Channel: BBC One
Recurring Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Sherlock has always suffered from being awfully indulgent. Season Three was weighed down with this sense that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were simply having too much fun. The Abominable Bride continues that trend, although in the festive spirit, it isn’t quite as distracting.
The premise: this time we have abandoned the modern day setting and are treated to an one-off side adventure with the Victorian counterpart of Sherlock and Watson. Sherlock is clad with the more traditional hat and heroin addiction, while Watson is the narrator, who publishes each of their investigations in the Strand. It is all very amusing stuff, the show joking at how each character differs from their usual selves. Molly dresses like a man to get her dream job. Mrs. Hudson is furious at her depiction in Watson’s books. Mycroft is… well, I will leave that one for you to discover. As soon as the new setting has settled, we are blasting off to business as usual. A woman, dressed in her wedding gown on her anniversary, goes on an one-woman rampage across London, before shooting herself in the head. While her body is being taken to the morgue, she somehow returns from the dead to murder her husband. As more dead men, with no apparent connection, start showing up, all butchered at the hands of this dead woman, Scotland Yard are left petrified that they are up against a malevolent spirit. Only Sherlock can see through the illusion to discover the truth behind it all.
And it is a bloody good mystery. With Sherlock, I am always expecting to enter an episode and wise up to it all. Every other murder mystery show ends up falling prey to a pattern. Castle, Death in Paradise, Bones… after a while, you find yourself figuring out the answer to the week’s problem, before the writers want to reveal it. I have never managed to get ahead of the plot in Sherlock. The puzzles are so meticulously written, so precisely crafted, that we are never privy to the full picture, until Sherlock wants us to be. The same can be said here. Of course, we are all positive that there is no such things as ghosts, even if the modern setting has been abandoned. We are still dealing with a realistic crime drama. However, as each new appearance of the Abominable Bride emerges, we are left scratching our heads, as we try to put the dots together. At one moment, it looks like the writers are going to not even conclude this mystery, as the last half hour finds something even more important to start dissecting. Luckily, there is an answer to the riddle and it just about satisfies. I am not going to lie it is an answer of two halves. The first reveal (what actually happened on that initial rampage) was wonderfully answered. It is so obvious, yet no one had a clue. It is the stuff Sherlock is made of. However, another Sherlock theme is over-complicating (no, let’s stick to the theme of this review – over-indulging), and the second half of the reveal is a bit of a bitter taste. Moffat tries to make a commentary on Victorian life, but it comes across as slightly plot-convenient and over-bearing. I won’t say anymore on the matter, but be prepared for a slight stumble in quality as the episode wraps itself up.
But the thrills are still there. The problem with reviewing things like Sherlock is that we get so caught up in the game. There is a burning brain-teaser to solve and the entire focus of the episode accidentally gets placed upon that. But Moffat’s reinvention of Sherlock is all about embracing the chase to the end of the episode. And it is as magnificent as ever. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have been excellent from Day One of this show and they don’t let their precise performances drop with this special. Martin Freeman is slightly put on the back-burner this time around (although a plot twist does make this forgivable, perhaps even witty), so Cumberbatch gets the lion’s share of the praise. He spends so long touring Hollywood, amazing us with Smaug, grabbing OSCAR nominations with The Imitation Game, that we forget that he is just as wondrous here on home soil. He falls into the character of Sherlock to the point where we lose sight of where the character ends and actor begins. Just when you think there are no more new beats to uncover with a character we have spent three seasons with, Cumberbatch pulls something else out of the hat. Armed with sizzling dialogue, it is an intense portrayal of one of Britain’s most iconic literary heroes. Just because it is business as usual for the show does not mean it is any less gratifying. As well as the performances, applause must be given to the writers. They cleverly tease certain clues in the background that things are not as they seem and when they reveal their cards… again, it was all so blindly obvious from the start, yet we didn’t see it coming. Pure genius.
Final Verdict: Cumberbatch is once again on fine form, but so is the writing, only faltering on the final stretch.