Beware, here be spoilers.
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride has everything a Sherlock fan could possibly ask for. Moffat and Gatiss have really outdone themselves this time. It’s like they caved and said, “All right, give them everything they want. It is Christmas, after all.” It has Victorian garb and dialect (“the game is afoot”) for fans of the traditional Sherlock Holmes stories. It has a psychological, almost magical, slippage back and forth between time periods—the nineteenth century and the twenty first. It gives us more insight into how Sherlock survived the fall (or the landing). And there is lots and lots of Moriarty. Moffat and Gatiss also give us everything we didn’t even know that we wanted: Molly Hooper dressed as a man, LeStrade in ridiculous sideburns, and the classic Sherlock vs. Moriarty waterfall scene from the original stories that we never thought we’d get to see.
Contrary to what some pre-airing articles led us to suspect, The Abominable Bride is not a one-off Victorian tale to keep us pacified until they are ready with the fourth season. In fact, it does take place in modern times and picks up the story where we last left it: Sherlock on the airplane. We then shift back and forth between Sherlock of the modern era and Sherlock of Victorian England, both Sherlocks aware of each other and thinking they themselves are the real one, as Sherlock gets lost deeper and deeper inside his mind palace. A bit eXistenZ, really.
“Congratulations, you will be the first man in history to be buried in his own Mind Palace.” –Moriarty
While viewers are all still asking how Sherlock escaped death at the end of season two by jumping off the hospital roof, Sherlock is still asking how Moriarty could have survived shooting himself in the mouth, which he was there to witness. He recalls an old Victorian case where a woman shot herself in the mouth and then lived to murder her husband. Strangely, it turns out that the woman’s trickery more closely resembled Sherlock’s trickery with the hospital fall than it did Moriarty’s trickery (or lack thereof). That doesn’t mean investigating the old, unsolved case (with a little help of drugs) doesn’t help Sherlock figure out what Moriarty is up to.
I’m as surprised as you are to admit that The Abominable Bride is the best Sherlock episode yet. Bring on season four!