Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride Review


The Abominable Bride is the New Year's Special for Sherlock, the wildly popular Sherlock Holmes adaptation from the BBC.  It's also the only Sherlock episode this year, as the next episode will air in 2017.  Ostensibly, there will be no new Sherlock episodes due to the heavy schedule of its two leads: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  This may be true, or perhaps partially true.

My own view is that Sherlock co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss so tied themselves into a Gordian Knot with their efforts to be oh-so-clever that it will take months if not years to try to sort out their mess. 

They ended last season with a character we saw blow his brains out suddenly reappear (this trope of a character coming back from the dead being so favored by Moffat that it's downright parody); they then were left with having to find a logical way to explain this.  The Abominable Bride, in a way, was created to try and bring an explanation, but it ended up being a big tease where we were told he was really dead...or was he?

Well, now I have finally gotten around to watching The Abominable Bride.  Dear GOD but I've tried and tried so hard to like Sherlock, to get into it the way so many have, to hold it up as this great turning point in television history in the same way that so many critics have.

I can't, I simply can't.  The Abominable Bride is rubbish.  RUBBISH, RUBBISH, RUBBISH.  It's simply the worst thing I've ever seen on television.  I've seen The Librarians episodes that are more rational, logical, and coherent...and that series' premise is that magic is real!  The Abominable Bride, at first, was to my mind, the world's longest trailer.  When I reconsidered things, I think The Abominable Bride is a true horror, never answering the central question and making a mess out of the one they do have.

We get an alternate version of Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Freeman) in 1895, deep in the Victorian Era.  Watson's chronicles of Holmes' many varied cases have made them both celebrities, though neither is too fond of this.  Neither is their housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), who complains that she does nothing but show people in and clean the apartment.

It's now that Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) presents Holmes, Watson, and Watson's much-neglected wife Mary (Amanda Abbington, Freeman's real-life mistress) with a most curious case.  It is about Emelia Ricoletti.  She was first seen shooting at people from her balcony, then apparently turning the gun on herself.  I say "apparently" because later that night, the same Mrs. Ricoletti appeared on the streets of the Lime House district, dressed as a bride, shooting her own husband.

Sherlock can't quite put things together at the morgue, and Dr. Watson comes up with his own theory (a secret twin).  Even morgue director Dr. Hooper (Louise Brealey) finds that idiotic, but what other explanation could there be?

Well, the case goes unresolved for some time, until Sherlock's older brother Mycroft (Gatiss), a monstrously obese man who has a running bet with Sherlock about how long Mycroft has to live until his weight kills him, brings him the case of Lady Carmichael (Catherine McCormack).  Her husband, Sir Eustace (Tim McInnerny) is being haunted by something in his past...Mrs. Ricoletti, enacting revenge or some wicked sin.

Holmes and Watson go to the Carmichael estate to stop Sir Eustace from being murdered, but they fail, thanks in large part to Watson being 'fraid of ghosts (he insisting he saw the Specter of Mrs. Ricoletti behind him).  Holmes angrily insists that there is no ghost, but he does find a strange clue on Sir Eustace.  It's a note pinned to the dagger in his chest, with two words: "Miss Me"?

It's here that Holmes' archnemesis Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) emerges, taunting Holmes to find how he managed to return from the dead just like Mrs. Ricoletti.

It's at this juncture that The Abominable Bride begins hopping back and forth between 1895 and 2015, where we go to the present-day to see the present-day Sherlock, apparently in the throes of a wide variety of drugs, wrestle with how Moriarty managed to apparently come back from the dead.

Eventually, with Mary Watson (secretly working with/for Mycroft) leading the way, Holmes and Watson find the truth of the Ricoletti case.  It was the result of a coven of suffragists (let's call them The Witches of Mrs. Pankhurst) killing off bad men.  Among the coven was Dr. Hooper (whom Watson, in a rare moment of reason, deduced was really a woman in drag), the Watson family chambermaid, and Lady Carmichael...or at least we think it's Lady Carmichael. 

The Witches of Mrs. Pankhurst, who counted Mrs. Ricoletti among their coven, staged her first death (allowing the real and very-much-alive Mrs. Ricoletti to off her husband before they kill her rather than let the tuberculosis she has do it).  Taking on the guise of the Avenging Ghost, they commit other murders.

However, to Sherlock's surprise it isn't Lady Carmichael who comes into the Satanic ceremony dressed as the bride.  It's the ever-flamboyant Moriarty, taunting Sherlock with what I'd call the best description for The Abominable Bride: "Is it silly enough for you yet?" Flipping back and forth, we end up in two places.

In the present, Holmes finds that Moriarty is most sincerely dead...he just has to find out what Moriarty is going to do next.  In the alternate past, Holmes and Moriarty face off at Reichenbach Falls, only this time Watson shows up with his gun to push Moriarty off the cliff.  Holmes then realizes he will be safe, and jumps off same cliff a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

I wonder whether a better title to The Abominable Bride would have been The Satanic Rites of Emily Davison, given how the suffragist movement played a prominent role in the story.  Now, while The Abominable Bride won the Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie, I suspect that the Television Academy is thoroughly impressed by British accents and something that appears clever but on closer examination is downright insulting.

As I kept watching The Abominable Bride, I seriously wondered whether the whole thing was meant to be a comedy or spoof of Sherlock.  I'm not being facetious, I'm being perfectly honest in my view.

This view comes from the fact that Mrs. Hudson comes across as a total ninny, that apparently no one could tell that Dr. Hooper was a drag king, that Watson seriously suggested a 'secret twin', that the repartee between the chambermaid and Dr. Watson went for screwball but ended up as just screwy, that we had some sort of purple-hooded ceremony going on that looked as if were lifted out of Young Sherlock, that Dr. Watson was literally scared off by a ghost (thus validating that this version of Watson is giving Nigel Bruce's version a run for his money in making Watson a total dolt) and that Sherlock Holmes apparently ends up floating through all time at the Reichenbach Falls.

On a more serious note, The Abominable Bride was such a failure in how it treats both the story and the audience.  What we could have had was a nice treat: seeing Sherlock in the traditional setting for a Holmes story (even giving a nod to the Granada series when we first see Victorian London with both the visuals and musical cues from the Sherlock Holmes theme).

As a side note, I'm willing to wager that the vast majority of Sherlock fans would not get the Granada references, they too besotted with the idea that Sherlock Holmes is the original creation of Gatiss and Moffat to realize there were other versions.  Truth be told, I doubt many if any Sherlock fans would even bother watching any version that didn't have Benny or Marty.

I could even go along with the 'big reveal' that we are really in Sherlock's Mind Palace...if it had come at the end.  Instead, by coming when it did, it robbed us of any real mystery as we waited for them to go back to the future.

This episode is also, the first to my memory, to suggest that Sherlock had any kind of drugs problem.  If memory serves correct, the strongest addiction Holmes had on Sherlock was nicotine.  Now, apparently, he used a wide variety of drugs (including morphine and cocaine).  If this drug addiction was mentioned before on a previous Sherlock episode, it's been so long that I don't remember.

In terms of performances, the setting may have changed but it's a case of 'well, here we go again'.  I find every character on Sherlock to be completely insufferable: Sherlock less a detective and more a clairvoyant (and an arrogant one at that), Watson a complete nitwit, Mycroft a total ass, Mary secretly smarter, Lestrade a lesser nitwit, Mrs. Hudson a ninny. 

There was no variety between Victorian-set Sherlock and contemporary-set Sherlock, and while maybe that wasn't the goal I couldn't help wondering why if they were creating an alternate universe for our characters they didn't opt to change some elements.

Maybe it was just me, but I got the sense that with The Abominable Bride, co-writers Gatiss and Moffat decided to 'fix' Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Final Solution by 'improving' it.  They decided that Watson would appear at the Falls to stop Moriarty from killing Holmes rather than send him on a wild goose chase that led to Watson coming up with an erroneous conclusion. To my view, Gatiss & Moffat felt that they could give an alternative version of The Final Solution that would be better than the one ACD came up with, a more action-oriented one.

That again, is just my view, but it's one I can't shake, this sense that they think they know better.

There are some elements that I did like.  The resolution as to how Mrs. Ricoletti came to die twice was good (at least until we got the Witches of Pankhurst bit that made it look really silly). 

As a side note, given that Steven Moffat has been accused more than once of sexism, and that Mark Gatiss has no first-hand knowledge of 'the woman's perspective' in a relationship, was it a good idea for them to make suffragists our villainesses?

I know many, many people love Sherlock and loved The Abominable Bride.  More power to them. 

I, however, respectfully dissent.  A story that does nothing and moves nothing forward (we don't get a resolution as to how Moriarty survived or how Holmes came to the conclusion that Moriarty is not just merely dead, but most sincerely dead), with performances that solidify how the characters are never real, The Abominable Bride is something I would not watch again.

"Is it silly enough for you yet?"  Yes, which is why, try as much as I have, I simply have no love for Sherlock.   


Next Sherlock Episode: The Six Thatchers

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