Guest post - Spoilers - Abominable Bride Review

Once again, my occasional collaborator Silke Ketelsen has some things to say. Read on....(Alistair).

BAM! After a year of hype-hyper-the hypest The Abominable Bride has finally hit our screens and.... well, nothing really, except trending on twitter (again), instigating a tumblr storm (again) and outselling Star Wars in Korea. Not a bad pay-off for a year's work, really. 

'You will like it even more than you think!' and 'It's even better than we can actually tell you!' and such were the things we were told by cast and crew. I started to become suspicious when they went on with, 'It's a Christmas special – except not really.' and 'It's a stand alone, but it furthers the plot.' Because how could it be a circle and a square? Finally, 'It will explain how Moriarty did it and whether he's really dead or not.' Because that was what we were really worried about since S3 aired, right? Only not.

But, let's start with the positive bits before I start foaming at the mouth, shall we?

I think it was rather beautifully executed. Not to the gold-standard that was, for me, Paul McGuigan, but definitely a giant step up from the ugliness that was TEH and the mediocrity of TsoT and HLV.

The translation of the Baker Street set was a work of genius (as we are wont to get from Arwel Wyn Jones) and the floating paper scene elevated the text on screen technique into artwork. Direction, camera, lighting, sets, costumes, hair and make-up and, of course, the acting were, for me, all worthy of the show called 'Sherlock'. I also especially liked the very last scene when the camera travels from the inside Victorian 221B to the outside modern Baker Street. Lovely!

Great sets.
Which now brings me to the part of the work that was – again – divisive, to say the least. Pure genius to some and overblown drivel to others, Moffat & Gatiss delivered a script that was both in equal measure and often at the same time.

They have stated in interviews that for them everything that went before – be it pastiche, adaptation or scholarly work – is part of the Sherlock Holmes canon. And hence we get references to all and sundry all over the place - which is part of the delight, if you like to figure out such things. Also they like to refence themselves. A lot. And therein lies the danger because that can get very tedious very quickly for anyone but the most ardent fans. And, when everything is a reference to something else it leaves little room for something substantial and new. What are you going to refence to in future episodes? Your own self-references?

A source of irritation?
As soon as the intro started I knew people expecting a pure Victorian episode would be disappointed. I, personally, was intrigued because I'm not really a fan of the Victorian adaptation (although I am guilty of wanting to see BC in period costume – little did I know that it would cost me the Cumbercurls). But the writers had had the weird and wonderful idea that their show needed an Inception-esque Frequency-invoking whose-dream-is-it-anyway one off (I hope) to once and for all allieviate our biggest fear: Is Moriarty still alive? Did no one ever tell them that for most fans Mary is the far greater source of irritation? When will we get rid of her?

So, Sherlock was actually present when Moriarty shot himself in the head. Likely the back of his skull was blown away as shown later when he pulled the same stunt at 221B in Sherlock's mind palace. He collapsed onto the floor, lying in a puddle of his own blood with bits of brain and bones floating in there. Yet, the airing of the Miss Me?-video, which could have been shot at any old time before M.'s death, convinces Sherlock that he has to make double sure that M. is really, really dead, deader, super-dead.

Which begs the question: how did he know about the video? He was already on the plane and en route to Eastern Europe when it aired. Did Mycroft tell him on the phone? But, I digress. Back to researching Moriarty's death.

The Abominable shot!
What better way to do that than to delve deep into one's mind palace and re-enact a case one has once read about which happened anno 1895 when a woman standing on a balcony above the street with two revolvers first went on a shooting spree and then seemingly shot herself in the mouth with one of them. Which are, of course, totally similar circumstances to someone standing right opposite you and shooting himself with a single gun.

No, one cannot just exhume Moriarty (as one does later with the abominable Emilia) and make sure his corpse is really stone cold dead, just in case he wasn't cremated – which would have been an excellent means of ensuring his super-deadness. Too pedestrian.

And no, one cannot just think (why can't people just THINK?!) very hard (poor lamb) about it and come to the conclusion that there really is no way of faking a shot in the mouth, witnessed by the world's one and only consulting detective, no less, and that most likely a pre-death recording was used by someone else. Or, if you insist on complicated, that M. might have had a double or even a twin. Because it's never twins (what about the triplet husbands in TSoT? Twins - no, but triplets – yes?).

One has to take a lot of drugs to delve deep into one's MP (which one never before seemed to have any trouble entering at a moment's notice) and investigate the terribly similar case of The Abominable Bride. Well, I think that's a really complicated and cumbersome method of doing detective work. Not to mention the risks to one's health. I know whom I'll not ask to search for my missing cat (he'll probably end up in old Egypt, consulting with Bastet).

During the course of that investigation we're treated to many beautiful, funny, dramatic, heart-rending scenes which all have one thing in common: no one knows exactly how to interpret them. Where dedicated Johnlockers (people who are convinced Sherlock and John will end up in a romantic relationship) see John Watson kicking Moriarty over the edge of the Reichenbach Fall as him getting rid of Sherlock's reluctance to enter such a relationship, others are convinced that 'I'm not gay!'Watson gives a homophobic heave-ho to homosexuality itself.

Wet isn't it?
Now I really like ambiguity - I do! - but one can overdo it, you know. When everything is ambivalent and nothing is ever as it seems – why should I care? About anything?

I really, really wish we could stop all this nonsense and get back to solving some crimes. How do you make a show about a detective (not a detective show) without solid cases? I'm so terribly fed up with the never ending discussion about SH's sexual orientation. I do not need to know! I don't care! He can fancy or not whomever he likes! There are more aspects to his character – and extremely interesting aspects, I should think – than his sexuality.

Lots of pointy hats...
The same holds true for the dramatic as well as ridiculous finale when Holmes discovers the 'Monstrous Regiment of Women' (King) in a desanctified church where they chant sinister invocations while wearing purple hoods invoking the KKK. What good does that do them? Has it any sense or meaning besides creating a reference to the first Sherlock Holmes movie? Is it clumsy social commentary? A riposte at those always taking Moffat to task for his perceived anti-feminism? Who cares. For me it's simply another cheap effect gone wrong.

However, Holmes discovers that Emilia Ricoletti's spectre has been used after her departure from this mortal coil to cover the murders of her sisters in scarlet and thus our Sherlock suddenly knows that Moriarty is dead as a door nail while his followers do the same with him. Geez. Not that anyone could have come up with that idea without a mind palace.

Now, in the real world (or is it? What about Mycroft's different ties?) everyone is quite worried about Sherlock's drug use (again) while he reassures them it was just for the case (again). I cannot help but feel that Mofftiss are now even referencing 'Elementary' which in light of everything what went on before seems to me a bit in bad taste. And while I have nothing whatsoever against drugs per se and can even accept Sherlock as a careful user, I'm a bit disappointed with too weak to function and drugged out of his mind Sherlock.

Because I personally like hero!Sherlock (even if he says they don't exist) who is always the cleverest man in the room (until Mycroft turns up) and who has no deep seated self-esteem problems, but feels quite at home in his own skin, and does surely not pine after John Watson or is even unable to function without him. Furthermore I like my Watsons doggedly loyal and supportive even when actually married to someone else.

Why does every hero need clay feet? Seriously, tell me that! Someone said elsewhere how delighted they were upon the first season of Sherlock hitting the screens to watch a protagonist without a disabling past – now Sherlock has personal ghosts that overshadow his every sunny day. Why? Is it really so much more interesting? Or does one simply have to follow the cliché?

Purportedly Moffat & Gatiss are big fans of Sherlock Holmes – how come they have to deconstruct him ever further? They have already robbed him of everything that made him unique – his intellect and his work, the very things that define him! - and made him into a mere shadow of his former formidable self. Why do that to someone you claim to love? Because you always kill the things you love (and don't my orchids know it)? But when Moffat tells us, cackling with glee, that Holmes wasn't only very clever, but quite mad, I have a premonition of a Dibdin-like spectre rising in the English fog and cannot help but shiver. Let's not go there, please.

Moffat and Gatiss are two vain men on a success trip whose super hype is now practically rolling alone and renders them more or less critic-proof so they won't stop anytime soon. Why should they? They're on the cusp of their respective careers and only diminishing viewer count numbers would make them reconsider. Which I guess is unlikely to happen anytime soon. What a shame.

Unless the Chinese step in. Much was made of TAB being shown in general release in China. And it is, of course, the most interesting future market. Everyone wants to sell to China these days. Well, it seems the Chinese were not so enamoured with TAB. According to Douban (a Chinese website with more than 53 million registered users that recommends potentially interesting books/movies/music to them in addition to serving as a social network and record keeper; also a good place to find ratings and reviews of books/movies/music) TAB is only rated a 7.4, after S1/S2 respectively achieving 9.3/9.5 and even S3 still an 8.8.

Help us, General Shan! You are our only hope.

Written by Silke Ketelsen


  1. Thank you, dear Alistair! That was fast! What do *you* think about it?

    1. Your review goes into a lot more depth than mine. My opinion was more instinctive and driven largely by my desire for the promised stand-alone Victorian episode. I still wish they'd done that. There are things to enjoy in ABOM but, overall, it misses the mark for me.

  2. This encapsulates and summarizes much of my own opinion about the episode, expressed much better than I ever could. In addition, the fact that there were showings in movie theatres for an admission charge shows their true colors. SHERLOCK is not a labour of love; it is a pathway to fame and wealth lined with the coins from pockets of young, decidedly not wealthy, fans. It is a magician's sleight of hand--here,look at this shiny thing with which I will do amazing tricks, but pay no mind to my other hand in your pocket. I have become very jaded and suspicious about anything said or done by Mofftiss; the talent of the actors, set designers, costumers, special effects team, and such, make for a pretty production, but at the heart of it are two cynics giddy with their own power.

    1. Well it is a commercial venture at the end of the day. It does need to make money. It can be that and a labour of love. I also don't think that Moffat and Gatiss are in any need of booming (guess the reference?). For me, my objection rests solely on the fact that they didn't deliver the stand-alone episode I wanted.

    2. Thank you for the compliment! I have nothing whatsoever against them making money off their work, as Alistair says above, it is a commercial undertaking, after all. I just wish we'd get our money's worth out of it - which I'm increasingly doubtful about. And I agree that I do get a somewhat cynical vibe of them, too.

  3. Good review. Although I recognize the good acting, writing, and production values of "Sherlock" in general, I've never liked the modern-version, since I don't like updated Holmes. (Keep him in the correct time period.) When this one, represented in numerous places as a stand-alone Victorian episode that would let us see Cumberbatch as the proper Holmes, went off the cliff with the modern-day tie-ins and drug hallucinations, I was unhappy, to say the least. (My more-vitriolic review can be found at Amazon: )

    1. I've read that only yesterday! Unlike you I do like the modern version better, but otherwise I agree.