Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Sherlock: "The Abominable Bride"

I finally got around to the latest episodes of one of my favorite, recent television shows: Sherlock. “The Abominable Bride” is not a part of a new series, but simply an interlude. And, narratively that fits, because it is truly an interlude in the overall story. Not really advancing the plot, or even occurring—really—in the show’s continuity.

This is an increasingly trendy approach in some of Britain’s more popular shows, namely Steven Moffat’s shows; the super-meta storytelling approach. It is really less of a storytelling and more of an illusion of story. Frankly it is becoming a little annoying.

Not that “The Abominable Bride” is bad. It is an enjoyable diversion. But it is easily one of the weakest entries in the show’s run. Mostly because of the meta-on-steroids aspect. It falls short of the essential elements of the show at every turn.

First, “Sherlock” is already an exercise in commentary. It uses the conceit of telling stories that reinterpret Doyle’s world and character into a modern-day London. That is already meta, and even better, it looks at all the old, classic elements in a new light. All that this episode does is double-down by throwing everything it has to offer into the “joy of recognition” bucket. Recognizing source material is a pleasure all its own, but it has its limitations. Things aren’t automatically great simply because they refer to greatness.

Secondly, since everything is ultimately a “bad trip” there is no internal logic nor stakes to the story. Once we realize this fact, we stop caring about any of the story and simply look for (and possibly grin at) the references. That alone is not enough to make a good story. In this case, even the storytellers stop caring about the story they are telling, and try to write it all off as a clue to the cliff-hanger of the last episode. Worse, they seem to render that cliff-hanger a moot point. Back then, the world wondered how Moriarty survived. Now we apparently are told that he didn’t.

Finally, Sherlock Holmes stories need to be mysteries being solved. This show has veered dangerously close to forgetting that in the past. It nearly does so here, but worse, the solution is meaningless because the mystery is meaningless. It is a mere figment of Holmes’ mind in search of another answer.

All that said, this is still a well-made, lovingly told, entertaining distraction. It may be one of the lesser episodes, but the show is so good that a “lesser” episode is still head and shoulders above most of the other stuff on TV.

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