As someone who is a bit obsessed with Sherlock, the wait between seasons can feel interminable. So when news came out they would be airing a Sherlock Christmas special, I was thrilled. But when I heard it was a one-off episode occurring in the late 1800s…I was a little concerned. I love the way MASTERPIECE’s Sherlock takes the Sherlock of old and updates it for modern times—it’s what makes it fun and different from all of the other Sherlocks that came before.
But I should never doubt the greatness that is Sherlock because…
You’ve been warned.
If you haven’t seen it, stream it here.
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride takes us back to the late 1800s (or does it…) and also takes us back to the first meeting of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. You get John’s army flashbacks; you get Sherlock whipping a corpse…
Wait. Haven’t we been here before? Worried it’s all a retread of Sherlock: A Study in Pink in a different time? Worry not.
The Abominable Bride not only gives us the fun of “what if we take Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and put them in top hats” but it also—surprisingly—ties in with the modern-day Sherlock and the question of how could Moriarty still be alive after shooting himself on the rooftop of St. Bart’s?
Well, he can’t be. As we learned in The Abominable Bride, you don’t survive that.
The special takes us deep into the Mind Palace of Sherlock Holmes as he tries to unravel how Moriarty could possibly survive a gunshot to the head. Midway through the episode, we head back to the future and learn that Sherlock is right where we left him at the end of Series 3: headed off to certain death on a mission from his brother Mycroft in lieu of jail time for killing Charles Magnussen. Depressed and troubled from the week he spent in solitude confinement pre-trip, Sherlock falls into old, bad habits and takes a major dose of drugs. Just before dosing off, he learns of Moriarty’s “return” and his drug-fueled mind takes him back in time via his Mind Palace to figure out how Moriarty could have possibly survived via the mystery of The Abominable Bride.
Throughout the episode we get to see many of the usual Sherlock crew dressed in their very best Victorian Era gear. Mrs. Hudson is still tending to the boys and refusing to be used as a prop. Mary Watson is concerned about her husband’s whereabouts—and the women’s rights movement that she is deeply passionate about. Andersen is still as bumbling and annoying as usual. But some characters look a bit different. Mycroft is back to his literary version and much heavier than the tall and lean big brother we see in the modern story. And Molly Hooper is forced to wear a mustache and to pretend to be a man so she can still be a doctor (not even Sherlock sees through her not-so-clever disguise, but John does!).
The scenes in the past revolve around the mystery of The Abominable Bride. Detective Inspector Lestrade arrives at 221b Baker Street—glorious muttonchops and all—with a terrifying new case that he knows only Sherlock Holmes can solve. A woman dressed as a bride with ghostly white makeup and blood red lipstick smeared across her lips, took to a balcony overlooking a crowded alleyway and began firing upon pedestrians shouting only “YOU! before turning the gun on herself and taking her own life.
But the story doesn’t end there. Later that very same night, her husband—heading to the morgue to identify her body—was stopped by a carriage. It’s his wife! Still dressed as the bride. She quickly kills her husband in front of a police officer and as she turns to walk away, the officer sees the back of her head where a bullet had recently passed through, and can only watch in disbelief as she disappears into the fog. The Abominable Bride’s killing spree continues as rumors fly that she is responsible for the murders of several other men/husbands since her alleged death.
It’s not until Moriarty shows up at 221b Baker Street to mess with Sherlock that we learn the mystery of The Abominable Bride is really not the focus of the episode at all. Sherlock solves the case, of course—a group of women have started to kill all the men who have wronged them and The Abominable Bride ghost was just a hoax—but the real twist of the episode is how it all ties back to present-day Sherlock and the return of Moriarty and Sherlock’s struggle with the loss of his intellectual equal, his nemesis. Deep in his Mind Palace, amongst The Reichenbach Falls, Sherlock and Moriarty duke it out one last time until, finally, Sherlock can put Moriarty to rest. He awakes from his drug-induced stupor, ready to take on this new mystery that Moriarty has posthumously left behind and to—hopefully—take us to Series 4.
The Abominable Bride is a fun and frightening romp. The episode is filmed beautifully and the sets and costuming are breathtaking. For a Christmas special, it has a very spooky feel that’s more Halloween than Christmas. I was relieved that it all tied back to the present day and was not just a silly one-off—though it was quite entertaining to see all of these great characters move and speak in a different time and the creative ways they kept the feel of the modern Sherlock series, with the text on screen coming from telegrams instead of text messages. It’s an episode worthy of multiple viewings to catch all of the hints and Easter eggs peppered throughout.