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I'm not a fan of Sherlock. The show has clever references and is visually well-crafted, but Watson's Throwing Off the Disability in the first episode turned me off big time and I have seen little from subsequent, passing views that there is anything there to interest me.

Nevertheless, when my visiting mother-in-law wanted us to watch The Abominable Bride special I went along with it. Well actually I was like, "Wait, how about Suffragette?" at the last minute but my husband had paid the VOD system by then, so The Abominable Bride it was. Besides, it turned out that our subscription doesn't carry Sufragette anyway.


The bare-bones of the plot is as follows: In a Sherlock feature-length special set in the original Victorian England of the Sherlock Holmes stories, a woman named Emilia Ricoletti publicly committs suicide in her wedding gown only to apparently rise from the dead to murder her husband and stalk another potential victim. The murders turn out to be revenge for past wrongs that the men committed against her, and are portrayed as feminist in nature with references to the women's suffrage movement.

You might have read about Sherlock mansplaining feminism to women in this special. Yeah, the scene of the reveal is deeply problematic, with rows of women who had helped Emilia in her murderous quest wearing what look like purple KKK outfits. It was even worse than I thought it would be, actually, with the women standing like docile props for Sherlock's explanation of their motives, removing their pointy purple hoods on cue and staying silent until addressed by him.

That's not the part that turned me off the most about The Abominable Bride, though. Sherlock is called out on how contrived and melodramatic this scene is, and one of the twists is that the whole thing happened in his head anyway. It's just the kind of thing someone as deeply self-centered and self-aggrandizing as Sherlock would have created for himself, to make the systematic marginalization of women all about himself.

What bothered me was that the story itself treated Emilia Ricoletti's suffering and women's responses to it as props and nothing more, entirely secondary to Sherlock's friendship with Watson and his ongoing feud with Moriarty. Subpar as that scene equating feminism with murder and using feminists as stage props for Sherlock's mansplanation was, it is also the last true mention the issue gets as Sherlock dips toward the climax and finale between present-day reality and his drug-induced mental construct of nineteenth-century England, playing out his conflicts with Watson and Moriarty.

So not only is The Abominable Bride's construction of gendered abuse against women and feminism as a response to it distorted beyond recognition, in the logic of the story it is not even real. It's just fuel for an imaginary adventure to bring Sherlock closer to his buddy and play out his ongoing drama with his nemesis, which are what the story is really about.

Even aside from the worn-out cliché of dismissing a plot as "it's all a dream," the story in the end places issues of gendered violence and calls for justice in the distant background while foregrounding the crises and relationships of men, using the former as a stage and props to highlight the latter. That's the good old male gaze at work, making women's issues about men and giving lip service to the oppression of women ("this is a war we must lose") before brushing it aside for the real story: the story of men.

The Abominable Bride left me fairly confirmed in my opinions. (Which is what experience usually does to opinions anyway.) Sherlock is a slick, smart show that draws a lot of drama from the relationships between its well-defined principal characters. It doesn't go much deeper than that, though. This holiday special, like the show itself, doesn't have much in the way of self-awareness or moral authority, and that in a nutshell is why Sherlock doesn't interest me.
Dreamwidth entry URL: http://ljlee.dreamwidth.org/68394.html


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 9th, 2016 11:12 pm (UTC)
I'm a huge fan of the original Holmes stories, but I've been wary of Sherlock. Part of that comes from the only thing I hear about it being the slash shipping, which is fine for people who are into shipping as a reason for watching a show, but I'd want a focus on Sherlock himself as a crime-fighting character and truly clever mysteries.

I was kind of interested in this special because I was under the impression that it was simply the cast of Sherlock doing a more classic adventure for fun/ratings, but given this description, I won't be checking it out. Thanks for clearing that up for me.
Feb. 13th, 2016 06:25 am (UTC)
In a way it's brilliant positioning because slash shipping is so big, but it's not my thing either. I'd have been all for a modern Holmes that brought the clever puzzles of the original stories to the 21st century, but all the navel-gazing with the characters soured on me. To me it seems like a moë version of Sherlock Holmes.

That's another thing that gets me about TAB, the advertising was deceptive. It seemed to be a return to the spirit of the classics, but even setting aside the mansplanation it was just a return to the same old navel-gazing as in the show itself. I'm guessing a lot of the people who tuned in were probably expecting a classic Holmes adventure, too.

Given how I ended up dissuading at least one person from seeing Dragon Blade in a theater with my last review, I seem to have gotten into the business of telling people not to see stuff. I really should start posting about stuff I genuinely like (Steven Universe, Deep Space Nine...), but it's so much fun to rag on bad shows. XD
Feb. 13th, 2016 08:35 pm (UTC)
Well, I have yet to find a reason to watch either Steven Universe or a Star Trek series, so at least you'll have a viable target.

"Moe version of Sherlock Holmes" is one of those phrases I never thought I'd read, and now wish I hadn't. XD
Feb. 25th, 2016 10:45 am (UTC)
*gasp* HEATHEN! Yes, I must devote some blogging time to these worthy shows. :D

What's so ironic to me is that you seem like more of a Star Trek person than a Star Wars person--I mean, you glommed onto the most plebian guy in the main cast of ATLA, the one without supernatural powers or noble blood, a scientist and joker who brings some common-sense humor into all the supernatural solemnity of the goings-on. But then again Star Trek has its own sacred cows in its earnest dedication to science and democracy.
Feb. 25th, 2016 11:31 pm (UTC)
I admit, I exaggerated my lack of Trek. My brother got into it, and so with his accompaniment I've seen 2-4 & 6 of the classic movies, as well as the Insurrection TNG movie and the Best of Both Worlds episodes. Shatner's Trek was amusing, and I can see why fans obsess with the main trio of characters, but I think their fandom is out of proportion with their appeal. And my impression of TNG is that it could do something interesting with the ideas it wants to tackle if it wasn't so good at being a sleep aid. It's probably important to note that I've been reading science fiction since I learned to read, so Trek's level of intellectual engagement with its issues definitely feels "Safe for TV" to me, compared to the more wild stuff that books and short stories have done without the need to preserve their characters for next week's episode. I understand that DS9 is a bit different than the rest of the modern Trek, but I've assumed if it wasn't the subject of discontinuity and nerd rage, it still had to basically be akin to TNG.

Honestly, I don't even consider Star Wars to be at all comparable to Trek, and the only reason they're "rivals" is because of similar names and them being the only scifi franchises that mainstream audiences know about. (I think this would have died in modern times, given scifi's new prominence, but JJ Abrams kind of forced the comparison again.) Star Wars is mythic fantasy akin to Lord of the Rings, with a veneer of gonzo space opera over it. Star Trek is true science fiction, packaged for syndicated television. Star Wars just happens to do mythic fantasy better than I think Trek does scifi.

And Star Wars has Han Solo, who's close enough to Sokka to satisfy me. ;)
Feb. 27th, 2016 03:19 pm (UTC)
Yeah, Trek is pretty unavoidable I guess. LOL at TNG as a sleep aid--that's the impression I got from the episodes I saw, too, some of them were better than others but I agree it's hampered by the constraints of weekly television. DS9 takes more risks but it's definitely safe for TV at heart. It does do some interesting things within those limits; whether it's interesting enough to be worth a view is another matter.

I thought it was precisely because SW is epic fantasy and ST is sci-fi that a comparison and contrast could be made. But the critique that SW does its genre better is an apt one. :)
Feb. 28th, 2016 07:53 pm (UTC)
Fair point. Specialty in genre aside, even Sokka got teary-eyed hearing Teo's backstory, so like him, I can't resist a good, emotionally-involving story. ;) Combine that type of thing with neat scifi stuff, and then you'd have a real winner for me. And so we come to how much I'm enjoying the current Transformers comic series, where the Star Trek formula is being used in conjunction with melodrama and adventure.
Feb. 10th, 2016 10:30 pm (UTC)
I watched a little of Sherlock in the beginning, but couldn't stand it because Holmes was such an ASSHOLE, and I have a deep loathing of the Jerk Genius trope. (I mean, I went to Harvard. Trust me, I have met enough people who think their raw intelligence should trump any and all shortcomings, be it cruelty, complete lack of social grace, or incompetence.)

Feb. 13th, 2016 06:37 am (UTC)
Yeah, the whole worship of dickish white men can stop yesterday kthx. There was also a discussion about white male abusers sold as True Love to teenaged girls that I really liked. It's prompted by Star Wars but goes on to cover Twilight, Anne McCaffrey, and other fantasy/YA works. I mean is the fantasy genre--and I firmly count Star Wars as fantasy--a clusterfuck or what?

Edit: I thought the linked discussion included the racial aspect of the male abuser as romantic interest in fantasy and YA, but that may have been in a different post. It certainly came up a lot wrt Kylo Ren versus Finn. Still, it's not hard to recognize the racial dimension just from the works and characters cited.

Edit 2: To be fair, Star Wars got a LOT better with the new movie and it wasn't the writers selling Kylo Ren as a love interest (at least they'd better not be, because otherwise I'm burning down the fucking theater) but fans, especially teenaged ones, treating him as such due to their exposure to the larger culture.

Edited at 2016-02-13 06:52 am (UTC)
Feb. 13th, 2016 07:28 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's really a trope that only white guys can seem to get away with. (Though I have seen SOME with white women, or brown guys, but it's pretty uncommon.) And I think it's a very specific nerd boy power fantasy: you don't need to be nice or think about anything you say, because really, you're SO FUCKING SMART that you can get away with fucking ANYTHING.

But it's not my power fantasy. And I've found I'm growing less and less respect for the book smarts those things so valorize. I'm really starting to think that "genius" is overrated.

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


LJ Lee

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