We still have a year to wait until season 4 of Sherlock, but writing for the upcoming episodes is already underway. Sherlock co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who also plays Mycroft), producer Sue Vertue, and actress Amanda Abbington (Mary) sat down with TV journalist Boyd Hilton to chat "The Abominable Bride" and what might be next for Sherlock.
The creative team was characteristically terse when it came to dropping details about season 4, but Moffat and Gatiss did drop some vague teases, as well as gave some insight on how the latest special fits into the larger Sherlock story...
In season 3, we found out about Mary's secret past as an assassin. In the New Year's special, Sherlock's hallucinations of Victorian Mary took this into account, not only making her a highly competent investigator, but teaming her up with Mycroft. Could this be a clue that the two characters might have more to do with one another in season 4? Moffat says...
"We couldn't ignore the fact that ... during 'His Last Vow,' Mary's revealed to be this super-agent. She can't go back to being just the missus. She has to be a super-agent in both versions. So I think, during Sherlock Holmes' drug fit, he somehow puts them together, which makes sense."
Elaborating on the idea that Mary's character has been forever-changed by her backstory reveal, Moffat added: "She can't just go back to what she was before. She's got to be super good at this ... If we did anything else, it would be like we'd forgotten. She's the professional, sort of looking after our two bumbling amateurs."
Could Mary be spending more time with Sherlock and John in season 4? Gatiss made these relevant comments on the structuring of season 3 and the special...
"We did make [episodes] one and two [of season 3] actually more light-hearted because we knew he was going to shoot Magnusson, and we deliberately set out to make it like the best times for the three of them as a new team, that they would really have a great time. And the special really does bridge that in so many ways. Even though Mary is very proactive and a huge part, it's a sort of breathing space between 'Vow' and the next one."
It's not entirely clear here, but this could mean that, after the relative seclusion of Sherlock and John's investigatory adventures in "The Abominable Bride," Mary will very much be "part of the team" in season 4.
The end of "The Abominable Bride" planted the idea that, rather than the special taking place inside of Sherlock's head, it is actually the entire rest of the series that is a speculation on Victorian Sherlock's part on what a potential future might look like. Gatiss seems to have a lot of fun with this idea, saying...
"By having that scene right at the end, where we go back to Victorian London — Victorian Baker Street — and Sherlock explicitly says, 'It’s an imagined version of what I think the future might be,' we have really opened a ridiculous window that the entire series of Sherlock might be the drug-induced ravings of the Victorian Sherlock Holmes. Which means we can do absolutely anything."
Moffat later commented that, now that they have done the Victorian hallucination, it doesn't seem likely they will do something similar again: "It was a lovely thing to do. I think we've done it."
For Gatiss and Moffat, much of the joy in writing Sherlock comes from fleshing out those quieter, sometimes domestic moments that wouldn't have made it into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. Gatiss said:
"Being in the middle of writing series 4 at the moment, if anything is like a good writing exercise for the show, is to look at the stories and think, 'What did Doyle not do in terms of what must have gone on.' If you have two men living together, at some point, even if you back-project, he would have asked him, 'Have you ever um…' ... You look at a story you’re very familiar with and think, I wonder what else happened in this domestic situation that we were never privy to."
Gatiss wasn't just speaking of domestic situations when he gave this example, saying that — in the original story in which Charles Magnussen (or, as he is known in the Doyle work, Charles Milverton) is murdered — he is shot by a character whom we have never met before... or so Watson writes it. In Gatiss and Moffat's mind, Watson and Holmes could have taken out Milverton, with Watson changing the narrative for The Strand. Other examples include Watson asking Holmes do be his best man.
On speaking about these quieter moments — the ones put in to slow down the pace of the story — in "The Abominable Bride," Gatiss referenced the stake out John and Sherlock have outside of the Carmichael estate, saying: "As we know, it's what people really like about the show — more than any spectacle or any crime of the week. It's when you find out a little bit more about our favorite heroes."
The producers addressed the criticism that rather than letting the Abominable Brides speak for themselves, Sherlock "mansplains" in his Victorian denouement. Vertue said: "But, it's called Sherlock. Who else is going to explain if it's not Sherlock?"
Moffat added: "If you don't like a man explaining things, you may have picked the wrong show to watch. But mansplaining is when a man explains something to a woman or to women. But that's not what happens. Even within the dream, he's explaining it to Dr. Watson, not the women present. And, in fact, he's actually talking to himself. He's the only real person there. This is Sherlock Holmes, beating himself up for how he's treated the women in his life."
To play devil's advocate, for a moment, I would make the argument that it isn't just Sherlock who gets to speak for the brides in this scene, but also Moriarty, who takes the place of female mastermind Lady Carmichael. I would also point out that authorial intent does not always translate to the screen, nor take precedent over viewer interpretation.
Clarifying the suffragist plot point, both Moffat and Gatiss stressed that the Abominable Brides were not suffragists. Said Gatiss: "It's not about a gang of insane feminists. She's using the mechanics of a secret society to put the fear of god into bad people, bad men."
Moffat added: "They were not campaigning for votes for women. They were killing people. It had nothing to do with the suffragists."
Moffat and Gatiss spoke about the pressure of keeping secrets about the upcoming season — even from the actors. Gatiss recalled being on location with Benedict Cumberbatch while filming "The Abominable Bride": "I said something to Benedict about the fourth series — a big thing — and I thought, 'Gosh, he's not supposed to know that.' And then I thought, 'I don't think he's really heard... No he hasn't.'"
When Abbington asked if there are things Moffat and Gatiss haven't told them, Moffat said: "There's loads we're not telling you." The head writers even go so far as to avoid writing down certain lines of dialogue — especially if they belong to Gatiss' Mycroft, as he is already in the know — so as to make them harder to spoil: "There's one coming up in this series where we just agreed this will never be written down."
Much speculation has been made about the mysterious Redbeard, depicted as Sherlock's childhood dog in season 3. In "The Abominable Bride," Sherlock murmurs "Redbeard" at the sound of an approaching dog, and we see it prominently written in Mycroft's notebook. When asked directly about who or what Redbeard might be, Gatiss and Moffat refused to answer (which, to be fair, they do with much any specific question regarding season 4).
"Well, they won't tell me, so they're certainly not going to tell you," Vertue adds. Moffat does comment that, when we see Redbeard as a dog in season 3 (presumably, when Sherlock is petting him in his mind palace after being shot), "it was a dream." Do with this information what you will.
Yes, Moriarty is absolutely dead, but Gatiss and Moffat were less forthcoming on whether or not Andrew Scott would be returning — perhaps as a part of Sherlock's mind palace. After all, "The Abominable Bride" confirmed what we discovered in "His Last Vow," which is that Moriarty is a fixture in Sherlock's mind palace — at least when he is drugged.
"I think what we can say is we may or may not see more of Andrew Scott as Moriarty," Moffat teased.
Frankly, folks, they don't tell us much. Moffat teased: "We do address the outstanding issues." Possible contenders: Mary's mysterious past, the third Holmes brother, and — of course — that viral "Miss me?" video featuring Moriarty's face. He mysteriously added: "I think there's still an ongoing element that people haven't really picked up on ... I think there's stuff to come."
At the time of the filming of the interview (late January), Moffat and Gatiss were still working out the details of season 4's story structure. Moffat said: "We know the big things that we've got to hit. We already know what those are really for all three, but how you get there, sometimes we surprise each other with how we're going to get there. But, yeah, we know the big things we're aiming for. The big moments."
Abbington mentioned that Moffat had told her season 4 will be "dark," and Gatiss said: "There's some big stuff in this series." Gatiss said that the Sherlock team will release single word spoilers for each of the three 90-minute episodes set to make up season 4, just as they did with the season 3 episodes before they aired.
Other topics the hour-long video interview touches on include: the filming of the Reichenbach Falls sequence, Mycroft's fat suit, and whether or not Andrew Scott really licked dust (OK, he did). The gang also goes into how they shot extra, earlier clues that the Victorian world was actually all inside of Sherlock's head — namely, reflections of modern-day Sherlock peering back at Victorian Sherlock from reflective surfaces — but decided agianst using them.
For more insights, feel free to watch the entirety of the above video. For everything we know so far about Sherlock season 4, check out our Den of Geek Sherlock hub.