For those who haven’t watched last night’s fourth season premiere of Sherlock, I’ll only say I stand by what I wrote in June. (Also avoid the comments on this post.) It’s difficult to balance a show that has equal parts death, crime and heartbreak, and endearing mad cap-ism while also solving a mystery worthy of Mr. Holmes. «The Six Thatchers», unfortunately, had the formula all backwards. The mystery continually started, only to sputter out, while the emotional weight seemed to be introduced with the same touch received by so many Lennie’d rabbits.
The show also contained a surprising lack of new information. In a lot of ways, the introduction to a new season felt significantly more like the conclusion to the last. The Big Bad is still Moriarty, the team is still adjusting to Mary’s secret identity, Sherlock still likes to party. We know all of this. But if for some reason you didn’t remember, don’t worry. The show will remind you of prior plot points many times throughout the episode.
All that said, this is still Sherlock, which means it’s still better than most things you’ll see on TV. The fact that the writing doesn’t crackle and the emotional notes don’t hit as well as they used to is more a testament to how staggeringly good the first two seasons were than anything else. You should still watch it, you should just adjust your expectations.
This is also where anyone who hasn’t seen the episode should jump ship, as I’ll be discussing plot points in much greater details after the gif. Consider this your
Vatican cameos spoiler warning.
Don’t worry, we’ll get to it. But first:
You guys remember «The Sign of Three«? Of course. The reason I bring it up is that, for better or worse, it was an episode where the main mystery was not the central story. The story was about John and Mary’s wedding, and Sherlock’s reaction to that. You could argue that a lot of scenes were done in the name of fanservice, but it was successful in presenting a lot of story without a lot of case.
«The Six Thatchers» was the opposite of that. The whole episode was focused on a case without a lot of story. Not just the part where Sherlock is manically solving cases on his phone, waiting for Moriarty’s next move. The actual case about the Thatcher busts doesn’t have anything to it. They find some broken busts, they find some blood, they get a dog, the dog doesn’t work out, they move on. None of that is a story. It’s all a series of barely related elements with little resolution and no importance. Why did we watch Mary sneak around the world, trying desperately to hide herself in order to protect John and Rosamund? So that Sherlock could play a trick? In what way does that advance either the stories or the characters?
Almost everything about the episode had a similar «so what»-ness to it. Remember how Sherlock initially came into contact with the first broken bust? Because a teenager died in a car, and wasn’t found for a week. The mystery is solved in five minutes, and then never spoken of again. Why? I’m not arguing that all cases need to end up wildly linked (although it was fairly well done in both «The Sign of Three» and «A Scandal in Belgravia»), but I am arguing that if cases are going to be introduced they should be inherently important to the continuation of the story. Like a lot of the episode, the mystery was neither important nor clever enough to justify its inclusion.
All of which would make it only a mediocre episode if Moffat and Gatiss hadn’t decided to end the show with the big guns. I’m pretty forgiving of this show. I don’t mind if the stories are a little too neat. I don’t mind if there’s an occasional plot hole. I’m even willing to believe that Dr. John Watson could possibly be lured into an emotional affair with a Pretty Lady on a Bus. But when you murder Mary Fucking Watson in order to cause a fight in John and Sherlock’s love affair, you’ve gone too fucking far. They couldn’t even bother giving her an interesting backstory before killing her off for Sherson? They didn’t even tell us anything new. «Oh, Mary was a trained assassin for hire? You don’t say. Because I only figured that out last episode when she said Magnussen should be killed and that’s why there are people like her.»
The episode essentially spun its wheels for an hour and fifteen minutes, and then hit us over the head with emotion. Which isn’t to say it didn’t work, because I cried like a baby. But emotional manipulation without the story to back it up isn’t good TV. It isn’t earned or honest. And it isn’t the ending that Mary deserved.
And now, onto the group grieving.