The game’s back on.
By Daniel Krupa
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
Ignoring last year’s Christmas special, “The Abominable Bride”, it’s been three years since the dramatic cliffhanger that closed Season 3, in which Sherlock executed the villainous Charles Augustus Magnussen – The Napoleon of Crime – and fled the country.
If you’d forgotten any of that, don’t worry – the show pretty much does, too. In fact, “The Six Thatchers” spends its opening ten minutes rolling back the consequences of that excellent finale, with Sherlock being absolved of murder and reinstalled within British society, no questions asked, thanks to Mycroft and the British government.
We want to hear it.
Although this totally undercuts the drama of Season 3’s standout episode – whatever – it neatly returns Sherlock to 221B Baker Street where he can resume work as a consulting detective and impatiently await Moriarty’s next (posthumous) move. Through a couple of breathless sequences, Watson and Mary have a baby and Sherlock tackles numerous problems, including The Circus Torso and The Canary Trainer. But what follows isn’t Holmes and Watson slowly unravelling one of those intriguingly titled cases, like the good old days, but a short mystery followed by rambling tangent of revelations, flashbacks, and altercations, culminating in a dramatic yet strangely underwhelming climax.
That said, it starts off promisingly, with Lestrade snaring Sherlock with the impossible death of a young man outside of his parents’ home when he was seemingly halfway around the world in the mountains of Tibet. Sherlock is intrigued, but sadly Sherlock – the show – no longer cares about such trivial cases, and so Sherlock apathetically rattles off the solution five minutes after meeting the grieving parents. The whole case is there to soak up twenty minutes and set the episode off in a very different direction.
I’m not going to recite everything that happens next – there’s a lot – but what follows is a confused and confusing sixty minutes involving broken busts of Margaret Thatcher, a siege on an embassy in Tbilisi, mercenaries contracted by the British government, torture, brainwashing, memory sticks, and at the heart of it all is Mary, John’s wife and a former spy. But the problem lies less in the specifics and more in the way Sherlock, and the audience, is led through all of this intrigue.
Once he figures out why someone is breaking open figures of Thatcher, it really ceases to be a case for Sherlock Holmes. To figure what’s going on from hereon, Holmes can’t use his extraordinary powers of observation and deduction. He’s reliant the confessions from Mary and those involved, and for the audience this manifests as a series of crude flashback sequences and exposition dumps. Sure a couple of mysterious elements – an allusive acronym and a cryptic keyword – are thrown into the mix, but really Sherlock’s unpacking a convoluted situation along with the rest of us. And so when the climax comes, and we discover the mastermind behind it all, it doesn’t feel like a genuine and satisfying Sherlock ‘a-ha moment’; we’re finding out something new, rather than seeing something in a new light.
We want to hear it.
Unfortunately, this whole detour into Mary’s past doesn’t really enrich the character – I still don’t buy her as a super spy – in fact, so much time is spent detailing the overwrought specifics of what happened, there isn’t a lot of time left to explore the new dynamics it establishes early on. Watson and Mary have a baby – it should be a big moment – but we hardly spend any quality time with them or the child. We attend the christening, but it isn’t allowed to play out in full – instead, it serves as the background to yet another sketch in which Sherlock is shown to be restless and self-absorbed.
Moments between Sherlock and John, Sherlock and the baby, Mary and John are squeezed in, here and there, but they bookend scenes and are too often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of plot the episode has to relay before we reach the end. There is one scene, however, which successfully marries the two, character and plot, wherein Sherlock, Watson, Mary and baby chase a lead together; it’s great, and feels way more cohesive than anything else in the episode, but it’s all too brief. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so noticeable, if the whole episode ultimately didn’t hinge of Sherlock’s relationship with Mary.
The relationship between Holmes and Watson also feels a little buried in this episode, with Sherlock functioning solo a lot of the time. Maybe it’s because he’s had so much free time that Watson bizarrely gets trapped in a weird subplot involving him sending flirty nocturnal texts to a woman he meets on the bus. It’s such a deeply odd character beat for someone who’s supposed to be decent and has just become a father that it must be setting something up for a future episode. (If not, it’s just a strange, strange interlude.)
I know I probably sound like a traditionalist, like I want every episode to begin with Lestrade briefing Holmes and Watson on a new case. But that’s not entirely true. Sherlock, at its best, has given us intriguing mysteries and excellent character moments in single cases – A Study In Pink, A Scandal in Belgravia, His Last Vow – but The Six Thatchers was a disjointed and unfocussed affair, and an underwhelming way to start the new season.
Ultimately, it just didn’t feel like a contemporary adventure for the famous detective, but the latest episode in a espionage-laden soap opera in which the art of detection is, sadly, incidental. That said, the ending removes Mary and puts the focus squarely back on the Holmes and Watson relationship, which we hopefully get to explore fully during the next case.