Warning: this recap contains spoilers about the latest, newest episode of Sherlock. Don’t read it if you don’t want to know things!
It’s been a good long while since last we had the pleasure of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s Holmes and Watson to grace our screens. But in 2016, all of that changed with the return of the estimable deducing duo at the front of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s series, Sherlock. And with “The Abominable Bride,” a 90-minute movie almost-but-not Christmas special of a sort, we were given the poetry of the truth …just definitely not the resolution of it.
“The Abominable Bride” was many things all at once: a literal woman, a red herring, a one-off mystery that ultimately led us to an answer entirely separate from the original question asked. Starting us off squarely in Victorian, England—just like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original tales—the audience was at once sent on the trail of a truly audacious murder-premise: that of a murdering ghostwife, back from the dead after committing suicide to end her husband’s life. Masquerading as a standalone, one-off situation, it was later revealed that Holmes and Watson’s interest in this particular case was not at all the point, but rather Sherlock’s entryway into understanding the mystery at the end of season (or series, if you’re British) three: the return of Moriarty.
As far as a story goes for the episode, it was largely one of misdirection. This, more than anything, felt like a bridge between the last season and what is sure to follow suit when season four begins. But for Sherlock, heading to the Victorian era was necessary to find the answer, as there were several parallels between the long-unsolved case of Emelia Rickoletti (and the other ghost-purported murders that followed) and the supposed return of Moriarty we saw at the end of season three. As it turned out, Moriarty’s death was definite. Like, homeboy is super, undoubtedly dead. His image popping up all over London was nothing more than a means to trigger Sherlock, sending him into his drug-induced downward spiral for the truth. (And make him a real fun buddy to have around in the ol’ mind palace.) But as the revelation came to be known at the end of the episode, it was one that couldn’t be solved by looking at the clues in front of him. He had to dig deeper into his Victorian-decorated mind palace (since that’s when the tale of Emelia took place), hence our adventure at all.
As it turned out, Sherlock had been using a dangerous cocktail of drugs again—something he’s long done (though never featured in the Moffat/Gatiss version until now, really) to alleviate boredom and/or bore deeper into his own mind games to find an answer. Risky business, to say the least. After returning to modern day, the parallels were evident, with all of the players taking on roles on both sides (including a cross-dressing Molly Hooper, which was a fun bit o’ business to see). But where does that leave the modern-day crew now? By the end of the episode, Sherlock said he knew what “Moriarty” would do next—but with Moriarty dead, how could “he” do such a thing? Well, here’s where it gets a little bit more complicated.
(Needless to say, if you don’t want to speculate on things to come, just stop reading now.)
So we return to the mystery at the heart of the Rickoletti murder: it was not a dead bride, but rather a bunch of be-cloaked feminists (the horror, the horror!) who were doing the murderous business, exacting revenge on men who’ve done them wrong while the women wait so patiently—making tea, answering rung bells, off caterwauling with lady friends (ahem, Watson)—to be recognized and considered for the fully formed humans they really are. (It was all a bit on the nose and eye roll-inducing, to be perfectly honest. And probably could’ve used a female writer’s hand or two to make it less cringe-y.) Emelia made sure her impending death from consumption would be worth something, by creating a mystery to unnerve the husbands taking for granted their long-suffering wives. “Once the idea exists, it cannot be killed,” Sherlock even quipped at one point. Creating fable for equality? OK, sure.
But just as there were parallels to the Moriarty mystery, so too were they to other things happening in Sherlock’s real life. It should be noted that Mary Watson was a member of the suffragettes looking to get the right to vote. And, well, the host of abominable brides that took on Emelia Rickoletti’s mantle were a group Sherlock called part of a “war: One half of the human race after another.” (Which is basically what the suffragettes were trying to do.) Mary was tasked with keeping an eye on Sherlock by fattened up Victorian Mycroft. Mary, whose wits are so often under-considered by Sherlock at the men around her.
And it was modern-day Mycroft—who, mind you, we saw at the end of the episode in modern times collecting the scraps of a note (Sherlock’s list of drugs he ingested), near a page titled “Redbeard” (Sherlock’s childhood dog and a major part of the Magnussen storyline of last season)—that Mary was seen alongside, helping by giving us various facts and figures along the way. She also frequently called Mycroft the smarter brother, hinting that, perhaps, she is in on whatever Mycroft’s been setting up and planning. Which is to say: we’re fairly certain all of this is one big mindgame of Mycroft’s, perhaps tied to what went down with Redbeard oh-so many moons ago. Something about the way Sherlock referred to “he” after saying Moriarty was dead, leads us to believe he was talking about Mycroft and his desire to control his younger brother.
Of course there is also, too, the option of Irene Adler. Mentioned during the Victorian mind palace bits by Watson (because her picture was in Sherlock’s watch), the idea that she could, perhaps, be behind it all is also a plausible one. And, it would fit the in-mind and out-of-mind story parallels as well. Of course, these are all just theories for now. With any luck season four will be upon us sooner rather than later, to spin a new adventurous tale of Watson and Holmes for all of us to enjoy.
But what did you think of the special? Happy to see Moriarty return as a memory? Or mad that he’s actually, officially dead? Think Mycroft’s behind it all, or are you more of an Adler fan? Let us know in the comments below!
Image Credit: Masterpiece Mystery/BBC One
Alicia Lutes is the Managing Editor of The Nerdist. Find her on Twitter (@alicialutes) if you like speculation and absurdist statements.