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Gatiss' "Six Thatchers" certainly offered the prospect of an exhilarating story, enticing viewers with intriguing side-mysteries, an ominous fairytale about confronting death, and a carefully crafted trail of clues tracing back to Moriarty. There was also the hilarious notion of watching Watson roam London, solving crime with a baby harness strapped to his waist. Everything seemed to be progressing smoothly -- that is, until the last Thatcher bust was smashed a third of the way through. Along with the Iron Lady's plaster likeness, my hopes were shattered once I recognized an already expired plot device from series 3 (Sherlock wasn't the only one brought back from the dead). After that, the episode suffered a great Reichenbach fall into unfocused mediocrity -- except, this time, there was no blow-up mattress to cushion the landing.
What if Star Wars consisted entirely of dull council meetings in a conference room on a green screen planet? (oh, wait...) Or if Harry Potter traveled to outer space and fought extraterrestrial threats? After just three series, Sherlock has strayed so far from its original source material that it now more closely resembles a soap opera than a detective series. Whatever happened to that obnoxious consultant detective in pursuit of thrilling cases?
Yes, character development is essential to any successful TV show, but when the lives of ordinary people are dramatized enough to constitute the central mystery in a detective saga, you know things have gone a bit too far. Sherlock's characters should not be fleshed out by having entire episodes devoted to "the mystery of their past." Rather, like a trail of footsteps or a fingerprint under the magnifying glass, small clues about each character are revealed subtly along the way: by how they respond to trials and tribulations, how they approach each confounding riddle the writers set before them. Observing characters during the heat of chase, when the game is on, is when we as viewers set our skills of deduction to the test. From the looks of series 4, however, it seems as though the action and suspense has been woefully exchanged for a cheap melodrama.

Choosing to revisit Mary's past was a fatal misjudgment and a painful reminder of the writers' feeble attempts to make her backstory "interesting." With stilted, heavy-handed dexterity, they managed to conjure up a wild tale of spies, mercenaries, and flash drives loaded with top secret files. Word of advice: saddling female characters with convoluted exposition does not automatically brand them as "interesting." Quite the opposite, really. Like the merchant meeting Death, Gatiss and Moffat have succumbed to the very thing they so diligently tried to avoid: one of the few outstanding female characters in Sherlock canon has, yet again, been overshadowed by her male leads. Mary was a character defined mainly by her extraordinary circumstances, and with her death, John and Sherlock now have a reason to sulk and mope about, feeling somehow responsible for her untimely demise. A character with so much potential, played by a brilliant actress, has been pitifully reduced to a mere plot device and a cause for "manly brooding."
And this brings us to the unnerving shift in John's characterization. Dogged, honest, and sensible, John is typically Sherlock's moral compass and instructor in social etiquette (with varying success). How can a once admirable character now evoke such a sense of repulsion and pure dislike after three seasons of getting to know and respect him? Well, we all know John was neither perfect nor angelic, but out of all the characters, he was the most commendable and reliable, if a bit credulous. But with one brief, awkward interlude on a bus, any evidence of that old John was casually swept aside. When did he become the sort of person to fraternize with younger women in public transit? And even worse, to text a "mistress" while being in bed with his wife? I suppose the writers were simply trying to portray John as flawed, but like Mary's backstory, this revelation was clumsily executed. John dipped from one extreme to the next without any warning or logical progression. He just started a family, he's not experiencing any onscreen conflict with his wife, and he has a well-established circle of friends. So why have an affair now? Simple. To spark unnecessary drama as John grapples with both the death of his wife and his undeclared infidelity. (And to possibly introduce the "bus lady" as an accomplice of Toby Jones' villain)

Combined with all of these tangled plot threads was Mary's pointless excursion around the world -- a lengthy montage that ultimately ended with Sherlock and Watson finding her effortlessly via a tracking device. There were so many preferable alternatives to the direction that the episode ultimately took. For instance, if Mary had died in the marketplace, after her frantic retreat from Ajay and his murderous intentions, its thematic parallels to the merchant fable would have been more poignant and significant. Instead, the villain was revealed in a twist of deus ex machina, not preceded by even the slightest hint or evidence of her involvement in the plot -- the classic, unsuspected "sweet old lady" archetype.
Despite the two year hiatus, Sherlock seems to have returned with a whimper, heading for a slow and painful descent from "exceptional" to "mediocre." I long for the invigorating freneticism of "A Study in Pink" or the "The Hounds of Baskerville"; those were the glory days, when Watson and Holmes were a formidable pair of sleuths flying the tailcoats of sensational mysteries and compelling investigations. Now, a messy spectacle of exaggerated circumstances and mawkish emotions await me, as convoluted and incomprehensible as Moriarty's web of criminal operations. Perhaps the upcoming episodes will bring forth new evidence to counter these dreary sentiments, but until then, my case is closed.
Comments (2)
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Jan 12, 2017
I haven't had the heart to watch this one. Steven Moffat's showrunning has gone progressively downhill. Doctor Who is the worse for his management and I can't wait for him to hand it over to someone else. He wastes and misuses good actors he doesn't deserve.
Jan 10, 2017
I agree. Seasons 1 and 2 were not perfect (IMHO S1E1 was great and S1E2 a disaster) but cases were the main thing. Seasons 3 and 4 are cheap melodrama. The series fell in love with itself, with its characters and forgot to give us good cases. Its as if they thought that we surely love the characters so much that watching the cry and bond is enough. And It is getting so convoluted. What is this female sister doing??? Her behavour serves no purpose
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