(Spoilers from here on, FYI. You’ve been warned. Hugs and kisses!)
This is a review composed in repose, in tranquility if you will. Thankfully, I don’t make my living as an overnight critic anymore, so I can happily grant myself the luxury of viewing, contemplating (or raging, in some cases), then revisiting the work and giving it another consideration. In some ways, I think I could have written my review as I was watching “Sherlock: The Abominable Bride” on Friday night, but that wouldn’t have been a good representation of my evaluation. Here, a few days out and a second viewing under my belt, I’m ready to put fingertips to keyboard.
From the very first mention that there would be a holiday special for the BBC’s “Sherlock” and that it would be set in the Victorian era, I rolled my eyes so hard one nearly popped out, Pekinese-style. The fanfiction of your own fanfiction … to AU your own AU … and into the source material’s framework no less? The folks on Archive of Our Own are wise enough to hold fests for this sort of malarkey so that it doesn’t happen too often. (For the purposes of me, “fanfiction” is not a pejorative term. I use it in the same way I would use “derivative,” but as a netizen outside of the academic classroom, that’s how I’m going to roll.) The idea of shoving Cumberbatch into Victorian garb and slapping Donald Trump’s hairpiece on poor Martin Freeman’s stiff upper lip, while keeping them in the context of the BBC!Verse, seemed hackneyed at best and the nastiest fanservice at worst. How could time travel actually work? Please don’t even TELL me it could be a dream…
Fast forward to Friday, January 1, 2016.
I live-tweeted that night, and I live-tweeted my second viewing on Sunday, January 3, 2016, if you would like to see my raw, gut reaction in time with my eyes beholding the dastardly vision. Here we go, however, Wordsworthian style:
I think if you are a very big fan of the BBC “Sherlock” series, this episode may have been satisfying. There were many nods to fans and fandom, and if that works for you, then I think this episode worked as well. That seemed to be the length and breadth of the whole episode. I can say that several scenes were aesthetically pleasing, including the actual Reichenbach Falls. The water was beautiful. The costuming was lovely, for the most part. Amanda Abbington is a damn star. That’s really where my enjoyment slips off the proverbial cliff … or falls.
In terms of plot … what plot? Once it was all brain fever on Sherlock Holmes’ part, sitting on an airplane with Tom Hardy and Leonardo Di … oh no, wrong film … I took nothing of the Victorian time seriously. Yes, it’s his “mind palace,” but that palace has some wonky cracks in the foundation. At first, I thought, “Ah, now, the idea of seeing one of the off-page cases portrayed on screen — that will be cool!” Not so much. Emilia Ricoletti looked like a rejected prop from Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. And she’s a smack dream, or mind palace hallucination, or something. Unreliable narrator much? I would care, but I’ve never had much sympathy for BBC!Holmes. He’s a “sociopath” (what a laugh) and engenders little good will from me as a character (which is a problem). If Holmes can’t work out the mystery of Ricoletti as he’s trying to work his own emo issues (as well as that ridiculously never-solved “fall” he took), I can’t really help but feel a little weary of it all.
Here, though, as they seem to try to faithfully reproduce the iconic meeting of one Dr. John Watson and Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I thought, “OMG, they’re going to do it! They are going to actually film Holmes performing the haemoglobin experiment and then bouncing around like the epic nerd that he is! Finally, the great first visual!” Ha, no. Not even close. None of the joy, none of the mania even. I actually think Cumberbatch would have done justice to that (he’s shown off some nerdy vibrancy on the Graham Norton show for goodness sake).
Plot again: Just a day or so before this episode aired, I happened to watch an episode of “Mysteries at the Museum” on the Travel Channel and saw a story about Emily Wilding Davison, a real suffragette in Britain who lost her life in service to the cause. Somehow “Sherlock”’s take on murderous, vigilante, uppity women (not surprised, Moffat, not surprised at all) trying to terrorize the menfolk into giving them the vote was just slightly, slightly less appealing. The moral: Watch out men, there are hordes of women in purple KKK robes that are gunning to gun you down. Thank goodness Sherlock Holmes and his Very Much Smarter Corpulent Brother (sorry, have you read the Canon, because if you haven’t, Mycroft is basically Fat Bastard with Mensa certification) understand that women have been oppressed and when you oppress a group of women, they will castrate you one way or the other. Or blow your chest out and gaslight your asses.
Now, I’m used to this BBC!Holmes being unlikeable, but I’m not used to my dearest smish John Watson being a dick. It’s good to know that this is how a brain-fevered Holmes works with Watson as an avatar for … whatever. Freeman has done a good job of playing up how smart and capable Watson is, and for that, I have appreciated him. And overall, Watson is a nice person. Not flawless, by any means, but a generally good bloke with a temper. I have no time to watch Freeman in a bowler hat be a jerk to Molly and Milverton’s maid (you know who I’m talking about, whatsherface, Jeannette? Missing her Brittany and Eleanor, I think).
Once again, I sat back and thought, get rid of everyone and just let Mary Morstan Watson go on kick-ass adventures being kick-ass about it. That’s not really a credit to the plot or the writing. Amanda Abbington is the only one of these folks who legit impressed me. Her acting was so solid, she was so on point, and she seemed completely invested in the proceedings without a treacle-y undertone. She could have grabbed Milervton’s maid (who was the Watson’s hard-scrubbing shoe maid in the vision, right?) and just said, “We’re blowing this joint and heading to Kathmandu. Catch y’all sorry asses later.” I feel the same way about Kelly Reilly in the Guy Ritchie movies. These badass Marys in their thankless roles. Again, we need Leah Moore to get in here and give us the further adventures of the Marys, the Violets, Agatha and even Lady Bracknell. With some great artist to boot. Moore did more with Irene Adler in Swords of Sorrow than Moffat could dream of …. but I digress into a happy vision of happiness.
An entire white paper could be written about the less-than-admirable handling of drug use and addiction. This series just cannot let it go, and it’s gone from making me sigh to making me huff in flat out irritation. I tired of the drug use being a significant plot point right about reading “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.” That sort of hit the high water mark. Having Sherlock be yelled at like a spoiled child and slapped about for his drug use/abuse (as if I trust old Sherlock on his self-assessment) is just not a good look. If you’re going to deal with drug use, deal with it in a slightly less flippant manner, m‘kay?
And while I like Andrew Scott a great deal, I’m tired of his Moriarty. I feel like Sherlock and “Sherlock” have flogged the hell out of this Moriarty with his mind palace/smackity riding crop. Love how the crop made another appearance, for the “right” kind of eroticism, as opposed to the scary homosexual kind. That scary kind cannot be acknowledged, only encouraged to keep those Tumblr kids artfully engaged and spending money.
What is there really left to say? Canon droppings do not a cohesive story make. Such as: It was interesting when BBC!Verse deployed the pips the first time, but not again. Nods to Granada? Uh, yeah, you should tip your cap to the predecessors, but that didn’t warm my heart — it made me want to turn off PBS and go pop in a good old Jeremy Brett. The bit about Watson being the architect of Holmes’ persona? “Without a Clue” did it the best. I like to say that Jude Law is the finest ovary-busting Watson on screen, but I often fail to remember the brilliance of Sir Ben K.
I think what saddens me most is that I perceived a distinct lack of joy in this episode. And if there was to be no real joy, and we must have Holmes wrassling with deep dark deep feelings, then there should be some legit gravitas. Yet, none could be found for me. Everyone (except Lady Abbington, who is really becoming a personal fave) seemed to be doing the Moffat wink wink and that irks me from “Doctor Who” to “Sherlock.” I would dearly love to see another showrunner and writer come on to the scene and do something wonderful, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon.
I’ll watch season 4 because I don’t love myself and because if the words “Sherlock Holmes” float anywhere in my sphere, I have to grab on like a kitten with a sparkly. There are just some hard and fast rules in the world that even I must accept. I’ll come back again and again and again because the source material cannot be killed with fire. Sherlock Holmes is one of my few fixed points, and hope shall always spring eternal.
I can’t believe I’ve written this much, to be honest. I’m praying for a parody for my New Year’s present. I’ll take memes, artwork, vids, anything at all. I can’t be sad or even disappointed at this point, so now I want to laugh.