Sherlock, Season 4, Episode 1
“The Six Thatchers”
Posted by Sage
As dangerous as it is to hand too much of a popular series over to fanservice, so too is it to treat your audience like adversaries. That’s the feeling I got when I watched the Sherlock Season 4 premiere — like the show was all puffed up and encroaching into my space, daring me to turn against it. “Give the people what they want,” John says. “No, never do that,” Sherlock counters. “The people are stupid.” Why do I get the feeling they were talking about us?
Where was the joy? The giddiness? I felt like my heart would burst during the majority of Season 3. I was so happy to be back watching such a clever and sleek show with characters I adore. Not here. Sherlock is always self-aware, but usually in a way that lets fans share its ego. This episode felt interminably long, because it seemed as if we were no longer included in the fun. “The Six Thatchers” was a dour installment that set up what looks to be a dour season. As Mary says in her video message to Sherlock, “The danger was the fun part.” A slow march to the gallows is not.
The case isn’t tremendously important, but the circumstances surrounding Sherlock’s return are. He must have subconsciously worked out the majority of his issues with the ghost of James Moriarty during his drug trip in “The Abominable Bride,” because “The Six Thatchers” finds him interested in the villain’s next move in his “posthumous game,” but not so preoccupied as to withdraw from life. (This is Sherlock Holmes we’re talking about, the measure of successful social interaction is different.) Anyway, Lady Smallwood, Mycroft, and the rest of their Rulers of the World knitting circle make quick work of absolving Sherlock of the murder of Charles Augustus Magnussen. They rescind his death sentence so he can sniff out the metaphorical bomb Moriarty left ticking away somewhere in London, and Sherlock is only too delighted to tell them that there’s currently nothing to be done in that regard. (“I’m the target. Targets wait.”) He returns to Baker Street and his expectant friends.
Unsurprisingly, my favorite parts of this episode were all domestic. Pregnant Mary heaving about the flat, weighing in on cases. Sherlock’s amused smile when John and Mary simultaneously shut down his offer to give their unborn baby his name. Molly teaching Mrs. Hudson how to focus John’s camera. Sherlock trying to explain his rather reasonable expectation that Rosamund Mary Watson NOT throw a toy back at him that she appears to want. Greg and another Scotland Yard officer making small talk on the landing while they wait for their consultant to be free. Sherlock showing off photos of his godchild to his brother, who offers the kindest compliment he can muster: “Looks very…fully-functioning.”
Giles Greg offers up a case that’s worthy of more than a chat in the living room with Sherlock and John’s balloon stand-in. But determining the cause of the sad end of Charlie Wellsbury isn’t something to be done with a Holmesian flourish. The most dastardly thing the family has done is to have a shrine to Margaret Thatcher. And though she was no picnic, that certainly doesn’t make them deserving of what happens to their son. This boy cut a trip of a lifetime short to travel thousands of miles to wish his father a happy birthday. He dies alone; his body is burned beyond recognition. But there’s no murderer but Death himself. Death does not always arrive in the body of enemy, but it always gets its man. In the market at Baghdad or outside an English estate.
Sherlock has tossed off condolences before, but he’s never sounded more genuine than when he tells the Wellsburys how sorry he is for their loss. Would it have been any comfort if the great Sherlock Holmes could have identified some nefarious plot and apprehended an assassin on whom they could lay their anger and grief? Maybe. As it is, it’s a hopeless, purposeless death that propels the rest of the episode.
The episode lags a bit after Sherlock discovers that first missing bust of The Iron Lady. Because the busts don’t matter – only what’s contained within. The dog sequence is cute, but unnecessary. There’s only the symbolism of the market, and the episode was heavy on the symbolism already. Craig is a chubby and bespectacled hacker stereotype in a show that doesn’t need one. (One of the most thrilling things about Sherlock is that – besides the texting – the detective is rather old-school in his methods.) Anyway, while I understand that A.J. is a broken and desperate man, I would think that a world-class secret assassin would know when he was creating a pattern. But he doesn’t, and Sherlock heads him off at the home of one of those crazy Thatcherites. It was brilliant throughout, but I want to especially acknowledge the work of first-time Sherlock director Rachel Talalay here in the fight scene, particularly as A.J. and Sherlock grappled in the pool.
Sherlock gets the upper hand, smashes the bust, and then looks among the shards for the Black Pearl of the Borgias – a link to Moriarty. Instead he sees Mary’s A.G.R.A. flash drive. Sherlock said earlier that he knows when the game is on because it’s his lifeblood and what used to be his only bliss. But Sherlock’s eyes are panicked as he tries frantically to discern who this man is and how he’s linked to his friend. This isn’t a game he wants. It’s all well and good when he’s playing fast and loose with his own life. But there’s nothing to love about a threat to Mary, John, and their baby girl.
Confronted with the drive, Mary tells Sherlock what the acronym means and why she and her three compatriots each carried one. Their last mission went belly-up during a coup in Georgia; Mary believed she was the only one who’d escaped alive. Her past is catching up to her again. And though she’d prayed it wouldn’t, she’s been honing a protocol for that very occasion. Because Mary is a PRO. Since the moment he met her, Sherlock has known that Mary Watson is capable of taking care of herself. He even tries to send John home to be on baby duty in this episode so that he can Mary can follow a lead together. She’s a combination of Sherlock and John: an intelligence agent AND a soldier, smart, always aware, and willing to do what is necessary. She goes on the run – a wife and mother throwing her own peace away so that she can protect her family. And what does Sherlock do? He undermines her agency by tracking her movements and then going to COLLECT her, like an errant child.
It’s infuriating. “I made a vow,” Sherlock keeps repeating. And, bub…it ain’t always about you. Here Sherlock gave us this wonderfully complex version of Watson’s literary mate. Mary is a woman with red in her ledger, but a kind heart. She is a match for her boys in every way, including that dark side. She understands that people’s priorities can change and their hearts can reveal themselves, even if it takes time. It’s why she liked Sherlock on sight. And she is a WORLD-RENOWNED GHOST OF AN ASSASSIN who had the guts to live a normal life and love a few people instead of retreating to a cave to live out the rest of her days in solitude and safety. The crimes against Mary Watson don’t begin or end with her death. They start here, when these two men tell her to be a good girl and come home.
(For the record, Amanda Abbington has been a pure and sassy light on this show. Mary Watson wouldn’t have been so fun to watch without her mischievous grins or her warmth.)
Which brings me to the character assassination of John Hamish Watson. If characters are always making the right decision, there’s nothing to watch. Flawed characters are the only ones worth writing. But the context has to be there. I have to believe you when you tell me what this character is capable of doing – how high the pendulum swings in each direction, if you will. Everyone has a limit; we’ve already been to Sherlock’s and back. And though he’s killed when the situation demanded it, the John I’ve known for seven years would not risk his marriage on Bus Girl just because he’s feeling emasculated.
It just kept getting worse. We know that John can be flattered by female attention – THAT at least is in the text. But I refuse to believe that he’s such a small man that he would allow jealousy over Mary’s involvement in their work or buyer’s remorse over being a dad to compel him to seek out some reminder of his virility. It’s cheap and it’s sad and it’s not the action of a war hero. It’s not something I’d ever expect from “The problems of your future are my privilege” guy. He and Mary have already been through hell once. This is NOTHING.
Those scenes were juuuuust vague enough to hint that there’s more to them than what we saw. And it’s very possible that a future episode will absolve John of these accusations of cheating. To that I say: so? What matters is that when Mary took Vivian Norbury’s bullet for Sherlock, we were meant to believe that John had betrayed this woman. Her dying speech to him was so beautiful on rewatch, but it was tainted in the moment. I was too busy seething with anger for her words to sink in. Mary is telling him how happy he made her and how this life was both her dream and her absolution. He was her “whole world.” And if John didn’t do what we were led to believe he did, then shame on Sherlock for stealing this moment from him.
In the Conan Doyle story that the “Norbury” reference comes from, Holmes’ deductions are wrong. But the truth is more life-affirming than his guess. A husband embraces the biracial child his wife had birthed with her first husband and feared this man would not accept. From that moment, “Norbury” becomes a code word meaning that Sherlock is getting too wrapped up in his own splendor to be objective. But it’s a gentle one, because there was no harm done.
Another fun code word is “fridging.” That’s when a show or a movie kills off a female character solely to highlight the pain of one of more male characters. Mary dies in canon; we all know this. And duh-doy, Sherlock and John would be grieving no matter how or when she died. But this episode seemed to follow the fridging handbook to the letter. The bullet that kills Mary is LITERALLY meant for Sherlock. And he goaded Norbury into shooting him in the first place by insulting her small life and lack of visible power. (How smug is it that the show wanted us to be surprised that this little old lady was pulling the strings? The camera landed on her about four seconds into the episode.) As we understand it, John has been unfaithful to Mary and here she is dying in his arms and telling him what a wonderful man he is. Sherlock literally ends up in therapy. John goes into hiding and uses Molly as his nanny and personal security system. The levels of guilt are layered so thickly that you can barely see Mary herself through them.
Mary received enough hatred from some of the more militant Johnlock fans just for existing. Now they can say that her death tore their ship apart. The real kick in the teeth about Mary’s murder is that it will be used now as a plot device to shove a wedge between these two friends. The rest of the season has become about bringing Sherlock and John back together for their own good, which Mary ALREADY DID back in “The Empty Hearse.” (How much more do we want from a dead woman, damn.) The agenda is on glaring display in that DVD that Mary leaves for Sherlock. This is her last will and testament. It could be a visual scrapbook for her child or some reminder that she was here and that she fought. Instead it’s an inside joke for Sherlock’s benefit and a plea for her man. (“Save John Watson.”)
I’ve had conversations with some people about this episode and some of them are reserving judgement for when we find out what “really” happened. That’s like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie and only reviewing the twist. (Gatiss and Moffat have promised that Mary is really very dead, for what that’s worth. I believe that.) Compare this episode to Reichenbach, for example. A secret was kept, but not from the audience. The season ends on one of TV’s best cliffhangers because we have information that John and most of the other characters don’t. It stands completely alone from “The Empty Hearse.” We don’t have to know HOW Sherlock survived the fall to be happy that he DID. When you reverse that way of storytelling, you hold information back from the audience and manipulate them into false response just to point out their mistake later. (“You fell for it!” Doesn’t feel great, does it?) I want to enjoy each Sherlock episode – and each episode of everything, for that matter – in the moment that I’m watching it. I shouldn’t have to wait for an answer key to be handed out sometime in the future.
I’m not throwing the #SherlockIsOverParty quite yet. But there’s some groveling to be done to make up for these gross injustices. I need to know that losing these female characters is not the price we’re going to have to pay for Sherlock becoming less of an asshole. And I want the REAL game to begin again. The fun one, with all the sexual tension. I think we’ve earned a little fanservice.
- All that godparent business reminded me of a beautifully in-character Sherlolly babysitting fic I really love. I found it for you.
- “You can’t arrest a jellyfish.” “You could try.” I swear, Mulder and Scully had this EXACT conversation.
- I don’t know what I’m more happy about: how Sherlock cared enough to try to call Lestrade by the right name or how bouncy Lestrade was when he actually succeeded.
- “She’s not the one” is such a cute way of warning Lestrade about his date. It’s…romantic, dare I say?
- Benedict Cumberbatch and Amanda Abbington really are lovely together. I’ll miss Sherlock and Mary’s friendship the most. He usually questions anyone displaying a fondness for him, but he never did that with her. (“I so like you…did I ever say?”)
- “What are you, Wikipedia?” “Yes.”
- “Did somebody hide the sun? Did you lose it in the war?”
- Ammo – is that where the “I love you” from the trailer comes back in?
- Please, please, please let Sherrinford be a Holmes sister. I’ll never complain ever again.
- That’s a lie.
What did you think of Sherlock‘s return? Let us know in the comments and join us back here for thoughts on “The Lying Detective” next week!