Sherlock Review: The Six Thatchers
Happy new year! Sherlock was terrible.
Sherlock, as I have articulated a couple of times before, is not my favourite show on TV. In fact, I’d go as far to wager that it’s one of the shittest, most overrated shows of the last ten years. Well, in the last few seasons, at least- what started out as a slick adaptation of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories turned into a teeth-grindingly smug exercise of Martin Freeman yelling “we’re not gay!”. Last year’s Christmas special, The Abominable Bride, was one of the most strikingly misguided episodes of a high-profile, critically acclaimed TV show I’d ever seen- so, in my masochistic mind palace, I found myself looking forward to what unmissably bad delights Sherlock would cook up for us this time around with season four premier The Six Thatchers.
Usually, this is the point where I go “well, in all fairness, it wasn’t all bad”, and list at least a handful of things I did like about the outing. Here, though? I’ve got nothing. Benedict Cumberbatch’s once refreshingly blunt performance has become this mannered nightmare that dominates every inch of the show-to the point where the mysteries get shoved aside to make room for Cumberbatch to do another pointless scene where he is so very clever about something or other. Martin Freeman as John Watson barely exists now beyond writing a blog and holding a baby, while Amanda Abbington as his wife Mary…well, we’ll get to that. The direction by Rachel Talalay, who helmed one of my favourite of last season’s DW episodes, was stylised to the point of being obnoxious and amateurish. Mark Gatiss script was grimly, predictably smug. There was a cute dog, briefly, but other than that, I can’t recommend this episode on any level.
Sherlock has, simply, forgotten what made it so popular in the first place; great, creative adaptations of the often-brilliant stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, there were some misfires- A Scandal in Belgravia springs to mind-but these were tales of compelling mysteries at their very heart. The Six Thatchers was an ugly, poorly articulated mish-mash- a halfway interesting crime thriller bogged down by all the overdone Sherlockian frippery.
The episode kicked off with the mysterious death of a boy in a car- which of course, turned out to be a red herring, leading Sherlock on to the trail of one of Mary Watson’s old colleagues, who’s out to kill her. Mary goes on the run in what looks like a Simpsons parody of a dramatic worldwide travel sequence, then goes back home again when Sherlock finds her and her ex-colleague is killed, then they go to an aquarium where Mary is shot dead by the REAL culprit because Sherlock was a twat and couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Oh, and there was a baby, and John texted some lassies behind his wife’s back. Even though that sounds like a lot, it wasn’t enough plot to confidently fill the almost ninety-minute runtime, the episode flabby and disjointed as it hopped from spy thriller to mystery to Moriarty and back again. This is a show, it seems, lost in indulging every single whim that strikes the writers or directors or actors, and that’s left it feeling more masturbatory than an evening alone with my happy drawer. While it might be fun for the people behind the scenes, it’s left me and many others trying to remember what this show had going for it in the first place.
And then, of course, there was the death of Mary Watson. I’ve found Mary, played by Amanda Abbington, to be one of sole most bizarre characters on TV; a one-time apparent hitwoman/spy/poorly articulated backstory, she threw it all away to be with John who knew nothing of her murderous, dangerous past until he did at which point he sort of shrugged and went “ah, well, in for a penny.” The reveal of her character’s background was one of Sherlock’s big jump-the-shark moments, and I always felt as though it sat uneasily alongside the world they’d created. Most importantly, it rendered Mary more useful than John in almost all logical, Sherlock-related senses of the word- and that posed the show with a problem. While the first couple of seasons focused in on the interesting relationship between Watson and Sherlock, the show seemed to be coming up with less and less for John to actually do while she was still around. Solution? Kill her off. Kill off the only major woman character in the show to serve the plots of the leading men. It was as though Steven Moffat reeled with shock on creating a woman character slightly outside his usual toolkit, and shot her in the stomach out of sheer confusion.
Yeah, this episode was weak on pretty much all the levels it could have been weak on. While Mary’s death has driven a wedge between Sherlock and John and the show seems determined to keep Moriarty in the picture, tantalising some plot for the rest of the season, there was too much going on this episode for it to feel like a story in it’s own right. It’s one thing to create an interesting universe for your show to take place in, and it’s another to have the universe dominate the show so much that the episodes begin to run into each other like so much wet paint. Sherlock has never been my favourite show, but The Six Thatchers is a new low- but hey, at least I started out twenty-seventeen by getting strongly vindicated. That’s something to thank them for, I guess.
Do you want more reviews of this season of Sherlock? Let me know, as I’d love an excuse to continue tearing into one of my televisual Moby Dicks.