Do you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr Holmes? However hard you try, it is always a self-portrait.
~ Irene to Sherlock

Irene Adler (known professionally as 'The Woman') is the main antagonist of the BBC Sherlock episode 'A Scandal in Belgravia'. She is the last major pawn of James Moriarty to be defeated by Sherlock Holmes and can be considered the secondary antagonist of the second season. Unlike her consultant, Irene is far from evil and even develops a crush on Sherlock over the course of the episode, a crush that ultimately leads to her defeat as it allows Sherlock to crack the code of her smartphone, which she describes as her 'protection'. She very nearly gets executed in Pakistan, but surprisingly is saved at the last minute by Sherlock. Her whereabouts are currently unknown.

She is portrayed by Lara Pulver.


Irene is indirectly introduced during a stand-off between Sherlock and his nemesis Jim Moriarty, when she calls the latter on his phone, which convinces him to let Sherlock and John Watson go. She is later mentioned when Sherlock's brother, Mycroft hires his brother and John to retrieve compromising photographs taken with a female member of the royal family, which are stored on Irene's smartphone. Sherlock and John try to get into Irene's home. However Irene has been expecting them and appears to them completely naked, leaving Sherlock unable to deduce anything about her, but through a false fire alarm, he finds her hidden safe. Several CIA operatives led by Nielson break into the house and demand that Sherlock opens the safe, as Irene could activate the house's security measures, and threaten to kill John Watson. After realizing the combination is Irene's measurements, he does so. The booby-trap in the safe distracts the agents long enough for John and Irene to disarm them while Sherlock uses the time to take the phone. Irene then sedates Sherlock, takes the phone, and escapes.

On Christmas Eve, Sherlock learns via text that Irene has sent him her phone, which requires an unknown password, and realizes she will be found dead; her mutilated body is later found and identified. A week later, on New Year's Eve, an intermediary contacts John and takes him to Battersea Power Station. John is surprised to find Irene, who faked her death to shake off her pursuers. Sherlock, having followed John, learns of Irene's survival. Later on, Irene reveals that she is still being hunted and asks Sherlock to decipher a code stolen from an MOD official. He effortlessly cracks the code, revealing it to be an airline seat allocation number. Irene secretly texts the flight information to Moriarty, who in turn texts Mycroft, revealing that he is now aware of the MOD ploy to fool the terrorists trying to bomb a plane.

A government official brings Sherlock to Heathrow. He recalls the Coventry Blitz and suspects that something similar is happening. Mycroft confirms this: the US and UK governments have decided to fly an unmanned plane full of corpses so as not to alert the terrorists while avoiding casualties. However, as Sherlock unwittingly helped Irene and Moriarty crack the code, the scheme was foiled. Irene reveals a list of demands to Mycroft, including protection, in exchange for the release of the contents of her phone. Mycroft says 'Nicely played'. However, Sherlock then speaks up, saying she got carried away because she was enjoying herself too much. Irene smirks at this saying "No such thing as 'too much". He tells her that he sympathizes entirely with enjoying the thrill of the chase and creating a distraction, but that she lost because of sentiment; he implies that she's in love with him. Irene vehemently denies this, asking how he came to that conclusion. He reveals it's because he took her pulse and saw her pupils dilate. Because of this, he has finally figured out the password and unlocks the phone with the word "SHER", so that its screen reads "I AM SHER-LOCKED". With her leverage gone, Irene pleads for protection, but Sherlock and Mycroft turn her down.

Some months later, Mycroft informs John that Adler has been beheaded by terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan, but asks him to tell Sherlock instead that she has entered a witness protection program in America. Sherlock appears to accept this and ask for Irene's phone. After John leaves, Sherlock reminisces his journey to Pakistan where he actually rescued her.

Episode appearances

Series 2

  • "A Scandal in Belgravia"

Series 3

  • "The Sign of Three" (in Sherlock's Mind Palace)


  • Irene Adler being a pawn in Moriarty's scheme is exactly what happened in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes film series.
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