I’ve mentioned before how I love a good bromance (more on my months of Supernatural viewing later), and Sherlock Holmes and John Watson is one of the best. If you haven’t watched Sherlock, the more modern BBC incarnation of the duo, I suggest you stop reading this post and catch up. Also, here’s where I put the warning is that this post is going to contain hardcore spoilers for the most recent special, so if you are waiting to watch The Abominable Bride don’t read this post. I’ll be revealing the mystery and don’t want you yell-typing at me about spoilers.
The Mystery – In this one-off, special episode, a jilted corpse-like bride appears and takes her revenge on men who have wronged women. Additionally we get a look at what’s going on in modern day London since we last left Sherlock as he used similarities from the Bride case to puzzle out how Moriarty could be back.
What I liked
Victorian England – Sherlock turns inward and harkens back to an unsolved case from 100 years ago to work through issues in the present, and the majority of this episode takes place in a mental landscape of Victorian London. As Sherlock gets closer to unraveling the case at hand, we are reminded of the reveal at the end of Series 3. Despite seemingly blowing his brains out, Moriarty is back and Sherlock is summoned back from his exile (which seems to have been all of 4 minutes).
The reveal of the “Ghost” – This is a ghost story, and setting it in Victorian London does make it more fun and more spooky. The show runners definitely play up the Gothic aspect of the story, complete with foggy hedge maze and haunted castle. Of course ghosts aren’t real and the reveal of how the ghost bride came to be shows the perpetrators do an excellent job of using practical effects to terrify their victims. By example famous effect “Pepper’s Ghost” is used.
Giving more attention to Sherlock’s drug problem and how Mycroft manages him – Turns out the trip to Victorian England is not a place in Sherlock’s Mind Palace, but rather a drug induced hallucination he uses to try to figure out how Moriarty could have survived his self-inflicted headshot. Holmes’s drug use is well documented in the source material but hasn’t been explored too much in the BBC stories. We also see a rare moment of caring between Sherlock and Mycroft where Sherlock makes good on an agreement he has with Mycroft and produces a list of the drugs he has taken. While it seems Sherlock’s using cannot be stopped, it can at least be managed to the best of Mycroft’s abilities.
Molly as a man…. – When forensic scientist Hooper is introduced in this Victorian version, she’s a man. However through John’s observations it’s made clear that Molly is still a woman, she is just presenting as a man for the sake of her career. While the modern Molly has been growing in confidence, this “male” version is more brash, she snaps at underlings, and is much less taken with Holmes. It was fun to watch.
I like Mary Morsten – The modern version of Mary is clever, strong, and can keep up with Sherlock and John, rather than being left behind to tend to home and hearth. Show runner Steven Moffat has received less than positive feedback on how he has handled women in the past, so this is a welcome change. While there is an attempt to sideline the Victorian version, it’s clear that Mary is her own woman, moving about society more freely than one would think. (Fun fact- the actress who plays Mary, Amanda Abbington, is the real life partner of Martin Freeman, who plays John Watson).
What I didn’t like
Ultimate resolution of mystery – Despite being peppered with positive commentary on feminism, the villain(s) of this piece turn out to be women fighting for equality specifically in the form of the right to vote.
When Sherlock finds the group of women dressed in robes reminiscent of purple klansmen, chanting, and behaving like a stereotypical “secret society”. These women, all “brides”, are the freedom fighters in the war for gender equality, a war spearheaded by an abused and martyred woman. This reveal definitely feels like show-runner Stephen Moffat responding to feedback that he has received about the portrayal of women in Sherlock. But frankly, the response feels like a back handed compliment. Here he spotlights women, but also basically makes them terrorists and murders. What am I supposed to take from that? The only way women can be heard is through terrorism?
While Sherlock man-splains the mystery he refers to the group of feminists as “A league of furies awakened, the women I, we, have lied to, betrayed,” “The women we have ignored and disparaged.” And yet, here we have Holmes explaining their motive, and assigning his own labels. Yeah it’s his show but even as he is explaining this is all caused by not letting women lead, or be independent, he takes away the ability for them to tell their own story for themselves.
7lbs in a 5lb sack– Maybe it’s because it’s harder to get the actors together, but this episode felt quite bloated and unclear of the story it wanted to tell. Did it want to tell the story of the Bride, or did it want to further explore the relationship and obsession between Sherlock and Moriarty? Because ultimately the whole Bride story was a tool for Sherlock to explore Moriarty’s alleged return. Wait, did that whole Bride story-line just get fridged? So much for “The women we have ignored and disparaged.”
All in all I enjoyed this, and the “Inception-esque” storyline improved with a second viewing. The friendship between Holmes and Watson remains delightful, but I think perhaps going back to the basics of the first two series might not be a bad idea. The mysteries and the relationships are what makes Sherlock an enjoyable watch. It doesn’t need to be overly complicated in terms of the devices used to tell the story. It doesn’t make the show seem more clever, but rather treats the stories like Sherlock treats the Brides. It doesn’t let the story speak for itself.