Sherlock: The Six Thatchers

Sherlock: 'Death waits for us all in Samarra, but can Samarra be avoided?'

Well, it appears that Sherlock's suicidal assignment overseas was disappointingly short-lived. One imaginary adventure later and Sherlock's back on British soil, his murderous activities brushed under the carpet, only to be replaced by ginger nuts, a horrific Tory bust, and a baby crapping itself onscreen.

This felt like an episode of three parts. In the first, Sherlock was at his tortuously loquacious best: verbally jousting with the inimitable Mycroft, talking to a baby like it's an adult, and diagnosing halitosis in a bra-wearing husband. It was fast-paced, stylishly shot, and featured Sherlock at his quick-witted, least-comprehensible finest. Yes, there's a tendency to tell rather than show on Sherlock these days, but Cumberbatch delivers with such panache, that he has you believing almost anything he says—even when you're pretty sure it's all bollocks.

The second segment played like a low-budget spy thriller: complete with gloomily lit hideout, atrocious American accent, gun-in-face stand-off, and atmospheric precipitation. Yes, the change in focus was a tad jarring, in fact the switch between all three segments was a bit harsh, but when you subvert expectation so unashamedly, the pacing frequently suffers; that's what happens when you point a story towards a goal, and then at the last minute move the posts. Besides, learning more about Mary's past as an assassin was pretty rewarding, built nicely on what we already know, and produced some decent action scenes.

The third plot segment had issues. It threw in a completely unexpected infidelity subplot, revealed the most inoffensive character to be the big bad, and killed off one of the show's main characters. Which was something of a bummer, particularly as Mary was the show's main female character, and probably could've kicked everyone else's arse with her hands tied behind her back. Sadly, with Mary now dead, and Molly reduced to the role of babysitter, the show's smart woman count has been significantly reduced. Here's hoping that Mrs Hudson turns out to be Moriarty's sister. Or God.

I've always suspected that the character of Mary Watson would be temporary. With the exception of 'The Sign of Four', she was never an integral part of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, and in Sherlock she was in serious danger of making John's role as side-kick obsolete. There just wasn't enough show to accommodate such a big character. She served the plot admirably in season three, but once her secret was out, her utility came to an end. So while her death came as little surprise, what did shock me was the timing of her demise, that it should happen in such a cliched way, and the sheer improbability of it. I mean, props to Mary for saving Sherlock's life, but was her death even logistically possible? She didn't react until after the shot was fired. How good were her reflexes exactly? It was either poor cutting or just plain bad writing.

It's also feasible that, following the collapse of Amanda Abbington and Martin Freeman's relationship, they may not have wanted to work together in such an intimate capacity, and thus the killing of Mary Watson became the obvious choice. It's also fair to say that not everyone warmed to Mary as a character. Some fans thought that she detracted from the central Holmes/Watson dynamic, and a small but suspiciously vocal minority struggled to buy her ass-kicking assassin back-story. But is it in Moffat's character to bend to the whims of his viewership? Was Peter Capaldi's softer performance in season nine of Doctor Who a reaction to public outcry that the character wasn't likeable any more, or simply a natural progression after a particularly gruelling regeneration? Answers on a postcard, please.

Of course, the whole issue may yet be moot. I think we can safely infer from Watson's I'm-pushing-out-a-particularly-troublesome-poo grunting following Mary's death, that he was less than impressed with Sherlock's protective abilities—and they really did dial the 'I promise to keep you safe' dialogue up to eleven. Was that simply to give John a reason to be angry with Sherlock, thus driving a wedge between them and giving the rest of the season something to focus on, or is there more going on than that? In short: is Mary dead for realsies?

Is it possible that the repetition of Sherlock's promise to keep both John and Mary safe was instead a clue that he's at least in semi-control of events? Sherlock promised to protect them if they stayed close, so Mary should've been safe. What's the likelihood that what I glibly dismiss as bad writing above, may in fact turn out to be a slice of inspired plotting? What if Mary jumping after the gun fired is exactly what we should be bitching about? Is Gatiss capable of such subtle storytelling? Of course, there's still the 'Norbury' thing to deal with, and Sherlock seeing a counsellor at the end did seem to suggest that he's struggling to come to terms with his own fallibility. So the safe money's still on Mary being dead, but there are surely grounds for hope?

John's affair appeared out of nowhere and must surely be part of a wider season arc. Although Gatiss has thus far furnished us with precious little detail regarding John's relationship with his mysterious Scottish lovely, something's obviously happened between them. The texting was intimate, and Watson's visible guilt spoke volumes. Is she part of Moriarty's plan? More importantly: are they ever going to wrap up the Moriarty storyline? He died four years ago, yet his stench still lingers. Here's hoping they manage to explain John's infidelity in a way that doesn't make me want to throttle someone, as John's actions currently appear to be hopelessly inconsistent with his character. And cutting off Sherlock completely? Get a grip, John!

One of the problems I'm having with Sherlock at the moment, is that the seasons aren't long enough, and everything seems to be happening too fast. We've only known Mary for 5 episodes, and now she's dead. And, despite being moderately moved by her death, I wasn't devastated; I was more disappointed to see a character with such potential cut down in her prime. Plus, Freeman and Cumberbatch are such big names now that they get virtually all of the screen time, and the secondary characters have almost been reduced to cameos. Not that any of this is likely to change—if the rumours are to be believed, this may well be the last season of Sherlock we get outside of specials—but one can live in hope.

Other Thoughts:

—Who in their right minds would write AGRA on the side of a top secret memory stick?

—Who filled in the bottom of the Thatcher bust after Ajay hid his memory stick there? Surely they'd have noticed something stuffed inside?

—Shame on Sherlock for sniffing the drugged paper.

—The Ambassador was Bob!

—The police surrounding the house scene was hilarious. Within two seconds of the first siren sounding the police were shouting over megaphones, and somehow had full vision of the exact room they were in.

—Comparing Thatcher to Napoleon was the perfect (albeit clumsy) way of tying in tonight's story with its source material. (The Six Napoleons.)

Quotes:

Sherlock: 'Are those Ginger Nuts? Love Ginger Nuts!'

Sherlock: 'His wife left him because his breath stinks and he likes to wear lingerie'.
Husband: 'I don't. [Pauses] Just the bras.'

Mary: 'We were family.'
Sherlock: 'Families fall out.'

Sherlock: 'Has to be him. It's too bizarre, it's too baroque. It's designed to beguile me, tease me, lure me in. At last, a noose for me to put my neck into.'

Mycroft: 'Is that sentiment talking?'
Sherlock: 'No, it's me.'
Mycroft: 'Difficult to tell the difference these days.'

Mary: 'How the fff...?'
---
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.

8 comments:

sunbunny said...

Yeah agree. The first part of the episode was fine but then it just dissolved into stupidity. I feel like this is the first time the show took the time to faithfully reproduce a complete ACD story in the modern setting. There was no funny twist relating to the smashed statues, it was just as in the story. It felt like a weird departure to be honest.

And then the whole spy drama was a bit out of the blue and then Sherlock and John managed to foil this brilliant super spy with a simple tracking device? Mary wouldn't think to check for that?? (Of course she would). From there it just got lazier. The Law and Order style oh it was this minor character who's the baddy was just straight up stupid and Mary's death was INFURIATING.

I had the same thought, that maybe Abbington and Freeman didn't want to work together anymore but I feel like they could've written her out in a less obnoxious way. And then there's the ANGST between John and Sherlock which I'm not buying. I mean, John is upset his wife is dead but why is he blaming Sherlock? Oh, right, because we need more *drama.* Ugh. And if it is a fake out I will be almost more disappointed. We just did the whole back from the dead thing and I really don't think John will forgive Sherlock this time. Unless they're all three in on it. Like, maybe she's going underground to get to the bottom of what's going on with Moriarty and Sherlock just really needed to sell it because maybe Moriarty has cameras everywhere or something so that was the Norbury thing? Or maybe John's not in on it and this is Sherlock's way of keeping him safe from Moriarty. Last season John almost burned to death because a criminal mastermind knew he was Sherlock's only friend.

I did like the Norbury moment with Mrs. Hudson. It was an unusual moment of fragility and remorse from Sherlock. Then again, a lot of this episode was about the double meaning of code words so what if it's a signal for something different? What I hate/love about this show is that it makes me question the tiniest thing wondering if it's a clue for something bigger going on. GRRRR.

MORE MOLLY FOR GOD'S SAKE.

Josie Kafka said...

I enjoyed this, perhaps because this show provokes zero emotional response in me: it turns me into something of Sherlock, curious to see how it all turns out but more attached to cookies than characters.

So the safe money's still on Mary being dead, but there are surely grounds for hope?

Yes, I do think so. On the other hand, as Sunbunny pointed out:

We just did the whole back from the dead thing and I really don't think John will forgive Sherlock this time. Unless they're all three in on it...Or maybe John's not in on it and this is Sherlock's way of keeping him safe from Moriarty.

If this is all some complex Mary/Sherlock plot that involves faking a death and fooling Watson again--well, Sherlock should know better, as should Mary. Watson doesn't like being anybody's fool.

Victoria Grossack said...

Doesn't Dr. Watson's wife die in the stories as well? So that he has a reason to move back in with Sherlock?

mazephoenix said...

As always this was a mix of the stupid and the sublime. With Cumberbatch and Freeman being this busy, I do think the series might just do specials from now on. Mary's death was big and emotional, and I do believe she is really gone. Terrible American accent, btw.
Since s 2 I've not been feeling the show, series 3 just undersold the emotional drama of Sherlock coming back from the dead.
Soo..we shall see what happens.

Paul Kelly said...

Yes, Victoria, Watson alludes in 'The Empty House' to his 'own sad bereavement', but it all happens between stories, so she doesn't actually die on the page. In a recent interview Mark Gatiss opined that this might be a reference to a messy breakup, but I think it's pretty obvious what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meant.

Tim said...

> The Ambassador was Bob!

Real name Kate, I assume.

Silke said...

I think Mofftiss painted themselves in a corner with Mary. She was a very interesting character, but she was ridiculously "overpowered" for a lack of better word. John is Sherlock's gunarm and his "conducter of light" so where does a retired (?) superagent with a terrifing skillset fit in? It threw the whole dynamic off, which was even addressed onscreen. Mary replaced John.

Personally, I never liked her, because she never really seemed to have a shred of remorse concerning her former (?) career. Rather than retiring and living the suburban life, she seemed on the run.
Drugging Sherlock (an addict, really?), leaving her newborn baby behind instead of involving her husband, his best friend and the british government aka Mycroft. Brushing aside that Ajay killed in search of the thumb drive, telling Sherlock the danger was the fun part in her videomessage. Not her new family? Mary had no morals at all and that doesn'T make her a very likable character.

IMHO, she would have made a great villan because of the emotional impact on John... maybe they will still go there in the next 2 eps. Amanda has the acting skills to throw off some seriously chilly vibes.
There have been so so many inconsistencies that I wouldn't be terribly surprised if in the end, this was another Mind Palace/recurring dream/ drug fantasy of Sherlock.

Marianna said...

The two-hour length used to be a good thing for this show, but it seems to have become a burden where it seems like the writers need to add extra sections that don't really fit. If I were summarizing the plot of this episode, there's a point where I might say "and then it got weird" before proceeding. That's not a good thing.