I had really been looking forward to the Sherlock Christmas special and, overall, it didn't disappoint. It provides a delicious taste of Victoriana, not to mention action, excitement and humour. It even has some wonderful little gems for dedicated fans of the original canon. And, as usual, this episode is extremely well-written and has excellent production values. However, saying all that, I had a couple of issues with "The Abominable Bride". Well, one issue was an issue (and a pretty big one at that) while the other issue may not be an issue so much as indecision over whether I liked the overall framework of the story. I also found that I had a similar experience with "The Abominable Bride" as I had with this year's Doctor Who Christmas special. I was on board at the beginning, but, by the end, I found I was trudging behind the sleigh a bit instead of completely enjoying the ride.
As I said before, "The Abominable Bride" does reward the serious Sherlock Holmes fan with great references to canon. Of course, the title itself, and the name "Ricoletti," comes from "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual":
Here's the record of the Tarleton murders, and the case of Vamberry, the wine merchant, and the adventure of the old Russian woman, and the singular affair of the aluminium crutch, as well as a full account of Ricoletti of the club foot, and his abominable wife.
As the Victorian universe mirrors the modern universe in many ways, we have a similar account of the meeting between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson as is found in "A Study in Pink," only this time it's much closer to the original source material, A Study in Scarlet. There's also a reference to "The Greek Interpreter" in that first scene with Mycroft, as a Mr. Melas has come to see him. Then there's the obvious reference to "The Five Orange Pips" in the form of the letter Sir Eustace Carmichael receives. The lamp that Lady Carmichael leaves in the window, and that nightly vigil Holmes and Watson undertake, is a reference to "The Speckled Band". I'm sure there are other references to canon that I've missed, but those are the ones that jumped out at me. Besides canon references, I'm happy to say that there were at least two references to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The porter at the Diogenes Club is named "Wilder" (after Billy Wilder, the director of the film) and there are cracks made about Watson having no imagination, which also comes up in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Lastly, in that final scene, there may have been a reference to Laurie R. King's A Monstrous Regiment of Women when Holmes and Watson are trying to come up with a title for the case, but I think it's more likely that Holmes is referring to John Knox's The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.
The greatest strength of "The Abominable Bride" is its humour. I love a good parody and I think we see elements of that here in the way that Moffat and Gatiss gently poke fun at the canon, going so far as to take a few jabs at Sidney Paget, the illustrator of the stories published in The Strand. The Victorian equivalents of the Sherlock characters are a lot of fun. I think extra kudos should go out to Louise Brealey's male version of Molly Hooper and Mark Gatiss' enormous Mycroft Holmes. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, the dialogue between the two Holmes brothers in that first Diogenes Club scene is the most hilarious thing about the episode. I found Victorian Lestrade sweet and charming. While the "imbecilic" Scotland Yarder is the butt of jokes from everyone, including Mrs. Hudson, he makes a couple of clever remarks and sharp observations, pointing out things Holmes manages to miss. Plus, you've got to love those mutton chops. In my opinion, the jokes about the "angel in the house" started off funny. I love the exchange between Watson and the maid, with Watson being completely unable to handle Jane's impertinence because it's his wife's job to deal with the servants. I had a good laugh when Watson told Jane that he would have Mrs. Watson tell her how displeased he was with her behaviour. Unfortunately, I think Moffat and Gatiss took it too far, which brings me to my gripe about "The Abominable Bride".
The only thing I liked about the Emelia Ricoletti revelation scene was the solution to the puzzle itself: how a woman could return from the dead to murder her husband. That was clever -- and if Moffat and Gatiss had resisted the alarmingly racist and sexist trappings of that scene, I would have been perfectly content and satisfied. As it was, I was rather horrified to see a woman's suffrage group in KKK costumes -- and there's no possible way that Moffat and Gatiss can claim that they weren't KKK costumes because they had already made a huge reference to "The Five Orange Pips," which deals with the Ku Klux Klan. I'm sorry but that can't be a coincidence and I seriously don't care if the robes and hoods are purple instead of white because it's still the KKK! I mean, what the fuck could they have been thinking? What makes it even worse is the implication that a woman's suffrage group is like the Ku Klux Klan, especially this particular group that terrorizes and murders men, waging war against that segment of the population that is different from them. Uh, does this sound familiar to anyone?
Molly Hooper dressing up as a man in order to pursue her chosen career is funny. Mary Morstan telling a confused Lestrade to go away when he asks her whether she's for or against votes for women is funny. Is this equation funny: woman's suffrage group = Ku Klux Klan? Not so much. Of course, even further insult is added to injury when Holmes goes on to speak for these women who don't have a voice. Never mind that they're right there and can speak for themselves. No, a man, Sherlock Holmes, must address the great wrongs that have been inflicted upon these women, which is not only incredibly patronizing but pretty silly as well. I doubt Sherlock Holmes would give a shit about women's suffrage, unless a suffragette called upon him as a client.
Now, I'm sure there are some people who may think that no real harm was done because Moriarty appears from under the bride's veil to reveal that this whole scenario is a ridiculous fantasy, which, I'll admit, was a big relief. However, complete fantasy or not, I can see no justification for any of it.
Of course, as we discover, the whole Victorian story is actually a fantasy, a program Sherlock is running on his cerebral hard drive. On the one hand, I like this as it explains the rather irreverent nature of the Victorian story and provides a bridge between both the modern and Victorian adaptations. On the other hand, it seems like a rather elaborate exercise to go through just to prove that Moriarty is, in fact, dead. I, uh, sort of suspected as much and I don't have Sherlock Holmes's keen skills of observation. I know Sherlock was high, but did he really need to play this mind palace game and access an old Victorian case simply to prove something he already knew? I suppose if there was that shadow of a doubt, Sherlock might have accessed the Ricoletti case because of the similarities in both suicides, but why the insistence on returning to that world to play out the rest of the story? I suppose it was meant to be about more than just Moriarty's death, but it still seems a bit strange, whether Holmes was high or not. I don't know what it contributes to the Sherlock storyline, other than to dive into some more of Sherlock's psychological issues, issues that have pretty much been explored already. I read in at least one interview that this is supposed to be a stand-alone episode, but that's obviously not true because the story keeps popping back and forth from the past to the present and referring to the aftermath of "His Last Vow".
Well, despite my problems with the story, I did enjoy "The Abominable Bride" for the most part. While I don't completely understand the motivation for it, I did find the contrast between modern Sherlock and Victorian Sherlock very interesting. I like the way that the present begins to creep into the Victorian world (e.g. that modern photo of Irene Adler inside Holmes's watch) and the way Moriarty appears in order to start breaking through the illusion. Andrew Scott is his usual brilliant self as Moriarty, and the dialogue between him and Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic. I think that the Reichenbach Falls encounter is my favourite of those scenes. The end of "The Abominable Bride" is particularly satisfying with the Victorian Holmes looking out his window on to modern London. As he says himself, he is a man who is outside his own time and, as a result, a character who endures and remains timeless.
Crossposted at http://rusty-armour.dreamwidth.org/144110.html