From the Vault: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

And so, a full 20 years (or so it feels) after we learned that Moriarty had somehow returned, Sherlock’s plane has finally turned around and landed, and with it the first Christmas Special of BBC’s Sherlock. It is a testament to how well Moffat and Gatiss have translated the show into the modern day that when they translate it back to its original time period, the story beats and characterizations are easily recognizable both as as modern and vintage Holmes: Sherlock is still an erratic and abrasive asshole, Watson still served in Afghanistan, and Mycroft… well, poor Mycroft.

The costumes are different, the language more formal, but this is unmistakably still Moffat and Gatiss’s modern Sherlock, just double-translated back into its original vintage veneer. Some things are different, such as Mary’s character (at least at first, until she’s revealed to still be a spy, working for no less than Mycroft himself – I’m particularly glad that survived. I like Mary as part of the team, and Amanda Abbingdon is fun to watch). Lestrade’s hair… is a riot.

The Abominable Bride takes full advantage of its setting, too, with little in-jokes and references to goings-on at the time, such as Mary mentioning to Lestrade that she’s part of the campaign for votes for women, and Lestrade replies with “For or against?” as many people forget that there actually was a Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League that campaigned against women voting in parliamentary elections.

Also of note: Molly Hooper, in male drag, running the morgue. This is a classic character trope in Victorian-era storytelling, a woman doing a ‘man’s job’ in a period of history where that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible (or at least looked down on). Amusingly, Watson notices this when Sherlock does not.

Jeremy Brett could not have been recast better.
Mycroft, while traditionally overweight, crosses the line from overweight here to comically fat, even having a running joke with his little brother about the time of his death constantly shifting due to what (and what massive amount) he eats for his breakfast.
I did like the “It’s the 19th Century” joke, though. I mean, it’s 2015, right? …right?
Sometimes I hate being me.

Not everything works in the cross-time translation, though, as Modern Moriarty is hilariously out of place. So much so that I couldn’t help but think that the previous episode’s villain, the blackmailer Magnusson, would have been right at home as a vintage Moriarty. Modern Moriarty benefits so much from the modern setting, much like Elementary’s Adler/Moriarty dynamic benefits from its setting as well.

Then the story twists with an earthquake during a showdown between Holmes and Moriarty in Holmes’s drawing room and, as we flash forward to the plane, we realize that three series and a special into the show, Holmes does actually have a substance abuse problem. It’s been hinted at, with his “on assignment’ heroin usage and the nicotine patches and occasional cigarette, but this is finally him coming clean. And the aforementioned earthquake, coupled with the faithful recreation of the Victorian era, calls into question whether Vintage Holmes is a memory exercise for Modern Holmes or Modern Holmes is a delusion of Vintage Holmes.

The resolution of the episode, involving a conspiracy of female murderers coupled with the suffrage reference earlier, explains why Vox hates this episode so badly. Last week, I spoke about how holiday specials work in the great world of British television, and I think Vox spectacularly missed the point: this episode is packed to the brim with completely bonkers, not-necessarily canon moments, but only the broad strokes matter.

  • Holmes was called back, and in the time it took his plane to turn around and land, he ran a simulation of a similar death in his mind to try and find out what Moriarty did.
  • Vox misses the point that it wasn’t really the solution, and these women weren’t really murderers; it was simply a representation of women that Sherlock and company may have overlooked over the years, as well as a throwback to Vintage Holmes, who genuinely did have a low opinion of women for the most part, typical of the time.
  • In other words, Vox literally mistook an overdose-fueled fever dream for a propaganda piece, and I can’t imagine why they did that.
    • Not at all.
      • They certainly weren’t projecting.
Anyway: A great deal of fluff, but fun fluff. I look forward to the story actually continuing when Sherlock returns for series 4, in approximately 17 years.

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