Please note that this review contains full spoilers for the episode. Please do not read until you have seen the episode.
So the waiting is over & finally a new series of Sherlock is upon us. The Six Thatchers picks up immediately after the events of The Abominable Bride with a supremely cocky Sherlock having been given a reprieve from his suicide mission by the apparent re-appearance of Moriarty. Delighted to do battle with his foe, who Sherlock is convinced has set up a fiendish plot to take revenge on him from beyond the grave Sherlock waltzes off into the metaphorical sunset a free man, purged off the murder of Magnussen in His Last Vow.
Of course as it turns out all the Miss Me stuff in the pre-air promotion of the show was something of a red herring as Moriarty doesn’t feature in The Six Thatchers at all and his miraculous digital re-appearance went entirely unexplained (for now?) Instead The Six Thatchers was a beautifully directed action packed James Bond style saga & a brutal lesson in hubris for Sherlock.
The episode started off in in a foreboding fashion with Sherlock narrating the fable of The Appointment in Samarra about a man unable to escape death. Having established an atmosphere of inevitable doom we find ourselves in familiar territory with Sherlock embracing his new found freedom by taking every interesting case thrown his way while interacting amusingly with Lestrade (the tragically underused but always quality Rupert Graves) while Mary and John look on bemused from the sidelines. John has even taken to replacing himself with a balloon with a face drawn on it so confident is he that Sherlock won’t notice his absence. The visual style of Sherlock (set by Paul McGuigan in A Study in Pink & since nicked by every show going) remains astonishing as texts, case notes, photos fly across the screen faster than your eyes can possibly take in while Sherlock makes deductions at the speed of light. We get the briefest reprieve from the darkness to come with Sherlock’s dreadful attempts to be a good god parent (his attempt to explain to baby Rosie why she shouldn’t throw her rattle away was hilarious and Mycroft spoke for all of us who have ever been presented with a picture of some random person’s newborn “Ah yes looks…fully functional.” Although come now Sherlock, texting at a baptism is just an asshole move). But then it’s on to the story proper with Sherlock’s investigation into the death of a minister’s son (a welcome appearance on our screens for the always wonderful Charles Edwards) leading him to question why someone is going around smashing busts of Margaret Thatcher.
From then on it’s really the Mary Morstan story as Mary’s past & the A.G.R.A memory stick which featured so prominently in His Last Vow took centre stage with tragic consequences. The Six Thatchers is the culmination of the Mary storyline & my goodness Amanda Abbington took the opportunities given to her & she soared! Mary is basically portrayed as James Bond in The Six Thatchers – cunning, highly skilled, world trotting spy. I am the first to confess that I was wary of the Mary character after His Last Vow. I disliked that Mary shot Sherlock when an agent of her skill set could have disarmed him in another way and was unsure quite where they were going with her. My work colleagues were even convinced she would turn out to be the over arching villain of the piece. But in The Six Thatchers Mary more than redeemed herself. She was funny, brave and resourceful. Mary was a woman just looking for a little peace, a life to call her own with a husband and a baby. She never sought to be forgiven for her actions in the past but she was true to her husband, true to her fellow A.G.R.A comrades whom she believed were dead and true to her friends. And when it came to it she didn’t hesitate to sacrifice herself for those she loved. Abbington was amazing, whether trying out her best New Jersey accent on a plane as part of a sneaky method of getting past airport security or sparring toe to toe with Sherlock The Six Thatchers was very much her episode. She was superb and will be sadly missed.
Much as he was in His Last Vow Sherlock spent much of this episode one step behind. So sure the busts contained the missing pearl, so sure Moriarty was behind it, so sure Ammo was Lady Smallword. So sure, so confident, so cocky, so very very stupid. Sherlock hadn’t learned his lesson from his encounter with Magnussen and his hubris, his desire to be the cleverest person in the room and more importantly to make it clear to Mrs Norbury despite Mary trying to get him to shut up that he was the cleverest man that ever lived and that she was only a lowly stupid woman who had been caught by him had brutal consequences. It’s a brave choice to show your lead being constantly wrong footed. Whilst Mrs Norbury fires the gun that ends Mary’s life it was Sherlock’s taunting that drove her to it. Mrs Norbury chose to be a murderer just as Mary chose to dive in front of that bullet, the agency of the two women should not be diminished but it was ultimately Sherlock’s lack of hubris that resulted in Mary dying, leaving John a widower and Rosie motherless. It was a brave characterisation and I think a necessary one. For Sherlock to grow he has to learn that his actions have consequences. He suffered no consequences for his murder of Magnussen, big brother got him off the hook. But his behaviour this time had terrible consequences – the name Norbury will haunt him for ever. Cumberbatch (superb as ever) really showed how terribly affected Sherlock was by Mary’s death in the wonderful short scene with Mrs Hudson (isn’t Una glorious?) where he implored her to say “Norbury” to him if she thought he was being too cocky in the future.
I was less sure of John’s characterisation in this episode. John has always been our gateway figure into this world, the stand up thoroughly decent man with the super hero as a friend. It’s what allows us to cheer him on when he shoots the cabbie in cold blood in A Study in Pink to save Sherlock. John is a constant. He’s the good guy. So seeing him engage in a little extra-marital texting with a woman he met on a bus (who leaves buses by the front door John?) was again a brave characterisation choice but in this instance rather a disappointing one. Yes it’s human for John to take a fancy to a pretty lady on a bus who gives him her number but engaging in a spot of (tame) sexting when your missus has only just given birth to your daughter is not really terribly impressive or more importantly the remotest bit likeable. I’m rather hoping that it becomes relevant in the remaining two episodes and that she’s some sort of evil super spy. For if not the whole thing felt rather like filler which only served to unnecessarily tarnish the character.
It would also have been really nice if someone in Team Sherlock had remembered for that final scene that Doctor John Watson is an army medic well used to taking care of patients in battle situations. Yes of course John would be utterly devastated at seeing his wife shot and bleeding out in front of him. His training would also immediately kick in. I would have very much liked to have seen John Watson Army Medic in that scene rather than the desolate husband who seemed to possess no medical knowledge.
Sherlock and John didn’t get a great deal of screen time together and their estrangement at the end was painful. The creators find themselves in a tricky spot. For the show to develop and not stagnate it needs to be about something other than just Sherlock and John solving cases. It’s not a procedural show. At the same time much of what people fell in love with was Sherlock and John side by side solving cases. Hopefully the remaining two episodes will balance the two elements out a little more.
A special mention must go to Rachel Talalay’s superior directing skills. The Six Thatchers looked stunning and in terms of visuals and cinematography could easily hold its own against any multi million dollar Hollywood blockbuster. Loved the blue colour palette and all the imagery – sharks just gotta keep on swimming.
Next week it’s Toby Jones time (fresh from breaking my heart into a thousand pieces in Witness for the Prosecution) whose character was glimpsed on the side of the bus shelter when John met his new lady friend. And will we ever find out what “Miss Me” was about?