Spoilers ahead for Sherlock Season 4 pisode 1!
After a three year wait (and a Christmas special, "The Abominable Bride"), the hit BBC/PBS show Sherlock has returned to boggle our minds and play with our emotions. The premier episode, "The Six Thatchers", picks up with #SherlockHolmes (#BenedictCumberbatch) waiting for the posthumous games of archnemesis Jim Moriarty to begin.
But, as the teaser trailer told us, this isn't a game anymore.
If the first episode is any indication, a dark season lies ahead for the Baker Street detective. While Sherlock chases down a man smashing busts of Margaret Thatcher, John Watson's wife, Mary, has more secrets from her past life as a spy uncovered. When Holmes confronts the true mastermind behind Mary's woes, she takes a bullet for the sleuth and dies in Watson's arms.
The general consensus seems to be one of dissatisfaction on the part of fans. Season three seemed to struggle with its footing and direction and the populace is getting restless. But is it time to give up hope on the beloved show? With tea and chill pill in hand, let's look at some critiques of the episode and gain a broader perspective.
The Lone Female Lead Led A Pointless Existence
Season three took the character of Mary Morstan (played by Amanda Abbington) and twisted her origin from the books to make her a deadly assassin. Her poor husband had to deal with this revelation, but ultimately committed himself to her. Mary brought a new dynamic to the show, namely a strong female lead, which gave Sherlock interesting territory to explore.
Now that she's gone, though, people feel cheated by her death. On one hand, they feel her arc as part of the mercenary group, A.G.R.A., had an unsatisfactory end, and on the other, they're sad to see her character shuffle off the scene in such traumatic fashion. Perhaps, some reason, this show is male-oriented.
We should feel sad that Mary's gone and her presence will be missed. But nothing happens by accident on Sherlock and though the web seems convoluted now, we have to trust that things will pay off later as the season progresses. They could've easily left Mary's past in the past with season three. Instead they chose to revisit it. There must be a reason and I have a sneaking suspicion it's connected to Moriarty's plan.
Two clues in the episode point to this. First, consider the twist involving the Thatcher busts. Sherlock is dead-set on them being connected to Moriarty. Then we find out it's connected to Mary instead. Secondly, the infamous phrase "miss me?" is written on the disc Mary leaves for Sherlock in which she pleads for him to help her husband. Yes, she notes it was to get his attention, but I feel like the way the show kept weaving her story in with Moriarty's plot is no accident.
A final clue is a parallel between this episode and the show's debut with "A Study in Pink." In that story, the antagonist is an unassuming cab driver whom no one suspects of murder. But Moriarty was behind his reign of terror. With the most recent offering, the unassuming secretary, Vivian Norbury, is the mastermind behind events affecting Mary's life. Given the parallels, I wouldn't be surprised if A.G.R.A. has some connection to Sherlock's greatest foe.
So if you're upset with Mary's exit, you have reason to be. Just remember there are two more episodes to go and more threads to be unraveled. Mary's death may have bigger ramifications than we might think.
The Self-Centered Sherlock Holmes
Another criticism I've seen regards the main character himself. It seems that every road in the world of Sherlock ultimately leads back to Sherlock! This is an odd critique to me because I immediately think, "Of course it's about Sherlock Holmes. The show is named after him!"
To a point I can see what they're saying. Other characters get shoved off to the side with minimal development while Holmes continues to be smart and rude. Or the only growth taking place is between Sherlock and Watson. Just like the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, everything revolves around these two with the heavy emphasis on the wondrous mind of the eccentric detective. I think those critiquing the show forget this central truth. As showrunner Steven Moffat affirmed, "The reality of this, of course, is that Sherlock Holmes is about Sherlock and Dr. Watson and it’s always going to come back to that — always always always."
In Sherlock side characters have always been just that, sitting on the sidelines with occasional moments of interaction. The main arc has always been the course of Sherlock's character turning from cold, mechanical sleuth to something more human.
Even in "The Six Thatchers" we see how far he's come. His detached brother Mycroft notes how "sentimental" Holmes seems to be getting with the Watsons. When dealing with grieving parents, though a little rude and distracted, he does console them a little more gently than he would have a couple seasons ago. In a closing conversation with his landlady, Mrs. Hudson, Holmes asks her to remind him of "Norbury" whenever he seems too cocky or sure of himself.
These subtle developments show us how Holmes has evolved. We shouldn't be too quick in bashing the show for its obsession on him. After all, we wouldn't be watching if he weren't in it.
Untangling A Massive Web
While Sherlock has always been about intricate plots and an ever-expanding web of intrigue, recent episodes seem to be biting off more than they can chew. "The Six Thatchers" is no exception. Plenty of threads are laid out here with little light cast on them by episode's end.
Is this a weakness for a show? I would argue that it is not, if done well. The season four premiere seems to be 'spinning too many plates', as Watson accuses Holmes at one point.
It's easy to watch this and get frustrated. We sat through season three expecting a reveal as to how Holmes survived his fall and what became of Moriarty's empire. When Mary was introduced, we wondered how her past would affect the show's future. Instead, episode one answered very few questions and kicked up more dust in the process. This might try a fan's patience, but we must remember there are two more episodes to go. The showrunners have declared this to be a "climatic" season, so we should expect plenty of answers by the end of episode three.
Sherlock has come a long way since it first debuted in 2010. We should expect growth and change as its characters and storylines develop. We may not like all its changes, but if we love the show we should give it a chance to play out its plan. The revelation may be highly satisfying or totally disappointing. Regardless of where it goes, let's at least allow the season room to breathe and develop as the showrunners intended. I, for one, am looking forward to the next chapter, "The Lying Detective", this Sunday!
What did you think of the Sherlock episode, "The Six Thatchers"?