did not approve of Irene’s actions, there was still something he found admirable about her.
And that, I think, is why he sounded so disappointed and angry in the whole “I am SHERlocked” scene–he had found someone capable of playing the game on his level (who was NOT a murderous psychopath), and she went and ruined it all by falling in love with him.
“All of those things I said…I didn’t mean them. I was just playing the game.”
“I know. And this is just losing.”