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.
Didn’t I say they would go in for the gunfights, etc. now that they had the budget? I won’t be surprised to see someone hanging off a helicopter in the finale. I don’t have a problem with that, and the mention of the Transporter films in my tweet isn’t a dig at the franchise. Those films do exactly that they say on the tin, and Jason Statham was worth every penny they paid him. The playing of the domestic drama against the action hasn’t worked in Sherlock, though. There is an emotional journey they’re trying to take us on with John that doesn’t seem grounded to me because they placed Mary at the centre but never really explored her relationship with John. I don’t understand why they loved each other. We keep getting told over and over again that they did, but I don’t feel we’ve ever been shown. All those lies. Shouldn’t there have been more doubt, more festering resentment, more suspicion in their interactions: something to show that they were a real couple not Ken and Action Barbie. I suppose the woman on the bus is meant to be the manifestation of that underlying anxiety, but it’s too removed in my opinion. (And if she turns out to be a Moriarty plant or Sebastian Moran, I’m going to smash things!)
I never liked, or more importantly believed, the Mary Watson/AGRA storyline because I don’t buy Amanda Abbington as a spec ops assassin. To paraphrase film critic, Mark Kermode, it’s a “Meg Ryan is a helicopter pilot” situation. Just… no. And I will go to my grave cursing Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat for asking me to take “that was surgery” seriously. (I honestly thought they would try to walk that back…) I always knew Mary had to die – there’s no room for her in the John and Sherlock show, not the way they wrote her to take up so much space. (Her as the Third Musketeer was like nails on a chalkboard to me.) But killing her off wasn’t enough – they wanted a big emotional payoff (I won’t get into the heavy-handedness of adding a video addendum to her death soliloquy, which was already positively Shakespearean in length). The redemptive arc they gave her hinged on buying “that was surgery”, but “that was surgery” is galactically preposterous nonsense, and I think they realised this. So they made her dive in front of a bullet Secret Service-style to save Sherlock and make sure we cared. I think they wanted Mary to be a flawed hero, but her whole storyline just never made any sense to me once her secret was revealed. Her motivations were too muddled because the pieces didn’t fit together. If you were so keen on keeping a dark past hidden, would you invite Sherlock Holmes into your life? The story never made sense from the jump.
I’m struggling to deconstruct Moftiss’s motives behind writing Mary Watson the way they did. I think Steven Moffat has been repeatedly dragged for his inability to write women and wanted to make a woman a BAMF to rebut the criticisms of sexism in his stories. But look at the narrative structure they chose. Everything came back to Sherlock’s vow to protect the Watson family. Isn’t the whole point of being a scary assassin that you can take pretty damned good care of yourself? The Mary Watson story was basically a morality play meant to serve as Sherlock Holmes’s lesson about the dangers of hubris, and that’s why it doesn’t make any sense, because it’s not really about Mary. Mary doesn’t die because of the bad choices she made; she sacrifices her life to save Sherlock, who asymptotically increases the danger to himself by being an unrepentant, veiny cock. A recurring, central character like Mary should be the protagonist in her own life, and Moftiss killing off their “strong female character” to teach Sherlock Holmes to check his ego is kind of vomit-inducing when you think about it. I am obviously not a fan of Mary’s character and wanted her out of the story, but I’m a bit appalled by how ill-used she was.
Moftiss has clearly made love the underpinning theme of this season, but I don’t know that they can tell a love story. To buy the John and Mary romance, you have to believe that her shooting Sherlock was an act of love. But, whatever that was, it wasn’t love. It was something much more sinister, rooted firmly in possession. It played to me like someone toying with the life of someone she saw as an object to maintain ownership of another object. Remember: she killed Sherlock. He died. He flatlined, and the doctors called it. She was willing to take the risk of putting him in the ground to keep John in the dark about her past. Presenting that as a show of love and people lapping it up honestly scares me a bit. It was classic “If I can’t have you, no one can,” but without the coded symbols of the angry, shouting drunk man wearing a stained undershirt, it just slips by most people. Horning in on and becoming dominant in every aspect of your partner’s life, undermining or outright usurping the roles they take pride in, not really leaving them their own outlet, letting them know you might turn up at any moment are all hallmarks of spousal abuse. The ultimate irony is that exploring all that would have been much more narratively interesting than anything that transpired last night. But absolutely everything in the show, including Sherlock’s near death, is either part of a set piece designed to get a laugh or there to lead into a plot twist. There is virtually no character development. I honestly don’t think they thought through the implications of Mary killing Sherlock and how that would shatter the central relationships of the show, completely destroying the trust – it was just more dramatic to see her dressed in black holding a silenced pistol then hear the machine stop beeping.
That was surgery? GTFOH… They just wanted an assassin on the team to up the action quota, damn emotional or narrative coherence.
It’s clear that Moftiss doesn’t understand how to write love. If you didn’t already know there isn’t going to be Johnlock, can you see it now? Occam’s Razor: they’re just not very good at telling stories underpinned by real emotions. It all becomes a tangle because the plot, the action is all that matters. The jokes are next in importance. Love, family and friendship are just there flitting on the surface so someone can play the straight man and to heighten the emotion when someone takes a bullet. Moftiss obviously identifies most with Sherlock, so they are trying to show some emotional development on his part, but he’s still essentially a prop to advance the plot, and I don’t think they know him well enough to give him (or the audience who wants more than a mainstream action comedy) a satisfying emotional resolution. Benedict Cumberbatch’s downcast visage and slight lip tremble are priming people, though, and the meltdown when there is no romantic kiss between Sherlock and John in the finale might nuke the Tumblr servers.
Where does all this leave me? Realising that the S3 trajectory has been maintained. The show is watchable as just entertainment, but whatever emotional connection I had to the characters has been severed, and I'm not really invested in the story. So, I suppose I'm writing off much of The Six Thatchers in the hope that they've tied off the Mary/AGRA story and am left struggling to care about Jim Moriarty’s impending return.
It’s never twins. Unless it is. Then I’ll scream and smash things.