Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Hi there! Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, a blog that employs a 7 percent solution of intelligence and a 93 percent solution of beef tallow. I'm Dave-El and I may be a high functioning sociopath but at least I'm a nice one.

So what up on the blog today? 

In addition to following Doctor Who, the family of El that dwells here in the Fortress of Ineptitude also follow Steven Moffat’s other producing effort, Sherlock.

In case you’re not familiar this program, here are some key points.

  • It’s based on the character and adventures of Sherlock Holmes as originally conceived by writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • It translates Doyle’s Victorian era creation to the 21st century with Holmes solving crimes via Wi-Fi connected laptops and smartphone texting.
  • It stars It British dude Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, a high functioning sociopath with stunning cheekbones.
  • Martin Freeman plays Dr. John Watson who dutifully records Sherlock’s exploits via a blog but is not afraid to tell Sherlock he’s being a jackass. (Not that Sherlock cares.)
  • Frustratingly, Sherlock only produces 3 episodes per series or season and only produces a series once every two or three years. Meanwhile, it’s American counterpart, Elementary, which airs on CBS and has Lucy Lui as Watson, has produced 287 episodes over the last three years. 

Last week on New Year’s Day saw the release of a new Sherlock special, a one off adventure called The Abominable Bride. While the special featured the same regular gang, the twist was it was set in the Victorian era that Sherlock Holmes had originally appeared.

So how did it go? Was there an explanation as to the different time setting? Was in informed or influenced in any way by the events of the regular series?

Was the special any good?

I’ll look at all that and more after the spoiler warning.

And we’re off in 5…




The Abominable Bride
By Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss  

The story opens up with a bit of a retelling of events from Sherlock's first episode, A Study In Pink. Except now events are set over a 100 years in the past. Watson is an army doctor back from the wars in Afghanistan and needs a place to live. Through a mutual acquaintance, Watson meets Sherlock Holmes, a decidedly eccentric private detective with a keen mind with eyes to match but a dull sense of societal mores.  

After the theme music set over scenes of Olde London Towne, we pick up some years into the sleuthing adventures of Holmes and Watson. Inspector Lastrade with frightfully large sideburns brings an equally frightful tale of a murder beyond the grave. He relates the story of a woman dressed in her bridal gown on the anniversary of her wedding who shoots herself through the head, blowing out the back of her own skull.  However, this does not prevent her from turning up a day later to kill her husband.

Despite the bizarre nature of the crime, Sherlock backburners the case even as other victims of this abominable bride keep turning up. Lastrade is in a tizzy over this but Sherlock attributes the other murders to copycats. It’s only when brother Mycroft puts Sherlock in touch with a client that his interest in the case is renewed. The case involves a woman whose husband is apparently being… Tormented? Haunted? Whatever, the man’s got a secret and is scared to death it has been discovered and will mean his own end. Holmes and Watson stake out the residence to prevent the murder or at least catch the person who does it. They fail on both accounts as the murder is committed and the perpetrator, the abominable bride, eludes Sherlock’s grasp.

Then Sherlock Holmes wakes up on a private jet.

Wait! What?

We’ve picked back up with the narrative that ended the last episode of series three where Sherlock was summoned back from exile (total duration: 4 minutes) due to the unexpected return of Moriarty. You know, the consulting criminal, the Napoleon of Crime, the one who shot himself through the head, blowing out the back of his own head.

Yeah, that Moriarty.

It seems Sherlock, under the influence of narcotics, is engaged in a mental exercise of solving an unsolved case from over a century past, the case of a woman who shot herself in the back of the head only to return to kill more people. In the present, John, Mycroft and Mary are wondering what the hell Sherlock is going on about. Returning to London, Sherlock’s efforts to dig up a grave from over a century ago seem an insane tangent to the greater threat of the Moriarty back from his own grave. Not finding the answers he was seeking, Sherlock descends back into his mental madness.

Back in the past, Sherlock solves the case. The abominable bride was the creation of an abused woman employing a duplicate corpse and her own eventual suicidal sacrifice, leaving the guise of the bride to be employed by other woman seeking retribution against other men who abuse them. But with the final flourish of removing the veil of the latest bride, Sherlock finds instead Moriarty. 

Holmes and Moriarty find themselves on the precipice of the Reichenbach Falls, the scene of their final confrontation as recounted in Doyle’s original works. It looks like Holmes will not survive this encounter. But the day is saved by a well time intervention by John Watson.

Back in the present, Sherlock Holmes, free from his mind palace of the past, is satisfied that Moriarty is still dead. Furthermore, he knows what Moriarty is up to next.  

Back in the past in their rooms at 221B Baker Street, Holmes recounts to Watson his mental exercise of projecting future events to help him solve the mystery of the murdering bride. Holmes observes that he considers himself a man out of his time as he looks out the window of his Victorian apartment over the 21st century street below. 

When it was announced that there would be a Sherlock special and it would be set in Victorian times just like the original Sherlock Holmes by Doyle, there was much speculation on what form such a deviation from the series norm would take. 

  • Some kind of alt-fiction on John Watson's blog?
  • A straight up homage to the classic films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce?
  • Perhaps the much denied crossover with Doctor Who
  • Someone gets conked on the head for an extended dream sequence?

Well, yes it was a dream sequence but a dream sequence with a purpose. What we get is a delightful take on the Moffat/Gatiss version of Sherlock transplanted to 120 years in the past that also connects with the current series, bridging the end of Series 3 to Series 4 (which won't be coming to our screens until 2017? Arrrgghhhh!)  

One of the fun things in this special is seeing how the characters we know and love behave in an environment that is the same but different. Holmes is as eccentric as ever but is a bit colder in his Victorian mode, Watson is less easily amused, Mycroft is more of a dilettante  and Lestrade is not quite as bright. The interesting bit is these differences are explainable both through the prism of Victorian England and the filter of modern Sherlock's perceptions of himself and his acquaintances. It's interesting that it's the women in Sherlock's life, Mary Watson and Molly Hooper, who are just as effective in their Victorian personas as they are in the modern day (even if Victorian Molly has to disguise herself as a man to get anywhere.)  

As soon as we break the conceit of the Victorian Sherlock as having any sort of reality, the parallels and the differences between modern Sherlock and this 19th century version become even more clear. If anyone doesn't fit in to the Victorian mode, however, it's Jim Moriarty but then again, his outsized ego, intelligence and immorality make Moriarty an outsider to the 21st century as well. It might be argued that the women and the villain behave consistently in both worlds owes a lot of Sherlock's respect (and perhaps fear?) of these individuals. 

Near the end of the 19th century adventure, Watson's persona of that age becomes more like his modern day self as Holmes acknowledges his respect for his crime solving partner. 

Overall, this was an exciting mystery with a lot of humor and a lot more to make the mind think. At the center of this is Benedict Cumberbatch who makes both versions of Sherlock recognizable but uniquely distinctive. It's an exemplary display of acting matched by Martin Freeman as the John Watson we know and the one we know less of. I can see why this story was done as a special as it goes off the pattern established by the previous 9 installments; but I'm glad they made it connect to those episodes and the episodes to come. After all, we've got a long wait to see Holmes and Watson on the case in modern London again. 

One more note before I wrap this up. While my wife and I saw the episode when it aired the night of January 1st, my daughter missed it so I elected to withhold this post (she actually reads this thing, the poor dear) until she had a chance to catch up. Which she did last night when we saw the episode in the theater with a fairly large crowd of Sherlock fans. It was a very enjoyable communal experience.  

That's that for today. Another blog post coming up tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another.   

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