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Sherlock recap: The Abominable Bride

Holmes and Watson go Victorian in a slightly ridiculous but wildly entertaining ghost story

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Robert Viglasky/PBS


TV Show
run date:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Current Status:
In Season

It’s been about two years since Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s dynamic crime-solving duo last graced our television screens. That’s two years of pining for Baker Street and agonizing over last season’s cliffhanger. To tide us over until season four, creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss granted us this 90-minute diversion, promising a goofy one-off episode set in an alternate universe, where the Sherlock and John we know and love were instead transplanted to Victorian England. There, they’d run around in the London fog solving a spooky murder case about a vengeful bride returned from the dead.

At least, that’s what we were promised. Instead, we got something so much better — and so much weirder.

There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, from vindictive suffragettes to that Inception-style plot twist, so we’re going to tackle this in two parts, starting first with the main bride storyline. Then, we’ll dive into that big reveal — and what it might mean for season four.

Things start harmlessly enough, and the special eases us into things with an almost exact recreation of the first few scenes from the pilot — with a 19th-century twist. Watson’s still an army doctor who got shot while serving in Afghanistan, and he’s now returned home to search for a place to live in the “great cesspool” that is London. While searching for a place to live, he runs into his old friend Stamford, who takes him to St. Bart’s (which is looking decidedly dingy and unhygienic, as most hospitals did in the 1890s.) There, Stamford introduces him to everyone’s favorite high-functioning sociopath, who is, just as we expected, still beating corpses with a riding crop and making instant deductions about Watson’s military history. Good to know some things never change.

After a Victorian version of the opening credits (the string-heavy score actually works quite well, even in the 19th century), we fast forward a bit. Holmes and Watson have been solving murders together for a while now, and instead of blogging, Watson’s been chronicling their adventures in The Strand. His stories do take some dramatic liberties, which results in Mrs. Hudson being cut out of them almost entirely. This is just the first of the episode’s many, many commentaries on how women are so often sidelined in the Conan Doyle canon, as Mrs. Hudson declares, “I’m your landlady. Not a plot device.”

Similarly, Mrs. Mary Watson is stuck at home while her husband gets to run around solving murders with his weird roommate, and she’s not all that thrilled about being left behind. She’s discussing the suffragette movement when good ol’ Inspector Lestrade shows up, sporting some pretty epic sideburns. He’s notably shaken about something, and after they pour him a much-needed drink, he recounts the facts of a case that may just stump the great Sherlock Holmes.

The day before, a woman named Emilia Ricoletti donned her wedding dress and tried to shoot her husband in the street on their anniversary, before pulling the gun on herself. The following day, while her body was lying cold in the morgue, she shows up once again and begins creepily singing her wedding song, before shooting her husband for good this time and declaring, “It’s a shotgun wedding!”

A zombie bride shooting her husband in the street, with dozens of witnesses? How can a consulting detective resist? Holmes and Watson rush off to the morgue, where they find Emilia’s body in chains, so carefully restrained by — ugh — Anderson. But he’s not in charge here: Hooper is. Yes, that’s Molly Hooper, as in Louise Brealey donning a mustache and a gruff accent and pretending to be a man. Again, the gender commentary is anything but subtle, but Brealey struts around looking like she’s having the time of her life. She’s consistently one of the best, most human parts of the actual series, and she’s just as delightful here.

After Holmes dismisses any suggestion that Emilia might have a twin — “It is never twins, Watson” — they put the case on the back burner for several months. Lestrade’s growing increasingly panicked, as the Bride has been bumping men off left and right, but Holmes chalks it up to copycat murders, not an actual vengeful ghost. But he picks it back up again at the suggestion of his older brother Mycroft, whose 19th-century doppelgänger is still clever but now considerably heavier, and after the two make bets about how long it’ll take Mycroft to eat his way to an early death, Mycroft tells Sherlock that a woman named Lady Carmichael will soon approach him with a case, and it would be in his best interest to take it.

“Our way of life is under threat from an invisible enemy, one that hovers at our elbow on a daily basis,” Mycroft explains. “These enemies are everywhere, undetected and unstoppable.” After Watson wonders how best to defeat these mysterious socialists or Scotsmen or whatever sinister organization they may be, Mycroft continues: “We don’t defeat them. We most certainly lose to them. Because they are right and we are wrong.” It’s our first inkling that there’s more to this case than meets the eye.

NEXT: The Five Orange Pips