Despite it only being January 2nd one of the most anticipated programmes of the year has already aired in the form of the first Sherlock episode in almost two years. The pre-publicity for The Abominable Bride suggested that Steven Moffat's modern interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes character would return to the late 19th century time period of Conan Doyle's original stories. For the most part that's what Moffat delivered with Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) solving the same mysteries whilst wearing clobber from the 19th century. The central case in question saw the duo try to solve the mystery of how a woman who supposedly killed herself in broad daylight could come back and murder her husband. The bride of the title, Emilia Ricoletti, then reportedly came back a third time as she promised to finish off Sir Eustace Carmichael (Tim McInnerny) prompting his wife to ask for the help of Holmes and Watson. However, just as the case was picking up pace, Moffat brought us back to Earth with a jolt as he revealed that the entire 19th century setting was just part of a fantasy brought on by the 21st Sherlock overdosing on a cocktail of drugs. From the delivery of this twist, the one-off episode became both compelling and frustrating in equal measure as it became increasingly hard to focus on a mystery that we'd been told didn't matter too much.
At the heart of the episode's central mystery was the return of Moriarty (Andrew Scott) who had supposedly come back from the dead at the end of the third series. Apparently, according to the plot, Sherlock's 19th century fantasy was to prove that Moriarty was in fact still dead and that the return videos that had been circulating online had in fact been created by someone else. Therefore it was hard to care about the reveal of the Ricoletti Case and the fact that it had been plotted by a group of women who were eager to show that they were just as capable as the men were. Although normally the reveal of a Sherlock mystery would be a satisfying conclusion for the audience in the case of this episode it was just the backdrop for our protagonist to reveal the truth about the Moriarty return.
- The episode drew the biggest overnight of the entire festive period with an overnight figure 8.4 million.
The episode drew a lot of criticism and confusion on twitter
Just finished #Sherlock. Wow. It's like they saw ppl say s3 was too clever-clever & self-indulgent and thought: RIGHT. Screw YOU. Try THIS.— Jack Seale (@jackseale) January 1, 2016
Creativity = Success < ego + no one saying no = a certified need to get over yourself. And I'm not talking about the cast. #sherlock— AJ Read (@Amanda13Jane) January 1, 2016
In my opinion The Abominable Bride demonstrates everything that is right and wrong with the Sherlock series in one fell swoop. In the positive column visually everything about this episode was stunning and Douglas McKinnon's direction was great throughout. I particularly liked how the modern visual aspects of the Sherlock series were still employed despite the period setting.
Additionally the performances from Freeman and Cumberbatch were great once again and their chemistry is as wonderful as ever. I especially think that the pair shone in the more serious moments that the episode offered particularly when dealing with Sherlock's drug abuse. Also I liked how neither man hammed it up in the 19th century parts of the episode and instead acted as they previously had done albeit wearing different costumes.
Where the episode fell down for me was the fact that Moffat has an annoying habit of wanting to outsmart the audience at the expense of good storytelling. Whilst I do admit that some TV dramas insult their audiences' intelligence, Steven Moffat almost does the opposite and tries to outsmart them rather than simply offering a smart, intelligent story. In fact, during some of the episode's twist and turns I could feel the writer essentially saying 'I bet you didn't see that coming'. I personally found the constant switching between the two timelines to be overly jarring and felt that the story became more confused as it went on. That's not to say that I didn't like some of the elements of the script most notably the humorous touches provided by the supporting characters most notably Molly Hooper's cross-dressing and Mycroft's eating problems in the 19th century.
Is there a phrase for jumping the shark after you've already jumped the shark a good few years previously? #Sherlock— Matthew Roberts (@IWFICON) January 1, 2016
Oh do get lost. What a load of self-indulgent pap. The women's suffrage movement co-opted as revenge for failed romances? No. #Sherlock— Ellie Cumbo (@EllieCumbo) January 1, 2016
Overall, I feel that The Abominable Bride served as a prologue for Sherlock's fourth series rather than the stand alone episode that most had been expecting. While the episode still had some of the impressive elements that made people fall in love with the series in the first place at the same time I found the twists overtook the storytelling at times. I'm just hoping that the fourth series isn't as jarring as The Abominable Bride was and that Moffat replaces the unnecessary twists and turns with the simple, well-told stories that occupied Sherlock's brilliant earlier runs.