Back to IndieWire

‘Sherlock’ Review: ‘The Six Thatchers’ Launches Season 4 With Some Big Changes

In "The Six Thatchers," Sherlock the detective visits an aquarium and "Sherlock" the show jumps the shark.

Sherlock, Season 4 Sundays, January 1 - 15, 2017 on MASTERPIECE Mystery! on PBS Picture shows: D.I. Lestrade (RUPERT GRAVES), Mary Watson (AMANDA ABBINGTON), John Watson (MARTIN FREEMAN), Mrs Hudson (UNA STUBBS), Mycroft Holmes (MARK GATISS), Sherlock Holmes (BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH) and Molly Hooper (LOUISE BREALEY). Courtesy of Todd Antony/Hartswood Films 2016 for MASTERPIECE

PBS

There’s Something About Mary

There’s nothing like a new episode of “Sherlock” – and this was nothing like a new episode of “Sherlock.” If it wasn’t for the end credits, you’d be forgiven for assuming there was a new writing team in place. If it wasn’t for the opening credits, you’d assume it was a different show altogether.

The Game is On

Now that Sherlock has been recalled from The Shortest Exile Ever ™, he needs something to do while Moriarty spins his criminal web from beyond the grave (although he does have Twitter now – #221Bringiton was a nice touch).

Enter Greg ‘Silver Fox’ Lestrade, with a juicy case.

The initial mystery is who would want to smash statues of Margaret Thatcher, one of the most divisive Prime Ministers in British history. There are so many jokes to be made here about the obvious candidates — the miners, Labour, her own party — but the show deftly avoids them in an uncharacteristic display of political neutrality.

In any case, the Iron Lady is a Macguffin, except in the sense that this episode delights in bringing powerful women crashing down – the real story here is Mary’s past as a Spy Assassin Ninja and how her last mission went horribly wrong, leaving her to take the blame. When a face from her past shows up, she’s on the next plane leaving her newborn baby behind before you can say “are you sure those episiotomy scars have healed yet?”

Heroes and Villains

The mastermind pulling the strings is Vivian Norbury, the dotty old Top Secret secretary from the opening scenes. Just background enough not to strike the viewer as suspicious, but memorable enough that come the big reveal you slap your thigh with a hearty cry of “Of course! I should have seen that coming!”

Sherlock, Season 4 Sundays January 1 - 15 On MASTERPIECE Mystery! on PBS  Picture shows: Sherlock Holmes (BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH)  For editorial use only. Not for use on social media.  Courtesy of Hartswood Films & MASTERPIECE

And with any other show, we would have. Unassuming little old ladies are the Chekov’s gun of crime dramas – put them on the narrative mantelpiece early on and by the end they’ll be firing all over the place.

“Sherlock” is supposed to be smarter than this. Hell, Sherlock is supposed to be smarter than this — it’s the difference between sorcery and sleight of hand. The wonderful, frustrating part of the show, the part that makes it stand out against the myriad of detective dramas clogging the airwaves, is that we’re always one step behind Sherlock Holmes. Even the smartest viewer can’t replicate his mental gymnastics. Here he uses guesswork, technology and when those fail, just makes things up. Maybe our parents are right and Twitter really does rot the brain.

Plot Holes

The timeline doesn’t entirely make sense — Sherlock claims to be clean and sober, although he’s surely recovering from the massive overdose that provided most of the hallucinatory plot of last year’s Christmas special. For that matter, why are the security services doctoring security footage they presumably took?

Did we really need to see AJ, Mary’s former associate, Googling Sherlock? The man’s a Spy Assassin Ninja, surely he’d have heard of the world’s first consulting detective?

What kind of sculptor makes a limited edition run of Thatcher busts and only makes six?

And I’m sorry, but if you’re going to shoot a gun in an aquarium with glass tanks, the very least I expect is for John Watson to punch a shark.

Big Brother is Watching You

Mycroft is the jewel in “Sherlock’s” crown, and no matter what role Mark Gatiss played in the shoddy construction of this episode, he’s forgiven on the basis of his performance — which, as ever, managed to be both unctuous and understated. Like all the best minor characters, he’s at his finest the fewer scenes he has, so here’s hoping he lets Holmes Minor keep the spotlight.

Which brings us on to…

The Case of the Disappearing Detectives

Sherlock, Season 4 Sundays January 1 - 15 On MASTERPIECE Mystery! on PBS Picture shows: John Watson (MARTIN FREEMAN) For editorial use only. Not for use on social media. Courtesy of Hartswood Films & MASTERPIECEWhile the show’s narrative arc was once filtered through John Watson’s confused but admiring gaze, now multiple scenes can go by without he or Sherlock. Perhaps it’s down to the popularity of the actors and their hectic schedules, but it made the episode feel scattered and unsatisfying. With the Johnlock bromance at a — presumably temporary — end, it doesn’t bode well for fans of the partnership that’s at the heart of the show.

An Affair to Remember

WHAT. JOHN. JOHN, NO. NO, JOHN.

Presumably Flirty Bus Lady will turn out to be one of Moriarty’s gang. It would serve John “one does not simply cheat on Mary Morstan” Watson right.

Lady Smallwood? More Like Lady Small Role Wasted On One of Britain’s Finest Actresses

Lindsay Duncan is flawless. This isn’t really related to the plot, it’s just been on my mind for a while. Let’s hope that she sticks around as more than just a thorn in the Holmes brothers’ sides.

It’s A Jolly Holiday With Mary

Goodbye, Mary Morstan Watson — real name Rosamund, because naming your daughter after your former identity as a Spy Assassin Ninja is a great — we hardly knew you. She was snarky, sharp and even sleep deprived, she was still smarter than pretty much anyone else onscreen with the possible exception of Sherlock.

Her death is a problem, and not just because she was a welcome female face in the homoerotic sausagefest that the show can turn into if left unaccompanied. She has, in feminist pop culture parlance, been “fridged — killed off to further a male character’s story arc and fuel him with manpain. It’s yet another reminder that women are not central — not even important — to the story. By the end, the only women left standing are holding the baby — whether literally, in Molly Hooper’s case, or figuratively like Mrs. Hudson and John’s therapist (who Sherlock is now seeing).

Still, this final outing doubles as Amanda Abbington’s showreel, and underscores what a chameleon she is. If she doesn’t get snapped up after this for the lead in something, I’ll eat my deerstalker. Maybe she could be the next Doctor after Capaldi hangs up his sonic sunglasses, or the new 007?

Quotable Sherlock

“Sorry Sherlock, I have a newborn baby and a husband – you’re going to have to take this bullet yourself. Anyway, you’ve already got a gravestone.”  — what Mary Watson should have said.

Grade: C

Stay on top of the latest TV news! Sign up for our TV email newsletter here.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , ,