One of the great joys in entering 2017 was knowing we were getting new episodes of Sherlock. Because of the busy work lives of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch (who has been in everything), Sherlock comes to us at a terribly irregular schedule. Though that makes its eventual advent so much more exciting, it also puts an enormous amount of pressure on the series. Season 3 aired in 2014, but we got a brief Christmas Special interlude in 2016 with “The Abominable Bride,” which wasn’t really what most fans had been hoping for (the Victorian setting was fun, the feminist murderers less so, and the “it was all a dream” was played far, far too seriously). Are we expecting too much, or is Sherlock changing itself to fit in with a different TV landscape than it found when it debuted in 2010?
The series has always had two sides to it, one that’s light, manic, and full of wit, and another that is dark, drawn-out, and sporting a tone that would fit in better with 24 / Homeland / Jason Bourne than the tale of a Baker Street sleuth with a kind housekeeper who helps solve crimes for Scotland Yard. Those two sides came together in a strange way in “The Six Thatchers,” an episode that tried to be everything to all people, but ultimately felt like it a little bit of a mess.
Most of the first half of the episode felt like the earliest days of Sherlock, where he and Mycroft bickered, Sherlock wearily (but hilariously) solved crime after crime, Lestrade came to him with a case weird enough to interest him, and we saw a whirlwind montage of John and Mary having their baby. That latter point brought back Molly (all too briefly), and also gave us a scene I’ve been waiting for since we knew the baby would be in this season — Sherlock interacting with her. But it was all just in an instant, as if shuffling past what could have been, on its own, a great episode.
The shunting aside of this opening act culminated in solving the case of a son whose corpse was found in his car when another car set it afire. It was a terribly disappointing reveal (I mean really – “your son made himself look like a car seat and then suffered a stroke or something for no reason with no history of it before, who knows, and that’s the end”), but it’s part of Sherlock’s increasing obsession with twisting things up so much in order to compete with current twisty TV. Enough! Sometimes we just want a Doyle-ian criminal case, we don’t need things so convoluted they don’t even make sense.
What was more compelling was that Sherlock thought all of this was because of Moriarty. We’ve seen his obsession with looking for signs from the (still dead, as far as we know) criminal genius, and Sherlock being haunted by that past was one of the episode’s strongest elements. The series has always had distinctly wonderful visual style, and the reflections of the pool on Sherlock’s face as a recurring motif, not to mention the melding of the Thatcher bust onto his face, were fantastic moments. Him presuming that every turn in the case was related to a larger plot by Moriarty is something that wasn’t explored enough, though, and instead turned towards Mary and the AGRA plot.
If you didn’t see what happened to Mary coming, let me offer my sincere condolences for the shock. As soon as we were told this would be the darkest season yet, and Mary and John had Rosie and were so happy, I knew she was the target. Mary has been a great addition to the team as a fierce woman who can get shit done, which is especially necessary since Molly has long been forgotten about. It’s been great to see how much Sherlock has come to rely on her, and yet, her inclusion has also sidelined John somehow. It’s as if the show has forgotten that Watson is ex-military, which should make him and Mary an excellent, badass power couple. Instead, John is overlooked in favor of Mary, so much so that he replaces himself with a balloon and the sleuth doesn’t notice for several hours (which might have been my favorite gag of the episode).
This leads to some strange turns in “The Six Thatchers,” the worst of which is John cheating emotionally, if not physically (although it might have been that as well). We don’t need to see John acting like a total lout to know that Mary’s death would be the single-most devastating moment of his life. We don’t need him to have the extra guilt on top of his grief, compounded by a hatred for Sherlock. We’ve seen John grieving like this before, when he thought Sherlock was dead, and then all went through the stages of their complicated relationship for awhile afterwards (and then again when Mary came on the scene). This is ground that has been so well-trod on the series it was distressingly easy to predict every emotional step of the episode.
So much of these sequences — Mary’s randomly-selected travels across the world only to be brought back by Sherlock immediately (though John being there too was cute), the bait-and-switch and then switch again on the AGRA plot, “Ammo,” etc — feel like they won’t hold up on re-watch. This is particularly true regarding the entire scene with the secretary in the aquarium, a woman who could have been so easily disarmed it was just sloppy storytelling. And then for Mary to send Sherlock a video that is all about saving John reminded me, oddly, of Arrow, when one character who was seen as an impediment to the relationship of others essentially gives her blessing on her death bed for them to be together. It doesn’t do Mary or John any justice. And though I don’t think the “two men and a baby” comedy that is brewing (maybe three men, if Lestrade is invited) will come together any time soon, you know it will eventually.
While an argument can be made that Sherlock having to go and save John now is an inversion of their usual relationship, where John babies Sherlock (as he and Lestrade joke) and makes sacrifices to take care of him, it was clear in “The Six Thatchers” that Sherlock feels the same burden towards John and his family. It has already been established how much the two care about each other and need each other — did we really need Mary’s death to put a point on it yet again?
I prefer Sherlock when it saves the darkness for its cases, not the personal lives of its characters. I don’t like seeing John and Sherlock hurt and deep in grief, I prefer to see them in the caring-but-joking relationship they had in the first half of the episode. It would have been nice to see John actually assisting in any of the cases, too, instead of going off, being gross, and trying to cheat on his wife, but that is not what we got. While I’m looking forward to Toby Jones’ villain as a new face of evil for Sherlock to face in next week’s episode, I’m worried about how much more we’ll have to go through emotionally to get to Sherlock and John’s eventual reunion. Like John, I still care about Sherlock, but I’m also grieved by it.
Rating: ★★★ Good
Musings and Miscellanea:
– Remember when Sherlock called himself a sociopath and murdered someone in cold blood? I had blocked this from my memory, but was forced to relive it alongside the government having covered it up for him. Sherlock’s disinterest in the proceedings made him look like a spoiled child being protected by his rich father for a terrible crime, and it was more than a little icky.
– When Sherlock mentioned Lestrade’s date I thought he was referring to Molly and I actually clapped with glee … but no, just a random woman.
– I’ve always loved how Sherlock integrates technology into the visuals of the series, but story-wise it is a bit of a stretch to think that Sherlock is on Twitter.
– Lestrade: “… It was the the son dead at the wheel”
Lestrade: ”That would tickle you.”
– Was Sherlock in mind palace therapy or real therapy to close out the episode?
– Where does Mycroft work and live, seriously, in a series of underground bunkers?
– Grieving mother: “Is your friend mad?”
John: “He’s an asshole, it’s an easy mistake to make.”
– Here’s a little Easter egg from the episode in case you missed it.
– Maybe it’s just me, but the special ops storylines the show loves to do just aren’t my thing. I prefer staying in London and seeing crimes solved …
– “It looks fully functioning.”
“Is that the best you can do?”
“I’ve never been very good with them.”
”Humans” – Mycroft and Sherlock
– What was all that about the Black Pearl of the Borgias? I mean it sounds like a great case but of course we didn’t get any real cases in this episode …
– “Sherlock the dragonslayer.” – Mary
– “Can Samarra be avoided?”