Sherlock Homes and the Abominable Plot Device

A plot twist that may or may not involve Sherlock’s dead dog Redbeard

Sherlock (the BBC crime drama and not those terrible Guy Richie films) is one of those shows I neglected for a long time in the most hipster of ways; everyone at university was watching it and falling head over heels for Benedict Cumberbatch and I didn’t want to be a part of that demographic. It’s written and produced by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss who are also responsible for that silly Dr Who series, so nothing about Sherlock was appealing to me – I’ve never read an Arthur Conan Doyle book in my life.

But it’s actually the best thing the BBC has ever made. Excellent cast, excellent performances, excellent writing and excellent theme tune (hear my rendition of it on Episode 4 of Out of the Xfire Podcast*).

To welcome in the New Year there was a stand-alone episode of Sherlock called The Abominable Bride. Think of it as a bridge between series 3 and 4. Sherlock is the only show that needs bridging because we are forced to wait at 2 whole years between each series, which to be honest is asking a lot from people. Anyway, The Abominable Bride had a twist – it wasn’t set in the modern day like the rest of the show. No, this time Sherlock Holmes was returning to the 1800s.

I went into this special episode with much concern. I was afraid the period setting would disrupt the continuity of the modern-day interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. I was afraid it would be boring because, let’s face it, once you’ve seen Sherlock read a text message nobody wants to see him revert to sending telegrams. However, the decision to return to Sherlock’s original century was the highlight of the episode because it certainly wasn’t the shit plot device holding it all together.


In The Abominable Bride a woman named Emelia Ricoletti commits suicide by shooting herself in the head, only to rise from the dead and murder her husband and other unsavoury men. It doesn’t take Sherlock long to deduce the deaths following Emelia’s suicide are copycat killers but he still can’t explain how Emelia, in front of witnesses no doubt, murdered her husband after blowing her own brains out. The case is eerily similar to Moriarty’s death – he shot himself at the end of series 2 but threatens the world via satellite TV at the end of series 3.

And here’s the huge twist tying it all together… Everything happening in the period setting is a drug-fuelled dream-hallucination Sherlock is experiencing in the span of, like, 5 minutes. That’s right; the entire episode is essentially a dream. Fuck me. What a tired plot device to fall back on. Now you can understand why I actually enjoyed the 19th Century locales, costumes and facial hair over the rest of the bullshit.

It annoyed me because ‘it was all a dream’ usually makes everything redundant and without consequence. At the start of the episode we’re told that the 19th Century setting is an alternative timeline and I was entirely happy buying into it for a Christmas/New Year’s one-off. This explanation also carries the burden of no consequence because I knew it wouldn’t be important to series 4 (which will continue in modern-day London) but I genuinely let go of this for 90 minutes. Unfortunately I can’t do the same for cliché narrative tools.

To the story’s credit the ‘dream’ wasn’t without context. Sherlock was using a cocktail of drugs to enter his mind palace to roleplay the Emelia Ricoletti case to try and find a logical explanation as to how the fuck Jim Moriarty rose from the grave. But it all got a little too carried away at the end when it turned into Inception and Sherlock had to kill himself to ‘wake up’ from whatever state he put his dumb ass into.

On the plus side I think it has set up series 4 appropriately; Sherlock eventually discovers that Emelia’s suicide was a Batman analogy – she became a symbol and a tool for an underground women’s rights movement – and although it was all in his mind palace it helped us all realise that even though Moriarty is definitely dead that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to terrorise Sherlock in Moriarty’s place.

There’s also a plot twist that may or may not involve Sherlock’s dead dog Redbeard but I haven’t the foggiest on this one.

*Sorry for the dreadful audio quality. I’m pretty sure the high-pitched tone in the background will make you literally shit yourself

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Ross worked here once? what ever happened to him?
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