There’s been lots of debate already about the latest episode of Sherlock. Arguments that it doesn’t make sense, that it’s pretty sexist, and that it was pointless because nothing really happened…
So I wanted to write down what I thought it all meant. To try and work through my own thoughts, and I thought I might as well put them up here for debate.
I thought the Abominable Bride was absolutely brilliant.
Firstly, and this seems to be being glossed over a lot, is that none of it was real. Well, Sherlock was on a plane, and got off it. That’s it. Everything else, every other scene was taking place entirely in his mind. Maybe – maybe – the the scene where he hands over the list what drugs he’d taken, too. Maybe. I’m not sure. But I don’t think that matters too much.
So what we’re left with is Sherlock trying to use a 100 year old crime that’s somewhat similar to his current predicament to work out how Moriarty survived. Everything that’s said, every action, takes place entirely within his own head.
The Abominable Bride is clearly a case he’s looked into before in some detail, and never been able to solve. Still, as the episode starts he’s replaying everything he knows. This time he has to solve it. It’s not just some thought experiment, or curious puzzle like before. Now it’s life or death. It can help him stop Moriarty.
So he goes through all the steps. He eliminates the impossible and whatever remains, however unlikely, is the truth. He works out how the bride was able to stay alive and enact her bloody revenge on her husband. Mystery solved.
But then, there’s the other mystery. Where the guy was visited by the bride and killed, even after she’d already killed herself (for real this time). That doesn’t really fit in with his first theory. Upon further inspection, the answer makes no sense.
So he works on the theory some more. And this time he uncovers a female conspiracy to use the legend of the bride to exact revenge on those who’ve wronged them and he catches them at a meeting of their secret organisation.
The scene where he meets the group of women is a really important one. A lot of people seem to be criticising it as a man telling a group of women what feminism is, and explaining their struggles to them.
But it’s not real. This is all in Holmes’ head, and didn’t really happen.
It’s not him mansplaining feminism to a group of women. After all, none of these are real women. In fact, the episode makes a point of showing that every woman there is someone from Sherlock’s real life. Someone his brain can call in to fill a crowd of women. All people he knows and has met before in his real life. It’s a man explaining feminism as he sees it, to himself. It’s more Mark & Jeremy voice-over than Victorian TED talk.
And it’s not just any man. It’s a self-confessed sociopath who finds it difficult to understand, let alone relate to, other people. It’s his brain trying to make sense of the feminist movement (which of course, makes a LOT of sense, so it’s easy for him to accept). As he points out in the episode, he’s a specialist so only learns about things when he needs it. Understanding feminism might never have been something he’s devoted any thought-power to as he’s never needed to. But now, faced with a crowd of (fictitious) women, by working it through out loud, he understands and it makes sense to him. And it has the added benefit of tying up his new theory for the crime nicely. Job done. There’s just one slightly problem with it.
It’s all total bullshit.
In fact, in the episode itself part of his subconscious – Moriarty – completely calls him out on it. He says it’s not grounded in fact. It might make sense as a logical argument, but there’s no evidence to support it. It’s kind of a nod to the story ‘How Watson Learned the Trick’ which is a self-referential parody-esque critique of the entire Holmes way of solving crime. Just because you can infer something, doesn’t make it true.
The conversation with Moriarty is basically his own brain calling him out on his entire theory. Maybe even his entire way of life.
It might be that his brain is getting a bit confused too. He’s (possibly) under the influence of some pretty heavy drugs.
The key mystery seems to be made up of two different cases. In the Sherlock Holmes canon, The Five Pips is about a man receiving five orange pips from the KKK as an indication he’s going to be killed. So maybe his brain is grasping at straws and may have accidentally confused the two old cases. Or intentionally tried to link them in Holmes-esque ‘there’s something deeper going on’ kind of way.
This also explains the women appearing in the Klan-like outfits for no apparent reason. It’s not saying that Suffragettes were some kind of sinister underground cult. It’s Holmes trying desperately to make things fit in a way which makes sense. After all, his ability to stop Moriarty may depend on it.
By the end, Holmes hasn’t fully solved the case of the Abominable Bride. He maybe has an answer, but not the answer.
But while he isn’t able to solve the initial case that he was trying to, the act of trying gives him the insight and confidence to believe that Moriarty is dead. Which was the whole point anyway.