The Abominable Bride

“If I ever see Steven Moffat on the street, I’m going to punch him in the face.”

I say this a lot, as my family and friends will testify. This is of course an empty threat. If I ever see Steven Moffat on the street, I am likely to be so overcome with emotion at actually seeing Steven Moffat, that it’s entirely possible I won’t be able to say anything at all, much less assault him.

This statement is not meant to be taken seriously, but more as an expression of my frustration at his poorly written plots, undeveloped characters and rampant misogyny disguised as feminism.

I will not deny that Steven Moffat is a talented writer, many of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who in the RTD era are Moffat episodes. However, that is not to say that I cannot see his flaws, and it is my opinion that careful criticism of things you love does not diminish your love, but rather creates a more engaged audience, which overall creates better content and therefore a better viewing experience.

The most recent time I uttered this first sentence of this article was last Friday night, after the most recent episode of Sherlock, The Abominable Bride. Two years after season 3’s bold (and I would say somewhat annoying) cliffhanger, Sherlock fans were keen to get their next hit of Cumberbatch and Freeman as one of the world’s most famous duos. Moustache and deer stalker included this time.

As usual, the visual displays, the camera work, the acting, everything was what we had come to expect from Sherlock. The visual elements are one of the reasons I enjoy this show so much and again, they did not let down this winter. The costuming and set designs were impeccable, the cast on point as always. So it is not this aspect of the show that I am going to discuss in this piece of writing. Instead, it is the depiction of women and suffragettes which I want to talk about.

The thing that Moffat seems still to have to learn is that women are people “not a plot device”, as Ms. Hudson so nicely put it. The women in this episode were fantastically one dimensional. There is Mary – neglected housewife, Ms. Hudson – disgruntled housekeeper, Molly Hooper – forced to dress as a man to succeed, Emilia Ricoletti – hysterical wife, dead. We were told that Mary was to have a significant role in this years episode of Sherlock, instead we got her pigeon holed into a role that literally could have been done by any other character. Doesn’t matter which, they could have done it. Spying on Sherlock doesn’t seem like that difficult a job. After all, Watson is literally writing a weekly report on their adventures. And how amazing would it have been to see Molly Hooper in her job as a women in that time period? To be shown that she was so good as what she did that she had to be given the job. We could have imagined her going into classrooms, refusing to leave because her desire to learn was so strong. Molly Hooper; unapologetic for the fact she was a woman and forcing the men around her to respect her regardless. Now that would have been a great story!

My guess is that Moffat was trying to juxtapose modern Molly with Victorian Molly, to show the stark difference in treatment between women in the two time periods. However, the poor characterisation of modern Molly meant that this fell flat on its face. If anything, it would have been more of a contrast to see Victorian Molly unapologetic in her womanhood.

What could have been an amazingly powerful episode based on mens abuse of their wives turned into terrible mansplaining of the suffragette movement. We got a lot of useless babble about “man’s invisible army” and “a war we must lose”, none of which did anything to develop the actual role of women in the Sherlock universe. Not to mention help reinforce the false idea that feminism is a movement which desires death to all men etc etc.

Putting the suffragette in a purple version of the KKK’s uniform, a society devoted to the systematic oppression of a group of people, draws parallels to the disgusting use of the term “feminazi”, equating feminists as a group of people who are also devoted to the systematic oppression of one group of people. A statement which anyone who has access to google or a dictionary can see is untrue. I am not here to educate you on the definition of feminism, if you think feminists want the oppression of males, I suggest you utilise google. It makes me so mad that the injustice of domestic abuse could have been explored in this episode, with wives lashing back at their abusers because the law would not protect them, and instead we got some drivel about “man’s invisible enemy”. Seriously?! Last time I looked, women were not invisible, nor were we man’s enemy. All we want is to have the same privileges as them. To earn the same wage, not be blamed when someone attacks us, and be represented accurately in Sherlock episodes.

The graveside exchange between modern day Mary and John, “I’m taking Mary home. Excuse me? Mary’s taking me home. Better.” does not make this a feminist episode. It’s like the gravy I cover my brussel sprouts with at Christmas. I’m still eating brussel sprouts, they just go down a little easier. Covering your evils with a bit of banter does not negate the impact of the evils, they are still there, and they still make a strong impact.

Foolish me, I will still watch series 4 when it airs in a years (maybe more) time. I live in the hope that Moffat will get his act together and actually create complex female characters, which are their own people and not just a sounding board for how clever Sherlock is. But it’s not a large hope. The scariest thing about Moffat is that I think he believes his own rhetoric. He doesn’t see the misogyny in his work. He doesn’t think his writing is damaging, doesn’t see how his show clearly needs more depth in his female characters.

For the next series of Sherlock, all I want is for the females leads to be able to breathe. To be able to be hackers, wives, kick-ass, scared, good or bad at cooking, unimpressed with Sherlock, to get over unhealthy infatuations, but not necessarily all at the same time. Women don’t have to be everything all at once, and the sooner Moffat realises that the better the show will be.

Overall I liked the episode. It was a good fun plot, somewhat more spooky than we are used to as Sherlock viewers, and the jumping from time period to time period didn’t confuse me at all. However, I resent having to turn off my feminist sensibilities just to enjoy a program. Why should I have to turn off a part of my brain for 90 minutes when all Moffat needs to do is write women as he writes men; as complex individuals.

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