Skip to the final section for a quick, spoiler-free rating.
Maiden Holmes (Chinese title: 少女大人) is a 2020 Chinese drama about a female detective and a prince. Disguised as a man, Su Ci works as a constable of the Mingjing Office in the capital. In actuality, she is the sole survivor of a clan wiped out years ago after being framed for high treason. She meets the Prince of Qi, battle-scarred and recently forced to forfeit his military power by his uncle the Prince of Yun, and their paths become entwined. Danger, heartbreaks, friendships, and political struggles follow.
The drama is actually less dramatic than how I made it sound—and definitely much less dramatic than other existing summaries out there, so much so that I went into it with higher expectations than what the drama ended up delivering. But despite me quickly adjusting those expectations, Maiden Holmes still fell short of good.
Before I get into why, let’s start with some positives.
Structurally Sound Procedurals
I really enjoyed the set ups to some of the mystery cases. They’re not particularly well-executed at times as a lot of them are predictable, but you can see that the writers went the extra mile to make them believable and intriguing crimes. My favorite is the serial killer case—it’s the only one of the bunch where I didn’t foresee the actual culprit until it was obvious.
Su Ci is, by all means, a great detective. She’s genuinely good at her job and takes pride in what she does. What’s more, her crime solving skills are one of the few things the drama shows instead of tells, which is rare whenever a drama protagonist is declared to have a specialty skill.
They tried to model her after the BBC’s version of Sherlock Holmes in the beginning though, which resulted in this utterly ridiculous moment in episode 2 of her deducing that a pigeon is too burnt to eat:
Thank goodness that didn’t last long.
Reasonable, Adult Characters
I’ve never seen such a perfectly reasonable bunch of main and side characters.
When it’s revealed to the friend group that Su Ci is a woman, Rushuang stayed angry for, like, one afternoon before forgiving her.
After Su Ci’s true gender gets exposed, the Prince of Qi becomes “woke” and makes it a mission to promote the idea of female officials and feminism in the workforce.
When Fu Ziyou rejects Princess Yun Chuan, she wishes him all the best and lets him be instead of becoming embittered.
Even the Empress Dowager and the Emperor’s relationships with the Prince of Qi are amicable and cordial, when in every other drama there would’ve been suspicions and doubts abound.
Every notable “good” character in Maiden Holmes communicates with each other. They’re almost always on the same page, hold similar points of view, and are all incredibly understanding and empathetic to each other’s plights.
Consequently, there are no direct major conflicts between any of them. No philosophical disagreements, no opposing points of view, no discord due to conflicting allegiances, no differing principles shaped by different upbringings. Even the eventual reveal of Xie Beiming’s adopted father, which leads to him to question where his loyalty lay, gets quickly resolved with some heart-to-heart bro talk with the Prince of Qi. Which brings me to Maiden Holmes’ biggest flaw…
Not Enough Antagonism
The Prince of Yun is a stock villain at best. You can spot his villainy a mile away, and it’s beyond obvious every step of the way that he’s directly or indirectly responsible for most of the crimes in the drama.
Despite him being a constant hindering presence, that’s all he does—he hinders. He’s a very reactive character, always taking actions after he learns what the good guys are up to. The problems he creates for them—the framing and mass murdering of the Bai Liang clan, the military sabotages, the secret amassing of an army and supplies—all happens either before the drama’s present-day, or off screen. That doesn’t make for a very exciting baddie.
I think he would’ve been an okay villain for any other set of protagonists. But for a group like Su Ci, the Prince of Qi, Rushuang, and Xie Beiming (and I’d even count the Emperor, who loves and trusts his brother a little too unconditionally for someone so close to his throne), who are somehow able to resolve every interpersonal misunderstanding and internal strife, he’s just an ineffective opponent. This is especially evident during the anticlimactic ending episode, where his every move gets countered and rendered useless by the Prince of Qi.
Major Pacing Issues and Plot Driven Conveniences
Maiden Holmes is also riddled with pacing issues.
For instance, in episode 23, when Su Ci is explaining why a victim’s blood splatter didn’t match witness accounts, she spends three whole minutes giving her friend (and thus us, the audience) a forensic breakdown on the angles of blood splatters. She could’ve easily proven her point in ten, fifteen seconds top.
It’s like that all throughout. Conversations that could have taken two or three lines of dialogues drag on for minutes. Scenes that could have taken a minute drag on for five. There are fluff and filler moments everywhere, killing the momentum.
There are also random moments of convenience. For example, in episode 18, the main suspect for poisoning Princess Yun Chuan just… leaves a major piece of evidence behind. And it gets played off as, “Oh no! I, a seasoned and professional spy and assassin, escaped. But I, a seasoned and professional spy and assassin, forgot the one piece of evidence that could implicate me and my superior.” Now, of course, things like that happen in real life. But it’s narratively stupid to do so without setting this character up to be someone who would forget.
The Romance? Cliches Galore
One of the first notes I wrote while watching Maiden Holmes episode 1 was, “This episode be like: How Many Tropes Can We Stuff Into 35 Minutes” because I counted no less than five instances of tropey moments: the slo-mo and dramatic music when Su Ci and the Prince of Qi first meet, the forced-by-circumstance groping, the handcuffing, the obligatory underwater kiss, falling on top of each other, Su Ci’s hair coming undone…
Please, enough! You can’t substitute the development of real love and intimacy with… whatever that crap is!
The first moment of real chemistry between Su Ci and the Prince of Qi doesn’t happen until episode 6 when she swears to repay him rescuing her with three stipulations of his choosing, which I feel was the first time their relationship spoke for itself. From there on, bolstered by the fact that the good guys in this drama are incapable of having fundamental disagreements with each other, their romance goes on to be relatively unproblematic and free of sustained troubles. Which is okay if you’re into that sort of thing in a drama.
On that note, another thing Maiden Holmes does have going for it is the lack of love triangles. Props to that.
Final Rating and Recommendations
Is Maiden Holmes good? No, I think it sucks. It’s bland, repetitive, cheesy, preachy, superficial, and clumsy story-telling. It feels as if the writers were so caught up in trying to make the drama faultless that they neglected to make it interesting. Every rising problem gets resolved instantly. The protagonists are never truly challenged because the plot shields them so much. You’re never once in doubt that the good guys are going to win at the end of the day.
But on the flip side, it’s not without its saving graces. The characters communicate with each other, for once. The actors and the costumes are nice to look at. The detective/procedural parts of the overall story actually exist, and are sometimes well done. It’s very much a “safe” story, one that you’re guaranteed to come from away emotionally intact.
If you’re looking to get immersed and excited by conflicts, plot twists, and dynamic characters, look elsewhere. But if you just want something feel-good and predictable, Maiden Holmes is the drama for you.
My Rating: 3.5/10