“Sherlock: The Abominable Bride” enters the Sherlock canon as a unique special. An intermediary between series three and the forthcoming series four, “The Abominable Bride” opts for a decidedly different take on the show. A time warping, beautifully rendered, and clever episode, “The Abominable Bride” proves why “Sherlock” rose to prominence as one of television’s greatest creations.
“The Abominable Bride” opens in much the same fashion as most Holmes stories: with a baffling mystery. This time, however, it’s set in 1890’s London, rather than modern day. Emilia Ricoletti (Natasha O’Keeffe) commits suicide on her wedding anniversary, seemingly (and inexplicably) returning from the dead. The ghost of Ricoletti then sets about a murderous rampage in England. Enter Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), and sidekick John Watson (Martin Freeman).
What makes this holiday special so delightful is its inventiveness, and the new perspective it offers. When “Sherlock” debuted in 2010, author Arthur Conan Doyle’s 19th century detective was whisked into modern day: the horse drawn carriage substituted for the black cab, telegrams for texting. A bold move, it worked miraculously, ushering in a new era in Holmesian adaptations. Despite his 19th century origins, audiences have grown accustomed to seeing a present day Sherlock. “The Abominable Bride” takes that dynamic and upends it completely, warping Sherlock back to his original time.
Further differentiating the 2016 “The Abominable Bride” from its predecessors is the focus on relationships, primarily that of Watson and Holmes. Past episodes concentrated on the crime, and the 2016 holiday special is no different, but there’s an onus on the portrayal of characters such as Watson, Lestrade (Rupert Graves), Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington), Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), and Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey). It’s a neat inclusion, particularly once a big reveal arrives part way through the show.
From relevant themes of Victorian English society to Holmesian lore and “Sherlock” references, the dialogue and narrative are delightfully intricate. Despite the 19th century setting, there are loads of throwbacks to past “Sherlock” episodes. Conan Doyle fans will recall a few neat tidbits thrown in, like five orange pips, liberal drug use, and of course, the iconic hat. Notably, the mind palace so influential in “His Last Vow,” makes a significant appearance. Cinematography is masterful, with stylish era and setting hopping which nonetheless blends seamlessly.
Yet what makes the Sherlock special such a gem isn’t simply the return to Holmes’ roots, innovative setting, or meta references. Rather, it’s the surprises and interconnectedness of the episode. Most major characters reprise similar roles to their current selves in “The Abominable Bride,” with a decidedly altered Molly, and a still dim-witted Anderson (Jonathan Aris). Mary plays a spy, not surprisingly. There’s a running theme of feminism, and concentration of the suffrage movement in England alongside women’s depictions in Holmes stories.
The most pleasantly shocking arrival is that of James Moriarty (Andrew Scott). Scott brings his cool charisma, and menacing calm, proving once again to haunt yet captivate our favorite consulting detective. “The Abominable Bride” isn’t merely a standalone Victorian-era romp, but rather incorporates the finale of “His Last Vow,” in what’s a simultaneously new mystery, and fascinating exploration of Sherlock’s investigative techniques. Rather than a more traditional route of rapid dialogue and flashbacks, Sherlock solves a present day case by travelling to the past.
Ultimately, “The Abominable Bride” serves as a bridge between “Sherlock” series’ three and four, while offering a glimpse into Holmes in his original era. The time jumps, gothic style, Holmes lore, and mind-bending narrative combine to form a tour de force that just might be the best “Sherlock” episode to date. Fittingly, despite one case being solved, the audience is left with burning questions that likely won’t be answered until early 2017.
“The Abominable Bride” hits select cinemas on Jan. 5 and 6. It will re-air on PBS on Jan. 10, 2016, and subsequently be available for streaming online beginning Jan. 11.