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Sherlock, Ep. 3.04, “The Abominable Bride”: A stylised yet confusing return

Sherlock, Ep. 3.04, “The Abominable Bride”: A stylised yet confusing return

Sherlock, Season 3, Episode 4, “The Abominable Bride”
Written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Aired Friday, January 2nd at 9pm ET on PBS

It has been a while since Sherlock Holmes last graced our screens—two years, to be exact.  In the closing moments of the last episode, “His Last Vow,” he was sent off to exile as punishment for the murder of Charles Magnussen.  However, he was recalled moments after taking off due to the reappearance of Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott).  With Season Four expected to arrive next year, Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) return with a Victorian-themed special, which is perhaps the most perplexing episode to date.

“The Abominable Bride” sees the duo investigate a series of murders committed by a woman, Emilia Ricoletti, who is already dead.  As Sherlock delves deeper into the mystery, he finds himself haunted by old ghosts, namely his nemesis Moriarty.

At first glance, this episode has a lot of promise. Set in Victorian London, it allows the show to offer an alternative yet classic approach to the narrative.  Sherlock fans finally have a chance to see an adventure set in the era when it was written, and there are opportunities to branch out creatively and historically.  As a result, the episode is styled similar to Holmes’ other adventures in film and television, bringing something new yet familiar.

While the episode starts well, it ends up becoming a mind-bending mess.  Continuously going back and forth between the past and present, Moffat and Gatiss’ screenplay is confusing and almost negates the Victorian theme, which is a key selling point for the episode, especially with the ghostly bride.  Similar to “The Hound of Baskerville”, the eponymous Bride brings a supernatural twist that adds another layer to the typical murder mystery.  Her spectral reappearances in the episode’s second half are more entertaining than Mycroft excessively eating plum puddings, but this subplot is effectively quashed due to basic logic and Sherlock’s numerous lapses of consciousness via his Mind Palace.

Moriarty’s return is oddly done in “The Abominable Bride”.  His endless taunts to Sherlock throughout the episode deeply affect the detective, yet, instead of an intense standoff, he ends up being pushed off a cliff.   After almost two years of waiting, this episode would have been the time to explain Moriarty’s return, but his appearance does nothing but tease what is to come in the forthcoming season.

However, the subtle hints of the show’s continuity help to connect this supposed one-off special to previous episodes, even though it is a figment of Sherlock’s drug-fuelled imagination.  The chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman is as consistent as ever, yet it feels like that there has been some development in their respective personas and abilities.  From Watson successfully deducing Lestrade’s (Rupert Graves) anxiety to Holmes’ compassion towards client Lady Carmichael, the audience is reminded that their partnership is mutually beneficial on a personal and professional level.

The story arc involving the female characters such as Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington) and Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) teases the roots of the Suffragette movement in the late 19th century, as well as highlighting how women would stand out in a male-dominated society.  With Watson covertly working with a larger-than-life Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) and Hooper masquerading as a male mortician, they show a sense of defiance that their modern “counterparts” don’t really have.  Like Quentin Tarantino’s Bride, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Overall, “The Abominable Bride” hints at what is to come, and the period scenes are executed well, but the idea of passing it off as a dream feels like an easy way out.  Ideally, the format of the show needs to be simplified so it is more about the mystery instead of the man who solves it.  Since Season Two, it feels like Sherlock has been more about his almost-extraordinary capabilities as a consulting detective, rather than the man himself.  This focus has quickly overshadowed the show’s key elements, such as his partnership with Watson and the modern adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales, and unfortunately, it makes it less engaging.  Fingers crossed that the creators return to basics next season.