Season 4 of Sherlock was always going to be a tough sell for me, because the moment they revealed “she’s a secret assassin!” I stopped buying the Mary Watson character. It’s what film critic, Mark Kermode, calls the “Meg Ryan is a helicopter pilot/Keanu Reeves is an architect” problem. Amanda Abbington was just not believable to me as a spec ops assassin, and she wasn’t equipped to perform the action convincingly. And all that was before the problems with the story were even revealed. After Mary shot Sherlock, every time she turned up on the screen, my stomach clenched, because, as presented, she was capable of anything – demonstrating profoundly antisocial tendencies: lying, manipulation, self-serving extreme violence, and disregard for human life. Her total rehabilitation was simply not plausible to me and probably wouldn’t have been even if its foundation hadn’t been the unbelievably ludicrous, glib assertion: “That was surgery.” (Not how guns and bullets work!) Watching her subsequent chumminess with Sherlock, whom she shot in the chest and killed (he flatlined), made me feel like I was being gaslighted. In my mind, it wasn’t good enough for her to say, “I only hurt Sherlock because I love John so much I can’t lose him!” Go down to any battered women’s shelter and you’ll hear similar stories of abusers’ rationalisations for beating up the person their property dared to smile at in the grocery store parking lot. Watching Mary joke and laugh with the people she’d victimised so horribly while continuing to marginalise John made much of The Six Thatchers almost unwatchable for me.
I didn’t like the first episode of the new season of Sherlock, but I sincerely hoped having the risible nonsense of the Mary Watson/AGRA storyline tied up would free things up a bit. I think the Culverton Smith case might have delivered, but they went all in on the “I’m so beset by grief I’m hallucinating my dead spouse” gambit. Really? In what we keep being told is “clever” television? Grief is about absence, about a space that can’t be filled, about feeling trapped and asphyxiated by it. But we were never actually shown Mary and John’s relationship, so all the emotional heavy lifting is being done retroactively, and it’s heavy-handed, saccharine, out-of-character claptrap. John being with Rosie, struggling to parent alone would have had me in floods, but Moftiss always chooses exposition when there isn’t a gun being pulled or a joke being cracked. There is something about genuine, non-sensational emotion that seems to make them uncomfortable; it always has to be book-ended by effacing humour. As much as I dislike the “I see dead people” shortcut to exploring grief, I understand that it probably worked for most of the viewing audience, but Moftiss could have at least allowed some of those moments sink in. They just had to cut off the opening scene in the therapist’s office with police sirens and helicopters in service to a gag about Sherlock’s penchant for grand entrances.
I sent out the following tweet as I was watching The Six Thatchers, and it pretty much sums up my feelings on the episode.
Like most Sherlock episodes, it flowed best when they were in case-solving mode and dragged in the other parts. They leaned too long and hard into the jokes, and still can’t seem to get the pacing right. A quality actioner that seamlessly integrates the quieter, emotional sequences is much, much more difficult to execute than people imagine. Every time the setting changed, I felt like I was watching a completely different show cast with doppelgängers. It was like they’d trawled through the actors’ reels and spliced together bits from different films. I think I may have enjoyed each one separately, but watching them all jammed together was a bit like being on a lurching carnival ride.
Yesterday there was a fake birth announcement for Rosamund Mary Watson in The Telegraph. A promo picture of John and Mary with the baby was also released. Expectedly, the fandom exploded. I, however, realised that I just DGAF anymore. My strong suspicion is that the baby (like every other character in the show) will just be a prop whose only function is to facilitate a twist in a plot that has been meandering off course for some time. The “I love you” trailer didn’t move the needle much for me either.
The truth is I fell out of love with Sherlock at the end of season 3 but couldn’t really admit it to myself. When that Moriarty animation turned up asking, “Did you miss me?” my answer was an emphatic no. Whenever a show doubles back to the vanquished supervillain to pique our interest, don’t we all know deep in our hearts that it’s over, that things aren’t really moving forward? I tried to keep my hopes up even after The Abominable Bride (which I would have enjoyed more had they just done the Victorian one-off). Explaining away huge chunks of a story that you spent millions of pounds producing with “It was all a dream!” is another huge red flag that the writers are running out of interesting ideas.
You're fucking killing me, #setlock...
Enigmatic pictures of the backs of people's heads? Cool.
Random pictures of locations? Informative and non-spoilery.
Shout-outs to the crew? Amazing. We should thank them for all their hard work.
Pics of the actual shoot (the cast doing casty things)? I'm not down.
I like watching my TV tabula rasa. I don't want any hints, any guesses, any theorising, any indication at all about what might be coming my way. I want every possible outcome preserved, including the following:
The less I know, the less I'm able to anticipate and the bigger the emotional payoff. I LIVE for those Red Wedding moments. I know the #setlock pics and videos won't reveal any major plot twists (at least I hope they won't!), but I DON'T WANT TO KNOW ANYTHING. Not if a character is walking with a limp, not if a character got a new haircut, not what colour socks a character is wearing. I definitely don't want to know who's on the call sheet. I want the people creating the show to reveal what they want me to know when they want me to know it. That's part of the experience for me. It's becoming impossible to follow #Sherlock without seeing things that make me "theorise without all the data" - a capital offence.
I know it comes down to personal preferences, and there is another kind of viewer who likes to try and put all the pieces together beforehand, so I'm not asking anyone to stop, but you guys are killing me...