Sherlock review – Episode 1, Series 4: ‘The Six Thatchers’

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Once a smart, innovative mystery show, Sherlock has become 30% melodrama, 30% stupid Spooks-like antics, 30% ridiculous, logic-defying twists, and 10% intelligent case-solving. I’m not sure this show is for people who like smart TV anymore ‑ I think it mainly exists for people who like posting hyperbolic reaction gifs on Twitter.

The worst thing to happen to Sherlock, beyond the writers’ insatiable need to force a twist into every plot point and line of dialogue, is Mary Watson, so this episode at least had one thing going for it. Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be an intelligent detective, solving fiendishly clever mysteries with his faithful sidekick, so having a super-secret spy as a third wheel screws the tone up a little. The death of Mary at the episode’s end brings to a close her chapter full of implausible secret agent nonsense.

Sherlock: The Six Thatchers introduced the curious case of Margaret Thatcher statues being broken across the country, something Sherlock thought was connected to Moriarty for some reason, explained away with some mumbo-jumbo about interconnectedness. It turned out they were being broken by a spy, looking for some hidden spy docs inside. Said spy was a former colleague of Mary, who wanted her dead in revenge for an operation gone wrong thanks to a mystery betrayer. Who was that evil traitor? A secretary shown at the start of the episode in a meeting between Sherlock and the UK’s head government and intelligence honchos.

Sherlock has become really dumb, a problem for a programme about a super-smart detective. The chief villain this episode is a secretary. A secretary who somehow managed to control an assassination squad for years. And for some reason was in the meeting with Sherlock and the top Government bods where a story was devised to explain away the murder of Magnusson in series three.

So maybe not a secretary then? She had a codename – codename ‘Love’, or ‘Amo’ in Latin. So who the fuck is she? The writers give her importance when they need to – the codename twist, her being in the meeting – and then take it away when they need to – her being above suspicion, Sherlock’s speech about her being a lowly secretary.

“You know what would be cool?” the writers say. ‘If we had a character at the start that nobody suspects but she turns out to be the chief villain.”

Okay great, but for it to be anything other than a cheap twist that leaves a bad taste it needs to be intelligently handled – there needs to be an artful logic to it. The viewer can’t suspect the character’s true nature but you also need to show that the character is capable of pulling off the villainous plan. That’s difficult  to do. Sherlock‘s writers no longer seem willing to put that level of work in.

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The show in general strains credibility now. You have to suspend disbelief way too often for it to work. Why was the secret agent smashing Thatcher statues and murdering people? He’s a secret fucking agent: he can’t break into a house and steal a statue undetected? And what a massive fucking coincidence that Sherlock got a case involving someone who bought one of the handful of statues in the country.

If the writers have given up on making the show smart they seem to have given up on making it innovative as well. A good example is Sherlock’s fight scene with the spy. It was nothing but empty choreography. It didn’t say anything about the characters. There’s a great review of the Star Wars prequels where the reviewer compares the fight scenes to those in the original movies. In the first Star Wars films, the lightsaber battles said a lot about the characters: Luke Skywalker wailing away violently as he loses control, crosses to the dark side, or Obi Wan ceasing to fight, choosing the opposite. Or take, as another random example, the action scenes in Iron Man 3,where Tony Stark uses his skills as an inventor to win the battle.

A straight fight scene is fine for many scenarios, but not for a fight involving a master detective. He should be winning with intelligence, outsmarting his opponent – not punching him into submission like James Bond.

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Added to this mix of spys and schlock is a whole load of melodrama. Mary has lied to John Watson again, to the point of not telling him her real name – Rosamund. Meanwhile, John has – or considered having – an affair. Why? Because the writers want to add some extra-heartbreak for John, some guilt for him to deal with in this episode, and into later ones. But instead of spending time coming up with a way to work it in naturally, they just make John have a completely out-of-character affair. Plus, another twist! Don’t you just love twists?! Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss certainly do.

I like twists. One or two at most an episode. Twists that are logical, and thought out. The recently aired HBO/SKY show Westworld had some great twists in it; twists I knew were coming episodes in advance and yet still enjoyed the fuck out of. Because they made sense and were artfully built. They weren’t just cheap entertainment. It’s the difference between Houdini and a conman at the fair with a ringer in the crowd.

This show would have been better as a one-off – six episodes of greatness, instead of 13 of increasingly diminishing returns.

Random notes:

  • Some more teasing this episode, via a dream, of Sherlock’s mysterious past, and a seemingly important pet dog
  • Mycroft says he ‘slapped a D-notice on the whole’ Magnusson incident. D-notice’s are one of those ‘signing the Official Secrets Act’ devices TV writers use. In reality, a D-notice has no special superpower to gag the media. Newspapers are free to ignore them. It’s more of an implied threat.
  • “I thought you’d done something clever but now you’ve explained it, it’s dead simple.” And then sometimes you think someone has done something clever, and then after they explain it the explanation is completely unsatisfactory and you realise they never did anything clever at all, it was just a poorly constructed trick that falls apart on inspection and didn’t make any sense in the first place.
  • The case involving the kid in the car was a bit of a stretch. I can’t see Sherlock’s explanation holding up at the coroner’s inquest.
  • Mary never leaves the house without a letter laced in chloroform
  • ‘Freelancers are too messy,” Mycroft says to Sherlock. A knowingly barbed comment perhaps?
  • The nonsense with Mary impersonating an old Jewish woman on the plane sums up her entire cartoonish character.
  • Next week’s villain – played by Toby Jones – is shown on a poster at the bus stop next to John Watson’s new love interest

Sherlock (Series 3) – Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three, 2016 Special

Sherlock (Series 4) – Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three

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2 thoughts on “Sherlock review – Episode 1, Series 4: ‘The Six Thatchers’

  1. Wow, am I glad I didn’t watch series 4! Actually, I stopped watching after having been bitterly disappointed in series 3. All the implausible plot twists were just too much to take, and especially – couldn’t agree with you more on this – the character of Mary Watson. Too bad, I really liked series 1 and 2: intelligent and fun. But after series 3 I decided to spare myself further annoyance. I now see that I was right – so thanks for this review!!

    • I’m feeling the same way. I’m not sure I’ll watch the next two episodes. There’s been such a huge drop in quality.

      Thanks for the comment.

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