We are off and running on Season 4 of the BBC Sherlock series with Cumberbatch and Freeman back at it again (with four episodes promised, the ‘Abominable Bride’ being the first). This first episode aired as a Christmas special in the U.K. What makes this particular episode unique is that it seems to be set at the end of the 19th century, unlike the previous episodes, or is it? Things are not as they seem, as you will soon discover. Of course Cumberbatch and Freeman and Mark Gatiss (the series co-creator who also plays Mycroft Holmes) are excellent once again as is the increasingly annoyingly good at being evil Moriarity character. As you may or may not remember, some effort is made to draw on the previous canon of Conan Doyle stories (in this episode there is an hommage to ‘the Five Orange Pips’).
Not wanting to provide spoilers, I will simply say that the mystery in this episode has to do with how a woman who seems clearly to have killed herself, keeps coming back and preying on men, after first dealing with her own husband. The underlying story has to do with women being sick and tired of a male-dominated MCP world and wanting the vote among other rights. In this regard the story has some overlap with the Meryl Streep ‘Suffragette’ movie. There is plenty to like about this 90 minute drama not least the frisson between Watson and Holmes, and there are moments where we get the impression that the Sherlock we know and love is more a creation of Watson’s embroidered and entertaining stories than of the man in himself. And it is nice to see a period piece again that has the Gothic and macabre feel of the original Conan Doyle stories. One word of warning— Sherlock’s Mind Palace is alive and well in this episode.
I am on record as saying that I prefer Elementary to Sherlock, and I continue to hold that opinion despite how splendid Cumberbatch and Freeman are together. I say this for several reasons— firstly, I’m not thrilled with the way the original Conan Doyle stories are used in this series. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes its just irritating and we could have done with out. Elementary doesn’t have that problem. It’s simply a modern version of the original premise with all new and interesting stories. Secondly, I am not thrilled with the cinematic tricks and technique used in the Sherlock series. I much prefer the matter of fact clear and clean approach in the series Elementary series. There is the further problem that the Sherlock series has had too many hiatuses (actually the Latin plural should hiati or the like). It has stopped and started with too many gaps in between because of all the other projects the two lead actors have been involved in. Finally, there are points where, for all his brilliance, Cumberbatch simply gets Holmes wrong. I realize that each artistic project should be judged, to some degree, on its own merits, but in this case there is too large and long a shadow of the original Holmes and too great a need to play this character in a faithful way to allow for the range of motion Cumberbatch introduces into the character. When you hear a line or see an action that makes the Sherlock aficionado say, ‘Sherlock would never have said or done that’, you are in trouble. Still, there is much to enjoy in this series, and as far as I am concerned you can never have too much Sherlock as long as the stories are interesting and the characters well portrayed.