The above picture does not accurately capture the feel of the Sherlock season four premiere, but it’s Benedict Cumberbatch with a dog. I couldn’t resist. Take a good look while you can, because that’s about all the cheerfulness we’re going to get for awhile.
So. Sherlock season four started off with a bang, didn’t it? (Also couldn’t resist). Not counting last year’s Christmas Special “The Abominable Bride,” it’s been three years since we’ve seen Sherlock in action. Three years. I don’t think I realized just how long it’d been until last night’s episode. Three years ago, I was a sophomore in college. Now I’m living an illusion of adulthood at my parent’s house. My point being, it’s been awhile since we’ve gotten any Sherlock, and I wanted to put in perspective how a long wait such as that one can ultimately affect the way the episode is viewed. I don’t want to say I was disappointed with “The Six Thatchers,” but I also don’t think it was the greatest start for Sherlock. I say this with absolute love in my heart for the show because I know it can be better.
While everyone is back in top-notch form, the overall feel of the episode is a tad odd, like Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are testing the waters before they dive right in with a new season. With the tease of James Moriarty’s possible return to handle right off the bat, the first part of the episode has Sherlock sitting around solving other, mundane cases as he waits for Moriarty’s next move from beyond the grave. It’s a familiar sequence in Sherlock — various clients sit in the living room of 221B Baker Street in awe of how quickly Sherlock solves their cases. We do get to see some of the more cheerful moments of Sherlock and company’s life during this sequence— John (Martin Freeman) and Mary’s baby is born, Sherlock, Molly, and Mrs. Hudson are asked to be godparents at the baptism. At this point, however, I’m aware of what Sherlock can do. Let’s move on.
The slow start and the odd pacing don’t account for the different tone. “The Six Thatchers” feels like an action thriller, but one that picked all the cliché beats to follow. Mistaken identity, aliases, betrayal, discreet world travel, disguises, flashbacks to top-secret assignments. The reveal of the villain is not particularly interesting, either. A receptionist from the first act of the episode that was present during Sherlock’s “hearing,” for lack of a better term, for killing Charles Augustus Magnussen. In a show that’s seen more clever twists and turns, this one falls a little short of ingenuity. A lot of this action thriller nonsense comes from Mary’s (Amanda Abbington) background. Season three’s reveal of Mary’s life as a secret agent felt resolved, but it returns here to expand Mary’s role. But it’s Mary’s expanded role that doesn’t leave room for the best parts of Sherlock — the friendship between Sherlock and John Watson. With “The Six Thatchers” ending in Mary’s death, and Sherlock culpable, at least in John’s eyes (Mary did push Sherlock out of the way of a bullet meant for him, after all), it doesn’t look like there’s going to be much time for friendship in the coming episodes.
I liked Mary, but her death is going to bring on some darker times on this show. Though Sherlock has had its fair share of dark moments in the past, this level of dourness seems hardly necessary. I’m struggling to find the point in killing Mary off. To show Sherlock’s softer side? He’s been changing and growing ever since the second episode. To knock John’s “good guy” persona down a peg? Too late for that as “The Six Thatchers” also dabbles with John having an affair, another odd quirk of this episode that never tracks (mostly due to editing and plotting — that reveal came at a weird time in the episode). But Sherlock has had missteps in the past. Let’s hope this one turns out to be a small one.