Sherlock The Abominable Bride review: Complex, confusing and clever

  • Soumya Srivastava, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 02, 2016 17:52 IST
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman travel all the way back to Victorian era for the latest Sherlock special.

What a great start for television this year. It was the first day of 2016 and BBC gave us this treat to celebrate the New Year. The special Sherlock episode, The Abominable Bride , where Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman reprise their roles as Sherlock and Watson, was crisp, cunning, mighty confusing and enough to leave you with a concussion.

The trailers had already prepared us for some of it but a great deal was left as a surprise - a surprise that many have taken well while some are beating their chests, saying they have been cheated.

Personally, we didn’t spot any foul business on the part of writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. It was rather too complex (if not the most) an episode than we are accustomed to watch in the series.

Benedict in a still from Sherlock.

To break it down, we have our not-so-friendly neighbourhood detective, the great Sherlock Holmes, not in the familiar, modern London but during the reign of Queen Victoria, this time. We are first given a quick recap of all that has happened so far since season one to how Moriarty seemed to have returned by the end of season 3. Now, that was a shock because Moriarty shot himself in the head and clearly died in front of our and Sherlock’s eyes.

Read | Sherlock new trailer: Benedict Cumberbatch is up against a ghost

We then switch to an ‘alternative time’ in 1895 where we see John and Sherlock meet for the first time, again. While a lot is different, a lot remains the same. Sherlock now smokes a pipe but still beats dead bodies in mortuaries with riding crops. Watson still writes stories of their adventures not on a blog but a magazine. Mrs Hudson, Lestrade, Mary and even Anderson are the same but you can figure out what’s new about Molly and Mycroft yourself (revealing more would be spoiling it).

Watson still writes stories of Sherlock’s adventures, only in a magazine instead of a blog.

This time, Sherlock is faced with a mystery that seems impossible to solve. A woman blows her brains out in full public view but returns from the dead (much like Moriarty eh?) the next day to kill her husband. If this wasn’t weird enough, more such killings start happening and Sherlock is trying hard to grapple at threads, which are rare to find, until one day a distressed woman comes asking for his help and they finally have a lead. Are Sherlock and John able to unmask the criminal or are there really supernatural forces at play?

Benedict Cumberbatch has once again proven to us that he is worth all the attention the world keeps throwing at him. Even after a gap of two long years, he hasn’t lost touch with his high-functioning sociopathic side and makes sure that for generations to come, no one will ever be able to play Sherlock Holmes better than him, in any alternate universe (Victorian, modern or hell even in space age).

Martin Freeman is lovable as always and a great foil to Cumberbatch even now that he is a big movie star in his own right with The Hobbit trilogy. Even the 19th century Watson cannot keep himself from trying to find a more ‘human’ side of Sherlock and, we wonder, how anyone can ignore his sweet, friendly face. Maybe Sherlock isn’t human after all.

A still from Sherlock The Abominable Bride.

The rest of the cast is stellar too except we really missed some classic Sherlock on Anderson insults. Mark Gatiss deserves an entire show to himself and if that happens, we will be the first in line to watch it. Mrs Hudson is more or less the same - even her dresses seem the exact copy of what she wore in the original settings, except the knee-length skirt is replaced with a longer one with laces. Also, she calls the detective ‘Mr Holmes’ rather than the usual ‘Sherlock’ and is a real English lady who offers tea to the media outside her house.

Read: Sherlock is back!

Now that we have given you a low-down on what to expect from the episode and told you that it is totally worth a watch, we suggest you return to the following part later, when you have actually seen the episode.





Finally, we don’t have to hold our tongue anymore, Moriarty is back! Well not really, of course, because Sherlock says he is dead and there is no way for him to come back and so we will take his word for it. However, what we mean is that Andrew Scott is back and he is fabulous still. It has to be a feat in itself to be able to overshadow Benedict Cumberbatch in every frame. The scene with him and Sherlock having a duel with words in the latter’s room was so good, it gave us chills.

While the internet is going crazy about how they were cheated with the very stupid ‘it-was-a-dream’ treatment of the episode, we don’t really agree. When we first saw the trailer, we knew that this will be a one-off thingy, an isolated episode or an experiment by Gatiss and Moffat. So what does it matter if it was a dream, it would have been inconsequential to the real story anyway. Now, however, it has at least given us a clear picture of what it is like to be in Sherlock’s much talked about ‘mind palace’. It also means that this episode wasn’t a mere experiment but a vital link in the chain. If it had not been for this episode, Sherlock would never have known the truth behind Moriarty’s return.

And it wasn’t a futile exercise. Through his drug-induced dream he could solve a case that was 120 years old. Though we could have really done without all the Suffragette Movement reference. This, if nothing else, would only add to the common misconceptions about feminists: That they are a man-hating, man-killing bunch of women who the world only rightly now calls ‘feminazis’. They got it so wrong!

We are given an impression that the writers are supportive of the women’s movement and that they killed their husbands was a totally fine thing to do, we failed to understand how dressing up as ghosts only to scare some people was going to earn them the right to vote? It seemed like very bad excuse for revenge. That was a very big hole in the plot and is our official complaint with the episode.

While it was difficult to keep track of what was happening, who was sleeping, who was dreaming, who was ODing, it was still a fast and fun watch though we suggest you don’t take your lessons in feminism from here.

The author tweets @soumys1405.

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