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Review: ‘Sherlock: The Abominable Bride’ Takes Cliches and Twists Them Into Genius

Review: 'Sherlock: The Abominable Bride' Takes Cliches and Twists Them Into Genius

History Repeating

It’s a genius concept – take those most modern of detecting duos, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and transport them to the 19th century. It’s a wonder no one ever thought of it before. But before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle starts rolling in his grave – always a tricky feat for someone who was buried standing up – this is not your average carriages and corsets period drama. And it certainly isn’t Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

To quote a certain nemesis – “Is this silly enough for you yet? Gothic enough, mad enough, even for you?”

READ MORE: ‘Sherlock’ Star Benedict Cumberbatch On the Sleuth’s Sexuality and How His Own Stock Has Increased

Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey

If one happened to be a reasonable expert in 1890s Britain, there are a number of inconsistencies at the beginning here that could be jarring, not least the inexplicably gloomy morgue lit by flickering gaslight – compare that to the nice, bright, clean(ish) morgue in fellow BBC stablemate Ripper Street and you wonder why Molly Hooper bothered with the fake mustache at all.

In fact, the whole thing feels like a sporadically enjoyable but generally irritating conceit – a real shame when Mark Gatiss gives such good historical telly. Oh yes, it’s shot beautifully, but the anchronisms are painful – does 1890s Mycroft really need to use the phrase “a virus in the data”? How did that not slip past the poor intern on historical accuracy duty?

And then Moriarty breaks into the even-more-fictional-than-normal Baker Street, unapologetically flirting with Sherlock at a time when that could get you imprisoned or worse, twirling Chekov’s gun like a music hall villain’s mustache and reminding us that the abominable bride’s death mimics his own in the “Sherlock” universe we all know. It’s not the Reichenbach Fall that will kill you.

That’s when the penny drops – or rather, when we realize that it’s been dropping just at the corner of our vision the entire episode. The “…and then he woke up and it was all a dream” twist is maligned for a reason, but if it takes talent to make a good cliché work, making a bad one brilliant is Holmes-level genius.

The explanation is that Sherlock was in his mind palace trying to unravel Moriarty’s apparent return, but in order to get there he had taken a dangerous cocktail of drugs and read up on an unsolved Victorian murder. We’ve all been there. The rest of the episode shuttles back and forth at a vertiginous pace between present day and the Victorian era, and who’s to say how real even the present day is? This isn’t a cheap cop-out, it’s seeing Sherlock’s mental disintegration from the inside, in all its confusing, non-linear glory.

Miss Me?

Moriarty’s queerness, never subtle to begin with, is undeniable at this point. He’s been in Sherlock’s bed, he shows up dressed as a bride, he says the one thing everyone is thinking when he tells Sherlock and Watson to elope. He even straddles Sherlock and kicks him about in a scene painfully reminiscent of Irene Adler. And it’s all in Sherlock’s mind. This isn’t Moriarty telling Sherlock that he’s his weakness – this is the great detective telling himself that.

Moriarty is the virus in the data, the thing that corrupts Sherlock’s mind palace – that corrupts Sherlock himself – and the thing about viruses is that they want to replicate. They want to make more of themselves.  Moriarty is Sherlock’s shadow self, the Hyde to his Jekyll. Moriarty is every impulse Sherlock has never given into, he is Sherlock’s shadow self, the Hyde to his Jekyll, so of course Sherlock jumps, of course he follows Moriarty into the abyss – it’s not that he can’t be without him, it’s that he doesn’t want to.

Quoteable Sherlock

“There’s a woman in my sitting room. Is it intentional?”

“Give her some lines or she’s perfectly capable of starving us.”

“What do you think about MI5’s security?” “I think it would be a good idea.”

“I’m a storyteller, I know when I’m in one.”

This episode will be derided as Steven Moffat trying too hard to outwit the viewer and twisting what should be a perfectly simple whodunit into a plot device of labyrinth complexity. But the secret is that it isn’t that clever and it doesn’t completely make sense, because it’s not supposed to. Moffat and Gatiss just filmed 90 minutes of the internal monologue of a tortured queer genius drug addict off his tits on coke, wrapped it up in a gothic mystery, and then gave it to us as a late Christmas present.

“Contains upsetting scenes” warned the BBC website. They didn’t even come close.

Grade: A++

READ MORE: The Brains Behind ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Doctor Who’ Have ‘No Idea’ Why the World Loves Their British Shows

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Julian Hebbrecht

I completely agree with Kaite Welsh. The Abominable Bride was a complete mess and a waste of time and money. What was the BBC thinking!!


Okay, at first it sounds as if this reviewer didn’t get that the "virus in the data" was intentionally anachronistic. But if you read on, she does say "That’s when the penny drops – or rather, when we realize that it’s been dropping just at the corner of our vision the entire episode."


Wait you do not actually believe it was poor writing?
These men are geniuses. Jesus fucking Christ.


Anthony, I think you should have kept reading…

Kate H

Sherlock is a series written by someone who thinks he’s a genius and watched by people who believe him, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

S J Rao

Hi … this quote "What do you think about MI5’s security?" "I think it would be a good idea," looks like a take on this quote … "Interviewer: Mr. Gandhi, what do you think about Western civilization?
Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea."

And in addition to the ‘virus in the data’ there is another one on ‘hard disk’ uttered by the 19th c. Mycroft …


It’s all in Sherlocks mind… so why the anachronisms again? Sherlock makes mistakes? Why the ku klux feminists? Is that what he thinks of women? Why the Hudson bit of her not getting lines? And bare in mind she didn’t have any other lines after that.
They started with one idea then crowbarred it to have a reason. And the dialogue? Wouldn’t it be great if Moffat could write a conversation, instead people speaking statements at one another. A special? Not very.


Thank you for being the only reviewer who gets it! Honestly, you can’t understand BBC Sherlock without it being queer, let alone this episode, which is all about it!

Bonnie Keck

"Is this silly enough for you yet? Gothic enough, mad enough, even for you?", your quote, so obviously someone as bright as sherlock would know without having to ‘spoil’ it for the slower viewers that he was in his mind palace, hallucination, dreaming, whatever. You are also talking about the 2 main men responsible for the tele show about an alien in a police box that travels in time and space, so what is your point; reality is what one allows oneself to believe it is.


What a load of hogwash! Just as it begins to come together, some clever clogs decides to put one over on the viewers. It’s as if he/she deliberately wanted to stick 2 fingers up to the public while sniggering that we’ve all been had.Sherlock Holmes is a Victorian ‘detective’. Enough of the Train Spotting c**p!

Greg Lindenberg

I thoroughly enjoyed the episode–I was happily surprised by the connection to the modern setting after hearing repeatedly in that it was a standalone episode (nice misdirection, Moffat!). It was the best possible way to connect the past and present without jumping the shark (although I kept expecting to see the TARDIS pop up). I also loved the many homages to Sidney Paget’s Strand illustrations, and the canonically hefty Mycroft. And as a Nicholas Meyer fan, my ears certain pricked up at the mention of the "Viennese alienist" aka Sigmund Freud.

Lora M

Funny that this female reviewer doesn’t even comment about the "solution" to the Victorian mystery: the rebellion of the disenfranchised women. Also, check second paragraph under Miss Me? for repetitions.

Gay Specking

This just didn’t work as Moffat tried to be too clever. Jumping back and forth between periods was too confusing and disrupted the Victorian story which lost it’s strength. In the end it told us nothing.


Actually this was a terrible episode, from a writerly standpoint. Why do people put this show on a pedestal and excuse it when it commits one writing sin after another? It was not "brilliant" — anyone can write an "it was all a dream…a terrible, terrible dream" scenario to explain ANYTHING. This episode didn’t even do us the courtesy of putting any kind of twist on it – it was all just flat-out in Sherlock’s Mind Palace, so hey, kids, anything goes! Sloppy and facile. And oh God, the scene where Sherlock explains feminism to a room full of silent, staring feminists? Ok, switch out the suffragettes with a roomful of, say, Black people, and have your insufferable white male hero pacing the room and explaining the Black experience to his companions and the audience. That’s how vile and offensive that scene was. I’ve actually seen some fans calling this a "feminist" episode. Far from it. It was yet another patronizing, misogynist fable from Moffat. This show is also far too self-referential and self-congratulatory – "ooh, look how clever we are" – when most people in the general audience were probably dazed and confused by this wildly weirdo outing. It made ME want to take drugs.

David Cane

"queerness" ….Who was the reviewer, Enid Blyton? . As to the programme it was ott tedium.


Anthony and Leah, y’all managed to miss the point entirely. The reviewer obviously knows that that line was intentionally anachronistic, or else she wouldn’t have gone on to write "that’s when the penny drops…" etc etc. Don’t be unnecessarily antagonistic when everyone here is actually in agreement, c’mon.

Mark Gatiss

The writers should understand that the shows successis bexause of the likely lead actors who are some of the bedt in the world quote frankly as well as an outstanding supporting cast, A straight forword whodunnit os all you need with an outstanding actors cast as "Sherlock" has, But the writers or in
InParticular one writer thinks viewers tune in just to be mesmerized by how clever the writer is. The bottomline is Ge story can do without Steve moffets humour and misdirection every other scrne as fans are correct when they say ""Great episode except toomuch Moffet Fatigue"


Everything is enjoyable from the beggining until tou start to sense the VIRUS Steve Moffets injection into the storytelling as the Actors were doing such a great job wihout the need of exxagerated colour by Moffet who once again gets carried away on trying to get his feeling of euphoria from fans like a drug fix being told how clever he is Moffet just gets too carried away and makes tgibk unnessarily confusing and tiring. This was a great episode except for the moffet fatigue

Clark S

Well looks like some commenters completely missed the joke of this review… Great episode, I know people who will deride this because they value plot over everything. But masterpieces like this that leave you wondering "what was that all about" are why I watch TV.


Too bloody silly. Nonsensical. Gave up went to bed after 30 minutes. Maybe I should have given it longer but I’d lost interest.


"does 1890s Mycroft really need to use the phrase “a virus in the data”? How did that not slip past the poor intern on historical accuracy duty?"
Aaaand you lost me. On to the rest of the review I guess, but my head’s already out of it and not getting back into it.

Steve J

Enjoyed the references to other Sherlock Holmes pastiches: Nicholas Meyer’s "Seven Percent Solution," Laurie King’s "Monstrous Regiment of Women." Very enjoyable to see the switch from 19th to 21st century settings, but do not enjoy the character or actor of Moriarty in this series.


Wildly wacky, bordering on silly, brilliant and totally mesmerizing. What a great New Year’s gift, my fave show on TV. I thought Moriarty would glibly and enviously say, "Get a room, ladies!" Thanks for the early review!


You do realize the "virus in the data" remark was intentionally anachronistic, right? Which is why it occurred in a scene where both brothers were slipping anachronisms (crime-scene, your life in a nutshell, etc) into their speech and then glibly noting, "where do you get these expressions?" as a dramatic device to reveal that the story was taking place in modern Sherlock’s head before the reveal, right? How did that slip past your poor editor on even-remotely-following-the-story duty?

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