TV Review: Sherlock - "The Abominable Bride"
EPISODE: "The Abominable Bride"
SYNOPSIS: Some things, though, remain reassuringly the same. Friendship, adventure and especially, MURDER...Why is Thomas Ricoletti a little surprised to see his wife dressed in her old wedding gown? Because, just a few hours before, she took her own life...Mrs Ricoletti's ghost now appears to be prowling the streets with an unslakeable thirst for revenge. From fog-shrouded Limehouse to the bowels of a ruined church, Holmes, Watson and their friends must use all their cunning to combat an enemy seemingly from beyond the grave and the final, shocking truth about...the Abominable Bride!
REVIEW: If waiting two years since the last new episode of Sherlock was hard enough, this one off special that offers an alternate timeline version of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman's detectives is equal parts exciting and frustrating. Sidestepping the narrative cliffhanger from 2014's "His Last Vow", this episode takes us back to 19th Century London where Holmes and Watson are a more traditional take on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle characters. The entire cast of Sherlock gets in on the fun of playing variations of their 21st Century selves. But, then the episode takes a twist that makes you question just which side of the story is real and what is a construct of Holmes' drug-addled mind palace.
Less a true case to be solved by Holmes and Watson but instead an elaborate tease for the upcoming fourth series of Sherlock, "The Abominable Bride" is three stories forced together by series creators and writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. Paying homage to classic Doyle stories like "The Five Orange Pips" and "The Seven -Per-cent Solution", "The Abominable Bride" starts out as an original mystery inspired by a throwaway line in the short story "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual". We find our 19th Century Holmes and Watson at the outset of their partnership followed by a fast-forward to the mysterious title case. This version of Holmes is much less manic than Cumberbatch's beloved portrayal and hews much closer to the traditional interpretation of the character. That is where things begin to go awry.
Inspector Lestrade brings Holmes and Watson a case involving a woman who commits suicide only to be found murdering her husband not long after. The case echoes Holmes' own showdown with Jim Moriarty at the end of "The Reichenbach Fall" episode from the second series. Slowly, hints of Moriarty begin to show through the case that features some truly creepy scenes with the ghastly bride as Holmes and Watson try to stop her from killing another person. Seeing the dynamic between Freeman and Cumberbatch in a different time period is interesting but also immediately shows audiences that Sherlock has to be set in the 21st Century lest it lose what makes it so special. It is with that that Moffat and Gatiss throw a curveball into the special.
As 19th Century Holmes injects himself with a solution of cocaine, the show thrusts us onto the jet transporting 21st Century Holmes to his exile from the cliffhanger ending of 2014's "His Last Vow". That's right, the entire case has been a construct of Holmes' memory palace as he tries to deduce how Moriarty could be back from the dead. Watson, Mycroft, and Mary Morstan are all aboard the plane as we learn the special to this point has occurred in the five minute time from the end of the last episode to now. Holmes is confronted by his friends as he admits to having taken a slew of narcotics and other drugs but insists the true case of "The Abominable Bride" will help him figure out how to stop Moriarty's resurrection.
The ninety minute episode begins to go off the rails at this point as the episode heads back into Holmes' 19th Century dream before shooting back to the contemporary setting as it shoots even further back to the historical Holmes' showdown with Moriarty at the actual Reichenbach Falls from the Doyle story. Now knowing that all of this is inside Holmes' head removes any of the tension or stakes to the story. While I will not complain about getting to see more of Andrew Scott chewing the scenery as Moriarty, it doesn't satisfactorily wrap up the title mystery. We are given a brief explanation to how the ghostly bride committed her crime as being the work of a cultish group of women looking for equal rights. The cult is made up of the women wronged over the course of Sherlock's three series run, but it feels like a coupout solution to what started as a cool mystery.
Since first learning about this Sherlock special, it has been teased as a standalone story that existed outside of the series' mythology. After the first half of the episode, I was content to view the story as a fun alternate story to the main timeline, even if it was not wholly satisfying. Surprisingly, the fact that this story does tie into the main narrative feels like the wrong choice as it doesn't work as anything more than a tease until the 2017 premiere of the next trio of mysteries. Compared to the rest of Sherlock to date, this hour was fun but ultimately a placeholder for better stories yet to come. I enjoyed this hour and a half for what it was, but it could have been so much more.
NEXT TIME ON SHERLOCK: Season 4 is slated to air sometime in 2017.