Sherlock S4E1: “The Six Thatchers”
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Amanda Abbington
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“…Sherlock Season Four looks set to follow a dark path indeed.”
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Let it never be said that Sherlock fans aren’t patient. 2016’s New Year’s special, “The Abominable Bride”, arrived two years after Season Three’s revelation that uber-villain Moriarty might be alive and Sherlock being sent into exile after killing a blackmailing media mogul. Ostensibly set around the gag of “What would it be like if modern Sherlock was more like old fashioned Sherlock?”, the special turned out to be a way to advance the plot from Season Three. And by advance the plot, we mean Sherlock got off the plane that had carted him away and decided Moriarty was definitely dead.
Cut to 2017 and finally proper Sherlock is back. But has it been worth the wait?
Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) certainly seems to think so as he’s reintroduced back in the saddle and, by his own admission, “high on life.” The murder that saw him packed off has been dealt with by his brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) with the judicious application of edited CCTV footage. But what of the deceased Moriarty whose visage cropped up on every TV screen in London? Well, “The Six Thatchers”, written by Gatiss and brilliantly directed by Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl and Doctor Who), won’t do much to scratch that itch. Instead, after a brief but entertaining montage of Sherlock solving low-level crimes in the hopes that it will lead to a larger discovery, the plot becomes concerned with the connection between John Watson’s wife Mary (Amanda Abbington) and the destruction of six busts of Margaret Thatcher at different venues.
Introduced in Season Three as the fiancée of Watson (Martin Freeman), Mary was quickly revealed to have been an intelligence agent with a murky past; which was more agency than Arthur Conan Doyle ever gave her literary counterpart. Now married with child, her life is upturned by the revelation that a former colleague is out for revenge, after being left for dead during a failed hostage rescue six years previously. Back and very much alive, Ajay (Sacha Dhawan) was destroying busts of Thatcher in the hopes of finding a USB he had hidden in one all that time ago, which contained information that would lead him to Mary. This in turn led to Mary going Lara Croft and travelling the globe to entice Ajay out.
If it sounds complicated, then that’s because it kind of is.
Whilst even an average episode of Sherlock is something to look forward to, there’s a feeling “The Six Thatchers” was trying to pack too much in. Perhaps the blame can be lain at the feet of Sherlock’s criminally short seasons of three feature length episodes. Story arcs flow a lot better when there’s more episodes for them to do so. As such, Season Four got off to a shaky start as it attempted to address the loose threads of Season Three, whilst setting the path for future episodes.
Whilst Sherlock was relishing the opportunity to pick apart Mary’s secrets, it turned out her hubby had some of his own. Fatherhood apparently had set in place an uncharacteristic ennui in the doctor that led him to contemplating an affair with a feisty redhead he’d met on the bus. Although he eventually gives up the chase, we will never know if he would have ever confessed to Mary his dalliances as, alas, “The Six Thatchers” saw Mary slain before the credits could roll.
And not by the vengeful Ajay, but by aged government receptionist Vivian (Marcia Warren) in a move that managed to prick Sherlock’s bravado. Having worked out that she was the one who had compromised the hostage rescue for her own shady gains, he cornered the receptionist with Mary and the police by his side. After confessing to her crimes, Vivian decides that if she’s going down she’s taking Holmes with her. Step forward – literally – Mary, who takes the bullet for Sherlock, thus ending her own life.
As Mary lies bleeding on the floor, imparting her last words to her husband and Sherlock, Abbington, Freeman and Cumberbatch should be applauded for ensuring the whole scene stayed on the right side of melodrama. Sherlock, as a show, struggles with the long game, narratively speaking, but it says a lot for all involved that Mary’s death actually felt like it meant something. Even if sacrificing herself for Sherlock felt a bit off. Yes, this is a show about Sherlock Holmes, but a character’s fate shouldn’t have to solely depend on him. She even left him a DVD with instructions on what to do after her death. Perhaps a better way for Mary to depart would have been at the hands of Ajay. Either way, she chose to go out on her own terms which is befitting her overall character.
With Mary dead, Sherlock stunned and John deflecting his own guilt onto his friend, Sherlock Season Four looks set to follow a dark path indeed. Let’s just hope the rush to pack in everything into this episode, including the kitchen sink, was worth it.