Sherlock: “The Abominable Bride”
Caution: Spoilers ahead.
The newest Sherlock episode, “The Abominable Bride,” confuses its viewers, to say the least. There are time shifts and odd connections and lots of new facts that basically leave entire audience thinking, “What just happened?” Yet under all the confusion is a rare and cleverly written glimpse into the mind of Sherlock. This episode essentially lets the viewer enter Sherlock’s famous “mind palace” and discover what he truly thinks.
The issue that Sherlock is wrestling with for the majority of this episode is the same one that the fans have been theorizing about since the end of season three: “how is Moriarty back...?” Throughout the episode, however, it becomes apparent that Moriarty never really left. He was in Sherlock’s mind this entire time, baffling and taunting him throughout his other struggles and pain. At one of the climaxes in “The Abominable Bride,” located at mind-palace Reichenbach Falls, the truth comes out. Moriarty has not lost and Sherlock has not won. That dramatic scene on the roof did not finish the game, because Moriarty is more than a person. Moriarty is an idea and as such Sherlock cannot beat him. The only person that emerges the victor here is John Watson, who apparently has a much bigger role in defeating Moriarty than any viewer could predict—for it is John Watson’s loyal behavior that truly helps Sherlock defeat Moriarty at Reichenbach.
The role of women in society stands out as another strong theme in this episode. All the women in the lives of the main duo turn out to be much more important than they had originally been presented. These women are the “invisible enemy,” according to Mycroft. In the primary plot line of the episode, the women have risen up to fight the injustices done to them in a rather bloody way. All of the women that Sherlock and Watson have ignored and overlooked throughout the episodes turn out to be the most crucial contributors to the episode’s plot. The 19th century suffrage setting is subtly mirrored with Mary’s power in present day England. The “real-time” parts of the episode show Mary beating Mycroft at his own game and bypassing the security system of England’s secret service with ease. The case in Sherlock’s head traces his realization that he has been blindsided this whole time. Not only does he struggle with the issue of Moriarty’s return, but he is also still coming to terms with the fact that Mary’s role turned out to be larger than he ever imagined.
The biggest perspective shift for me did not come from the above epiphanies, but from the subtle change in Mycroft and Sherlock’s relationship. Throughout the first two episodes the perspective of the viewer is essentially the viewpoint of John. We see Sherlock as amazing, dramatic, slightly irritating, almost a hero, but not quite; while Mycroft is displayed as a bossy, interfering older brother. This portrayal starts to change in the finale of season three, but it becomes more apparent in this episode with the discovery of “the list.” Sherlock’s incredible trances and mind palaces, which John so greatly admires, are discovered in this episode to be at least partially due to drugs. Sherlock’s drug use has been transparent through the whole series, from the drug bust in the first episode to his retrieval from a drug den in series three, but they had never seemed like a serious problem before. Yet here is where Mycroft shocks with his caring assurance to Sherlock that his older brother always being there for him. All of a sudden, you see Sherlock as Mycroft sees him: a very well-meaning, but incredibly vulnerable little brother. He is not the hero; he is not an emotionless machine. He feels and he hurts and he depends on drugs to feel smarter, faster and stronger.
In terms of the plot of Sherlock, not much actually happened in this episode. The plane landed, Sherlock went in and out of an overdose-induced trance for a couple minutes, and then he got out of the plane and into a car. Yet the clues pertaining to the next season abound: Moriarty is dead, and yet never will be; the women are way more important than previously thought; and Sherlock is very fallible and vulnerable. The shifting of perspectives and subtle hints were masterfully woven together in this episode, adding much depth to both the story and its characters.