SHERLOCK: THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE Review
Let’s establish something up front: SHERLOCK is a goddamned masterpiece. King of Tumblr Steven Moffat’s adaptation of the British classic pushes the limits of what’s possible on the small screen and surpasses many feature films in complexity and cinematic finesse. It’s required viewing for any aspiring filmmaker from writers to cinematographers, and if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this and go watch the pilot.
A clarification: Watch the pilot. Do not watch “The Abominable Bride.”
Grand Poobah of Quirky Protagonists Steven Moffat made the British Christmas Special his signature after taking over DOCTOR WHO, and decided to treat his children equally by giving SHERLOCK one of its own. The Christmas Special in Britain is akin to the American Summer Blockbuster and, like so many summer blockbusters, “The Abominable Bride” is hugely anticipated but falls totally flat.
Created the most widespread dampening of underpants since the first British Invasion
As advertised, the episode finds Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman’s John Watson solving a mystery in Victorian London. A hysterical bride violently kills herself in front of a large crowd, then mysteriously murders her husband several days later. A ghost, a hoax, or a puzzle foreshadowing the resurrection of Moriarty himself?
Sounds like the perfect setup for some good ol’ fashioned Sherlockin’, but it’s ultimately a little too ol’ fashioned. Alternate universes are excellent opportunities to examine character relationships in a “sandbox” scenario, but we don’t learn anything new. Sherlock avoids his feelings to accelerate his search for knowledge (“Scandal in Belgravia”), Watson and Sherlock have differing opinions on the existence of the supernatural (“The Hounds of Baskerville”), Moriarty is an ever-present spectre in Sherlock’s mind (“His Last Vow”). Sure, it’s nice to see almost all of our old pals back in action (still no Irene Adler, just to spare you the disappointment later), but is it even worth it if they aren’t doing anything new? Filler episodes are okay once in awhile, but not when one episode is ninety minutes long.
Flash-forwards to the present-day attempt to bridge the gap between Series Three and Four, but this only creates more questions than it answers, the most glaring of which being just … “Why?” Putting a modern-day adaptation of Sherlock back in Victorian London carries its own amount of “Why?”-ness, but the constant switching between the Victorian timeline and the present-day timeline in this episode only cloud up a show known for its crystal-clear storytelling. Admittedly, I could probably watch Fat Mycroft shove puddings into his face hole for a while, but that’s really all that’s being offered here.
Fat Mycroft will eat you right up, yes he will
So the episode isn’t fabulously wonderful, it’s mostly stuff we’ve seen before, but hey, it’s a SHERLOCK Christmas special. It would have to be pretty offensive to really piss someone off, wouldn’t it?
Followers of Man’s Man Moffat are familiar with one common criticism, but in case you don’t have a Tumblr. queue logged three weeks in advance, here’s the lowdown: he’s a big, fat sexist. The showrunner came under fire for questionable statements against women (calling them “needy husband-hunters,” among other things) and a lack of gender, ethnic, and sexual diversity on his shows. Well, Sensitive But Manly Moffat has heard the cries of the people and issued his response: Sherlock’s overwrought monologue about the mistreatment and importance of women delivered smack in the middle of his Christmas special. And yes, it’s exactly as misplaced and out of touch as it sounds.
On a scale of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD to THE TWILIGHT SAGA, this falls about here
Sherlock’s lampoon on the patriarchy does figure into the plot of the Victorian half of the show. On the other hand, the episode clearly establishes that it’s about the ongoing conflict between Sherlock and Moriarty who, spoiler alert, are dudes. This is all too familiar for Moffat’s work ‒ we’ll throw something to the ladies, but it’s really about the guys.
Speaking as a lady, it’s totally okay to write a show about two dudes! Not every show has to be a frolic through a forest of labia while reading aloud from THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE under the blessed gaze of Hillary Clinton (ironically, the premise for Lena Dunham’s show after GIRLS), but it shouldn’t pretend to be one when it isn’t. Feminism is very “trendy” on television at the moment, which makes it all the more disturbing when it’s shoehorned in to placate upset fans instead of making an actual attempt to remedy the show’s problems. Still no women of color in this episode, by the way.
But we can’t all be perfect…
If you’re a SHERLOCK completionist or you feel the need to scrape the bottom of the barrel for a few more precious minutes of Andrew Scott’s Moriarty, the episode is available to stream for free online until January 24th. If you’re not a glutton for punishment, you can skip this one. It’s a long road to Series Four in 2017 and this isn’t a stop worth making.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
SHERLOCK: THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE is available to watch on PBS.org until January 24th.