Sherlock, S4 Ep1 – The Six Thatchers

It’s that time of our lives again. Sherlock is back: darker and more convoluted than ever. Every season of the BBC phenomenon is practically a life event since we only get three episodes every two years or so. So the fandom makes the most of it, analyzing every little detail, coming up with multiple theories, interpreting every look and line in various ways. And The Six Thatchers was no different.

The last time we saw Sherlock Holmes was in the 2016 Christmas Special, The Abominable Bride, a Victorian-era set drug-induced mind palace romp that covered the few minutes after Sherlock boarded a plane at the end of season 3. The first episode of season 4 picks up where we left off, and an “official version” of Sherlock’s shooting of Charles Augustus Magnussen has been put together to make it look like someone else shot Magnussen. Sherlock Holmes is off the hook and free to pursue whatever nefarious, posthumous plan Jim Moriarty set into motion.

Sherlock, S4 Ep1 - The Six ThatchersThe episode starts off with some classic Sherlock scenes, of John blogging while Sherlock solves a series of strange cases, often in quick-fire text messages that only make sense to the consulting detective. Sherlock Holmes is busier than ever, trying to keep himself occupied with case work while John and Mary prepare for the challenge of parenthood. There are scenes of domestic felicity that emphasize Sherlock’s being out of place in social situations (texting during the child’s christening, for instance) and some hilarious scenes of Sherlock giving a serious speech to the baby, who promptly throws a rattle at his face.

But it’s not all fun and games and at one point, Sherlock narrates the story of the merchant who goes to Samarra to try to escape his death. The lesson of the story is that death is inevitable, and the consequences of your actions have a tendency of catching up with you. This theme pervades the episode and while it applies to Sherlock himself, it also becomes the crux of Mary’s story.

When Sherlock is called to investigate a case of the destruction of six plaster busts of Margaret Thatcher (a modernized version of the original story, The Six Napoleons), there were some suspicions that this reflected the BBC’s political views on Mrs. Thatcher’s policies.

As it turns out, the case was not political at all, but a means of dredging up Mary Watson’s shady past as a professional assassin. AJ, one of her comrades who survived a their last deadly mission, is convinced that she betrayed them after being tortured for information for six years, and is determined to kill her. Mary tries to throw him off course in a series of seemingly random identity changes and long-distance travel. But, as usual, Sherlock is too clever by half and manages to track her down, and unfortunately leads AJ to her. In the ensuing chaos, AJ is killed while revealing that the clue that led him to Mary in the first place was that the traitor was an “English woman.”

The theme of keeping one’s vows is also revisited quite often in the episode as Sherlock is determined to protect the three Watsons, and Mary is resolved to do anything to protect her family, even if it means risking her life and happiness. It was fun to see Sherlock and Mary’s dynamic, with the former valuing her feedback and support seemingly more than that of his closest friend. John was relegated to the sidelines for most of the episode, which made the tone of the entire piece distinct from previous seasons.

Where Sherlock started mostly from John’s point of view, with him recounting his adventures with the great detective, in this episode, John is not the narrator and is strangely left out of much of the action (at least when it matters.) And John is involved in some random and seemingly out-of-character subplot that implies he was having an affair with some redhead he met on the bus.

The creators of the show discussed the season earlier this year and said something along the lines of Sherlock becoming more sympathetic and John’s character going in the opposite direction. It seems a drastic change for the latter and a regression of his character growth. But nothing is ever as it seems on this show, and I’m hoping that there’s more to this subplot than some pathetic infidelity story. There are whispers that the woman in question might feature in the next episode of the series, and hopefully we find out more about her.

The focus is really on Mary and by the end of the episode, it’s clear why. As she and Sherlock race to discover the identity of the traitor, a chance remark by Mary leads Sherlock to conclude that Viviane Norbury, a secretary at MI-5 who was shown briefly at the beginning of the episode, is the culprit. Sherlock and Mary confront her in the aquarium where she gives herself up. But Sherlock is unable to control himself from taunting her and provokes her to shoot him. Mary pushes him out of the way but takes the bullet. After making a tearful and moving speech, she dies in John’s arms and the latter lets out an animalistic cry of grief and pain while Sherlock looks on helplessly, aware that he has broken his vow.

This latest tragedy has created a seemingly irrevocable rift between the friends and Sherlock feels it keenly. John refuses to see him or to let him help. And in a poignant scene, Sherlock tells Mrs. Hudson that if he ever becomes too arrogant or cocky, she is to mention the word “Norbury” to humble him once more.

While Mary’s death is a truly tragic and series-changing event, I hate seeing another interesting female character die just to give the male characters some pain to overcome. It’s happened time and again on different shows and it just feels like lazy writing. Either it’s that, or the writers are going to use the same old “character faked her death” trope that Sherlock never gave us a satisfactory explanation for. And surely, even Sherlock would have foreseen Norbury wanting to shoot him. There’s something off about the whole thing. So either Mary is really dead and this clever show used one of most over-used, misogynistic tropes ever or she’s alive somewhere, and though that would still not be very satisfying, I’d like to see more of Mary on the show.

And dead or not, she will still play a role in the story, after that final video she sent to Sherlock (not to mention the post-credit scene that could be open to different interpretations). Does she know something about Moriarty’s plan? Does she still have secrets that might put John and their baby in danger? Will Sherlock be able to figure everything out? Only two episodes left to tie things together.

Next week on “The Lying Detective”, we finally get to see Toby Jones as the newest villain the consulting detective has to contend with: