THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE: a wispy, literary-hearted, visual treatise to the struggling Masculine and to everything Sherlock.
After the mildly disappointing Season 3 of Sherlock, Gatiss and Moffat come back to delight like never before. An hour long ode to the classic Sherlock of Victorian England, complete with visual jokes and references to our favourite stories and Doyle trivia like the Strand Magazine, the Blue Carbuncle, re-creations and references to the illustrator Paget (apparently fat Mycroft is one of those), the Abominable Bride has been put together exactly like the story it is trying to weave — chemical trips full of dreams-within-dreams with objects that come from all over the place. [Inception, stand aside.]
This special delights in such wholesomely satisfying ways that it is worthy of literary analysis — from the tempering of the language, to the characters, to the weaving in of the stories. Replete with platefuls of classic Sherlock-ness, including “It is never twins” because that’s such a boring answer, and “If inconvenient, come nonetheless”. There is a touch of the scientific-sounding here and there, as there must be of course — except, personally, “obliquity of the ecliptic” felt overused despite the phonetic joy as you say it aloud.
A script that is nothing short of Doyle’s story writing brilliance itself — this special expertly uses the staccato-skippity of the drug-trip as plot device to meld in multiple Sherlock cases from the 5 pips to the Musgrave Ritual while stopping by everyone’s favourites like Study in Scarlet, the Hounds of Baskerville and the Sign of Four. The brilliance comes into the clear when the Ku Klux Klan was used a secret society for the female uprising — Gatiss-Moffat couldn’t have employed the elements more topically.
But it is much more than a mystery of our favourite sleuths. It is an entire narrative and comment on the subject of feminism itself. We all know 2015 was the year when feminism exploded in western media — resurfaced to reclaim itself the right way around. And every major media/film property seeks to incorporate or tribute to this movement — from the Mad Max: Fury Road to the Youtube-fuelled female artists to Hollywood politics. But to bring feminism to the purely masculine world of Sherlock’s is a feat of literary, screen-writing and directing brilliance. Cocaine-addled trips take us to 1895 — when the Suffragette movement was gathering critical mass — and parallel it to today. All the subtle references starting from the introductory Mrs. Hudson scene were for the observant Sherlock disciples in us. The Sherlock Special was a tribute to the 2015 rebirth of feminist agency, a time-trip as a tribute to “the enemy by our elbows” and “an enemy we must certainly lose to because they are right and we are wrong”.
Mrs. Hudson who has “branched into literary criticism by means of satire.. A distressing trend in the modern landlady” — women authors with pseudonyms?;
Hooper for “the things a woman has to do in a man’s world”;
Mary outwitting the ‘husband’ who views him with amused kindness like most women do;
The ubiquity of patronising talk — “My Boswell is learning, how quickly they grow up”
To me, the unseating of the masculine-normative happened with the Diogenes Club as the ridiculous ‘elite man’s club’. Such excessive room for narcissism they enjoy that the intelligent ‘geniuses’ alleviate boredom by wagering on their own lives. For Sherlock, boredom has always been his biggest grouse, thus the Mycroft of the chemical-trip is bursting with it, pun intended both times. Not without satire of its own — especially when the Common Man Watson says the things he says — from believing in spectres to secret twins to the hilarity ensuing guesses at identifying the enemy:
“Socialists?? Anarchists?? The French! The Suffragists! The Scots!!”
Incredulous at hearing these words from Watson, the Victorian Sherlock of the Doyle-word is perfectly obnoxious and condescends the average tabloid-reading populace: “Watson is endlessly vigilant”.
At the same time it is this rational, masculine, obnoxious Holmes’s observation power that notices the women in the picture. Brilliant ‘features of interest’ who occupy their breast-lockets, are ‘of remarkably high-arches’ but aren’t ‘hysterics’, and the very telling “for Mary, always” — it is Holmes, driven by the power of reason devoid of bias, who manages to peek beyond the en-cultured misogyny of the day to see women. But it isn’t merely a romantic tribute, it is also a critique when Mrs. Hudson says “I don’t know why I keep making tea… I just sort of do” and it comments on how little distance has been travelled really, as 2015 Watson says “I’m taking Mary home” and she corrects him to “Mary is taking me home”.
This is the only rendition that has delved so entirely into the darker side of Holmes’s addiction and used it as the central plot device. Cocaine-addled trips give way to the most delightful way of channelling the Sherlock of the books — obnoxious, patronising, certain of himself to the point of megalomania. Sherlock is, and always has been, incorrigibly ‘masculine’. Thus the entirely masculine environment across all dream levels — his rooms; pipes, smoke and shadows; the Diogenes club; John-Lock at the hearth; dungeons as mortuaries; old palaces; and finally ending with the deepest layer — the cave next to a waterfall. This cavernous waterfall scene is the most brilliant yet of the entire film and hence, rightfully the climactic scene.
Why? Because it is Reichenbach, the Bat-cave and Plato’s allegory all collapsed into one! Reichenbach has been used as the visual catharsis of perception for Sherlock — thus Plato’s allegory of the Cave: which is essentially about play of perception — the internal world of self-perception against that of the world outside. That is where he faces his internal Moriarty — arch-nemesis and the grossest version of his self-projection, “I am your weakness, I kick you when you are down” — Holmes’s Bat-Cave where he goes to make sense of himself. The coming together of the philosopher, the man-made hero and fictitious Man at his Masculine Best-Worst. How this isn’t one of the best written examples of visual literature is beyond me. Modern reviewers are full of lazy reviews that do not bother to read the Abominable Bride for the text that it is.
If there is one rendition that does justice to the mood of the moment, while managing to weave in an entire gender narrative into the Sherlock text that’s painfully lacking, it is the Abominable Bride. And everyone must watch it, else we are all guilty of being eager-eyed Watsons “wandering around, taking notes and looking surprised”.