If you think about it, retellings and adaptations are fanfics written by professional writers. And no two Sherlock fanboys are better at tickling the fandom’s imagination than BBC One’s Sherlock co-creators and writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.
You can tell that Gatiss and Moffat are the ones giving themselves a holiday treat in the series’ special, The Abominable Bride, aired on New Year’s day — after two years of no Sherlock. The tandem previously expressed their desire to see Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) in the milieu that Arthur Conan Doyle had placed them in.
They’d been itching to do it. We’ve seen how they managed to make their modern-day iPhone-carrying Sherlock wear a deerstalker hat before. Now, in The Abominable Bride, they’ve gone full-on Victorian, with Sherlock carrying a pocket watch, smoking pipe, and uttering the classic lines “The game is afoot” and “Elementary, My dear Watson.”
Not only did the show runners got to inject references from the Conan Doyle canon, the series’ past episodes, and even the movies (“Elementary, my dear Watson” was popularized by a film adaption), they also got to weave Victorian Gothic horror in the story, just how we prefer our Christmas tales.
If it sounds like the one-off episode is an exercise in self-indulgence, don’t worry, it isn’t. But indulge away. The compelling storytelling, sharp dialogues, unexpected warmth, quirky humor, solid cast chemistry and, before we forget, crime-solving — things that made us fall in love with show in the first place — are all there. And then some.
The Abominable Bride hits the sweet spot when the sleuth and his Boswell got at the heart of the crime. We never thought it would be about women claiming their rightful place in society. Gatiss and Moffat — if great stories must be representations not of what something is but what it ought to be — gave women in the Victorian era their voice. When Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs, bless her), said to Watson, “I’m your landlady, not a plot device” in the beginning, it was more than just a clever remark on why she hates Watson’s columns. Meanwhile, Molly Hooper (Louise Brealy), who disguised herself as a man to keep her job in the mortuary reminds me of George Elliot, who had to adopt a male pen name to be taken seriously in the field of arts and letters. In this crucial aspect of the story, Mycroft proved to be the wiser brother, recognizing that these women must win the war “because they are right.”
From hereon, however, the show shifts to a wild gear. We found out that everything that happened so far, happened in Sherlock’s mind. Not exactly in his dream, but in his mind palace. Did it feel like a cop out? No, but it sure was crossing a foot on the side of over-indulgence. Especially when a corpse did move of its own accord, when Moriarty (Andrew Scott) kept showing up, and when Sherlock was suddenly transported to the Reichenbach Falls (though it was a pleasant visual nod to The Final Problem) and fell — or flew. Sherlock was re-examining an old case (Hurray for a chance to have a Victorian-themed episode!) to unlock the current case involving his arch-enemy, Moriarty; thus the trip way down the mind palace. It got a little bit Inception-y.
Like the drugs Sherlock took to stay in his mind palace, The Abominable Bride will get you high. Not the standalone (though clearly a standout) episode we expected, it drives the narrative forward, leaving the audience with bits of answers, a few more questions, and some clues here and there.
Sherlock returns in 2017. The waiting game is on.
—Originally published on GIST