Warning: This review contains spoilers
Sherlock, by its very nature, is designed to keep fans feeling constantly under-satisfied and begging for more. In the six years since its first season came out, Creators and Executive Producers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have blessed viewers with just nine actual series episodes, each hovering around 88 minutes. Each is so intricately complex and captivating that binging each series in full is almost an insult to the art, prohibiting viewers from obsessing over every twist and turn that makes the show so entrancing. After a nearly two-year hiatus—each new season premieres a minimum of a year after the former—Moffat and friends committed the greatest affront to viewers’ decency: They released a special episode into British cinemas on New Year’s Day and then to U.S. theatres on Jan. 5 and 6. Only afterwards, on Jan. 10, would the show be available for worldwide online streaming on BBC’s website, illegal streaming notwithstanding. The obvious question that arose from all of this gaudy cinematic flair and taxing delayed release dates is: Was the special episode worth it?
Of course, the answer is yes.
For the first time, Sherlock opened in Victorian-era London, where the original stories were set. Incidentally, The Abominable Bride is not based on any actual Holmes story. Along with the other episodes in the series, it is inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works and specific passages from his many books. In this case, the title and the idea come from Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual,” in which there is a line speaking of “Ricoletti of the clubfoot and his abominable wife.” The episode itself begins simply enough; it’s another case in another era, presented in such a way that viewers would think the special episode was just that—a fun foray away from the actual plot— an amusing one-off to satisfy fans while the cast filmed the real show. The revelation about two-thirds through the episode is that the period setting was in fact a delusional projection of a drug-addled Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch)—still seated in the plane seat where viewers last left him at the end of season three—made it that much more exciting.
As could be expected, the script was incredible, the cinematography divine, and the score the perfect mix of time-appropriate and heart-poundingly scary when necessary. The bits of humour that are always scattered throughout this show were equally wonderful, as viewers got a glimpse at a grossly obese Mycroft (Series Creator Gatiss) gorging himself as a result of a bet with his little brother as to how long it will take him to die, and an eager Watson (Martin Freeman) poorly signing to a front deskman about a potato. What really made this special so ‘special’ was its cleverness in tricking the audience into distancing themselves from the main plot before being thrust back into centre stage, just as confused as Watson, and as desperate for answers as Mycroft.
The Abominable Bride perfectly whet the appetites of every fan without unduly releasing the full course. Sherlock could have done itself in by releasing a major plot point and leaving fans on a cliff-hanger, considering that Series 4 isn’t expected to air until 2017 (Moffat has said that filming wouldn’t even begin until this spring). Instead, the producers released an episode that was equal parts creepy, intriguing, and banal in the long-term, making it the perfect placeholder to keep people interested without making them antsy, or worse, irritated. In a way, the show did answer one climatic question that eclipsed the end of Series 3, but it did so in such a way that felt natural and exciting, not forcefully explosive. It didn’t give viewers much to ponder over, but it will certainly make them want to rewatch the previous seasons to get excited for what’s to come.