Studying Sherlock: “The Abominable Bride”

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With franchises seeming to dominate the media at the moment, audiences can be split into two categories: the casual fan and the die-hard fan. The casual fan is someone who likes this particular franchise, may even own a few bits of merch, but ultimately it’s just something they enjoy. In slight contrast, the die-hard fan could be described as slightly obsessed with this particular thing. Those who love this franchise to great detail, know a lot about it and are urging to find out more, and are passionate about it. As geek culture franchises extend even more to the public eye, the number of casual fans increases. It’s not just your stereotypical nerds enjoying Marvel Comics and Tolkien anymore, it seems to be pretty much anyone.

This has probably left institutions with a hard task and has left to the creation of fan service. No, not that type of fan service, I’m referring to the little references and continuity nods which are very prominent in pop culture today. They’re not anything which will make or break the experience of the casual fan or even the die-hard, but it’s the sort of thing which will slightly enhance the experience of the die-hard fan, without making the casual fan feel isolated. The product does have to entertain all members of its audience, not doing so would fail its purpose. With a TV show, which tells its story through several different instalments, they can afford to have certain episodes which are primarily for the fandom. Episodes which may be based on old continuity or a moment from a few episodes. They should still be enjoyed by the casual fan, but they’re ones which do feel crafted with the diehard fan in mind. For Doctor Who, this episode would be The Magician’s Apprentice and for Sherlock, this episode is The Abominable Bride.

The Abominable Bride is probably an episode which could be enjoyed by someone who wasn’t too familiar with the series, there’s a solid story and good acting to keep everyone entertained. However, I do feel that it will be most enjoyed by those most familiar with both the show and Conan Doyle’s stories. It’s a fun and perfectly enjoyable script, but I don’t think I can physically get as much out of it as a lot of people, down to my Sherlock experience lasting two weeks, and my unfamiliarity with the original stories.

This story serves three main functions, each relating to a different part of the audience. The first function seems to be to tell a good murder mystery that everyone can enjoy. It’s definitely fair to say The Abominable Bride achieves this. While the idea that a dead woman committing a murder isn’t the most original one, this does execute the plot in an original way. It keeps you guessing throughout, and the resolution to the case is both clever and satisfying. It’s not the most interesting case the show has had, it doesn’t throw you like some of the others, but it fills its runtime effectively and allows for some great moments.

Of course, though, it is the character work which this episode thrives on and what’s most enjoyable about the story. It’s fun to see how everyone acts in their new time-period, how they’ve changed and what remains, and the new period allows for some very self-aware humour. I enjoyed the gags relating to Mrs Hudson in particular, how she only seems to deliver them tea and let people in the door. It’s reflective of the time period, but it also shows that Moffat and Gatiss have a sense of humour about the programme. It’s fun to see how John changes in particular. He’s still written as your everyday normal bloke, but of course, your everyday normal bloke was different in 1895 to it is in the present day. John’s now got very sexist values. He’s not misogynistic I don’t think, as I don’t think he means any malice or harm in his words, but he’s certainly a man of his times.

This brings me to my next point. I love the feminist side to this story and the message it gives. It works in both the historical context if my history is correct the suffragette movement was starting to begin and is important in modern day too. It’s one of those things which baffles me today, that there was a time where women weren’t even allowed a vote in this country, and yet it also baffles me there’s still a lot of sexism in the world today. The episode gave strong portrayals of both Molly and Mary, showing both of them are so important to this show and are strong characters that can get overlooked. I really enjoyed this element to the story.

This episode does seem to be for the fans, though, both of the show and the books. A lot of the enjoyment comes from seeing how these characters work in 1895 instead of 2014, meaning you have to know about these characters to fully get the humour surrounding the story. While I couldn’t call myself the biggest Sherlock fan ever, this is a series I have watched grow in a short space of time, so seeing this element to it does work for me. It’s also clever how it ties into the modern portrayal, building on the last episode well. The twist wasn’t shocking for me, knowing Moffat I presumed there had to be a reason that they were suddenly in 1895, but it was in character and interesting. It’s the references to the books which stumped me. As I have never really known much about Holmes before, with Sherlock being only my second (after the Robert Downey Jr film) and main experience with the character, the changes in the characters, bar the notable ones and what I knew of the history, didn’t do much for me. In some cases it baffled me, I had no idea why Mycroft had suddenly gained about 10 Stone for example. There was also other fanservice, such as the “Elementary my dear Watson” line which I fully understood, but didn’t do much for me.

Production wise, stellar as usual. One of my favourite elements of period pieces is the costume, and how everything looks, and it’s fair to say the team did a stellar job her. The music was nice, Douglas MacKinnon’s direction was excellent, and I can see this episode working well on the big screen. It did struggle with pacing a bit, I did get bored every now and again, but nothing too major.

As a side note, I love how the DVD comes with a colouring poster. Not the sort of thing you receive with many DVDs with 15 certificates. And on a completely different side note, Andrew Scott is welcome anytime. I adore Moriarty.

Overall: A fun, enjoyable, feminist piece with some great self-aware humour, but not my favourite of the lot so far.

8/10

Episode Ranking
1. The Reichenbach Fall
2. The Sign of Three
3. A Study in Pink
4. His Last Vow
5. The Great Game
6. A Scandal in Belgravia
7. The Hound of Baskerville
8. The Abominable Bride
9. The Blind Banker
10. The Empty Hearse

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