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Category Archives: tv mystery

Sherlock: “The Lying Detective” Review **SPOILERS**

Sherlock: “The Lying Detective” Review **SPOILERS**

I had acknowledged in my review of “The Six Thatchers” that Mary’s death could be good for Sherlock in the sense that Holmes and Watson’s relationship could once again become the focal point. It’s a shared character arc with a relevant history; one that we, as fans, have greatly appreciated since the moment they took on their first case together. Considering the separate instabilities of both gentlemen (Holmes and his drug problem, Watson and the loss of his beloved wife), it’s only appropriate that the show hone in on their woes, and “The Lying Detective” does that with impeccable craftsmanship.

There were many defining moments in “The Lying Detective” that convinced me of Sherlock‘s return to glory, but those mean nothing without the episode’s mesmerizing first thirty minutes. The way Sherlock mentally undresses the state of his latest client, “Faith”, and then quickly becomes keen of her suicidal disposition is wonderfully presented with the visual of his heroin usage hindering his thinking process. The casual stroll down the streets of London is book-ended with a pair of fantastic scenes where Sherlock continues to peel off more underlying factors in his client’s life while she acknowledges his growing empathy for her. Sherlock visually deciphering the dimensions of her apartment in-between all that is a marvel for the eyes to behold, especially when considering the heightened presence his drugs have started to take. The twist at the conclusion of this act, with Mrs. Hudson apprehending Mr. Holmes and interrupting Watson’s therapy session, brings every element the episode initially touches on together. From this point on, I was virtually at the edge of my seat in a way Sherlock hasn’t demanded in quite some time.

For pretty much the entirety of this week’s episode, everything seemed to just…click. Even if you took out the discovery that “Faith” the client was actually Sherlock’s secret sister, Eurus, I’d still love the way she quietly encouraged Sherlock’s explicit curiosities and suppositions. Seeing Sherlock both remain on the Mount Olympus of deductive reasoning and establish his genuine care for her well-being, even in his relatively unstable state, was remarkably effective. Ditto for Holmes’s elaborate scheme revolved around Watson, which would have been pretty darn enthralling even without the exposition of Mary’s “Miss Me?” DVD. His uncanny ability to both surmise Culverton Smith as a serial killer and manufacture a proud display of media-crazed contempt against him perfectly aligns with the fractured condition of his friendship to John.

The brilliance in this specific series of events was hiding in plain sight, but Sherlock makes it work in cohesive bliss by playing off of tired tropes. Toby Jones’s gradual descent into revolting maliciousness makes it far too easy to bet on Smith’s wicked turn against Sherlock at the end – yet that’s the point all along. Holmes drags John up, down and around Culverton’s hospital to milk every ounce of festering vile the foul-toothed gentlemen possesses, knowing that his immense wealth and social stature will retract all of the detective’s hostile accusations. Watson is little more than a witness to the increasingly intense animosity between Holmes and Smith, yet that’s exactly what Sherlock wants.

 

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The drug-infused disposition coupled with the publicized baffling Sherlock generally experiences during this sequence is the perfect fuel for John’s eventual lashing out, and the show gets there at the height of his anger. The residual effects of watching Culverton do stuff like proudly advocate a discussion about serial killers in front of innocent, young children still lingers with Watson. However, the moment where he punches his longtime partner in the face is produced from an exclusive outlet of emotions; this couldn’t be more personal. Here, Watson truly realizes what it’s like to be in a position to make a difference, and decides to act on that impulse. Mary is dead in part because he didn’t do enough to protect her, but Sherlock – regardless of his efforts – shares some of that responsibility, yet here he stands wasting his genius and making a mockery of himself. For Sherlock, that feeling, that perception, is the expectation of weeks’ worth of planning; for John, that’s the reality. (Side note: Having re-watched this episode, it’s really impressive how layered [and how much more enjoyable the second time around] Sherlock’s plan is.)

Mary’s overall involvement in all of this is very polarizing, but I can’t help but be amongst the minority who are neither pleased nor bothered by her hallucinogenic appearance. I kinda see what Sherlock was after by giving Watson a voice in his head that he could see, but this is such an overused technique that it became frustrating to have at all. Personally, I don’t think Mary was around long enough to be a convincing figure in this light, and I felt that both the therapy sessions and the reluctant team-up with Holmes carried enough emotional ties to Watson’s plight; there’s not much else we could’ve possibly gotten from seeing him mentally wrestle with a ghost. This is a complaint that’s pretty much cancelled out, however, by Watson’s reveal that he merely cheated on Mary by simply texting the girl on the bus, and that he is prepared to be the man Mary “thought he was”; a gripping little instance that hits home thanks to Martin Freeman’s touching delivery.

That and Benedict Cumberbatch’s predictably brilliant performance headline an extraordinary tabling of acting in “The Lying Detective” that elevates the rest of the episode’s shifting plates. Sian Brooke faces no easy task as the secret Holmes sister, but she champions the role with a gravitating, deceptively commanding approach to the script. Whether she’s parading around glaring vulnerabilities to Sherlock as Faith, or slowly taking over an innocent-turned-tense therapy session right before Watson’s eyes, Brooke quickly leads us to determine that Eurus is quite the compelling individual.  The aforementioned Toby Jones comes off a bit stale at first, but once the script grants him more flexibility later on he absolutely takes off with the character’s malevolence. We even got Una Stubbs stepping out of the Baker Street residence and into an Aston Martin(!), showing us a more refined side to Mrs. Hudson (“You’re not my first smackhead, Sherlock Holmes!”) and flaunting that endearing chemistry she’s always shared with the main cast.

 

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Few episodes in this entire series could top the highs displayed here, and part of that has to do with the excellent way it closes out. Sherlock and Watson’s hug not only resurfaces their relationship back on solid ground, but gives it an added depth: by seeing the worst in each other, they’ve emerged more enlightened than they once were, and are more emotionally entangled. To snatch that away so suddenly with Eurus murdering Watson would be a stretch – even for a show of this caliber – but I love the volatility behind the cliffhanger. We have to question the note and the tiny living space in which it presided, as well as the former lover Eurus once had – all of which could factor in the season finale in a huge way. There’s an open-endedness to those final seconds that should have many heads spinning, because if nothing else Eurus could be synonymous with far more variables than we could imagine.

 

 

Here are a few extra notes I’d like to cover before I conclude:

 

  • “And you know why they dropped you, dear? Because they know you.”
  • The scene where Smallwood leaves her private number with Mycroft is obviously an invitation for something more than a few drinks, but I can’t help but think that there’s a deeper intention at play. I have terrible memory with secondary characters, and I haven’t seen “His Last Vow” since the night it originally aired, so I have very little to tack on my suspicions – but surely this potential fling Smallwood is pursuing is for non-intimate reasons, right??
  • I’m still bothered by the severe lack of supervision over Sherlock on Myrcroft’s part. At one point, he says that Sherlock going rogue is a legitimate security concern, yet his little brother is roaming the streets high off of heroin with a roommate who supplies him behind closed doors. I get that Sherlock purposefully used as a part of his grand scheme, but I would think big brother would be on top of keeping him clean above all else.
  • Mrs. Hudson reaches unforeseen levels of badassery this week, and it really doesn’t stop with the car. The way she effortlessly figured out where Sherlock laid out his latest “unsolved problem” was just awesome, and she even had a chance to embarrass Mycroft (“He has no idea what an idiot you are!”)
  • Watson now knows that Irene Adler is still alive, and the first thing he tells Sherlock to do is text her back. This was a proud moment for me, seeing as how John uses the tragedy of his own marriage to give his close friend solid insight. He wants what’s best for Sherlock, and realizes that he may be missing out on the kind of special relationship he had just lost with Mary. If Sherlock could also have that, John would rather he did; stubbornly brushing it aside with occasional texts seems insulting to Watson.

 

 

The Verdict:

 

Sherlock came back in full form this week, placing its attention back on its central dynamic in a dark, riveting ninety minutes of expertly-written entertainment. The use of this week’s latest bad guy lent to the growing conflict between Holmes and Watson in the best possible way, while the eventual resolve was met with a brilliant character reveal and a (potentially) devastating cliffhanger. “The Lying Detective” still consists of a few ill-advised decisions, but I can’t remember the last time I watched Sherlock and was as immersed in what was currently unfolding and excited for what’s to come afterward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9

+ Toby Jones as Culverton Smith

+ Sherlock’s grand scheme to get Watson to his boiling point

+ Faith, and then that Eurus reveal!

+ Basically every scene with Mrs. Hudson

– While not a terrible idea, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ghost Mary

– Would like to see Mycroft watch over Sherlock more intently, drugs or no drugs

 

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Sherlock: “The Six Thatchers” Review **SPOILERS**

Sherlock: “The Six Thatchers” Review **SPOILERS**

 

I’ll get right to it here: I did not really like “The Six Thatchers” or the big death at the conclusion of the episode. It’s not that it wasn’t thrilling or mysterious enough, or that it was covering non-compelling material; I was just simply frustrated, confused, and rather bored with everything that was going on.

Sherlock‘s been around for about six years now, spending most of its time on the air establishing its main character and the personal relationships he shares – often to remarkably impressive degree. But here, in an attempt to shift the narrative stylings in the form of a “Skyfall meets Cowboy Bebop” conundrum of spy hijinks and secondary emotional ties, the show follows its newfound ambitions all over the world (and quite literally here, I might add) but leaves its heart somewhere at the conclusion of season three’s “His Last Vow”.

The biggest slip up amongst all of this was the decision to put John on the sidelines, and put Mary at the center of the main plot. By fast-cutting through Mary’s pregnancy, we practically lose out on the underpinnings of her relationship to Watson (why she refers this safer lifestyle, how far her love for him stretches out, etc.) and give way to a montage of self-indulging comedy that, while funny, undercuts the potential emotional weight that the new baby could’ve had. Baby Watson exists in “The Six Thatchers” for no other reason than to be cute and assume the responsibility of irritating Sherlock  for once. Moreover, this new shift in dynamic convinces Mary to brush back her new family when one of her old “A.G.R.A.” squadmates resurfaces and seeks revenge. Although the flashbacks do a serviceable job of acquainting us with Mary’s past, it’s one lacking of interest and any defining bit of substance. Once  the episode ended, I couldn’t help but think of how inconsequential Ajay’s drive would have been had Sherlock decided to leave the missing Thatcher statue alone and just focused on solving the bland murdering that led him into Mary’s mess in the first place.

And yes, I say this having acknowledged the role that Mycroft’s deceitful secretary wound up playing: another plot point in “The Six Thatchers” that falls terribly flat. Her grand reveal comes without suspense, doesn’t expose enough interesting information about either A.G.R.A. or the “Ammo” acronym that’s whispered across the episode’s running time, and leads to the fatal shooting and killing of Mary conveniently right before Watson shows up to the scene.

Speaking of Watson, he spends a good portion of the episode simply reacting to what’s going on without playing an integral enough role. He begins to pursue a puzzling affair with a lady he meets on a train, but that boils down to little more than another mystery for the show to tackle later on. (Side Note: why John neglected to dish this out to Mary after discovering her ties to A.G.R.A. is beyond me.) Elsewhere, he’s either noticeably distanced from Sherlock’s detective work, or the last person of importance to stumble upon the big reveals. It’s too convenient to have him project his anger at Sherlock, having arrived to the Aquarium moments after Mary leaps in front of his partner and takes a bullet for him; Sherlock’s vow to protect John’s wife may be broken, but it’s not his fault that Mary sacrificed herself. Had the episode spent more time with John acclimating himself with childbirth and the effects his marriage may have been having with his investigative partnership, I’d actually care quite a bit more about Mary’s passing and how it may drag him down going forward. Unfortunately, his woeful hatred over Sherlock is splashed on us in the blink of an eye, and a central dynamic developed over years of solid writing becomes shifted in utter contrivance.

The only thing that truly worked in “The Six Thatchers” was Sherlock himself, but even his own personal arc is mishandled. I appreciated the valiant effort he took to look after John’s wife in the advancements of keeping his vow, and Sherlock’s newfound empathy resonated all throughout the show’s cast of characters. Compared to the arrogant brainchild that commanded the screen in Sherlock’s pilot episode, this version of the famed detective speaks volumes of the level of maturity he’s collected since he first teamed up with Watson.

Unfortunately, the rest of what makes Mr. Holmes so fascinating – his incessant obsession with Moriarty, the drug influences that were hinted at last season and in the Victorian-era special – either takes a curious backseat, or is used in an ill-advised attempt to further Mary’s plight in the episode. I wish there was a deeper element in play that surfaced from Mary’s death – even if it didn’t directly consist of an impending return for Moriarty – but there isn’t, and even when the show briefly focuses on Sherlock’s psychological standing, it glosses over it and covers his tracks. Why exactly does Mycroft find it fair to ignore the fact that his brother killed a man in cold blood and nip the whole Magnussen affair in the bud? What kind of approach will he or someone else take in ensuring that Sherlock’s not actually losing his mind? I don’t know myself, and the show makes no attempt at acknowledging it here. Absolutely ridiculous.

 

 

The Verdict:

“The Six Thatchers” is a mess of an episode that fails to succeed in a shifted narrative. By ditching the more investigative aspects of the series, we are denied of the key elements that make the show so great, while being treated to an avalanche of flashbacks and exposition that hardly resonate on any level. Yet even on its worst day, Sherlock manages to be passively entertaining. Benedict Cumberbatch and the rest of this amazing cast do splendid work as always, and there are a few visual sights to behold in “The Six Thatchers” (specifically Sherlock’s one-on-one fisticuffs with Ajay) that keep the whole thing from becoming a total loss. Mary’s death also suggests that both the Holmes-Watson dynamic may once again become the center of attention, and that Holmes’s obsession with (posthumous?) Moriarty may finally lead to something worth waiting three whole years for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 6

+ Sherlock’s determined efforts to protect Mary shown true character growth

+ Some fun moments, including that crazy fight scene between Sherlock and Ajay

– Watson’s severely underused, and his emotional ties to Sherlock and Mary are barely explored

– Focus on Mary’s past generally uninteresting

– (Very) weak reveal at the end

– Events from “His Last Vow” are glossed over like nothing

 

 

 

 

 

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Bloodline: “Part 14” Review **SPOILERS**

Bloodline: “Part 14” Review **SPOILERS**

I like to believe that we, as human beings, all have skeletons hiding in our closets. Big or small, these secrets are more or less present, festering in the dark reaches of our nexus while we hide them externally with smiles on our faces and an eagerness for what the future holds. I also like to believe that we try to do what we can to permanently wipe those concealed memories away, even if doing so is merely impossible considering the moral or emotional impact they carry. Reform is usually the general response, and we can change any aspect of our lives and feel as though we’ve been baptized again. Nevertheless, it’s only a matter of time before that particular life-changing moment lingers restlessly all over again, and our psyche regresses into a whirlwind of volatile human actions and human emotions.

This philosophy is the vehicle that vigorously drives Bloodline, a surprise hit spawned a year ago from the Netflix powers that be. In it’s freshman campaign, it delivered surprisingly by the power of the slow burn, introducing a much-respected family and using flashbacks and the peelings of a still-unsolved incident to slowly but surely strip away their integrity. The big payoff at the end was the death of the series’s original ring leader, a disturbing figure of collateral circumstance portrayed perfectly by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn. Not only was his character at the crux of everything this show represented and has built up to, but the death of Danny Rayburn sent cerebral shock waves to the groundwork laid in Season Two (at least so far it has). Luckily, the show subsequently established the rest of the Rayburn family as an essential ingredient to whatever level of success it may experience on the horizon, with Glenn and Todd A. Kessler creating a realistic, dynamic cast of fictional relatives who become more nuanced and interesting the more we learn about them.

I’m sure some of us (myself included) have become a bit unfamiliar with Bloodline‘s work, and the good news about that is Season Two’s premiere is never afraid to put its best elements to use. “Part 14” is a thorough demonstration of sharp, multi-faceted writing, fantastic acting, and an ever-increasing allure of drama and mystery.

Those still reeling from the lack of Mendelsohn as a series regular need not fret, as the premiere episode does a great job keeping him involved in the central storyline – even if it’s mostly spiritual. Some of the episode’s finest moments predictably occur when Danny’s presence is both seen and felt, as we got a chance to witness what truly happened at the motel he and Eric stayed in before his death, and were treated to another, more haunting flashback of a cassette tape recording he made just for Wane Lowry (which, you know, winds up becoming the exact type or recording the non-deceased Rayburns don’t need right now). Aesthetically, both scenes are treated to the same suspenseful music cues and progressions the first season excelled at, while using said audio tricks to sort of create a vibe fit just for Danny himself. In other words, it’s similar to when a Stark is on-screen in Game of Thrones and “Winterfell” starts playing in the background.

Even when he’s just being mentioned or referred to, the episode relies on its central characters to remind us how prodigious Danny was – and still is. This is where the writing, direction and script of “Part 14” truly get to shine. First of all: What a pleasure it is to have the Rayburns back! Seeing Kyle Chandler blatantly revert to passive-aggressiveness as John, Linda Cardellini mask her troubles in tall glasses of wine as Meg, and Norbert Leo Rutz make a considerably grand, coke-induced ass of himself in front of a trusted friend/detective as Kevin all make me wish the wait for this series’s return was not as long as it turned out.

 

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Even better is how each sibling and their encounters with fresh or familiar faces vary in relation to their take on handling Danny’s death. Finding out that John’s in the running for Town Sheriff parallel to the volatility of his investigation into Lowry’s organization screams of “How in the world will he handle all of this knowing he killed his own brother in cold blood?”, and the episode takes ample opportunity to address that without rubbing it in our faces. John’s dodging potential outcomes and suggestions from Marco, lying straight to Sally’s face (with her knowing that he’s lying straight to her face) and leading highly-encouraged police searches into Lowry’s home – all while holding onto this facial contortion that’s got uncertainty written all over it. Elsewhere, he’s simply freaking out, going to Kevin’s work to shake him around like a toy rattle and doing his best to keep Nolan (more on him later) a secret. Chandler plays it all off beautifully, making the character’s mood swings and spur-of-the-moment decision-making believable under all the terse calculating elsewhere. You can sense that his murdering Danny has deeply disrupted his emotional equilibrium, sending him on the brink of losing his mind and his cool – but underneath all of that still is the ability to use his traits as a police detective to think on his feet and remain one step ahead of everyone else who’s seemingly unaware of what really happened to big brother.

Kevin fumbling around his own feelings in front of Belle without giving away the intricacies of Danny’s death felt a bit too easy, but Rutz makes the younger brother’s overall tailspin a much more compelling watch than it has any right to be, displaying an intense uneasyness that’s shrowded in fear. In addition, the discovery that he kept a decent percentage of Danny’s hidden coke and is using it to calm himself down allows the character to potentially become this season’s wild card, which also makes me wonder if this will come back to bite both him and his boat business sooner rather than later.

In regards to Meg, the episode uses some killer cinematography to show us just how out of place she’s been in New York – while still showing her own little bit of emotional reeling in the wake of the family’s grand mistake. A surefire standout in “Part 14” is the dinner scene she chooses to attend as a favor for her boss. So many of her personal traits are on tap here, from the Florida-inspired drinking binge to the inescapable guilt that continues to surround her (like that moment she realizes the correlation between the restaurant’s name and her dead brother’s). But again: There were some truly immersive shots here, like the shot of the fishbowl at that Chinese restaurant and the toppling camera view from when she steps away from her boss and the douchebag clients to catch some air.

 

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Just like with John and Kevin, Meg’s small crisis here is fresh and uncharted, yet falls directly in line with who they are individually – a testament to the Kesslers and their faithfulness to the history they’re aiming to both build and resurface within this family. Of course, it helps that Cardellini breathes life into her character the same way Rutz and Chandler do in their respective roles, but everything comes together by being both cohesive and faintly familiar to the nuances of previous episode scripts. As a result, John appears to be naturally regressing into insanity, while Kevin and Meg are responding to recent events in unexpected, yet totally feasible ways. And I love that the episode takes enough time off from its more substantial dialogue to remind us that they’re in a better place career-wise than they were a season ago; it provides a firm tabling of what will be the first things to go when the shit hits the fan.

 

Here’s a rapid-fire breakdown of the rest of this season premiere:

  • I don’t know how I should feel about Nolan as Danny’s son yet. Although I do like that he carries many of his father’s attributes, the convenience of him showing up at the conclusion of Season One still bugs me a bit, and I’m curious as to what his play is supposed to be considering that he’s in league with Eric. Maybe it would have helped if he weren’t such a dick to John, who was nice enough to kindly tell him something along the lines of “Where the fuck did you come from and why did you decide to show up now of all times?”.
  • The reveal in regards to Robert’s financial accounts opens up a lot of doors for the rest of the season, especially since it coincides with Nolan’s sudden appearance. I’m also immediately assuming that he wanted Danny gone last season because of his money-related ties to this Evangeline Radosevich that John can’t seem to find, although that has a huge chance winding up as nothing more than wishful thinking. (and I’m only saying that because she can simply turn out as just a code name or something). Nevertheless, it seems that Danny had a second family that his father knew about all this time, and Daddy-O refused to fill everyone else in for reasons currently unknown.
  • Sissy Spacek is an absolute rock, and even though Sally is mostly relegated to camping in Lenny Potts’s ear there’s no denying the emotional weight she adds to the proceedings as the only immediate Rayburn member not involved in Danny’s death. And her dismissing herself from John and his bullshit was probably my favorite part of the episode.
  • That conference call between the siblings re-introduces that same family plotting dynamic that helped the second half of last season soar, and I’m excited to see Meg come back home to join the fold once again – even if it’s only for a weekend.

 

 

The Verdict:

Bloodline returns with an entirely new episodic structure, replacing the faint Reyburn flashbacks of last season, spiritually incorporating Ben Mendelsohn into the new season, and creating new obstacles for the family to overcome in the form of Wane Lowry and Danny’s son(?), Nolan. For a show that initially took about four or five episodes to truly take off, there’s a lot more table-setting here than you would expect, and that’s great because the momentum from last season is maintained while the mystery expands. Elsewhere, the season premiere continues to excel in its marriage of strong writing, directing, and acting, ensuring that the series can still compel even with one of its former pieces no longer the centerpiece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RATING: 9

 

+ Danny’s still a resounding presence to the Rayburns

+ Residual affects of Danny’s death on the family

+ Table-setting

+ Cinematography

+ Performances, performances, performances

 

 

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Sherlock: “The Abominable Bride” Review **SPOILERS**

Sherlock: “The Abominable Bride” Review **SPOILERS**

Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating anomaly. Deemed the world’s greatest detective, the crime-solving genius enacts countless unorthodox strategies and deductions in the advent of fresh evidence, fresh corpses, and even fresh leads. His conclusions spur more questions than answers, but regardless how outside-the-box his methods and theories appear to be, they culminate to produce the very results we seek to discover, revealed in the form of the truth.

As far as we’re concerned, Sherlock Holmes strictly envelopes himself in the hunt for the truth, tirelessly searching for the reality hidden underneath the absurdity. Nearly four seasons in now, and Sherlock has done its job to reinforce this drive and regurgitate it to fans both casual and hardcore to mostly entertaining effect. Five years since we were first re-introduced to the man behind the storied mind, and we are now -finally – beginning to learn why his eagerness to solve precedes him.

“The Abominable Bride”, set in Victorian-era 19th Century London, is Sherlock‘s supposed visit to the roots that granted the series life in the first place. It happily plants the iconic deerstalker hat over Sherlock’s head, embraces the supernatural elements the show has merely hinted at previously, and invites us to a time where the world’s greatest detective tackled the world’s greatest cases. Most important, however, is that it provides us with pertinent insight surrounding a man we just can’t seem to understand. Early on into the proceedings, Watson proclaims that the events that construe the mystery behind this week’s special push our dear Mr. Holmes to the furthest of psychological extremities. Throughout the viewing experience, we find out how this particular case challenges Sherlock as an investigator, and how it exposes him as a man. No other installment in the generally heralded update to the famous private inspector has been this daring, and, for better or worse, it truly goes all out in execution.

Let’s start with the worse, because as I’m assuming most of you all were as well, I was extremely excited to watch a fresh installment of Sherlock again. This is one of the most unique television series I’ve ever seen, and it’s amazing how high Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have set the bar for future incarnations of our beloved Holmes character. All of which pains me to point out how much of what is presented here didn’t work. First of all, the central mystery revolving around a dead married couple and a “ghost” of a bride never found its footing, and the buildup surrounding it was almost nonexistent. We are (rather neatly) provided a presentation of the incidents and the murder that followed, but in-between that is largely sloppy work. We are too-quickly introduced to the classic alternate versions of Sherlock, Watson, Mary, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson. Then there’s the matter of a silly bet between Sherlock and Mycroft that not only taints the lightheartedness of the brothers’ kindred competitive spirits (Mycroft literally bets his life on the conditions at play), it ignores the already-established, underlining sadness of their relationship.

Once the gears begin to turn, it becomes difficult to even care about the second wife and her husband, the eventual second victim to the implausible crimes of a living corpse. Granted, the encounter at their mansion led to a few chills, but for the most part I couldn’t wait for the episode to wrap it up and dive into something more indulgent. Unfortunately, the ambiguity of the case just so happened to linger up until the final half hour of the episode, with the reveal predictably highlighting the struggle women experienced in the time period.

Even more disappointing is the context behind it all and the handling of said context. Sherlock obviously neglects the women in his life, but instead of giving an actual reason as to why that is, the show just simply reminds us that that’s what he does. And while doing so, it classifies what Sherlock has seen them as his entire life, which apparently is supposed to have come to us as some sort of surprise. Does the show really think we weren’t aware of this all along? Is this truly the only avenue Sherlock wants to take this matter?

Furthermore, I can’t even begin to describe how frustrated I was seeing practically every woman Sherlock’s wronged throughout the series just show up like they did – even the bridesmaid from “His Last Vow” is one of the members of that convent. Since “The Abominable Bride” tries its absolute hardest to prove the importance of this apparent theme relative to the central plot, seeing it get thrown under the rug as fast as it did before the conclusion of the episode was astoundingly jarring. It’s as if Gatiss and Moffat, who wrote tonight’s special, suddenly realized how dried up their mystery had gotten, attempted to spruce it up with past issues of gender roles in society, and just suddenly forgot that they brought any of that stuff up altogether.

Tonight’s other major crime was the blatant advertisement of Moriarty, wrapped around an ongoing theory from the previous two seasons that Sherlock’s nemesis may still be alive. As much as I love watching Andrew Scott work as the maniacal foil to our central hero, the simple fact that he appeared and re-appeared in dream-like sequences totally spoiled the intrigue in a potential return. This episode does such a poor job hiding the inevitable realization that Moriarty’s really dead, at times I was immediately pulled out of the episode; the initial immersion of the jump back in time falling victim to bizarre clashes in sensibility and fantasy. This rings very true for the second half of “The Abominable Bride”, as it clearly doesn’t know exactly where to go, deciding to find some closure in the story it’s telling at the expense of confusing the living shit out of us.

It’s also not fair that we had to wait this long just for Sherlock to bait-and-switch us like it does here, but that’s exactly what happens. Almost this entire episode, in regards to occurrences, is fallible; the 19th Century draping becomes simply a playground for Sherlock’s cocaine-induced imagination. Although that part works – and I’ll touch on that more in a moment – it still exudes instances during the special that don’t go anywhere. We find out that Sherlock was overdosing on the same plane ride we last saw him at the end of Season Three, and the entire Ricoletti investigation leads him to believe that Moriarty planted one more potentially dangerous red herring for him at the site of the dead wife’s grave. He heads over to dig out the corpse and rid his rival of his latest trap, except…he actually doesn’t – he’s still fighting the effects of the drugs he’s absorbed in the plane while his closest friends aim to help him.

This could’ve been the moment where the episode redeems itself. We could’ve witnessed a man who we once believed had the intelligence of a thousand minds at his undisputed low point, searching for a truth that simply doesn’t exist and proving negligent to the fact that his psyche – and intelligence – is deteriorating. It definitely wouldn’t be the prettiest thing Sherlock has done, but it would’ve damn well been sad to watch – and quite rewarding, too. For a show that’s previously gone out of its way for the advances of pure, quality television, this particular scene being yet another one of our protagonist’s hallucinations is, at the very least, a grave missed opportunity.

As much as I disagreed with what went on in “The Abominable Bride”, there are still plenty of high points here. The flashback setting is nailed to perfection, with a somewhat scaled back camera angle in various scenes that makes the whole experience feel like a play come to life in the form of a Victorian-era graphic novel. Even though much of tonight’s proceedings is directed with the same flair as the rest of the series, there’s a distinct layer of nostalgia to it, and Sherlock makes wonderful work of mixing the best of both modern and classical.

The entire cast still contains the same amount of charm and precision they’ve carried for over five years now, and it’s a real pleasure seeing them ever so marginally fixate their performances based on the time zone their characters are in. Most of the fun I had in “The Abominable Bride” was paying close attention to how the gang interacts back in the 19th Century versus their modern-day encounters, and the general spark of Benedict Cumberbatch’s alarmingly evident chemistry with Martin Freeman. In addition, this was a rather amusing installment, with Mycroft’s “deaf” secretary, Sherlock’s patronizing calculations, and Mary’s often hilarious observations providing pleasant breaks from the action.

Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work will get a real kick out of some of the episode’s references to his short stories, like throwback Mycroft being extremely overweight (which was supposedly hinted at in many of Doyle’s works), the horseback rides through town while Holmes and Watson design their next move, and the physical confrontation between Sherlock and Moriarty. It’ll be up to our imaginations to determine what this special could’ve been had Gatiss and Moffat fully committed to crafting a story set exclusively in the 1800s.

Lastly, there’s Sherlock’s plight, and the curiosity that surrounds his persona is explored brilliantly in “The Abominable Bride”. Where the feminist outlines and handling of the murder mystery stumbled, the discovery of this central character’s vulnerabilities sung. There’s a real, tangible sense of urgency to throwback Holmes, and the reveal of modern Holmes’s overdosing heightens the former’s intent to solve magnificently. Small, tiny fragments of his past with Mycroft are seldom peppered in the episode, providing us with a few worthy answers while retaining the ambiguity that makes their bond as brothers so interesting. Each of these revelations to Sherlock give us a better chance of dissecting him, and even though we still don’t quite have a firm grasp of exactly what encouraged him to live life like he has, it’s impossible not to feel like we can officially relate to him now.

Sherlock Holmes, at least in this televised version, is a distinctly troubled man. Without a doubt, his past has plenty to do with that, but it’s the temptations of the present that have perpetuated his condition. I’m poised to believe that Moriarty’s repeatedly abstract presence has inspired Sherlock to entertain his mind through drugs, filling a missing void left empty from the death of his old enemy. He gets off on the thrill of solving the unsolvable case, and no one was capable of providing a challenge as desirable as Moriarty was. With him gone for quite some time now, Sherlock’s current situation with cocaine would stand to bring that excitement back into his life.

It even raises questions I didn’t consider asking before. For example: What if Magnussen really wasn’t that bad a guy, and his mind palace was a figment of Sherlock’s imagination? How often, since Moriarty’s demise, has Sherlock been conspiring with drugs? Is it possible for Holmes to one day acknowledge the love and care his brother or his closest ally have given him all these years? Deep down, there’s a human being searching for emotions he can’t express right now, trapped by the vices that have chased him all his life. This is the kind of tragedy Sherlock should totally experiment with going forward. The state of his health is only beginning to plummet, and from that the series has an enthralling story arc for which to explore further in Season Four – if it so chooses to expand on its developments.

 
The Verdict:

And there you have it. “The Abominable Bride” is Sherlock at its absolutely most inconsistent. With a slow start, poorly written themes and generally uninteresting case, it’s certainly not among my favorite of the series’ efforts. However, its decision to push the overarching story arc forward through Sherlock himself produces excellent results, and at times you’re instantly reminded why you’ve spent two whole years waiting for him to come back into your life and solve ridiculous mysteries. Since it’s scattered with peaks and valleys, the best way I can describe this special is through cliché: labeling it an 85-minute box of chocolates. You just never knew what you were gonna get, and while that’s a great indication of what Sherlock has to offer most of the time, one has to wonder if that’s always the best approach.

 

 

 

 

Rating: 7.5 

+ A deeper look into and better understanding of Sherlock, the man

+ Performances all around (Especially Cumberbatch and Freeman)

+ Nods to Doyle’s short stories

– Disappointing murder mystery

– Too many themes and plot points thrown around at once

– Moriarty intrigue spoiled

 

 

 

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