Ready the tea and make sure you’ve got your shock blanket handy because BBC Sherlock is back and here to emotionally ruin you all over again with a brand new series. Thanks to streaming service provider Stan, Australia gets each episode of Season 4 within hours of it airing in the UK. Obviously this review is going to have spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the episode yet, maybe get cracking on that before you read all of this.
We kick off Season 4 with ‘The Six Thatchers’ and in what seems like not very Sherlock-style we’re taken to the Department of Backstory with about a 5 minute recap with what happened in ‘His Last Vow’ two years ago. Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) shooting Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) in full view of his partner Dr John Watson (Martin Freeman), his brother Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss) and a squad of secret service tactical officers. But courtesy of his brother Mycroft it all gets swept cleanly under the rug courtesy of the British Government. Mainly because the threat of Moriarty looms and Sherlock’s answer to the threat …. eat some ginger nut biscuits and wait.
We are then treated to a montage of Sherlock solving cases with a quick snarky quip and visual overlays of John’s blog text of the cases and then bam, Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington) goes into labour and baby Rosamund Mary Watson (aka Rosie) arrives to shake things up a little. A brief moment of Sherlock undertaking Godfather duties and babysitting Rosie whilst a wiped out Mary and John kip on the couch, adds a little laugh. Then finally DI Greg Lesrade (Rupert Graves) has “a real belter” of a case for our duo’s attention. And yet this supposed belter of a case, doesn’t really eventuate to much more than a 2 minute spiel as Sherlock had figured it out almost before they had walked in the door, and was far more curious about a broken bust of Margaret Thatcher. Sherlock bemuses “There’s a loose thread in the world” at which John retorts “There’s no need to pull on it”, but this is Sherlock so of course he’s going to yank on it.
From this point forward is where “the game is on” as a slew of Margaret Thatcher busts (buzz in if you can guess how many) end up smashed and Sherlock needs to know if it’s to do with Moriarty (Andrew Scott, only seen in video ‘miss me?’ flashback). Or failing that if it’s not Moriarty maybe it’s to do with the Black Pearl of the Borgias (which Mycroft pesters his younger sibling to look into). But in typical misdirection, it was neither of these and it was all about Mary’s secret mercenary spy past and another of the A.G.R.A usb flash drives and a member of her former squad somehow alive and out to kill her.
The revelation of all of this comes so fast, like a 1,2 punch, that when the knockout blow does come – the death of Mary Watson – it doesn’t seem like a payoff we deserve. Yes you read right, Mary Watson, in a bid to protect Sherlock, takes a bullet for him, but in the mere moments leading up to that point, Sherlock was deserving of said bullet with his usual goading and deductive gloating. Mary, feeling like she owed it to Sherlock takes the Bodyguard-like dive, leaving a banshee-wailing John to weep over her and poor bunny onesie wearing Rosie without a mother. But the most surprising thing of all is the fallout. Sherlock, the man who laughed at the notion of ‘sentiment’, ends up seeing a psychiatrist. Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs) is a weeping mess. And John, well he’s a pacing PTSD timebomb and never wants to see Sherlock again.
It’s easy to be somewhat blindsided by this episode, particularly if you’re a fan of the show. Tonally it feels odd from beginning to end, like it’s shifting gears but at the wrong speeds and at the wrong points of time in the episode. For starters we’re not given one single case to focus our attention on, well not until it’s revealed that the whole broken Thatcher busts was to do with Mary all along. So the first half of it is Sherlock solving a bunch of smaller cases which we never see. Then there’s the evolution of the Watson clan being sped up, purely due to time. We don’t get to see much of the family together, aside from the Christening scene (which was funny, also can Sherlock please switch his keypad tones off? It’s super annoying) and the Watson parents struggling with sleep deprivation. So it’s hard to really feel that deep well of sadness that really we *should* be feeling when Mary dies. It’s almost like her death becomes a plot-device to throw our intrepid duo into turmoil and not much more. And then there’s John and his sneaky possibly cheating/affair with the random stranger lady on the bus, this seems extremely out of character for the fiercely loyal John, and no explanation or exposition is given.
Even with the curious tone of the show, you can hardly detract from it once again being a visually stunning piece of television. Mary’s Jason Bourne-esque attempt to leave her husband has her venturing to random parts of the globe which gives us a brief jaunt away from London thanks to cinematography by Stuart Biddlecombe. Whilst the visual effects team up the ante on the visual flourishes we see popping up onscreen, such as hashtags, face-time phone calls, elemental symbols and a roll of the dice. And regarding Mary’s death, well even though from a plot perspective it felt a little cheap, it does give our key cast members a chance to really strut their performances in the space of 2 minutes. Cumberbatch throws a combination of grief, shock and slow realisation of his horrid role in his friend’s death all into a flurry of micro-facial expressions. Freeman’s guttural gurgles and the immediate look of murderous wanting reminds us he might be a doctor but he was in the army once and he killed people. And even Gatiss gets a moment of *WELP* panic as he realises that John is not quite Sherlock’s pet puppy anymore.
Then there are two themes running parallel throughout the episode. One is a water theme, you’ll notice lots of water visuals and overlays and the final act is set in the London Aquarium whilst various species of shark drift in and out of view. Another is the ancient Mesopotamian story adapted by W. Somerset Maugham’s to The Appointment In Samarra, basically a parable like tale about trying to avoid death but that in the end it catches up to you. You may have also briefly caught a whiff of Sherlock mentioning “a noose around his neck” too. And then there’s Mary Watson’s final video message, which if you stay to the very end of the credits, has an additional 2 second scene. Foreboding yes?
If you want to fall into a rabbit hole, just take a step into the tracked #Sherlock tag on Tumblr. Fan theories are amassing aplenty within a couple of hours of the show going to air. But if there’s one thing we’ve learnt, show creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who also stars as Mycroft) have always thrown us curve balls by a combination of hiding things in plain sight and purposeful misdirection by omission. So we can be certain that more will be revealed over the course of the next two episodes, not to mention the arrival of Culverton Smith played by the wickedly brilliant Toby Jones in next week’s ‘The Lying Detective’. We may just need more shock blankets and extra large servings of tea.
Episode Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
BBC Sherlock is available to stream exclusively on Stan Australia.