Sherlock and the Abominable Bride: The Game is Afoot and the Story’s on the Nose

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First of all, I wish to clarify that while I was once a very, very big fan of BBC’s Sherlock, I no longer am. Not only was I getting rather sick of the racist and sexist undertones, and flat out pissed off at the ableist overtones, narratively speaking the third season was the equivalent of the big, bad, King of the Jungle lion spending his days licking his asshole (which is a fact of nature but still, nonetheless, a disappointment.) Because of this I was not exactly excited for the Sherlock holiday special, but I harboured enough interest in the 19th Century setting that I managed to watch it, in some ways I was impressed, in others I was less than surprised and found myself thinking about the lion analogy.

In saying all this, I might as well start with what I liked about the episode. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the use of filming techniques, particularly where they placed Holmes’ living room into the setting of Lestrade’s story about the bride.

I felt the use of camera movement, as well as the visual aspect of them being physically immersed in Lestrade’s story was done really well, and things like this are what BBC Sherlock is really good at doing – when it’s doing good. This is the same with the use of text on screen. One of the things BBC Sherlock does unlike any other, is employ text to read out text messages and the like – something not many others can say they’ve done successfully. As it turns out, this also works with things like telegrams, proof that taking a model made in the 19th Century, twisting it to fit the 21st Century, and then twisting it again back into the 19th Century, is not necessarily an impossible feat, and I have to say I was rather impressed.

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I also really liked the rather on-the-nose fourth-wall acknowledgement in the episode. Moffat et al are clearly fully aware of the lack of spotlight for their female characters – or at the very least fully aware of the audiences awareness of this – and this was easy to see in the ways Mrs Hudson and Mary both made commentary on their own characters in the story. I found Mrs Hudson’s commentary on her lack of commentary in the narrative refreshing, and Mary’s commentary on her lack of involvement/necessity to the storyline much needed. Unfortunately, my excitement was short lived, because although the writers made these characters aware of the flaws in their writing, it soon become apparent that that was all they were going to do. I’m sorry, but simply nodding towards your flaws and acknowledging that you see them, is not quite the same as actually doing something to fix them.

As you can probably tell we’ve already moved on from the things I liked about the episode…

On the topic of women’s roles in the episode, and the greater BBC Sherlock universe, it is clear that Moffat et al are attempting some sort of change in, perhaps the audiences attitude towards sexism in the show? But certainly not the shows attitude towards sexism. I mean, first of all, the entire suffragette storyline was clunky and forced. Even from it’s first mention (Mary, seemingly random and out of the blue comment “I’m part of a campaign you know – votes for women.”) the whole narrative seemed like it was thrown in after the script had already been written. None of it seemed all that thought through, and it felt a bit like an attempt to appease those damned dirty, liberal hippie SJW’s. But even then it fell far short of that. The suffragette’s are literally seen in KKK hoods! What on earth was Moffat thinking? What on earth was anyone, on set or off, actually thinking when they let that happen? Insane. Utterly insane. The whole story just came off as a meninist who feels like the angry feminists are ruining his show but also his main demographic.

Another problem, in terms of representation, is something I see in almost every piece of work Moffat gets his hands on. Moffat’s heroes tend to take on certain traits of autism, such as the occasional (or in Sherlock’s case, the not so occasional) misunderstanding of social cues. Instead of using this to perhaps, create storylines for autism spectrum disorder audiences to relate to, or even improve representation, instead Moffat uses this to distance his heroes from the rest of the characters in an attempt to make the hero seem “abnormal”. Occasionally this is to make the hero look even more genius, but other times it is used to isolate the hero and make him dislikable to the audience. Either way, it’s really starting to get on my nerves, and it is a poor substitute for real representation of ASD. It’s offensive, it’s lazy, and it is unfortunately something that so many of the audience is enjoying.

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This is much the same for Sherlock’s technical alignment with asexuality, but narrative rejection of anything other than heterosexuality. Although it should be obvious to the audience, and definitely to someone categorised as a genius detective, that he is asexual, Moffat and almost every other past and present depiction of Sherlock Holmes continues to force down our throats the idea that he is a heterosexual manly man who only refuses sexual and romantic relationships because they “distract him.”

In saying this, I am no expert on those topics, and if you are truly interested in a proper discussion on them I would have to direct you elsewhere. Instead I’ll simply segway back into what I know best (or at least better) – TV and film.

Something I’ve heard many viewers complain about is the premise for the episode. Why on earth are they back in 19th Century England? And why would a mind palace work in that way? In some ways, I absolutely agree. Initially, I simply found the premise too obvious. I found myself hearing Sherlock mutter “. . .back of the head blown clean off. How could he survive?” and all I could think was “dammit. Of course this is all about Moriarty. Of course we can’t just have a fun, cracky episode set in the 19th Century because why not?” I understand it was because the writers needed a way to link this episode back to the main narrative of the last season and the future one, but I felt it was unnecessary. I’m a huge fan of cracky episodes, and in the end I was rather disappointed that this could hardly be categorised as one, and even then, after all that, they managed to not even solve Moriarty’s case. The entire hour and a half was just a teaser, an annoying teaser that need not have strayed towards the main narrative at all to be exciting, different, and captivating.

In the end, had it have been simple a crack holiday special where Watson and Holmes and all the characters found themselves in the 19th Century I would’ve been happy. I understand that because this show doesn’t involve itself with the supernatural or extraterrestrial that it may be hard to wrap your head around, but really, it was such a great idea but once the narrative began to move away from 19th Century England and back into the whole Moriarty conspiracy in the 21st Century I felt the success of the episode fall apart. It was no longer spooky, or different, or special, it was simply another narrative where we spent an hour inside Sherlock’s great, otherworldly, amazing, genius mind, and much like the rest of the characters in his mind, we simply had to sit there and let it all happen around us, with seemingly no reason behind any of it other than for the levels of Sherlock’s mind palace to circle jerk. Probably with Moffat.
TL;DR: Moffat is still a sexist, racist, abliest pig, but hey, he’s trying not to look like one ok guys? So can you filthy ess-jay-double-yewz stop like, bullying him?? Please?

Author: Manic Pixie Film Girl

Graduated with a film and politics degree. Business owner and social media manager by day, fangirl by night.

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