Steven Moffat really does like screwing with our minds. He already delivered one huge mindscrew this fall on Doctor Who, and in this supposedly AU Sherlock special, he goes and does it again. Arguably even more with the final scene.
The Abominable Bride, of course, was advertised as having nothing to do with the modern Sherlock, but just being a chance to dress Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Victorian-era costume and have everyone play their characters in a more tradition setting. And for the first hour, it holds that impression up. Except, not quite, and also, there is a problem in that it comes off as very poorly written. Sherlock Holmes feels like an exaggerated version of himself, John Watson doesn’t quite come off as himself either, and the scene with Mycroft feels downright bizarre. Also the camera feels harsh as times and strange at others; one gets a very strong feeling of unreality long before, an hour in, Moriarty shows up and things become literally impossible.
So when at that point modern day Sherlock wakes up on the plane, it’s very relieving, and initially you think that explains everything. It’s even quite sad, when you realize Sherlock came off as a horrible person because that’s what he sees himself as, though you still wonder about his view of John.
Except then we go back for more bizzareness, and though it’s probably a good thing that by then we know it’s all in Sherlock’s head, one must ask: is the solution of the mystery of the bride we are presented with a reflection of how Sherlock views women, or of Moffat’s views? Really, it’s better when that part’s over and we’re back to the modern day-except then it turns out the modern day parts were a hallucination too, and by the time we’re at the Reisenbach Falls, well, if they just wanted an excuse to do that particular piece of Sherlock Holmes lore, at that point all you can do it go with it and wait for Sherlock to wake up for real.
Except…after we get a conclusion in the modern day, we then go back to the Victorian Era, and the camera isn’t making it feel unreal anymore, and Sherlock’s talking as if the modern day was the dream, and now we all have to wonder if all the Sherlock we’ve watched so far was actually the result of the man in that scene taking a bad dose of opium! We may never know. Now that’s a mindscrew. Especially if these hallucinations at any time show up again in the fourth season…if that ever arrives of course…