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Review: The Good and Bad of Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Sherlock goes back in time! But not really.

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The simplest way of dissecting this episode is to break it up into “The Good” and “The Bad,” and aside from a few weird beats, it’s really as black and white as that.

A note of sorts, though, before I dig in: It might be fair to let you know that I was one of the very few viewers of the series who enjoyed season three. I thought Mary was a great addition, and Amanda Abbington fit fantastically into the mold. I thought the humor was played well with twinges of melancholy, and first episode shenanigans aside, I thought it was the season that convinced me of Sherlock and John’s friendship.

The BBC series isn’t always my favorite modern version of the characters (Elementary hasn’t reached its season one heights in quite a while, but their Sherlock and Joan are beautifully crafted, and I genuinely think Jude Law made a superb Watson in the Guy Ritchie films), but it always feels like event TV. It’s generally light entertainment that comes on every few years, people talk about it for a while, and then it disappears as their stars go off to be hobbits and Oscar nominees.

The holiday special The Abominable Bride was hoping to be just that—something to tide fans over—and what resulted was one of the more oddly frustrating episodes that the show has ever done.

The Bad

Let’s kick this off in a manner that will allow us to end on an upswing.

The pacing was a mess 

I’m under the impression that you have all seen the episode, but in case not, be warned that SPOILERS are to follow in case that means you want to get out of here.

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By the time we have realized that we are not, in fact, in Victorian London but instead in the depths of Sherlock’s mind palace, it’s been a steady and exciting build to that revelation. However, it happens way too soon. This is a revelation that could have waiting until midway through the third act, especially since once the big reveal happens, instead of staying there in the modern day, we’re instead submerged back into Sherlock’s Victorian-staged mind palace, which kind of loses its effect at that point.

The episode doesn’t know what tone it’s aiming for

The series has always been battling itself over what it’s trying to achieve. While some shows can manage this balance, Sherlock has a tougher time bridging genres. In The Abominable Bride, there are moments of flippant humor, ghost story leanings, introspective character moments, and of course, mystery. This is all well and good, and there are moments of each that work wonderfully and moments of all that don’t. I’m not a fan of meta on this show, since it seems like a case of having your cake and eating it too, and the main mystery outcome made me want to bang my head against a wall.

But the issue is that all of these tones are sloppily stitched together.

The suffragette plot 

The resolution of the main mystery (beyond Moriarty, which we’ll get to) is almost offensive. I could give you a list of 100 showrunners/filmmakers who I think could take on a suffragette storyline and turn out something successful, and Steven Moffat wouldn’t even be in the running. The fact that it ends up being the suffragette movement that orchestrated the main death that starts the plot demonstrates Moffat’s belief that he understands the well-earned criticism the show has gotten for its female characters while also completely missing the point.

On top of that, the storyline never moves beyond being strictly from the men’s perspective, and Mycroft’s”Let them win,” made me gag.

Just no.

Write better female characters (Mary is a start) who have agency and are nuanced, and that will be a slight fix.

The Good 

There were bits of the episode that I liked quite a lot but that I’m sure other people hated, so bear with me.

Moriarty:

I’m not sure what the general consensus is on Andrew Scott’s Moriarty and how over-the-top and unhinged he plays the villain, but I’ve always found him fantastic. His presence is immediately electrifying, so even when his performance errs on the side of chewing scenery (licking the barrel of the gun comes to mind) I’m never less than engaged, and even more importantly, I’m never bored with him. He’s such a formidable enemy for Sherlock for being both his polar opposite in how he conducts himself and sees the world, but also the same through their intellect and how he mentally dissects those around him. He’s always a welcome character to see return to the point that even though I knew it would be ludicrous to do so, I was hoping there would be some way he survived.

An evil (er) twin, perhaps?

Ignore me.

Sherlock and Moriarty Face Off 

Some of (most of) Benedict Cumberbatch’s best performances on the show have been shared with Scott as the two go toe to toe. While he sometimes overdoes it in the dramatic monologues (the “Hound of the Baskervilles” fireplace speech comes to mind), scenes with Scott (such as the one on the rooftop before Moriarty kills himself) are ample reminders of why he was such an arresting and popular version of the character in the first place. This is scene is no different; I think I would have preferred an entire episode the two verbally dancing around one another than the disjointed one we got.

The sadness underneath it all

As Sherlock flew away from those he loved—believing there was a finality in his newest departure—he ODed quite knowing. Sure, it was all in the name of the case, he tells Mary, John, and Mycroft, but that’s a weak argument to make as you awaken from a drug-induced stupor. Couple that with the fact that Sherlock and his brother have an agreed upon method any time Sherlock succumbs to his addiction makes this situation all the more distressing.

There’s a solemnity in Mark Gatiss’s voice when he asks John to watch over Sherlock, and we can understand why. That said, I can also see how people could read the scene as glamorizing addiction, which I truly hope isn’t the case. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if there is any real fallout. I don’t have any clue when we could be seeing a season four, but it’s being set up as quite a bleak affair.

There were other little tidbits that I enjoyed—Molly dressed as a man in the Victorian Era to practice medicine and Mycroft’s appearance being a callback to the novels—but the ending result was no doubt a mess, shown well by the varying responses across the Internet.

Regardless of that and the continuing issues the show has (plenty of them), I will undoubtedly be tuning in once season four arrives.

(images via BBC)

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