Watch it here.
After three years, the game is afoot once again. Mark Gatiss wanted to show viewers that the gloves were off this season, but still managed to write some fun in an episode with otherwise heavy content. Going dark and grim is great so long as there’s a joke now and then, and in an episode where Sherlock Holmes has to deal with a baby there’s bound to be some hilarity.
Though ‘The Six Thatchers’ was a good episode overall, it had some pitfalls. There were some moments in the episode that seemed unnecessary and dragged out. It’s rare that I feel an episode of Sherlock could have been condensed to an hour, but it seemed like we had a lot of filler to deal with. The montage of Sherlock and Watson going through various cases on the lead up to finally reaching the one that mattered seemed to go on forever.
Once we get into the meat of things, Lestrade approaches Sherlock with a mysterious case that, surprise! Scotland Yard couldn’t sort out. The case itself is easy to solve, but we find Sherlock fascinated by a specific piece of the puzzle: A Margaret Thatcher bust. As is pretty standard, we don’t understand why it matters so much to him in the beginning, we just know it’s relevant because of the episode’s title and the weird effects that take place along-side the epiphany.
As things progress, Sherlock tracks down the person smashing these busts and comes to realize that he’s been barking up the wrong tree. His obsession had led him to believe that the culprit was someone associated with Moriarty, when really it was a former member of Mary’s team from her past life who was out to get her. Now, if you’re a sucker for people who don’t typically form bonds with humanity, then this led to some awesome one-liners from Sherlock for you. “She’s my friend, she’s under my protection” and “I made a vow, remember? To look after the three of you” are not lines that Sherlock Holmes is prone to utter in any situation, but here we are with the genius of Baker Street finding himself attached in spite of himself.
Unfortunately, those moments, along with his repeated reminders of the vow he made, John’s not-quite-dalliance with the mysterious “E” and his inability to tell Mary led to one very obvious conclusion: Mary Watson was going to die. Predictability isn’t something that Sherlock often struggles with, which is part of the allure for the show. That wasn’t the case with ‘The Six Thatchers’. It’s of course disappointing to see Mary gone. Her relationship with both of her boys has always been a delight, even in the hardest of times. Gatiss and Moffat even get points for making a woman a mother but not writing her into a corner where motherhood is all that she is. The death itself was just so obvious that when it happened there wasn’t sadness that she was gone, just irritation that something so apparent occurred in a show that typically has such superb writing.
What they did manage was a solid depiction of grief from both Sherlock and John. John Watson has always been an angry man, and it’s not surprising that in his grief he gave in to that rage. We’ll obviously see the friends reunite before the series ends, but for right now it’s important that they’re driving home how huge a loss Mary was. This isn’t The Woman, or some tertiary character. It’s Mary Watson. She outsmarted Sherlock and calmed John’s heart. A very important part of their lives is gone, and it’s going to be a rocky road getting back to where they were. John’s wrath isn’t a shock, but seeing Sherlock Holmes sitting with a therapist certainly is. When the scene opens it’s assumed that it’s John sitting with the therapist, as it wouldn’t be the first time we’d see him consult one in the series. Instead the camera pans to Sherlock, who is lost enough in grief to seek the help of a stranger.
The therapist is shocking enough, but they take Sherlock’s grief a step further. Not only is he allowing Mrs. Hudson to sit with him and talk about the event, but we see him acknowledge that what happened was his fault. He doesn’t say it outright, of course, but he does give Mrs. Hudson a safe word of sorts ‘Norbury’. A code word that she can use in the event that he finds himself too wrapped up in his hubris. The very hubris that resulted in Vivian trying to shoot him.
The A.G.R.A storyline was interesting enough as it was happening. At the very least, it’s nice to know a little more about Mary’s origin now that she’s gone. Vivian seemed like a strange sort of payoff, since the whole A.G.R.A backstory was intimate, but she was overall so detached from it. Given the history of Sherlock as a series, it’s likely that we will see more of that information become relevant as we move along, so I’ll withhold overall judgment there until we’re at the end of Series 4.
From the technical side of things, “The Six Thatchers” had some lovely cinematography. Series 4 will continue to play with the traditional Sherlock fare, such as the text messages reading on the screen, Sherlock’s thought process and what have you, but there were some lovely colors played with in this particular episode. Blues were used to represent both water and flame, and came into play repeatedly throughout the story.
By and large, there were things to love, and things to question in the first offering of Series 4. Mary’s final words on her DVD to Sherlock, ‘Go to hell, Sherlock’, made no sense for the tone of the recording, or the moments they shared as she died, but Toby was in the episode! Mary’s drawn out ‘around the world’ took far longer than necessary, but was capped off by a hilarious moment of Sherlock finding her with no effort. Mary and John rehashed the same fight we’ve already seen them have in Series 3, but it results in an exceptional reaction to her death later on. It was a bit of a rollercoaster, but all is rarely what it seems on Sherlock.
“The Six Thatchers” had plenty of Sherlockian easter eggs to play with as well. ‘Norbury’ itself is a call-back to The Adventure of the Yellow Face, where Sherlock misses a deduction that should have been obvious. He tells Watson almost the very thing he tells Mrs. Hudson about his over-confidence. Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work recognize Toby the dog as the pup from The Sign of Four, though the bloodhound doesn’t quite match the description from the books. You may have noticed that the Pearl of Borgias kept getting mentioned in ‘The Six Thatchers’. That’d be because the story is based directly on The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, where what’s missing is the pearl, and not a jump drive with A.G.R.A information.
Perhaps the most exciting blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tidbit is the phone call Mycroft makes at the very end of the episode. Sherrinford, the third Holmes brother, will finally be joining the fray! With Mary lost, John coping with wrath and grief, Sherlock with guilt and loss, and Mycroft making a call to an ostracized brother, it’s safe to say that Series 4 will throw plenty of twists and turns our way in the following two episodes.