NOTE: the following review contains spoilers.
If those fiends at Hartswood who produce Sherlock are good at one thing it’s polarising their fans.
Part of the problem, I think, is everyone has their own version of what the show is, and their own expectation of what it ought to be. As a result, every episode results in some fans rejoicing and others decrying, often over exactly the same elements.
The most recent episode The Abominable Bride was no exception.
The Venn diagram of fans’ reactions would make for fascinating, if confusing, reading. The comments on IMDb, social media sites, and various responses to the many reviews run a little like this:
I loved the special! Brilliant writing, directing, acting…
I hated the special! What were they thinking?
They should have kept it in the Victorian era.
They should have kept it entirely modern.
It should have been completely self-contained with no connection to the modern-day series.
It should have been entirely in the modern setting and kept out of the Victorian.
Well, you get the drift.
One of the things I love about Sherlock (out of a very long list) is how layered it is. The best episodes stand up to repeated viewings and little consensus among fans. That is its strength. How often in modern TV do you find that sort of complexity?
I love that we debate and analyse and discuss. I love all the nuances. I even love the arguments, at least up to the point when they descend into abuse and name-calling.
As to the special, I loved it. There were stand out moments such as Watson asking the newsvendor how The Blue Carbuncle was selling. Mrs Hudson’s, “I’m your landlady, not a plot device!” Unexpected faces from the past, dazzling dialogue, sumptuous costumes, Benedict Cumberbatch in full Victorian mode. Most of the time.
As always, the aforementioned mister Cumberbatch, along with his pals, Mr Freeman, Scott, Gatiss and Graves plus Misses Brealey, Stubbs and Abbington served up the cream of acting talent. The direction by Douglas McKinnon was up there with that of the fabulous Paul McGuigan.
I loved that the story shifted the point of view from Watson’s to Sherlock’s. This is what it’s like inside his funny old brain. OK, so Sherlock doesn’t know much about the history of the women’s movement, but don’t forget, this is a man who doesn’t know how the solar system works, or, if the Reichenback scene is any indication, Galileo’s observations on gravity. Sherlock is, however, aware of injustice and recognises that it cannot be allowed to stand.
Once you realise that you’ve entered his mind dungeon (as some wag called it), you can accept that reality has been torqued. Sherlock is spinning.
Watch the episode a second time and you notice things you may have missed the first time around. The small hints right from the start that we’re not really in 1895. The way the room starts shaking just about the time the plane is landing (a little turbulence?) Mycroft asking Sherlock about a list and Sherlock replying, “I need to finish…” Is he saying he needs to finish the list, or his life?
Speaking of that list, why would Sherlock have made one if he didn’t think he was coming back to Mycroft? Hmm…
Then there’s Mycroft. What are we to make of his comment, “I was there for you before, and I’ll be there for you again”? Not to mention his literally betting his life as corpulent Mycroft. What conclusions do we draw? Consider this: Moriarty is definitely dead. Who else could have spammed the world with that “Did you miss me?” message? Who had the means, the motive, and the opportunity? Who would have risked his career, his freedom, even his life to save his little brother?
Then again, maybe there are other explanations.
These are the questions that make the series so much fun to watch.
Sherlock isn’t casual television. You cannot turn it on and chat to your pals or post on the internet while it’s on, not if you hope to follow the plot. Did I mention how tricksy those creators and writers are?
It’s not everyone’s cup of English Breakfast tea, I know, but it’s definitely mine. Someone pass me the buttered scones.