Monday, January 04, 2016

Here Comes the Bride

It's a bit of a paradox. Because people love Sherlock, we don't get very much of it. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were less well known when the BBC's modernization of Sherlock Holmes began, but have now become so popular (initially because of Sherlock) that their schedules are too full to find time for more. So we aren't getting the fourth series this year. We have to make do with a solitary episode, "The Abominable Bride." And while many critics seem not to have liked it, I thought it was a good one.

It what appeared to be a lark by the show's creators, this episode discarded the modern angle. Set in the late 19th century (and adhering much more closely to elements established in Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories), this installment let Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman play out a classic Sherlock Holmes adventure. "The Abominable Bride" lifted a few plot elements from different Doyle stories (sometimes to reverse expectations based on how it was originally written), adorning a new story about a woman who appeared to return from the dead to murder her husband.

Early on, I appreciated the way this story dealt with a supernatural premise in a more credible way. Doyle himself tried to take Holmes into unexplained phenomena in a few of his late stories, always to disastrous effect. The way this episode dealt with the idea of a ghost (and ultimately explained it) was a vast (and entertaining) improvement.

As the episode unfolded, I appreciated all over again how much BBC's Sherlock is a character-driven affair. While never slowing down the plot, the episode took full advantage of the 90-minute format to give us a number of great moments: Mrs. Hudson's indignation over the way Watson writes her "character" in his stories, Molly Hooper's interesting role in this unmodernized incarnation of the show, marital sparring between John and Mary Watson, and more.

Particularly strong, as of course you'd expect, were any one-on-one scenes between Holmes and Watson. This is surely the stuff that keeps Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman coming back for more of these (however infrequently), and they knock them out of the park every time. The scene that saw Watson probing Holmes' buried emotions as they waited on a "murderous ghost" was pure joy. The banter was perfectly written and perfectly delivered.

But there were also a few ways in which the episode misfired. (SPOILERS from here on, folks.) The fact that the episode in fact wasn't as self-contained as it appeared was a neat idea, but the payoff of mixing the present and the past seemed muddy. Holmes' mental exercise was supposed to be a means of discovering how Moriarty might have faked his death. Yet after deducing a manner in which the titular bride could have done just that, his contrary conclusion regarding Moriarty was that it was impossible.

The idea that the episode as a whole was making a statement on feminism was another good idea, but there again, the payoff was muddy. When the crucial moment came for the underground society to fully argue their case, Sherlock did most of the explaining rather than the women themselves. And then, instead of their figurehead, we got Moriarty. The message fell by the wayside.

That said, I did love having Moriarty show up again, even if only in dream form, even if ultimately to confirm that Moriarty is well and truly dead. (He has now appeared in three out of four episodes made since his death, so that hardly seems an obstacle to us seeing more of him.) I love Andrew Scott's demented, irreverent, scenery-chewing take on the character. And I really loved the way this episode's "mind palace" premise allowed us to see a version of the famous confrontation at the Reichenbach Falls.

So ultimately, though I do wish the main plot device and its related message hadn't been brushed aside so casually in this episode's conclusion, I was still quite entertained overall. I give "The Abominable Bride" an A-. Of course, I would have wished for more Sherlock this year, but at least this one I can be content with.


Chris Lobban said...

"Holmes' mental exercise was supposed to be a means of discovering how Moriarty might have faked his death. Yet after deducing a manner in which the titular bride could have done just that, his contrary conclusion regarding Moriarty was that it was impossible."

I've seen this criticism in a few places now, and I find it interesting because I took the exact opposite message from it.

As Holmes himself said in the show, the mystery of the initial murder (faking her suicide, and then using that as an alibi to kill her husband) was "plain and boring". The more interesting part was later, when the "same ghost" came back to kill the husband in the manor estate. And that's the part that I thought best paralleled the Moriarty problem as well. In that case, the original wife really was dead, no getting around that. Instead it was merely somebody else using her infamy to commit their own crimes. And I felt that lead Holmes to the same conclusion in the present time... Moriarty really is dead, and there's no getting around that. So the real solution (though I don't believe it was actually spoken in the episode, but I presume will be addressed in the next one) is that as with the ghost, somebody else is merely attempting to capitalize on Moriarty's infamy by causing problems in his name.

Anyway, that was just my interpretation...

Marcus said...

Agree 100%, Chris. "Once the idea is created, it cannot be killed" or whatever Cucumberpatch said. Moriarty the man is dead, Moriarty the idea lives on...