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I am going to deliver a controversial opinion: I enjoyed the Sherlock special.
Normally I would rip into Stephen Moffat for his style or execution; this time I won't. The Twitter critiques were out in force tearing the recent episode, 'The Abominable Bride', to shreds for being too self-indulgent. Some questioned the point of the episode in its entirety. For my part, though, I found the entire format refreshing.
This special is completely different from the last series and that was something be happy about. The oversentimentality that plagued the previous episodes was gone. Sherlock was back to his immaculately emotionless state, frustrating John Watson in only the way he can.
The Victorian theme for the episode has borne the brunt of the criticism. This has been somewhat unfair, I would proffer. The story of Sherlock Holmes has a rich history, spawning multiple, varying adaptations which run the gamut from stage to screen, both large and small. It was clear 'The Abominable Bride' was created with this in mind. Cumberbatch's appearance in the Victorian scenes is remarkably close to that of Jeremy Brett's version of the character whilst Marin Freeman manages to recreate the look of Edward Hardwicke's Watson elegantly. The scene on the train is a particularly iconic image associated with the character and could easily have taken place in the films of Basil Rathbone. This is one of the joys of a show like Sherlock it should be able to engage with other past adaptations while executing its own story in a style that's not necessarily the same.
Indeed, as much as the setting for this special is different, the personalities remain unchanged. The Sherlock and Watson we know are still there. Even Sherlock remarks on his own timeless qualities in a tongue-in-cheek moment. More than that, each character is well suited to both their modern and Victorian versions; notably Molly and Hooper. Mrs Hudson has some brilliant quips when she remarks upon the version of herself in Watson's stories. Even Lestrade suited sideburns. Perhaps the only character who seems a little out of tune is Mycroft whose "fattening up" seems a little excessive.
The switching between Victorian London and its modern counterpart is cleverly done, with an execution that recalls Christopher Nolan's Inception The audience is left, in moments, questioning whether Sherlock was really in the 21st or 19th century.
Whilst some critiqued the use of Sherlock's mind-palace in this episode as over the top, I thought that it really taped into the cerebral element of the show. The idea behind Sherlock is that he is a "high functioning sociopath". His brain is capable of amazing things and we should never underestimate him. Every so often he needs to be undermined to remind us of his humanity, but it's been a while since he truly threw himself into a case.
The resolution to the case of 'The Abominable Wife' is suitably clever and sufficiently difficult enough to make you think. The use of the female characters from the show as members of the avenging group provides a nice finishing touch and resolves things in a satisfying way.
As a bridge to the next series (set to premiere in 2017) it manages to answer a few questions about the direction of the series whilst provoking a few more new ones to keep us going until then. Filming for the fourth series begins in April after Benedict Cumberbatch completes shooting Doctor Strange, and the wait to its premiere on a date to be determined will be arduous. But, until then, it was fantastic to see the Holmes and Watson we know back together.