*SPOILERS* Sherlock - The Six Thatchers Review

It’s safe to say that the past few weeks have caused an emotional whirlwind for Sherlockians everywhere, and today, I feel as though it is finally safe to start discussing the series, spoilers and all. Starting on New Year’s Day, Mark Gatiss’ and Steven Moffat’s brainchild that is Sherlock, made its way back to our screens with an explosive start of Season Four.

Starting with bolts of brotherly humour between Sherlock and Mycroft, the series ignored its Christmas Special, ‘The Abominable Bride’, and was situated straight after the end of series three. Although there was a desperate attempt to refer back to ‘His Last Vow’, which graced our screens around three years ago, all links felt a bit lost, unless you had recently re-watched the previous series, which of course I hadn’t had time to do.

Titled ‘The Six Thatchers’, playing homage to Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons’, the episode had a high number of expectations and hopes to live up to, and I think many would agree that it was a truly incredible first episode, despite having its flaws.

I have re-written the brief plot synopsis to this episode several times now, each time seeing me suffer from the difficulty of covering all the key points in as few words as possible. At first, I thought I was the problem, riddled with some form of writers block or disorganised thoughts, yet now I realise that it was, in fact, the plot which was heavily jumbled, covering a thousand different stories in the space of ninety minutes, most of which were brushed over by its impeccably fast pace.

At times, the pace seemed too fast, with aspects like Sherlock's return and the birth of baby Watson being pushed to the sidelines, in an attempt to set the series off at the correct time frame without denying fans the privilege of viewing pivotal moments of the characters’ lives. As a fan, I can appreciate this, but as a reviewer, it seems clear that these elements were only included to make the viewers happy, as they didn’t appear to enrich the plot in any way, other than adding some minor displays of character development and a few surges of humour in, which will later become, one of the darkest episodes of Sherlock to take to our screens.

Containing elements of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories, "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" and "The Adventure of the Yellow Face", the real depth of plot starts around ten minutes into the episode, when Sherlock is asked to investigate the mysterious death of a young man. After a minuscule amount of screen time, tThe case is quickly solved, yet also escalates into the enigmatic case of a broken bust of Margaret Thatcher, which Sherlock discovers when seeing to the dead boy's parents. After more busts are smashed, Sherlock discovers a link between these occurrences and Mary’s past as an assassin, thus leading to the main plot line of where her past is catching up with her. Fearing the safety of her family, Mary leaves London, unsure of what her past colleague AJ (played by Sacha Dhawan) will do on his path of revenge. He believes that Mary was the one to betray him, only for it to later be revealed that the mole within their past mission together was Mrs Norbury, yes that ice-lolly loving secretary, who later pulls the trigger on Sherlock, only to have Mary save him by jumping in front of him and therefore taking a bullet to the chest.  

As I said above, the episode consisted of a mish-mash of stories, and although that synopsis covers the key points and spoilers, so much more is included in the episode (which I shall now hope that you have seen seeing as I gave away the ending). The episode truly was a story in free parts, changing each thirty minutes, starting with humour, escalating to action and ending on a dark, tear jerking show-changer.

It is rare for a show to begin with an opening which is laced with quick movements through time along with several comedic antidotes, only to end on a tragic death of a main character, but the opening certainly added to the heartbreak when it came to Mary’s death. With this said, the event still didn’t seem to fit within an episode which also showed scenes such as Mary's labour, Sherlock’s love for Ginger Nut biscuits, digs at Lestrade, and of course, Sherlock attempting to be a babysitter. The humour to begin with certainly allowed audiences to recognise the get reacquainted with the characters they know and love, but it’s quick escalation to action, which is best described as an homage to the likes of James Bond followed by gut-wrenching heartbreak made it feel as though I was watching a trilogy crammed into ninety minutes, as opposed to a single episode of a show.

Director Rachel Talalay did an incredible job of attempting to piece all scenes together, yet it still seemed a bit everywhere. Her direction added a real surge of fresh blood to the series, and although this is strange to see at the start of a fourth series, it certainly made it stand out from before. The action and fighting scenes were faultlessly clean, well-choreographed and exciting to watch, yet, in my opinion, seemed out of place within the Sherlock series; however, she cannot be faulted when it comes to the atmosphere and beauty that the episode inherited.

From stunning cinematography, a new, heavier style of editing and incredible sets and locations, ‘The Six Thatchers’ has certainly won the title of the most visually pleasing episode so far. Throughout the episode, aspects were visually stunning and added a new depth to the series, which was unfortunately lost within the later episodes, and I believe that these were the reasons I continued to watch the episode so intensely. It’s a rare occurrence for a mainstream show to focus heavily on these elements, yet Sherlock defies the norm and does so with such a high level of skill, it certainly made this episode one of my favourites.

Even with the scenes where Mary was travelling, which I felt received far too much screen time and appeared to be used as fillers, the locations, sets and colouring were so incredible to view, it made this duller element of the plot forgivable. The only scene which I did dislike due to the choice of camera work was the scene where the camera appeared to be attached to the dog, due to the fact that it felt sloppy in comparison to the rest of the episode, for which the camera movements were clean and sharp.

The level of foreshadowing throughout the episode was incredible, from Culverton Smith (episode two villain played by Toby Jones) on the bus stop when John is speaking to his new female friend, the relation to ‘pirates’ through conversation and flashback, and of course, Sherlock reciting the tale ‘The Appointment In Samarra’, which largely links to Mary’s fate, all added a strong air of intelligence to the episode, which cannot be faulted.

As always the cast was incredible and truly did their characters justice. With his usual sharpness, Benedict Cumberbatch settled into the role of a Sherlock Holmes, who although has largely developed as a character, is still completely recognisable. Although there was only one short montage of deduction, he took to it with his usual rapid act, and his clear smugness was as apparent as always. Even when talking to baby Watson, he interacted in a way which was entirely true to form, thus formulating several incredible scenes to start off the new series. Sherlock and Mycroft’s (played by Mark Gatiss) had several razor-edge interactions, and these were certainly some of their best scenes together yet; however, I was slightly disheartened by the lack of Rupert Graves’s Lestrade, Louise Brealey’s Molly, and Una Stubbs’s Mrs Hudson, who all appeared to be somewhat overlooked within this episode, due to their lack of relevance to the plot.

To me, the plot was not a key feature within this episode, and in comparison to the previous seasons of Sherlock, ‘The Six Thatchers’ loses focus on the crime solving and puzzle aspects that the show in renowned for, and instead shifts to focusing solely on the development of characters and their relationships. This adds a heavier focus onto the entirety of the cast, especially Martin Freeman (who plays John Watson) and Amanda Abbington (who plays Mary Watson).

Betrayal is a common theme throughout this episode, and therefore John and Mary take starring roles, with the lies they have told each other slowly beginning to unravel before them. Mary’s hidden truths about her assassin career (I feel as though career is the wrong word here) and the full meaning of the memory stick acts as a catalyst for action, meanwhile, John is continuing a flirtatious relationship with another woman, thus betraying his wife and mother to his new-born child. Like most people, John’s actions shocked me, due to the way in which he is known for his loyalty. I guess that when he is put next to Sherlock, it is difficult for him to look flawed, and instead displays a heightened act of empathy and emotions. John is always expected to be better and to be nothing less than a moral hero, yet this act reinforces the fact that he is only human, and adds a true bolt of realism to the character.

Sherlock also receives a humanised makeover, with his evolution becoming ever apparent through aspects such as the flashbacks of his childhood, and the fact he ended up seeing a therapist. It is clear that he is no longer the same man from series one, and Cumberbatch really does do this evolution justice. His constant promising to protect the Watson’s is heart-warming and defeats his sociopathic stereotyping; however, past traits are still present, especially when he contributes to causing Mary’s death.

Within the episode, he is truly attempting to grasp the concept of human emotions, yet his intelligence, ego and desire to push things further when analysing Mrs Norbury provokes her to pull the trigger. As the gun is fired, Mary jumps to take the bullet, and just minutes later, she passes away in John’s arms. It was a brutal scene to watch, and one which appeared vital to me. At this point, we could see how potentially torturous Sherlock could be to John.

Although this was not his intention, Sherlock’s act left John groaning in agony acting almost animalistic. Freeman’s character, at this point, gains another layer, where his usual calmness of an army doctor is completely sacrificed to the heartbreak of his loss, and his loyalty to Sherlock is lost. Another dimension will be forever added to the relationship of Holmes and Watson, but at the end of ‘The Six Thatchers’, it is unclear as to what their future holds.

Overall, I deeply enjoyed this episode, but I guess it could be argued that I am heavily biased when it comes to the Sherlock series. It’s a bold move to kill off a major character in an opening episode, and one which I did not expect them to take. It excites me to think what future episodes can hold now that such a major plot twist has occurred, and the questions of what will happen next were something that really ate away at me. How would John cope? Is Moriarty really back? Will Sherlock and John get through this? Why did Mycroft have Sherrinford written in his diary?

Of course those questions are answered now, unless of course you haven’t watched the latest episodes, but I must admit, there is one thing that is still troubling me and really shocked me…



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