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"my 'Handy Guide to the Turf'" [SHOS]


Now that we have that out of the way, let's postmortem "The Abominable Bride," the New Year's special episode of the BBC's Sherlock that takes Bandersnatch and Baggins to the milieu of the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. After a rapid-fire, greatest-hits reel of the series to date, the calendar rolls backward and it's off to the 19th century we go, to the first meeting of John H. Watson and Sherlock Holmes…

…and to our first subtle indication, perhaps, that something is amiss. In a subterranean dissecting room, Watson meets Holmes, who is busily beating the dead with a stick and already wearing a gold sovereign as a watch fob. But of course, Irene Adler gives him that sovereign – he can't have it yet, not at the first meeting with Watson. The time is out of joint. (#Hamlet)

We flash forward, presumably to 1895. Watson has a dapper mustache, and his stories are appearing in The Strand magazine. The flat at 221B is Canonically lovely, and there the duo are visited by John's wife, Mary, who is in search of her absentee adventurer of a husband. (We soon discover that Mary is an adventurer in her own right, working as an operative for Mycroft.) We get another hint of jiggery-pokery afoot from the following lines:

HOLMES: Sometimes to solve a case one must first solve another.
WATSON: Oh, you have a case then?
HOLMES: An old one. Very old. I shall have to go deep.
WATSON: Deep into what?
HOLMES: Myself.

But then the filmmakers blind us by throwing Lestrade's mutton-chops in our eyes. In light of later developments, surely it must have been Future Holmes who was speaking.  Soon comes another red flag, when the subject of Lestrade's visit, Emelia Ricoletti, says, "You or me," then seemingly shoots herself, a reflection of Jim Moriarty's, "You're me. You're me!" just before he shoots himself (or does he?) in "The Reichenbach Fall." Mrs. Ricoletti is a spry corpse, however, and, several hours later, she drops a double load of buckshot on her husband.

Off we then go to the morgue, where Anderson is as big a dolt as ever and Molly Hooper is passing for male to get a fair chance at available opportunities. Comparisons to Charley Parkhurst aside, we learn that this ruse has failed to deceive Watson, who is maintaining a most egalitarian silence about it, a silence sharply contrasted by the manner in which he vents his spleen at his house maid in the next scene, another indication that something is amiss. Though she is dead, the Abominable Bride's crimes continue; Holmes chalks the depradations up to copycats, and we move to Act Two.

Our heroes visit the Diogenes Club, where a flurry of meta-clues awaits. First, the letters on the brass plaque – "THE DIOGENES CLUB" – rearrange themselves into an anagram – "ABSOLUTE SILENCE." The anagram is balderdash – one cannot derive ABSOLUTE SILENCE from THE DIOGENES CLUB. (One can, however, get SILENCE BE THOU G-D or BEN CLUE GHOST DIE.) Then, inside the club, the boys do a bit of sign lingo with Wilder, a liveried footman played by Tim Barlow (the Russian count from the Granada/Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episode "The Resident Patient"), something happens about a potato and a fishmonger (#Hamlet), and, finally, we meet Mycroft Holmes in perhaps twice his Canonical glory. So much bizarrerie in so short a time must be meant to set our alarm bells jangling. Mycroft announces that he is sending a client to Baker Street, one Lady Carmichael, whose case involves "enemies who threaten our way of life" but who are right, and who must, therefore, win; more than this, he cagily refuses to say.

At 221B, Lady Carmichael describes the plight of her husband, whose life is threatened by the delivery of orange pips at their Wellesian formal breakfast and the appearance of a spectral bride in their creepy backyard maze. Her patronizing, belittling husband, Sir Eustace, is played by the always-terrific Tim McInnerny, another Granada veteran (he was Vincent Spaulding/John Clay in "The Red-Headed League").

Carefully reconstructing Sidney Paget, Holmes and Watson are soon on the train bound for stately Carmichael Manor. After a stakeout, and the obligatory (for BBC Sherlock) Watsonian attempt to draw Holmes into a conversation about his sexuality, a la Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, a phantom veiled woman rises from the grounds and moves toward the house. The image is reminiscent of the opening scene of Hammer's The Vampire Lovers, wherein a shrouded female vampire rises in spectral form amid the tombstones, under the watchful eye of slayer Douglas Wilmer, himself a great Sherlock Holmes.

After a bit of the old smoke-and-mirrors, the ghost escapes and the blackguard husband is no more, an ornate dagger buried in his heart. Tied to its hilt is an especially telling clue – a note reading, "Miss me?" –  that has appeared in the brief few moments when Holmes was away from the corpse.  Curiouser and curiouser becomes the plot, and suddenly the note appears in the flipper-like hand of Mycroft back at the Diogenes Club, where another peculiar conversation transpires, this time capped by Mycroft's anachronistic reference to Moriarty as "the virus in the data." By now, we are surely aware that all is not as it seems.

In Baker Street, Holmes awaits the arrival of Moriarty by mentally picking floating bits of paper out of the air while physically sitting on the floor in Jeremy Brett's meditating Buddha pose. ("If you're going to steal…", runs the old stage adage.) Never one to disappoint for long, Moriarty soon arrives, but the center cannot hold. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the suicide of Mrs. Ricoletti becomes that other puzzle it so closely resembled: the death and stubborn persistence of Jim Moriarty in the 21st century. Right there in 221B, Moriarty blows his own brains out but goes on talking. (A metaphor for Andrew Scott's performance?) As Holmes grills Moriarty about his ability to survive, Moriarty says it's not the fall that kills you, it's the landing.


A jet airplane lands and we're back at the end of series three, where it appears that the entire episode up to now has been a drug-extended sojourn in Sherlock's mind palace as he continues to puzzle over the Moriarty Question.

Slender Mycroft, Clean-Shaven John, and Liberated Mary come jouncing onto the plane, giving Curly Sherlock a rude awakening in their eagerness to discuss Moriarty's posthumous invasion of British television. As Sherlock explains the parallels between the Ricoletti case and that of Moriarty,  he is upbraided for his "controlled" drug use by Mycroft and John. Modern John's rebukes morph into those of Victorian John as Sherlock conks out again and returns to 221B.  Whooosh! Back to the past we go…

Vintage Watson berates Classic Holmes for using a seven-per-cent solution of cocaine and crashing on the sitting room floor, and the spat evolves into meta-commentary on Watson's "idiot stories" and people's need for Sherlock Holmes as a hero. The repartee is cut short by a telegram indicating Mary is in danger, and the duo rush off in answer to her summons.

Having "made inquiries" of her own (we are never shown what sort or why they were so quickly effective), Mary has tracked the conspirators responsible for the Bride's crimes to the vaults beneath a defunct church. There, a meeting is convening for a group of robed and hooded figures, a secret gathering of pseudo-cardinals, as women symbolically usurp the garb of yet another enclave whose doors are closed against them: the priesthood. Some fans were irate upon viewing this scene, as they felt the story's radical suffragettes were being depicted as the Ku Klux Klan – not a group known to hang out openly in churches (except when fire-bombing them), much less to chant Latin masses; furthermore, the color scheme was all wrong. In any event, surely this interpretation misses the theme of cross-dressing-as-power-grab that runs throughout the episode: Dr. Hooper as male morgue chief; women as claven of priests; Mary as trousered action hero; Moriarty as unstoppable female ghost.

Holmes interrupts the meeting with a sharp rap on a convenient gong, then gives the obligatory explanation of the who-how-and-why behind the Abominable Bride conspiracy: a group of radical feminists, a "League of Furies," has formed, one which will stick at nothing to avenge itself on the men who have ignored, patronized, disregarded, deceived, betrayed, and disparaged them, not even allowing them so much as the right to vote. Mary, herself a suffragette, seems quite put out by the tactics of this particular group, but – alas! – she is allowed no lines on the subject (score one more for male power). Just as Holmes prepares to unmask the brains behind the Bride – Lady Carmichael herself – we experience another fracture of the continuum: under the Bride's veil is Jim Moriarty, just in time to remind Sherlock (and us) that this whole business is not real; Sherlock is imagining it all while in the depths of a drug-induced hallucination. "Be serious," Moriarty admonishes the detective. "Costumes? The gong? Speaking as a criminal mastermind, we don't really have gongs… or special outfits." And we go back to the future…

Once returned to the present day, we find Future Sherlock had passed out on the plane again, but is now awake and keen to disinter Emelia Ricoletti. Before one can say, "That seems pointless," we're off to the boneyard for a barrage of dialogue at Mach 1:

JOHN: How is this relevant?
SHERLOCK: I need to know I was right, then I'll be sure.
MARY: You mean how Moriarty did it?
JOHN: But none of that really happened; it was in your head.
SHERLOCK: My investigation was the fantasy. The crime happened exactly as I explained.
MARY: The stone was erected by a group of her friends.
JOHN: I don't know what you think you'll find here.
SHERLOCK: I need to try!
DIED DECEMBER 18      89

No one can convince Obsessed Future Sherlock that discovering a second body in Mrs. Ricoletti's grave doesn't prove or disprove his theory of how she (briefly) survived her own suicide. So it's dig, dig, dig, and – sure enough – only one moldering carcass is unearthed. When Sherlock leaps, #Hamlet-like, into the open grave and claws around for a second body (not in the coffin, but under it), the aforementioned icky corpse starts talking, then tumbles on top of him.

Surprise! Modern Sherlock hasn't really been awake this time; he's in the same unconscious fantasy he entered since he conked out on the plane and found himself lying on the floor at 221B, with Watson reading him the sobriety act. "The graveyard visit of our team/ Was but a dream within a dream." (Apologies to Edgar Allan Poe.)

Now we jump back to the 1800s, where Inverness Holmes is on the ledge above the Reichenbach Falls, an exceptional set, seamlessly combining foreground practical elements with background digiscapes; bravo, Arwel Wyn Jones and team! The traditional Rumble at the Reichenbach ensues, but this time Moriarty is winning, until he is interrupted by the not-so-traditional arrival of Dr. Watson and his trusty service revolver. "That's not fair; there's two of you!" Moriarty grouses, an odd utterance from one never previously concerned with fair play. Moriarty, it seems, dishes out a gang-up ("Three bullets, three riflemen") much better than he takes one. The good doctor boots the bad professor over the brink with the implication that this scene plays out over and over. ("It was my turn," he says.) Waxy Watson asks Brilliantine Holmes how he will wake up from this story, to which the other replies by preparing to dive off the falls.

WATSON: Are you sure?
HOLMES: Between you and me, John, I always survive a fall.
WATSON: But how?
HOLMES: Elementary, my dear Watson.

And we plunge back to the present day, where, after a touching brotherly exchange on the airplane, Mycroft puts the list of drugs Sherlock has taken into his pocket notebook, wherein we glimpse some Cryptic Notes. The next moment, we are on the tarmac, and Sherlock informs us:

SHERLOCK: Moriarty is dead, no question. But more importantly, I know exactly what he's going to do next.

The familiar theme music swells and surely this is the e—ooops, no, here we go back to 1895 again…

Watson and Holmes discuss the case in the sitting room in Baker Street, noodling over titles and the public treatment of the story. Watson expresses skepticism at the future world Holmes imagined while under the influence of his seven-per-cent solution ("I think you may have increased the dosage"). This final scene is a treat, despite one or two flubs (the Persian slipper is never properly affixed to the mantelpiece, and Waistcoat Watson demurs at the idea of "these… 'telephones'…", despite their appearing in the Canon as early as The Sign of Four), but these are quibbles. The scene fulfills the classic outline of the typical Sherlock Holmes story: we return to Baker Street for the post-investigation wrap-up over pipes and glasses, and this time the discussion is one of whether the famous pair could fit into a world of the 21st century.

HOLMES: I know I would be very much at home in such a world.
WATSON: Ha! Don't think I would be.
HOLMES: I beg to differ.

As Holmes looks down upon Baker Street, the camera pulls back through the window, revealing contemporary London, double-decker buses and an armada of automobiles passing the window of the Victorian sitting room, leaving us to wonder if it was, in fact, Heritage Holmes who was doing the imagining all along, and if Future Sherlock was the fantasy, one final bit of flummery for the audience to chew on.

But perhaps something more, for not only has BBC Sherlock demonstrated to global acclaim that our heroes would indeed be very much at home in such a world, re-making them as Holmes and Watson 2.0, but it has now recognized a long-evident fact as well: Holmes and Watson 1.0 are also very much at home in the 21st century world, whose electric cars and wireless communications can hurtle past the well-remembered door without ever rendering the famous pair one iota the less entertaining, compelling, or thrilling. They belong in our world in either form and in both forms: "Re-Imagined" and "As-Imagined."

Thankfully, we won't have to choose between them.