Weekly Forum #1


The BBC Sherlock Holmes Special “The Abominable Bride” aired on Jan 1st in the UK and the US and screenings of the episode will be at select theaters this week.

If you’ve seen the episode, what are your thoughts on it?

(Yes, the comments section will likely have spoilers.)

11 Replies to “Weekly Forum #1”

  1. On first viewing on small screen I wasn’t crazy about it–found it disjointed and odd. On second viewing in the theater I liked it much better. Yes it is silly in many ways but true to the nature of this program since the beginning. For what it is I liked it. I wish it had been a true canonical story very well done but that is not BBC Sherlock’s style. One of our Watsonians referred to it as “fanfic with a budget” and I think that is true. Accepting it on that definition makes me like it a lot. I thought the first hour was just wonderful even with the Diogenes nonsense and fat Mycroft.

    1. I had a similar experience.

      On my first viewing, I felt very disappointed. It reminded me how my high school writing class banned the use of alarm clocks in our prose stories because, as my teacher put it, “the it-was-all-a-dream trope negates the readers journey and let’s the writer be ridiculous. It is a lazy way to write a story.” (Though, now, I realize my teacher made such strict rules so that would not resort to using easy tropes without first learning the craft of writing.)

      So around the point where Mycroft says the “virus in the data” that I groaned aloud and thought “Oh it’s all going to be fake somehow…” And that soured me a bit for the latter half of the episode – but just a bit, because there were some genuinely fun stuff going on.

      By the end of my first viewing, if I were to rate it among all of the previous episodes, I’d set this story perhaps one notch above “The Blind Banker” (the lowest spot on my mental list. I still have so much I can grumble about when it comes to “The Blind Banker”… but I digress). It wasn’t terrible but… meh, disappointing.

      My second watching was a far different experience. I went to see it at my local theater tucked in a suburban neighborhood and, to my surprise, it was PACKED with fans. In fact, I had wished I could stand up and shout “Hey everyone, let’s go get drinks and talk about Sherlock Holmes all night!” but I bravely suppressed that impulse. The energy in the room was fantastic, nonetheless. Just about as exciting as when I went to go see Star Wars the week before.

      So with that energy buzzing throughout and my mind properly braced for the “it’s the mind palace” reveal… I ended up watching a very different episode than I did before. I enjoyed the Victorian and canonical elements, but it didn’t bother me that things were disjointed – in fact, it fascinated me because it was Sherlock’s mind interpreting the world this way: people using anachronistic turns of phrases (these were glitches in the Matrix, kinda), Watson being oh-so-slightly Nigel Bruce-ish until the reveal at the end that he’s a lot smarter than he’s ever given credit for, the way gender politics was brought up and confronted, the portrayal of an obese Mycroft in such a surreal manner that it felt like Alice speaking with the Caterpillar in Wonderland…

      After the second viewing, I had clearer idea of the intent of the episode and why it didn’t succeed in the areas I thought it would, but did succeed in the areas *they* wanted. I thought I would see the actors portray canonical Holmes and Watson and I thought the case of the bride would be the central point of the episode. I was wrong on both counts and that’s part of why I was disappointed with the first viewing.

      But as I watched it a second time, I remembered the previous episode of the series, the one where Sherlock was shot. I remember how Mycroft, Mary, and Moriarty play facets of his mind that he confronts and struggles with… but, from what I remember, John isn’t significantly present in the Mind Palace. If he was, he would be a stable force in Sherlock’s mind, something to make him more focused, more in control, a fixed point – the opposite of what the Moriarty in the Mind Palace does to Sherlock.

      So, from my impression, the significance of this episode was this: Sherlock retreating to his mind palace to confront the fear and trauma he experienced in the Reichenbach Fall and his years of exile. He does this because his fear of the *concept* of Moriarty is a weakness that will prevent him from taking the next step when he goes off to confront the real life danger facing Great Britain.

      And the result is that, once Sherlock plays the entire scenario out in his mind, he realizes that it is John Watson who saves him – that the concept of his friend (John) is the steadying force in his mind to counterbalance his fear and weakness (Moriarty).

      So now, waking up (post-OD? wow, man, go to a hospital!) he has a clear idea of what is going on – Andrew Scott’s Moriarty is dead, true, (he can accept that now) but there is someone using the concept of “Moriarty” to terrorize Britain and now Sherlock must find them.

      It also sets up things for the next season that I wonder will pay off. For example, I think that…

      – Mary may turn out to be Sherlock’s strongest ally or greatest enemy. Either way, she’s playing the Game and her next step is bound to be interesting. After all, a large theme in this episode spells out in large neon letters “Don’t Underestimate Women (Especially Mary)”

      – This next series may be the final one for Mycroft Holmes (alive, I mean – the Mycroft in Sherlock’s Mind Palace is always around). The way he acted towards Sherlock in the jet and that running bet about his life expectancy “2 years, 11 months…” is very foreboding.

      – There’s going to be more Victorian tricks in future episodes. I’m sure of it. If Sherlock retreats to his mind palace to solve a problem, he’ll likely call up Victorian Watson to get properly yelled at by the doctor.

      – I have a theory that if Sherlock finds out more information about James Moriarty, then he’ll find out that Moriarty perhaps really was Richard Book (the actor) previously… and that he was dying of something definite just as Emelia Ricoletti was dying from consumption. And if that’s the case, then wouldn’t Scott’s Moriarty (i.e. Richard Brook) throw himself into the role of the evil mastermind who kills himself in a dramatic fashion? He has nothing else to lose and, like Ricoletti, he could sacrifice himself as a martyr to create a concept that is far larger than himself. Though, if so… who or what would set him on that path?

      TL;DR: The first viewing was disappointing due to the weak “it’s not real” trope. The second viewing was much more interesting because I was properly braced for story format and I could appreciate what they were trying to do with the character instead of the plot. I’m curious with where they will go with the next set of episodes.

      1. Carla, I think you summed it up pretty well. I went into it expecting that the Victorian stuff was going to be a dream sequence/Mind Palace trip, so I was waiting for that reveal, which probably distracted me from some of the finer points of the story (I still haven’t watched it a second time). I’m still a little disappointed that, in real time, the plot has only advanced about 5 or 10 minutes from the end of His Last Vow, but considering that I was fully expecting the plot to not advance AT ALL, I guess this is better than nothing.

        I am a big proponent of the Mary-is-Sherlock’s-greatest-enemy theory. I think we will see her as the one who is using Moriarty to terrorize the UK (and Sherlock). Personally, I’d like to see her be a full-on villain, with no redemption – I mean, what a way to turn canon on its head! However, I fully expect that Moftiss will try to give her a redemption arc, even if she is the #1 villain of series 4, because Everybody Lives and Even Villains Have Hearts, but I guess we’ll have to wait until 2017 for that.

        1. Welcome to the JHWS, Garnet!

          The trick did work out in their favor – we weren’t expecting plot advancement, but they gave us 10 more minutes of plot and considerable character advancement for Sherlock, so that’s good.

          I feel either way has good potential, in Mary’s case. Perhaps she the one who drove a dying Richard Brooks to play his finest final role as Moriarty and die at Reichenbach. Perhaps she is one facet of a vast Moriarty conspiracy. Perhaps she works for the real puppet master.

          Perhaps she actually works for England (and perhaps Mycroft) as a double agent, convincing the villains that she’s close to Sherlock and John to relay intelligence to the evil network or puppetmaster to give them the illusion of control, when actually she’s grown to care for her 221B family, but the best way to stay close and protect them is to play the villain so she doesn’t get disposed of or replaced by the enemy. Complex, but rather ridiculous.

          All of this sounds rather silly from a sherlockian point of view, perhaps. But from the style that Gatiss and Moffatt approach BBC Sherlock, I don’t think it is particularly far fetched that they have rather weird ideas in mind. I’m curious to see what they will do next.

      2. Your comments about seeing it in a movie theater the second time and having your opinion changed is very interesting. Brad Keefauver had the same experience as reported in his blog. Perhaps that was part of Moffat and Gatiss’ plan, to air it once on TV and then for the fans to share a communal viewing knowing what to expect.

        On my second viewing, I still disliked it. By breaking the fourth wall, by having Cumberbatch know about the Doylean Canon, an impossibility in his universe, they changed the show from a 21st century exploration of the character of Sherlock Holmes into a single camera meta-comedy. I’m remind of “The Carol Burnett Show” where Tim Conway and Harvey Korman tried to get the other to break character during a skit. Gatiss and Moffat are Conway and Korman trying to get the other to crack-up in a fanboy knowledge duel and the audience in in on the joke. But logic and character are sacrificed in the laughter. Mycroft feeds Moriarty the personal information about Sherlock he needs to “burn” him, watches Sherlock being tortured in an Bulgarian prison, exiles him to an all-but-certain death, yet we’re supposed get teary-eyed about his concern over Sherlock’s drug use?

        BBC Sherlock is a world now where anything can happen because geekboy “Wouldn’t be cool if…” writing rules the day and if they paint themselves into a corner Moffat and Gatiss can just write in an off switch on the bomb and then wink at the audience and say “We’re all in the the joke, right?”

        Another note, I would recommend watching the TV show ‘Monk” (a show that has more in common with BBC Sherlock than characters based on Doyle) and Season 6, Episode 1 “Mr. Monk and His Biggest Fan” as a way to do meta-commentary on a TV show without breaking the fourth wall. Marci Maven (Sarah Silverman) is Monk’s biggest fan. She turns to Monk for help when her dog is accused of mauling a neighbor to death. Impossible because the dog died three day earlier. What a coincidence!

        1. “By breaking the fourth wall, by having Cumberbatch know about the Doylean Canon, an impossibility in his universe, they changed the show from a 21st century exploration of the character of Sherlock Holmes into a single camera meta-comedy.”

          Interesting. I did not get the impression that they are showing us “Cumberbatch” knowing about the Doylean Canon. I don’t quite understand what you mean. Please, could you elaborate, Pippin?

          1. On BBC Sherlock, the Doylean Canon does not exist. There was no Victorian Sherlock Holmes no John Watson writing in the Strand. Yes, from a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other, but he could not infer the particulars of the Niagara. He could not deduce the location, the actual name, the volume of water that goes over the fall in a given period, etc. Yet, Cumberbatch knows the particulars of the Canonical Holmes–one that never existed in his universe. Take this point, one ably brought up by Brad Keefauver: Cumberbatch may posit that a 21st century blog-posting Freeman be a Victorian writer, even a magazine, not novel, writer, but Watson (or ACD, if you prefer) invented the serialized character short story, Cumberbatch could not deduce that a Victorian Freeman would invent the serialized short story and that he would do it for The Strand. The Strand’s fame owes largely to the Holmes stories and if they didn’t exist in the 1890s, then it is highly doubtful it would be the household name it is today. Why not pick Cornhill, Cassell’s, Blackwood’s or most probably Boy’s Own Paper? How could Cumberbatch know the title of one of the Canonical stories–“The Blue Carbuncle”? I don’t believe that is one parodied in the Sherlock universe like “The Navel Treatment” or “The Speckled Blond”. There is no way that Cumberbatch could deduce or infer any of these or of the pastiches that followed the Canon–name-checking Laurie R. King’s book–or imaging the opening camera movements of the Granada series, all these thing are in Cumberbatch’s mind palace. Moffat and Gatiss are winking at the audience not through the world of the show but through Cumberbatch’s consciousness. Cumberbatch has to know these things to think them. If in the reality of the show these things are occurring for the first time, that’s fine, that where they would occur in this reality. But for the Victorian Holmes scenes to work, Cumberbatch has to be in on the joke with us, parodying specific Canonical elements that only exist in Doyle’s works but not in the BBC Sherlock world and since we’re in Cumberbatch’s head, he’d have to know them.

        2. “Mycroft feeds Moriarty the personal information about Sherlock he needs to “burn” him, watches Sherlock being tortured in an Bulgarian prison, exiles him to an all-but-certain death, yet we’re supposed get teary-eyed about his concern over Sherlock’s drug use?”

          I thought it was revealed in the Empty Hearse that feeding Moriarty information was a part of the plan that he and Sherlock had set up. I’m not going to make excuses for the Bulgarian prison – likely they were keeping up appearances so that they could make a sneaky escape, but that scene was over-the-top. As for exiling him to an all-but-certain death, I thought that perhaps Mycroft was buying 6 months time so that he could sort out things instead of letting the government reveal information on who killed Magnussen. Or that perhaps Mycroft was the one that broadcasted the Moriarty video just as Sherlock’s plane is scheduled for fly off – just so he could turn around to his opponents and say “Oh look at that, we need Sherlock now. Let’s call the whole thing off and bring him back, shall we?”

          Not that any of these are good reasons for his character, mind you. It’s just the sort of madness you have to adopt when delving into “geekboy” storytelling. Using fanfic logic to decipher fanfic characterizations.

          1. Many things were said in “The Empty hearse” But I think Anderson was right not to believe Sherlock explanation.

        3. It’s a little frustrating that the reply buttons disappear at a certain point. I think we need to consider a different comment method for the website…

          In any case, I think I understand what you’re trying to say, Pippin. When you say “Cumberbatch” you mean “the Sherlock Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch” correct? Otherwise, I’m a little confused, because the actors just set out to act the script, not dictate how the entire story should go.

          In that sense, yes, the BBC Sherlock version of Sherlock Holmes does give a direct nod and wink to the audience by constructing a Doylean world when he imagines himself in the Victorian era. I don’t think it frustrates me as it does you because I don’t feel that it is an act of the writers being condescending towards the viewers.

          Not to say they are not capable of being condescending, it’s just that I think they are larger geeks than you give them credit for: here they get to set Sherlock’s mind palace in the Victorian era and build a false construct where anything is possible… so why not be a complete geek and insert as many references as possible? Why set up an unrecognizable world when what they want to do is build the world they imagine from the canon?

          I think I can forgive it more simply because I see them being geeks, not trying to be overly clever. If I had a production company and a TV series based on Sherlock Holmes, it would be irresistible for me to do a Victorian episode.

          Should they have resisted? Depends on what kind of show they set out to make. But they’ve established early on in this show that they work on this so that they can indulge in their love of the Canon (with a very heavy dose of “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”). I’m not making excuses for their indulgences, but I can see where it is something some viewers accept and some reject.

          1. Yes, by saying “Cumberbatch” I’m trying to make clear I’m not referring to Doyle’s Holmes. The reason I’m harping on the fourth wall is this: If ABOM was set entirely in the Victorian era, it would be its own entity unconnected to the world of modern-day “Sherlock’. The showrunners can use any part or reference anything of the Canon or pastiches they like, even things not apart of the modern-day universe because it is its own thing. But by having ABOM being apart of the continuity of BBC Sherlock, it destroys the premise set in Series One, that Cumberbatch and Freeman are original entities in the 21st century, their own beings without preexisting constructs and any meta-commentary Moffat and Gatiss make are re-imaginings of the Canon. The showrunners and the audience are in on the joke but the characters are not,they are “real” beings (within their world) without any knowledge of Doyle’s characters. The showrunners MAy use and modify any part of the Canon or Sherlockian pastiche because in the modern-day universe it has never existed before. But because the Victorian world of Doyle’s Holmes is part of Cumberbatch’s mind palace–something he couldn’t possible know or deduce in his universe–Cumberbatch’s character is in on the joke with us. He ceases to be real in his universe and ours, the viewer’s, and becomes an actor in a comedy skit. Also, because the rest of the cast does not have that knowledge, they cease to be real in their universe because they don’t know they’re actors in the same skit. It’s bad storytelling. Imagine “The Office” or “Modern Family” where only one of the characters know they’re being filmed. When one of the characters speaks to the camera, the other characters would have to ask, “Who are you talking to?” By Cumberbatch knowing the Canon, thus knowing he’s in a retelling of Doyle’s stories, Freeman and the rest of the cast look like idiots not know they’re part of the joke. By the way, “Private Life” is set in 1887, yet Watson is publishing stories in a magazine that won’t exist for another four years.

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