I love Sherlock Holmes, and ordinarily I love this BBC adaption. Unfortunately, for the most part, this outing just didn’t tick all the boxes. Set in Victorian London, The Abominable Bride gives us a taste of what the series could have been like had Moffat and Gatiss not gone for a contemporary adaption.
Not that this episode was without its merits – but thank goodness they did.
Let’s start with the positives. Predictably, the cast were exceptional. As always, Benedict Cumberbatch is ironically very charming as his deliberately charmless Holmes. Martin Freeman’s Watson had a slightly different angle in Victorian London, but his middle-class paranoia and sharpness were welcome additions – especially considering the context and where those changes probably came from, which I won’t spoil. It’ll come as no surprise to hear that Andrew Scott continues to be electric regardless of how dead he is or isn’t. I think he could probably make that magic chemistry happen acting opposite a corpse, so to see him opposite someone as talented as Benedict Cumberbatch continues to be a treat. Una Stubbs and Rupert Graves make great use of their limited screen time, and Mark Gatiss’s Mycroft improves with every outing.
Ogres, like onions, have layers. Or so I’ve been told.
The dialogue is as snappily written as we’ve come to expect – and like always, it’s especially impressive in spaces between the action. There’s an excellent exchange between Sherlock and John as they wait alone for their case to progress. I think most of us would be perfectly happy with an hour and a half just of that. Another highlight is the silent, signed exchange at the Diogenes Club – a welcome opportunity to make use of the show’s famous floating white text.
One discussion in particular contains some interesting lines about Sherlock as a human being – and that’s why I’ve tagged this ‘queer reading’. For those interested, listen out for the lines John uses to describe Sherlock’s attitude towards romance. One of them is repeated once again later, verbatim – and that repetition has to be deliberate and significant. It’s too specific a line not to be. I’m sure it’s made some shippers very happy, but in my view there are actually two separate readings. Firstly, it could mean that Sherlock is meant to be asexual – albeit an inaccurately portrayed one, as the way it’s phrased would imply that Sherlock chose to be asexual. This is the likelier answer, but of course that ‘choice’ thing can be a very harmful implication. The second interpretation is, ah. The shippy one. Without mentioning who, this would position Sherlock as a celibate queer character, struggling with his sexuality to try and prevent it from affecting his life’s work – alongside other factors. I’ll make no bones about it; that’s the reading I prefer. Give me an angsty accurate portrayal over a problematic one any day.
I’m also thrilled to see drug use addressed again. I’ve always felt this is one of the most interesting parts of the original character to revisit with a contemporary perspective.
Beyond that – let’s see. It’s hard to talk about why the episode is unsuccessful without spoiling anything. I can say this much. Personally, I prefer stories that don’t contain characters suggesting that there’s something supernatural afoot. I don’t mind it in the original stories, especially considering Conan Doyle’s personal obsession with the occult, and I could live with it in this series’ version of Hound of the Baskervilles for the simple fact that it was dealt with extremely well there – because Sherlock actively struggled with even entertaining the thought. In this episode, however, it jars.
The case’s solution is both far-fetched and blatant fanservice intended to appeal to current sensibilities, especially in the face of certain criticisms Stephen Moffat has faced in the past. I won’t go into it, but personally I found it heavy-handed – and I’m a feminist.
I was going to say it could have been an interesting idea if it had been well-excuted, but… well. Tarantino did a similar thing much better. Why bother?
In any case. The pace was odd, and the conclusion unsatisfying… and yes, the conclusion is separate from solving the case.
However. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t whetted my appetite for more Sherlock. It’s been far too long since the last series. It has always been far too long since the last series. Despite the handful of disappointments with the plot, I did still enjoy watching it. As I said, the various relationships between these characters are so well-acted and written that many of us could happily take an entire episode of just that. Even when the plot stumbles, that chemistry is still there to rescue it – and I think that’s what makes this series so great. Come back soon!