Sherlock: “The Abominable Bride” displays all of this show’s worst tendencies in one place

I’m not quite sure how to encapsulate my disappointment and disgust for “The Abominable Bride” in just a few hundred words. Sherlock has never been one of my favorite shows, and it’s far from even being my favorite iteration of the relatively recent spate of Sherlock Holmes adaptations—hello, Elementary. Still, I really liked the first and second series of it. Each of those six episodes was fast-paced, cleverly plotted, and gorgeously filmed, and Sherlock has the distinction of being one of the first shows to integrate text messaging in a way that was both visually interesting and useful to its storytelling.

However, it’s always been a show that suffers from a serious case of Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and their obsession with their ideal of a Great Man who is a total trash monster of a human being but is so full of genius that we’re supposed to forgive his every garbage word and action (that Moffat and Gatiss write). In Sherlock, of course, this is exemplified in the titular character, but the show’s John Watson is also pretty unlikable. Both of these pieces of work—either Moffat/Gatiss OR Sherlock/Watson, I guess—are in rare form in “The Abominable Bride,” which is not a fun old-timey holiday special like it was marketed as, but instead turns out (in a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan) to be a journey into Sherlock’s “mind palace” (a phrase and concept so insufferably pretentious that I hate to even type it).

Most of the episode, then, takes place inside Sherlock’s head, and it’s, frankly, a new insight into his character that I wish I didn’t have. The whole ninety or so minutes is just a mix of things that don’t make much sense and things that make me hate Sherlock with a deep and abiding passion. That is to say, it’s pretty much straight fan service at this point, but only for the fans to whom all of Moffat and Gatiss’s worst tendencies are assets rather than annoyances. For me, “The Abominable Bride” was just one long, escalating feeling of outrage.

Probably the worst part of the episode for me was the way it handled its women characters. Largely, this is because none of them are proper characters at all. Instead, they are women the way that Sherlock imagines them.

Mrs. Hudson is a petty, passive-aggressive shrew, and the joke about her is that she’s angry because Watson doesn’t give her any lines in his story. Both Watson and Sherlock are “comically” amazed that she would feel this way and literally point out that bringing tea is Mrs. Hudson’s only function in the narrative.

Mary Watson is an almost mythical presence in Sherlock’s mind palace, but she also, ultimately, is given little to do. Instead, she largely figures into things as a competitor for her husband’s time and affection, and Watson’s neglect of his wife and their marriage is treated as a joke while Mary’s feelings are portrayed (to the degree that they are portrayed at all) as decidedly secondary to her husband’s and Sherlock’s. In the end, Mary Watson is a largely silent figure and cheerfully indulgent of her husband and his friend. It’s as if she is representative of how the viewer ought to feel; we might be irritated with Sherlock and Watson, but we’re also meant to accept it as the necessary price of their greatness.

Poor Molly Hooper may be the worst-served woman in “The Abominable Bride.” Previously on the show, she’s shown some romantic interest in Sherlock, and Sherlock has behaved terribly to her every chance he gets. Here, inside Sherlock’s mind, we see that he, on some level, thinks of Molly as a man. Certainly, he doesn’t think of her as sexual or attractive, and in the mind palace we see this represented with Sherlock’s imagining of Molly in drag. On another level, Sherlock sees Molly as part of a somewhat incomprehensible-to-him mass of womankind—but a mass of women who are also secretive and furtively malevolent.

Throughout the episode are sprinkled numerous running jokes that seem to refer to criticisms the show has received regarding its treatment of women, but they seem more a mockery of the show’s critics than any sincere attempt at conversation. The main “villain” in Sherlock’s mind palace is a secret society of murderous feminists, and by the end of the episode they don’t even matter because they were just a way for Sherlock to work through his feelings about/for Moriarty the whole time.

Probably the worst sin of “The Abominable Bride,” however, is the revelation of Sherlock’s drug abuse/addiction, which has previously gone entirely unmentioned in this iteration of Sherlock Holmes. I do remember an instance in an early episode of Sherlock using multiple nicotine patches, but that’s it. So the reveal here that the whole episode was just Sherlock overdosing on the plane from the end of the last episode came as a surprise, to say the least, but not a good one. The reactions of Mycroft and Sherlock in the real world of the show are totally unearned and inexplicable, a perfect example of Steven Moffat’s tendency to rely on his audience’s arcane fandom knowledge and uncritical suspension of disbelief to make the emotional beats of his stories work. You know, instead of just putting in the work himself to write a stories and emotional/character arcs that feel natural and make sense.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Lestrade’s facial hair was kind of hot.
  • So was Molly Hooper’s mustache.
  • The costumes for Mary Watson and the Bride were gorgeous.
  • The queerbaiting in this episode was atrocious.

4 thoughts on “Sherlock: “The Abominable Bride” displays all of this show’s worst tendencies in one place”

  1. At least three of the previous 9 episodes have mentioned Sherlock’s drug use in some way, including the one just before this, where it had the most screen time of the three. You might not like the series much, but you could at least review your facts or run it past someone who bothered to watch it properly.

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      1. 1. Lestrade’s ‘real if we find anything’ drug raid on the flat (where John finds out about Sherlock’s past drug use. 2. After Irene is supposedly dead (the first time) Mycroft has John and Mrs Hudson search the flat for drugs because it’s a ‘danger night’ 3. In His Last Vow John finds Sherlock when he goes to find his neighbour’s son and drags him to Molly for a drug test, which he fails (and her slapping him for that was in the ‘previously’) section, IIRC. It takes up quite a bit of time in that episode, even carrying through to the Christmas visit when he takes Billy from the drug den to help him get the dose correct for Mary when he knocks the household out.

        I might have passed by correcting it, since I have both points of agreement and disagreement with the rest of the article and no urge to argue the toss when it comes just to opinion, but it was your pick for the episode’s worst sin and based on faulty recollection.

        These days it’s hardly worth paying attention to anything showrunners say as they aren’t going to give away spoilers, let alone that there’s no reason they couldn’t change their minds (more likely what happened here). But HLV set up the explanation for this episode perfectly, in hindsight, even if I didn’t expect them to go there.

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      2. Huh. I actually had totally forgotten “His Last Vow.” I did not like the third series of the show AT ALL, so I’ve only watched them once and that was when then aired.

        If I had known what this episode was going to be, I would have watched at least that episode again in preparation, but the promotion of the episode all focused on the historical stuff, so I expected it to just be a sort of fun 1890s AU kind of thing that would be more of a standalone special.

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