I don’t know what or how to feel. My mind has a million emotions spinning through it, analyzing dozens (perhaps hundreds) of scenarios of reasoning and want, running the gamut from scorn to pity to disdain and confusing. I’ve been feeling this way for about two hours now and am hoping it will subside soon, but cannot be certain of anything right now. For you see, I have watched just Sherlock: The Abominable Bride and it left me shattered and broken.
When I first heard that Moffat and Gatiss were doing a special episode of the hit BBC series set in Victorian times, I was excited and intrigued. While I was wondering how it would fit into the overall story arc of the show, I was mainly interested in seeing how the episode would “shake things up” so to speak. Martin Freeman felt much the same way. In an interview with Gatiss he said that he was excited because it was change, something new. Ben, on the other hand, was really happy to be able to cut his hair.
This is why I feel so disappointed… confused… angry… and have a zillion questions about why Moffat decided to go this route. What was the point? Did it add anything to the plot? Did it help explain anything? Of course it didn’t.
I enjoy meta-fiction, it’s one of my favourite types of storytelling. Several people have done it well: Oscar Wilde, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Coupland, Tom Robbins, etc. Sadly, Steven Moffat will not get to add his name to that list. While the episode was definitely meta and self-referential – especially the first part with Mrs. Hudson and Mary discussing their marginalized roles – it was for the wrong reasons. It was blatantly self-indulgent. Not only that, but it was self-indulgent about its self-indulgence and seemed to be perfectly content in that regard; it was almost revelling in it.
Even more than that however, was the misogyny and xenophobia rampant throughout the episode, especially on the part of John. After Mycroft – who for some bizarre reason was turned into a self-aggrandizing glutton – informs them of a mass enemy that cannot be seen, John casually lists women, the French, Scots, among other stereotypes, as possible suspects. That is not the modern day John Watson we know and love.
Then there was the issue of how Moffat approached the female characters in the series. With the exception of Mary (and possibly Mrs. Hudson), all the women of Sherlock – past and present – seemed to be cast aside and left in a pit wondering if Moffat really is the woman-hating, culturally-appropriating person all the fans say he is. But none angered me more than Molly. Rather, what Moffat did to Molly. Molly, the female character who, in my opinion, stands the best chance of being a strong kick-ass woman and every bit Sherlock’s equal was turned into a man. Yes, once again Moffat seemed to conform to the gender narrative that was present at time the episode was set and thought it was inappropriate to have a female doctor leading the case. On an intellectual and historical level I understand his point, but the show seemed to openly acknowledge the fact that they were perfectly comfortable in masquerading their lead female character as a man. And for no other reason than to simply include Louise Brealey in the episode.
But perhaps my biggest gripe was the fact was the entire episode and even the characters themselves – at least the Victorian versions of them – seemed to view women’s suffrage as a negative thing. Now, I don’t for second believe that Moffat actually thinks that women shouldn’t have the right to vote, nor do I feel that Moffat believes that Sherlock believes that women don’t deserve to express their democratic right, so why go with that angle? What is even more annoying is that at the (anti) climatic scene, many of the women who have been portrayed as nemeses of Sherlock – the Irene Adlers of the World – are presented as pleading their case. Seems a weird way for Moffat to address the criticism that women need a more developed role in the series. (Especially Molly, please just give me more Louise Brealey. She’s so good).
Even after all this mind-boggling mind-palace game of drunken chess, the self-indulgence did not end there. Why would it? Of course the one who had to be the most self-indulgent in the end was Sherlock himself. We’ve seen him play games to prove a point before, but this is just ridiculous. Here he wasn’t doing it advance the plot, toy with the real criminal or have a bit of fun with John & co., he seemed to do so strictly for himself and because he could. Even his revelation about Moriarty seemed dull. What fan actually thought that Andrew Scott wasn’t going to come back? Scott is too good and Moriarty too popular – and too important in the canon – to have him disappear completely.
Perhaps Moffat was being self-indulgent through Sherlock, trying to inform us that he is intellectually superior among nerds yet all he does is bask in his hypocritical pretentiousness. And given that this episode is supposed to be told from Sherlock’s, rather than John’s point of view, that makes me wonder what Moffat really thinks of his title character. Does he view Sherlock as a misanthropic, snobbish prick, or is that a creative projection of himself? Either way, Moffat has some explaining to do.
But my experience wasn’t all negative. It was a pleasure to see Tim McInnerny pop up in another heavy fandom show and I thought his performance as the tragic Eustace Carmichael had just the right amount of poise and nuance and was a highlight for me acting wise. The scene at Reichenbach Falls between Scott and Cumberbatch was great for both its acting and the way its cinematic beauty. The build-up and dramatic tension was spot on. So there was that.
Overall however, my mind is still a flurry (and fury) of processes. 2017 can’t get here soon enough