January 1, 2016 was one of the most eagerly awaited dates in recent years for the Western world’s pop culture loving audience. For on this day Sherlock – BBC’s television series based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic private detective – promised to return to TV – and cinema! – screens across many countries after nearly two years. Fans of the series around the globe – including yours truly – had marked their calendars and cancelled all plans for the day, in their attempts to catch Sherlock Holmes’ return as early as they could (of course, in our part of the world the series wasn’t aired live).

The Abominable Bride looked promising: an episode with eccentric title, attractive trailers, and the lure of time travel. For this “Christmas Special” – that didn’t have anything to do with Christmas – the producers of the celebrated and highly rated show declared their intention to take Sherlock Holmes back to the era he was created for: the 19th century. What they didn’t, however, mention was how frequently the delirious episode and its protagonist would switch between the present day and the past. Or how surrealism, activism, existentialism, feminism, comedy, attempted horrifying imagery – basically everything other than crime solving, would take the centre stage in their latest venture. How and why, indeed, did they use such fancy terms as “crime” in this particular episode?

The show opens up in the 19th century with Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch, of course) and his aide and undisputed best friend, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman, of course), are challenged with a curious case: a woman, who has just killed herself on her balcony in front of a substantial number of spectators, has returned from the dead to murder her husband. After a few months, her “ghost” commits a string of murders raising fear among the public of the presence of a supernatural, bloodthirsty threat. Sherlock – or shall we call him Mr. Holmes? – however, considers it “elementary”: a case so simple, even Inspector Lestrade could solve it. Nice and simple and impressively true to Doyle’s original stories, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s plan seemed to be working so far.

But they had to ruin it, didn’t they.

Midway through the episode, after Holmes has just attempted to set a trap for the murderer and catch her (him?) in the act in classic Holmesian fashion, the storytellers decide to switch back to the present day; to where they left off at the end of Season 3. Sherlock is shown aboard the plane in which he was exiled (two years ago in real time), imagining how he would have solved The Case of the Abominable Bride had he lived in the 19th century himself. Imagining. Yes. None of it was real, at all. It was “all in his mind”.

Of course our star detective manages to solve the case in his imagination, taking en route a few pointless recreational trips to different places in the character’s history, including the fateful Reichenbach Falls where Conan Doyle’s Holmes and the notorious Jim Moriarty had both fallen to their presumed deaths. Other than solving the case, in this episode Sherlock Holmes manages to turn feminist, advocate female suffrage, pull off comic stunts with Dr. Watson, dig a woman’s grave for no apparent reason, and insist that Jim Moriarty is, indeed, dead. As if they hadn’t put that point across a few times over in the previous season already.

Truth be told, the production team of Sherlock had a very compact plot – the size that Doyle normally created – which they unnaturally stretched to their standard length of 90 minutes. This, of course, meant that they needed filler, which is where the surrealism, existentialism, comedy and horror came into the frame. The female empowerment, however, was much less forced.

Since the case follows women’s struggle for gaining the right to vote, we find Sherlock Holmes making a feminist speech in front of a group of suffragettes wearing purple conical hats ala Ku Klux Klan – a gear that received so much criticism, it almost helped the producers get away with their subpar plot. Nice try Gatiss and Moffat, but we didn’t “fall” for that one!

As some of the more crime-centric critics of the show have pointed out, the misrepresentation of suffragettes in the latest episode is the least of any Sherlock fan’s worry. The real worry for the Sherlock faithful is the sharp dip in the show’s quality, and the fear that the show’s writers might be running out of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, The Abominable Bride isn’t that awful, but for Sherlock’s standards it is very disappointing since the show’s audience have come to expect a very quality of mystery and intellect from it over the years. Mystery, that’s right; mystery and crime, that’s what Sherlock should be about. If we wanted to watch apparitions of supernatural beings and endless “dead or not?” debates, we would watch Game of Thrones, instead.

Having said that, as a hopeless fan of the show, this scribe would like to believe that all is not lost for Sherlock, its production team or enthusiasts, yet. Granted, the Christmas Special was a disappointment after three incredible seasons that took us through many clever mysteries and their even cleverer solutions. But let us not forget that this special episode was a mere 0 in the list of 3 episodes for the season – a warm up. It was more of an experiment for the show’s producers and writers; a failed experiment but an experiment nonetheless. Hopefully this temporary dip in quality does not mean that the show’s writers have run short of stories – hopefully, we would get to see Sherlock Holmes solve many more quality crimes in the years to come.