NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Sherlock”, including a major character death, are present in this review
It’s been a long three years of waiting, but Sherlock’s Series Four is finally here, at least, if you don’t count last year’s Christmas/New Year’s special, “The Abominable Bride.” The fourth series is kicking off with, “The Six Thatchers”, a play on another classic Sherlock Holmes story, “The Six Napoleons”, but most importantly, we’ll finally get the answers to that mysterious video message broadcast all over Britain by the supposedly dead Jim Moriarty!… But not this week. Instead, “The Six Thatchers” saddles viewers with a Mary-centric storyline that is very uneven in execution, and this sadly makes for a pretty underwhelming start to Series Four.
The first of many issues in this episode is the fact that the superb conclusion to Series Three, “His Last Vow”, wherein Sherlock flat-out murdered Charles Augustus Magnussen and was seemingly sent off to die for it, is immediately and frustratingly undone in the first few minutes. Granted, Sherlock obviously wasn’t going to buy the farm, at least not as long as this show is still going, but Mycroft’s people just suddenly sweeping the whole thing under the rug felt cheap and lazy, especially when Mycroft seemingly implied that he couldn’t save Sherlock at the end of Series Three! If Mycroft’s organization could doctor some news footage and destroy the evidence against Sherlock that easily, why didn’t they do that in the first place?!
Once you swallow that bitter pill, the episode does set up another interesting mystery, wherein a boy thought to be traveling in Tibet mysteriously turns up dead in a car that is blown up by an apparent drunk driver. Even that is quickly swept under the rug in barely any time at all though, as Sherlock quickly reveals the answer behind the surprisingly mundane event, and becomes more interested in a smashed bust of Margaret Thatcher. Seriously? It’s a frustrating waste of a good mystery, and it’s treated as an excuse to simply eat up screentime.
Actually, that omission is probably the most fatal flaw in this very problematic Sherlock offering; The lack of a real mystery. Rather than have to use deductive reasoning and lead the audience along on a reasonable path of twists and turns, Sherlock is instead entirely at the mercy of Mary, as her past comes back to haunt her in a big way. That whole Margaret Thatcher mystery that spawned from someone going around smashing six Margaret Thatcher head busts? It was entirely so one of Mary’s former squadmates during her mercenary/secret agent/assassin days (this show never seems to pinpoint exactly which she was), could find a memory stick with their files on it. That’s it. That’s the whole mystery. Sherlock’s involvement is pretty much merely circumstantial, since this storyline is entirely about Mary, and most criminally, Sherlock and John aren’t even truly necessary within this plotline when it comes down to it. Mary could have dealt with this entire string of affairs by herself!
Hell, John especially gets the short end of the stick in this episode! For an episode that revolves so heavily around his new wife, it’s just bizarre to see John pushed into the background so much throughout this 90-minute space. The only times we see John are in reference to the fact that he and Mary just had a baby together, which should be a big moment, but it’s yet another big character jump that’s strangely treated like a small footnote in this episode, much like Sherlock’s murder of Magnussen ultimately was. There’s an even more bizarre moment where John suddenly starts having an emotional affair with some random woman he meets on a bus. Whoa, what?! Why?! When did John start suddenly having a problem with Mary?! He got past the whole ex-spy/merc/whatever thing, so why would John suddenly entertain some fling, even an emotional fling, with someone else? John’s supposed to be a good-natured guy, and he just became a father to boot. Maybe this will come back into play later, but for now, it was yet another weird side trip that only existed to eat up more screentime, and try to distract from the fact that John does nothing but bumble in the background within this episode.
This episode at least works better during the handful of moments where it actually allows Sherlock to do his thing, following clues and using his incredible mind to get ahead of the situation. Those moments are so frustratingly rare though, and after fans have already waited three years for Series Four (again, excluding, “The Abominable Bride” from last year), that feels even more insulting. So much of this episode is anchored on tedious, annoying exposition regarding Mary’s past endeavours, which, again, don’t even truly need to involve Sherlock or John. When Sherlock is left to figure out the same intelligence and secrets at the exact same time as the audience, that takes a huge chunk of the fun out of this show, and just turns it into a chore. Even when Mary does threaten to successfully break away, using a series of random movements that not even Sherlock can predict, Sherlock and John just find her anyway by bugging her memory stick. Oh, come on, that’s total bullshit! Mary has to be the worst agent/merc/assassin ever if she didn’t even check to see if she’d been bugged, while someone is hunting her down! That had to be the worst contrivance in the episode, and it frustratingly followed, yet again, another stretch of events that went nowhere, and only existed to eat up screentime.
It wasn’t until the episode’s climax that all of this convoluted, and yet strangely shallow nonsense with Mary funneled down to a final confrontation with some government secretary that betrayed Mary’s team and set her pursuer after her for… Money. Just money. As everyone closes in for the anti-climax, the woman prepares to shoot Sherlock, despite being completely surrounded by cops (who don’t shoot her because, I don’t know, I guess their arthritis is acting up), and this serves as an excuse to have Mary leap in front of the bullet and die in John’s arms. Yes, seriously. Mary is dead. I should be upset by this, but actually, I was legitimately relieved to see this, personally. Mary has always been one of this show’s weakest characters, and it seems like even the showrunners knew this, hence why she was killed off here, despite being a prominent character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories. Even John’s anguished reaction feels hollow, especially when he inexplicably blames Sherlock for her death, and later refuses to have anything to do with him. Why?! How in blazes is that illogical situation supposed to be Sherlock’s fault?! We should be feeling sorry for John, and wanting him to pick himself up, but this episode sadly made John look weak and ineffectual, and not truly accomplish anything, which is a huge let-down.
This entire episode simply served as a way to completely wrap up and then axe off Mary’s character, and unfortunately, this means that there wasn’t ultimately anything else to it. It just ended up largely feeling like a waste of time, capped off by a lacklustre climax that had Mary going down like a chump, rather than a hero. “The Six Thatchers” at least still managed to carry itself fairly well on the shoulders of Benedict Cumberbatch, who continues to finely balance charm, wit and drama as the titular Sherlock Holmes, but everything beyond some of the chuckles and cool moments with Sherlock was a complete snore. With Mary pushing up daisies now though, maybe Sherlock can start moving away from this silly espionage drama, and start going back to what made this show so appealing to watch in the first place.
Sherlock finally kicks off Series Four on a very lacklustre, frustrating note this week, as Mary's past comes back to haunt her.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Cumberbatch still gets some charm and badass moments in
Some whiffs of promising mystery here and there
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Virtually non-existent sense of mystery or intrigue throughout
John and his new baby barely factor into the plot
Sherlock's murder of Magnussen is lazily swept under the rug