No one was less excited about the Sherlock special than I was, but despite my reservations, it managed to completely win me over by the end.
I’ve been a Sherlock fan for several years now. No one knows how to wait like the Sherlock fandom. We subsist on mere scraps of detail and the tears of other fandoms that think they’ve got it as rough as we do. In more or less than a week, it will have been two whole years since the last episode of Sherlock.
When the special was announced, my excitement lasted exactly three seconds. What do you mean it would take place in 19th century London? The premise of Sherlock, one of the things that makes it so unique, is the fact it takes place in the modern world. This isn’t Doctor Who, so how can the show suddenly go back in time?
Many fans were looking forward to a self-contained story that explored what Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman’s John Watson would’ve been like in Victorian England, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. How could this possibly fit within the canon of the show? And even if it didn’t, why would they give us an episode that had nothing to do with the actual series when we’ve been waiting so long for a new episode? Why waste their time and ours?
I’ll admit I was bitter going into the special. I was ready to write an article the second it was over about how it was patronizing and pointless. I tried going into it with an open mind, hoping it would convince me otherwise, regardless of my apparent prejudices, but it immediately proved me right. It felt strange, repetitive, forced, and condescending. Oh, how funny that Mycroft is so large he’s betting against Sherlock when he will actually kick the bucket. How hilarious that Molly is dressed like a man. It felt less like they were telling us a story and more like they were offering us satire in place of another episode of the show.
It was so jarring, in fact, that even my roommate and fellow staffer Kristen Kranz was bored by the first half of the episode. She had gone into it cautiously optimistic, intrigued to see these actors portraying characters written to exist in this period of time. But it didn’t take long for us to look at each other with quizzical expressions on our faces, wondering what it was we were watching and why we were wasting our time.
Well, it turns out there was an excellent reason why they decided to make such a different episode of Sherlock.
Sherlock was, of course, in his mind palace. Thanks to a concoction of drugs and the intense need to understand how Moriarty could possibly be back after blowing his own brains out, Sherlock found himself deep within his own mind. He was exploring an unsolved case from the 1800s in order to understand what Moriarty could have possibly done to survive what should have been an unquestionable death. In the end, Sherlock concludes Moriarty is indeed back, but that by no means implies he isn’t still dead.
The fact that the case of the abominable bride, and therefore the subsequent hiring of Sherlock and Watson, was Sherlock’s construct explains why the story often felt like a parody of itself. Mrs. Hudson’s pointed remarks, Mycroft’s exaggerated obesity, Molly’s cross-dressing, and Watson’s egregious dismissal of Mary are merely Sherlock’s interpretations of the people in his life, and particularly how they would act if they had been born two centuries in the past.
In the end, the Christmas special gave us all a little bit of what we wanted in that it showed us a true Sherlock Holmes tale as well as provided more information about its modern day counterpart. It gave us a mustachioed John Watson and Andrew Scott in a dress, as well as another foray into the fascinating topic of Sherlock’s mind palace and a partial answer to the question we’ve wanted answered for two whole years — how the hell did Moriarty survive?
Part of me is angry I had to sit through half a Sherlock episode before its true intentions were revealed, and part of me is angry I didn’t see those true intentions much sooner. I wish I had given it the benefit of the doubt rather than let my assumptions mar my viewing experience, which is now, as I look back, a strange combination of feeling insulted and finding appreciation.
Either way, this gives me an excellent reason to rewatch the special without wearing jaded lenses and to truly appreciate what the show has set up and what it has delivered to us, knowing we’ve been waiting so long for something, anything, to explain the series 3 finale. I should have known there was an ace up a sleeve. I should have believed it would give us exactly what we wanted. But I do now.
I believe in Sherlock.