Sherlock: The Abominable Bride Review
Reviewed by David Selby.
One of the most admirable things about The Abominable Bride was its sheer cheek. To wait two years for a story in which Sherlock gets high, gets off a plane and gets into a car is at once frustrating and exactly what Sherlock should be doing right now.
Rather than launch Sherlock back into a global conspiracy about Moriarty’s vast criminal network, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss instead opted for a story exploring the thematic and metafictional undercurrents of the show at a greater length. One of these themes was of identity and roleplaying (as in, what roles we play to conform to what is expected of us), directly carried over from Series Nine of Doctor Who, which was full of themes of integration and culture.
In fact, there were many instances where the show’s close link to Doctor Who became apparent. Using another story to explain how a main character survived was used to a smaller degree in The Witch’s Familiar. Characters moving from dreams to dreams and finally waking in reality, in a narrative encouraging suspicion and paranoia over what is real, was the crux of Last Christmas, which was also full of metafictional content (which stories characters chose to be a part of, and what those stories did to them). And female characters being empowered to make their own choices, and not be undermined by a male authority figure, was the idea which stood at the heart of Clara Oswald’s exit stories. Even some of the imagery, such as grave-digging, was clearly at the back of Moffat’s mind as he wrote both shows.
These links do not, however, undermine Sherlock. It is perfectly natural for elements to cross over, most often because of genre tropes. This is quite a major issue in television at the moment – almost every crime drama is the same; even the edgier ones such as Luther have been conforming to the banal ‘ITV detective’ model of the rest. In sharing its traits with Doctor Who, Sherlock opts for a far more experimental, innovative take on the detective genre, with a postmodernist flair and a general disregard for stories in which everything plays out as expected.
The high-point of all of this was, of course, the third series finale, His Last Vow. But being so recent, the effect of this finale is still felt, and some of the newer aspects of the show, such as its admission that practically every character is a sociopath, its political frankness, and the introduction of Amanda Abbington, are continuing to work in the show’s favour. Mary Watson remains the best thing about Sherlock today, and here Abbington nuances both takes on her character to make them feel like distinct personalities but still echoes of the same person. The same cannot quite be said of Cumberbatch’s performance, but in a strange and poetic way, it seems fitting that the two Sherlocks are practically indistinguishable.
The episode made sure to keep the viewer’s interest by linking the bride mystery to Moriarty, meaning that the obligatory ‘case of the week’ was more than just a filler. As such, every scene felt warranted, and at no point, had I been watching a recorded version, would I have skipped forward, out of fear of missing something important. This is Sherlock at its best: ninety minutes that feel like forty-five.
To my mind, The Abominable Bride was a resounding success. Rather than serving the answers on a plate, it left us with the suggestion that the key to working out the solution to the show’s cliff-hangers may, in fact, be metafictional analysis, which leaves the show in a very different place to before. And, on a less pompous level, it was simply wonderful to see the show finally interacting with its origins, even if that meant calling out the mistakes of the past.