TV Review: ‘Six Thatchers’ Needs a Deeper Look

review

{All images courtesy BBC One.}

Note: this article was also published on Tea & Fiction.

Sherlock, series 4, episode 1, “The Six Thatchers”. Written by Mark Gatiss (based on the works of Arthur Conan Doyle), directed by Rachel Talalay. Produced by BBC (in partnership with PBS Masterpiece). Copyright 2017. (Seen January 1, 2017.)

And we’re back to Baker Street. Finally.

As I often state, being a Sherlock fan is one of immense patience. Three episodes a season (albeit episodes that are the same length of movies), with wait times between series that have entire shows start and cancelled while we wait. And while technically it’s been only a year since we last saw Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman grace our screens as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, as I noted in my review of “The Abominable Bride”, the Christmas special was almost completely character development for Sherlock, and very little actual plot.

So we have been left with the questions still unanswered at the end of series 3 over two years ago, including whether Moriarty was actually still alive somehow, Mary Watson’s background as an assassin, and what Sherlock and John were doing during those two years after Sherlock jumped at the end of series 2. As with my other reviews, there are spoilers in this review, although I try not to give away TOO much. So, if you haven’t seen it, I’d turn away now.

The Plot

The episode has two storylines going on. Sherlock (Cumberbatch), in an attempt to distract himself from the Moriarty issue, is taking cases like they are going out of style, while Mary (Amanda Abbington) has her baby (in an admittedly hilarious scene) and she and John (Freeman) attempt to settle down into parenthood. We find out that Molly (Louise Brealey) and Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) are godparents, along with a reluctant Sherlock, and see the baptism. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) seems to have a bit of a bee in his bonnet about John’s blog and who gets the credit for Sherlock’s cases.

As we saw throughout series 3, the lives of Holmes (both Sherlock and Mycroft – played by writer and show co-creator Mark Gatiss) and Watsons (both John and Mary) are directed by coincidences. Investigating the mysterious death of a student, Sherlock is distracted by a missing bust of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher. (Who he’s apparently deleted since series 2’s “The Hounds of Baskerville”, as there’s a running joke that he doesn’t recognize the name.) It was broken during a separate incident, and despite the family not understanding Sherlock’s fascination with it, he focuses on it completely.

When Lestrade comes with a second bust that was also broken, it turns into a proper case. As one of Sherlock’s leads with regards to Moriarty’s plans involve the missing Black Pearl of the Borgias (oh, look – another canon reference!), he initially assumes that’s what is in the busts, that for some reason were made in the country Georgia in a limited edition of six. When he searches out the sixth, after a fight that’s a bit too long and dramatic, he breaks the bust – only to see a copy of the AGRA flash drive that Mary had given John in “His Last Vow” that she said was all about her and her past.

The three Watsons – the (not so) happy family.

We then venture into a plotline involving finding out what exactly AGRA was, and getting some of Mary’s back story. In a plot straight out of James Bond, we travel all over the world and see Sherlock and John chase her down, and find out who had betrayed her team, intent on killing them all. We also find out that Mary’s actual name is Rosamund Mary, which was what she named their daughter.

During this time, however, we see John apparently flirt with a redheaded woman on the bus who gives him her number, and he supposedly starts texting her in a flirtatious manner. That sentence is hedged so much because, as many a fan on Tumblr has been quick to point out, the texts are never signed and the two sets of texts we see on screen don’t match in tone.

Sherlock, taking things not too seriously in his briefing.

In a scene near the end, Sherlock confronts our villain in the London Aquarium, and our villain shoots Mary just as John arrives. Mary – unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with canon – dies in a death scene that is pure Hollywood, but not before a last speech to John and Sherlock. John, after a sound that is pure rage and grief that is Freeman choosing to go real in his acting, ends up blaming Sherlock for not upholding the vow.

Sherlock, in an attempt to have work stave off the situation, finds a DVD with the words, “Miss Me?” on it. It’s a post-death video from Mary, telling Sherlock to “save John Watson”. We end with Sherlock attempting to contact John but being told by Molly that John doesn’t want to see him, and Sherlock apparently ending up going to see John’s therapist, Ella (Tanya Moodie), who apparently can’t hold down an office throughout dealing with both John and Sherlock. Then there’s the tag scene: Mary (apparently from the DVD again) stating, “Go to hell, Sherlock.”

Thoughts

I admit: I’ve seen the episode twice and I still don’t know what to think about it. I’m having a lot of the same problems I had during series 3: because of the inherent way Sherlock is done, it’s hard to judge an episode on its own. There’s just too much we don’t know about what will (hopefully) be in the next two episodes to really figure out if what I didn’t like about this episode was intentional.

My biggest problem was with the character of John Watson. I admit: John is the reason I like the show, and is part of why I’ve become … shall we say enamored of Martin Freeman as an actor. Not only do we hardly see him (or see many interactions between him and Sherlock), the whole episode seems to point out (both blatantly as well as in subtext throughout the cases) how useless he is in-universe.

From John making himself a balloon while he goes to do Sudoku with Mrs. Hudson during client calls with Sherlock, to Sherlock pointing out that Mary is far more qualified of an assistant (both directly to John during one of the cases as well as commenting on the assassin wife who’s far more skilled in a spiel to one of the clients), to the end villain’s motive being all about jealousy over others (and the fact that the villain has a tremor in the hand and a drinking problem, which fans have noted are John issues as well), the show makes concerted effort to point out that John Watson is a) useless to Sherlock while he’s married to Mary, and b) is ‘just’ a sidekick when he IS useful.

John Watson, with his hot dad hairdo.

This flies against every interview I’ve seen with not only Freeman (who has repeatedly stated how much he hates being called a sidekick) but with showrunners Gatiss and Steven Moffat who have talked about how this show is about the two of them being equal partners in the show. It also goes completely against one of the last scenes in “The Abominable Bride”, where John Watson finally helps Sherlock kill of mind palace!Moriarty, with the moral that it’s always the two of them.

Additionally, we have the apparent cheating. Even if he didn’t actually have sex with the red-headed woman, he cheated on Mary emotionally (if all is what it seems), and that bothers me. Admittedly, it’s more fanon than canon at this point, but John’s loyalty is one of the things I love about his character. This upset me far more than it should, and I hope that the other episodes show that this wasn’t what it looked like.

Of course, by this point, I note that we actually know very little about this version of John Watson. While we have had flashbacks to Sherlock’s past (and a hint at a third Holmes, Sherrinford), and have even met Sherlock’s parents, we haven’t had the same pleasure for John. We know he was a doctor who went to war, has a gay sister (who we still haven’t met: apparently she couldn’t attend the christening either), and has a bit of an issue with drinking, but that’s about it. He is distanced from his family (although apparently has enough family to fill up a side of a church in “The Sign of Four”), still has drinks with some of his army mates (if the show’s blog is considered canon, that is), and had finally admitted to the benefit of therapy. We don’t even know if his parents are still alive.

Poor baby doesn’t realize it’s in a Moffat production.

Other issues I had with this episode had to do with Mary’s back story. We find out that Mycroft not only knew about AGRA, but had used them before. For a man as powerful as we are led to believe Mycroft is, this implies that he knew about Mary’s connection prior to series 3. And yet he said nothing to John (or Sherlock, for that matter) about the fact that John was getting involved with a former assassin? And was it just sheer coincidence that she ended up working for John Watson while Sherlock was supposedly dead? Mary admittedly acknowledges that the adrenaline and her assassin side (despite we never really seeing much of it prior) “is what [John] likes” in “His Last Vow”, and yet she leaves him behind when she goes off to find out why her team was betrayed.

Additionally, when Mary’s dying on the floor, she apologizes for shooting Sherlock in “His Last Vow”. No one blinks an eye about this, despite both Mycroft and Lestrade being in the room. Everyone is okay with Mary’s attempted killing of him? While whether or not she intended a kill shot is up for much debate in the fandom, I find the forgiveness over this was handled way too casually.

The fact that Moffat and Gatiss decided to kill off Mary to create more manpain for John was one of my fears for how they were going to deal with her, and her death was over the top as a result. I’m frankly worried about the child, as John is obviously in no place to take care of her on his own.

The Holmes boys. Off causing trouble as always.

Mary’s insistence on saying “Save John Watson” (using the full name every time – it’s not like Sherlock’s going to think she means another John) is also hitting me as a sign that we don’t know the full story. Of course, fans have already speculated that her “Go to Hell” is an order, as there are plenty of actual cities named Hell, one of which is near where Mary went to to get her passport.

The fact that John’s blog in ‘real life’ is no longer being updated, and the version we see on screen is pretty obviously a picture and John isn’t actually updating is also something that got my attention. We also still have no resolution to how Moriarty was able to do the video at the end of series 3, although there are more hints.

Sherlock also seemed a bit out of character – at least compared to how he was in series 3. At the beginning, he seemed more of the arsehole we had in series 1 and 2, but we also got to see shades of the softer Sherlock we got in series 3. It feels like Cumberbatch just ‘showed up’, which I know is not normal for him.

Lestrade is just trying to get his work done.

As with each episode of Sherlock, there was plenty I liked as well. I did like that we learned more of Mary’s back story, even if I didn’t like that it was at the expense of finding out more about John (or getting more scenes of John and Sherlock being, well, John and Sherlock). Sherlock interacting with the baby was priceless, as well as Mary’s giving birth. Gatiss gave himself some of the best lines, and we had some great interactions between Sherlock and Mycroft. And I loved, loved, LOVED Mary’s ‘American’ character as she flies out of London in her attempt to discover her past.

Talalay’s direction, for the most part, was good, and we thankfully got away from those goofy transitions we saw in series 3 and in “Bride”. The cinematography was gorgeous. While some have criticized the James Bond-ness of it, I mostly enjoyed it. Yes, it’s over the top – but so is Bond. And the original stories, as Gatiss himself has pointed out, have many similarities to Fleming’s books.

Moffat and Gatiss have expressed in multiple interviews that they are playing a long game in series 4, and I can only hope that this is why this episode feels so off-kilter. Again, this show is different than most other television in how it’s presented, which makes it difficult to review.

Thank God the new iPhone came out for Sherlock to use.

I just know that if John’s character isn’t ‘redeemed’ of this ‘uselessness’ by the end of the series, if there for some reason IS a series 5, it will be difficult for me to keep watching. We have two more episodes of this series, and my anxiety is growing as to what we’ll be seeing. My trust isn’t completely broken, but I’m not holding my breath either.

Sherlock‘s first episode of series 4, “The Six Thatchers”, is available to view on the PBS Masterpiece website if you’re in the United States, and on the BBC One website if you’re in the United Kingdom. The second episode, “The Lying Detective”, premieres Sunday, January 8, at 9 pm on BBC One and 9 pm ET/PST, 8 pm CST on PBS. The official websites have more information.