In defence of ‘The Abominable Bride’

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I have deemed it necessary to offer some defence with regards to criticism directed against the Sherlock Christmas Special released on 1 January 2016. Not that The Abominable Bride requires any justification whatsoever, nor I am competent enough to do so. Much of the critique directed towards it is subjective, as is its praise. However, there seems to be an unusual amount of unjustified criticism that stems from viewers who do not fully understand, or appreciate, the inner workings and meanings of the episode; preferring to discredit it as “foolish” rather than accept the possibility of it being an ingenious piece of TV entertainment. In this brief statement, I hope to provide my own subjective opinions on the episode in an attempt to reach out to any fans not yet convinced by its essential inclusion in the whole series.

The Abominable Bride is often accused of being too theatrical, too far-fetched, too-fantastical. People often forget that the majority of the episode is not a slice of reality, but rather the incredibly vivid imagination of Sherlock Holmes and his mind palace, and thus, whatever outlandish concept finds itself within the Victorian world, has a specific purpose that is influenced by the mind of a single individual.

Many people seem to be put off by the idea that this one-off, seemingly unconnected, episode would give us Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes in the typical Victorianesque setting. After all, how could a Christmas special taking place within Victorian London fit alongside the modern-day adventures so well-conceived in Sherlock? Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat gave us the answer. The Abominable Bride works as a two-way gift. It provides a crucial bridging between series 3 and 4, whilst at the same time indulging itself in giving fans a taste of the “modern” Sherlock, with its established characters and storylines, and place them within the “original” Conan Doyle setting. This works brilliantly as it has given rise to it potentially being a full-length, standalone Sherlock Holmes feature film. It is this flexibility and adaptability that makes The Abominable Bride an episodic milestone in the series.

The Abominable Bride maintains the whimsical and witty aspect of the characters, filming and editing, and transposes it to Victorian London. The basic premise takes place during the span of a few minutes following Moriarty’s apparent return and Sherlock landing back to base. In that time, the detective makes use of drugs in order to explore his mind palace by recreating the entire setting of a 100-year old case, with the addition of himself and the other characters. This case, echoing Moriarty’s suicide and eventual comeback, will help Sherlock to understand better the new and sudden turn of events.

It is important to note that what we see unfolding on screen is not what happened in the Ricoletti case. As viewers, we are experiencing a Victorian London murder through the drug-induced mind of Sherlock Holmes. Viewing a period drama through the mind of a modern man is bound to be influenced by external factors. Reality occasionally slips in the cracks of the dream state, causing jarring or anachronistic moments. This is a hallucinatory episode which is highlighted by its exquisitely polished cinematography and the unparalleled ability to brilliantly visualise human thoughts. The hints that we have been given in series 3 of the staggering potential of a mind palace, are explored in extraordinary detail and complexity in The Abominable Bride.

Having now been produced and released, The Abominable Bride is a crucial episode in the whole series, serving as a necessary conclusion to series 3, and an introduction to looming events in series 4. The role it plays is significant. Beyond what lies ahead, it further reinforces the all-dominating presence of Moriarty and his destructive influence on Sherlock Holmes. As is stated in the episode, this is a Gothic horror story, but not without the usual eccentricity and powerful friendship between the two main characters.

But perhaps the salient point of the whole Special are Moriarty’s remarks:

You once called your brain a hard drive. Well, say hello to the virus.”

Foreboding and prophetic, it proves the damaging influence this character has had, and continues to impose, on Sherlock Holmes. Our hero is haunted by his nemesis and will forever be so; but this is also what makes him stronger against the oncoming East Wind.

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