Breakdown of Sherlock’s ‘the Six Thatchers’

SherlockA new season of the British Sherlock is here. After seeing the first episode, I’m… not convinced. Let’s break down ‘the Six Thatchers’.

Spoilers

As you may have guessed from the intro, this is going to be big spoiler-filled post.

I will, in detail, discuss the ending of the first episode of the fourth season of Sherlock, ‘the Six Thatchers’, which aired at the start of this year.

If you want to watch it unspoiled, you should stop reading now. You have been warned.

What am I talking about?

In this season starter, Sherlock involves himself in an investigation of the death of a cabinet minister. From there, he entangles himself in a plot concerning Watson’s wife – you know, the retired mercenary assassin.

The show ends with Sherlock confronting a spy in the goverment. I want to take a look at that scene and how it reflects on the episode.

The build-up to this scene starts going wrong almost from the get-go.

The set-up is bad?

The episode starts with Sherlock Holmes being obnoxious – after being cleared for murder – and John Watson and his wife Mary having a baby.

Let’s start with Sherlock. We see Sherlock in another solve-a-dozen-murders montage, which I think started at the end of season two. John then comments Sherlock can’t keep this up. It is also stressed several times that Sherlock has promised to keep Mary safe. It’s a simple guess where this is going: Sherlock is going to mess up and Mary will suffer for it. And lo and behold, that’s exactly what happens in the finale.

John then. His marriage suffers because of the baby and he starts a texting affair with a lady he meets on the bus. Let’s put aside the fact that both Sherlock and Mary don’t notice (they are, apparently, a not so brilliant investigator and secret agent as we thought). I had a child last year, and starting a relationship with somebody else has been the last thing on my mind. I go home each day from work, by train, happy to see my wife and baby daughter, not chatting up random women. Apparently John is more from the asshole persuasion, though. But that is very uncharacteristic for him. After seeing the ending, I realized it for what it was: a set-up to guilt problems for John later in the season.

What about that finale?

Sherlock rushes to a meeting with a spy in an aquarium. Mary shows up to help, while John calls the baby sitter. Sherlock, being obnoxious, pushes the spy too far and she tries to shoot him. Mary takes the bullet for him just as John arrives with the police.

The first problem: why doesn’t Sherlock call Lestrade immediately, but only John and Mary? This is an international spy who didn’t mind killing a lot of people. Stupid much.

The second problem: why does Mary take a bullet for Sherlock? It sounds oh so noble, but is it? She warns Sherlock about goading the woman and he still gets her to shoot him. Before killing herself instead of yelling ‘I told you so’, she might have spared a thought for her husband and baby? Or, being an assassin, she could have brought a weapon of her own. Apparently, she wanted nothing more than to nobly sacrifice herself to pay for her sins. Way to get 2-dimensional, woman.

The third problem: as Mary lays dying, both Mary and John are more concerned with Sherlock than with each other. Most of Mary’s dying words are for Sherlock. Seriously? WTF?

Is it really that bad?

Yes, yes it is. This episode breaks the characters for a skewed idea of fan-service.

This show is about Sherlock and John. Letting John get married pushed the show into a cliché love triangle that was really about the two of them, not Mary. On top of that, Mary never really got her own agenda. There were smoke-and-mirrors of her being a super spy, but that didn’t give her a personality. Her spy-ness was a gimmick linking her to Sherlock. She’s basically a walking spotlight centered on the great detective. And this episode the writer killed her off to pave the way for a new conflict in the Sherlock-Watson bromance. And the fan-girls go ‘squeee’.

John was even worse off. He turned asshole this episode. He starts an affair, because having baby’s sucks for your marriage. Having a baby can be hard or your love life, but turning to cheating is a dick move, at a time when your partner is most in need of you. Go John.

Compounding to this is that his life still revolves around Sherlock, in spite of the wife and child. It gets so bad that he actually blames Sherlock for Mary’s death. That makes him an even bigger asshole. You have a baby daughter. How messed up in the head are you that you jeopardize both your own life and that of your wife for the kick of vigilante crime solving?

And finally Sherlock. He starts this season as a jerk and then gets his best friend’s wife killed by being an idiot. Way to go. Greatest detective in the world?

You have a better suggestion?

I do. The show should really take a page from the US show Elementary. The character development is far subtler there. The tales of Sherlock Holmes are at their core detective stories. That should always be the basis. The interpersonal drama between the characters should take a back seat to that. In Elementary, only a small part of each episode builds up the character development. It builds up, episode on episode, but the core is always the crime-solving.

Steven Moffat can write brilliant stuff like the Doctor Who episode Blink, and the first three seasons of the show Coupling. However, his thing is larger-than-life in-your-face-stereotypical character drama (that’s code for ‘he’s a bit of a sexist‘) and that doesn’t mash well in the long run with a show that should only have subtle character development, like Sherlock. Or Doctor Who for that matter.

Sigh. At least Benedict Cumberbatch’s and Marin Freeman’s acting compensates for some of it.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands