The Six Thatchers Review
Not sure these will always be on Sundays – they might migrate to Tuesdays, which this week will be Build High for Happiness 5. Anyway, Sherlock‘s back as the Year of Moffat continues, albeit, you know, with Gatiss. Speaking of whom, and in a rare concession to spoilerphobes, let’s start by saying has written what’s almost certainly the best script of his career here, a position admittedly previously held by The Empty Hearse and The Hounds of Baskerville. It’s not labyrinthine; Gatiss has never done that, and that, as opposed to his usual problem of stultifying unoriginality, has generally been his weakness on Sherlock. But it moves in unexpected ways. The substitution of Mary for the expected Moriarty plot is in many regards just the same trolling as “eh, we’re not going to tell you how he actually survived,” but the last twenty minutes felt extraordinarily inventive, moving in genuinely unexpected directions. The revelation of John’s near-affair is unlike anything Gatiss has ever done, small and human and actually like a writer who exists in a post-Russell T Davies world. The end, particularly with the injunction to save John, is unmistakably also the season-plotting influence of Moffat, but the small, moment to moment decisions of how it’s structured are chosen with a care and weight that’s as much of a leap forward for Gatiss’s writing as Scandal in Belgravia was for Moffat’s. On the back of this, I’m actually curious what he’ll do for what you’ve got to figure could well be his last ever Doctor Who script this year.
More broadly, it’s an interesting place to put the season. Past seasons have had fairly self-contained first episodes that end in some vague tease of future weight – twice Moriarty, once Magnussen. But it’s never felt as though there was too much to clear up in the next three hours. This time, with the fractured Sherlock/John relationship, the strange musings about death, Sherrinford, Moriarty, and a trailer that’s focused on a character with no obvious relationship to any of this, it feels like a show that’s going for something it’s never done before, trying to push itself into a new shape. It’s a good feeling at the start of 2017; what it seems like we want from the return of Sherlock. More of this thrilling, exciting sense of possibility please.
And, of course, less of this “we fridged Mary” crap. This is, simply put, a fucking awful decision. Maybe – maybe – there’s some way to justify it that we’ll see over the next two weeks. I certainly wouldn’t put it past Steven Moffat to turn a decision this awful around. But the fact remains that Mary Watson was one of the best things Sherlock had going for it. The Abominable Bride rightly celebrated the female characters that the show’s modernized approach let it have. Now they’ve taken the best one out in a cheap and arbitrary way that offers nothing save for an opportunity for Martin Freeman to get to show off his dramatic range. It sucks, and they’d damn well better have something really fucking good up their sleeves for it.
Because if nothing else, why would you waste Rachel Talalay’s typically brilliant direction on this? I mean, yes, as a result of her skill is the scene is at least as interesting and compelling as such a scene can be, full of bold decisions. Which it needs – violent tragedy coming off of the (well-built) grotesque humor of a little old spymaster lady is an unusual structure for all that the violent tragedy itself is a flat cliche. (As is the evil secretary, of course, but she doesn’t have to be any more clever than she is.) So Talalay’s self-consciously adaptable vision is a good fit, uniquely capable of ratcheting from the hyper-stylized camp of the slow-motion bullet to Martin Freeman’s genuinely effective howl of grief in only a few minutes of Amanda Abbington showing that she’s easily as skilled as the male leads. (Even if her going into labor scene was better. And Martin Freeman would have done terribly at that.) And of course she’s great throughout, embracing the “text-on-screen” gimmick with gusto, but also doing some fantastically ominous stuff with the shattering Thatcher busts as skull imagery in the course of this memento mori heavy episode.
It’s tempting to say she elevates Gatiss – and certainly she flatters any writer she works with. But much of this is his own rising to the material. As ugly a cliche as fridging Mary is, it’s also entirely outside what we think of as his comfort area, and he handled it well. One suspects, especially given his fondness for period gothic pieces, that he saw what Talalay did with Heaven Sent’s ostentatious expressionism and wrote this for her, smartly recognizing that this would play to both of their strengths. And it did – it’s an exciting start, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes. I really am. But fucking hell, that was some bullshit.
- It is of course entirely possible that Mary isn’t dead. This is very literally that sort of show, and they even hinted at this fact with the (actually kind of upsetting in light of recent context) airplane scene. That would be a mixed bag in its own right – returning to the well too many times – but still better than the alternative.
- Sherrinford was of course teased over the summer and in His Last Vow, so isn’t a huge surprise as a tease, but is an obscure enough character that one almost holds out a faint hope that they’ll rip off All-Consuming Fire. (Not in the Doctor Who crossover sense, obviously.)
- The death of the guy’s son in the car-seat costume is one of the most macabre things in the show’s history. But it’s doing a lot of subtle setup work in the episode, preparing us for the exact blend of pathos and excess that Mary’s death trades on. Perhaps another way to frame my respect for parts of what this episode does is that I like the extent to which it’s about death throughout, in weird ways that don’t announce themselves.
- I’ve seen more than one shouty Internet person decrying this as “tired” and “Moffat repeating himself,” a criticism that’s bizarre to me in the way in which it’s simultaneously plugged in enough to recognize Moffat as a creative entity with favored tropes and yet oblivious to the fact that this is a plot point he’s generally avoided. Although I suppose it is now Danny, Clara, and Mary in three consecutive seasons of work. Clearly explorations of grief are on his mind. Still, he subverted two of those, and oh yes, didn’t actually write this.
- Presumably Moriarty will be resolved in The Final Problem. It remains very difficult to see how a satisfying outcome emerges from that, but then, that’s clearly the problem with Sherlock, and one the show generally overcomes. My dubiousness doesn’t dim my excitement, I guess is where I come down on the show right now, at about half-til-midnight on New Year’s. Certainly I’m not going to judge before the first Moffat script.
- My favorite remains the Richard Hurndall Thatcher.
- The Six Thatchers
January 2, 2017 @ 4:45 am
I was very much liking this rather fun (if, at times, predictable) bit of television right up until the bit where Mary dies, and going “AAAAAAAAHHHHH! AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” right to the end of the bloody thing. Ah well, there’s always next week.
January 2, 2017 @ 4:55 am
I don’t imagine Mary coming back to life. The best I can hope for here is that Moffat runs in the right direction with the wrong choice.
It was a good episode, by and large, but I think a Sherlock opener benefits heavily from Moffat’s voice in the way it doesn’t from Gatiss’s.
January 2, 2017 @ 5:46 am
I’m annoyed like I imagine many are about Mary’s fate, but I’m glad she was given agency and I’m delighted they had Talalay to do the deed, it works just as well as having Dollard do it with Clara did by taking a rote beat and filling it with the woman in question’s voice. If it comes short, well, Gatiss isn’t quite as aware as Dollard is, I think.
But if this is Face the Raven, which I think it is given so many thematic concerns, I hope there will be a sort of Hell Bent grace. Obviously she’s not coming back to life, I don’t think. But I can see her being the flip side to Moriarty, both “staying alive” through recordings and through the actions of other people. I also think they could do something with the fact that there’s still a Rosamund Mary Watson (her full name) very much alive and living the life she wanted.
If ghosts are to haunt series 4 of Sherlock, my expectation and hope is that Mary haunts it to the fullest.
January 2, 2017 @ 9:29 am
Please tell me I’m just delusional and it was only a coincidence that there was a scene of Mycroft opening and closing a fridge right after Mary died?
What a crap way to write her out of the show, honestly. Closest I’ve ever come to dropping it entirely.
January 2, 2017 @ 10:08 am
I thought this episode was the best one since Sherlock Season 2 Episode 3.It had all the things I love about Sherlock; his brilliant mind, the visuals, the character development, and a good mystery.
January 2, 2017 @ 10:13 am
“It is of course entirely possible that Mary isn’t dead. This is very literally that sort of show, and they even hinted at this fact with the (actually kind of upsetting in light of recent context) airplane scene. ”
No kidding, my girlfriend and me immediately looked at each other during the ‘outspoken quirky American lady feeling like she’s dying on a plane’ bit, even though we obviously know this episode was written and filmed before Carrie Fisher’s tragedy. But hell, it almost feels like it didn’t, given that Mary is dressed up like Leia in the opening scenes of A New Hope in the Morocco scenes – with her white ‘gown’ and classic Leia gun poses. Just one of those weird, chilling coincidences, although again, obviously not intentional.
As for Mary dying – when the episode turned out to be about Mary rather than Moriarty, I figured this was going to be that episode. Given her (limited) role and fate in the books, I thought it was just a matter of time. Combined with the opening narration and the shark imagery (which was astonishing by the way – visually interesting, unique, and meaningful) I figured it was only a matter of time (especially with the added tragedy of the hints at Watson having an (at the very least emotional?) affair. I was hoping for a clever twist on that right at the end. I agree with everyone that she was one of the best characters on the show.
I’m very curious to see where this goes. This didn’t enter my top three of favorite Sherlock episodes, but sometimes that’s fine. It’s good television and I can never complain about that. I figure this episode will feel very different on rewatches after we’ve all seen the remaining two episodes though.
January 2, 2017 @ 10:18 am
Also, sorry for the double post but I don’t see an edit button: I think the link between Moriarty and Mary will continue to be a big thing when the show starts focusing on Moriarty more again. Especially in the sense of dealing with the memory of those who are gone (Mary and her message to Sherlock and the broken relationship between Sherlock and Watson on one side, and Moriarty’s death and memories to Sherlock/the world on the other). The Final Problem will not necessarily be ‘how to deal with the trap Moriarty left for Sherlock and find out what meaning he has after death’, but rather dealing with the ‘trap’ of Mary’s death ripping John and Sherlock apart, and rediscovering what made them so strong together.
January 2, 2017 @ 7:05 pm
Another odd bit, I don’t know if this showed up in U.K., but the after-credits bit where Mary’s video appears again and she says, “Go to hell.” Maybe it was a cut-off, like her instruction to Sherlock was “Save John Watson and go to hell.” So I’m wondering if hell/afterlife is indeed a theme for this season as well. Also maybe a final blast, in character, for fridging Mary. Because that has been in the past the problem with Mary, the fact that Arthur Conan Doyle basically killed off Mary when Sherlock returned from the dead so that John Watson would continue working with him, and Mary was barely mentioned aside from her first major appearance in Sign of Four. Also Rosamund/Rosie…hello, Rose.
January 2, 2017 @ 11:34 am
Well, that was horrible. What a way to put a downer on the year just as it starts. And that was starting to become such a good episode, as well.
This is, in so many ways, worse than any other fridging imaginable. This isn’t just killing off a strong female character to provide angst for her husband. This isn’t just killing off a mother to contemplate how much her daughter is like her and how sad it is that she’s not around. This is killing off Mary fucking Watson, and for all that Moffat and Gatiss think they’re clever by adapting her quiet departure from Conan Donan Doyle’s original series, they’re doing exactly what he did: treating her as disposable.
I’m reminded of The Amazing Spider Man 2, a really enjoyable (if slightly pointless) film that was great up until that final act. And then it fridged Gwen Stacy. Oh, it did it well, and it was lovely and subversive by using her video message to stop Peter Parker moping around and turning into some sort of Dark Knight-inspired angsting superhero. But at the end of the day, I lost whatever enthusiasm I had left for TASM at that stage. Because fundamentally, they still went and fridged Gwen Stacy, and any adaptation which does that will always lose my respect.
I liked Clara’s ending a lot, but I would have been okay with her dying in Face the Raven. Doctor Who is a different kind of show, all characters except the Doctor, and all actors including the Doctor, are transient. What’s so wrong about killing off Mary Watson is that she doesn’t have to be – she’s absolutely capable of being as central to the Sherlock Holmes story as John Watson is, if not more so, but fridging has done to her what it does to all its victims: turned her into a prop. She’s no longer a key player in this story – she’s just a phase in Sherlock and John’s life, before the show eventually winds back down and restores its sanctified paradigm of two men solving mysteries together.
What’s the point? What’s the point in Moffat’s Doctor Who work, in bringing Mary into Sherlock, in writing a whole bloody episode about the mistreatment of female characters, if he’s going to bring it to an end like this? This was the most important thing of all, the one storyline he just had to not fuck up, and it’s made all the rest redundant.
Anyone who thinks that having one character staring sadly into a fridge and a dead woman leaving a video message for another character is somehow a sufficient way to address fridging should not be writing for the BBC in 2017.
January 2, 2017 @ 11:54 am
As I explained in my comment above, I suspect Mary’s death will come into play during this entire season. Not just in terms of the way in which it affects Sherlock and Watson, but the entire Moriarty plot. I suspect her death will have a lot of meaning there: Moriarty’s ghost cast a shadow over the entire series after his death, and it’s still an obsession for Sherlock (totally missing the obvious that the case of this episode was about Mary instead, in fact – which I suspect was the point and will be the point in the coming 2 episodes). The Final Problem won’t be how to deal with Moriarty, it will be how to deal with the loss of Mary and the broken relationship between two friends. It’ll all be about Mary in the end.
I’m not saying you’re wrong at all though, and I understand (and feel) that frustration. Even if my predictions are true, they still had to make a sacrificial lamb out of Mary in order for a couple of blokes to rediscover how strong they are together. All I’m trying to say is that, even if this narrative choice feels like the wrong one, I’m willing to see what they do with it in the coming weeks before I’ll judge this too harshly.
But again, it does feel wrong right now, and it’s hard for me to see a resolution that somehow makes it right. But I’m willing to see what they’re doing here.
January 2, 2017 @ 12:01 pm
Oh yeah, I do understand that, and it’s clear that Moffat’s conception of “The Final Problem” is something that’s been waiting to crop up for quite a while. This isn’t about The Final Problem (the short story) at all, because the Series Two finale addressed that – it’s about the Final Problem which was alluded to in that story. “Our problem, the final problem… stayin’ alive!”
So I suspect that’s the what The Final Problem is all about – immortality and resurrection. Moriarty lives on through his schemes, Mary through her legacy in Sherlock, John, and Rosamund. It’s clever, and I like the mirroring of Mary and Moriarty, and I like how Mary is allowed to dominate that story arc and probably beat him by having a better legacy.
But it feels so hollow, and you hit the nail on the head – “they still had to make a sacrificial lamb out of Mary in order for a couple of blokes to rediscover how strong they are together”. It’s not really a story about Mary at all, but about the strength of Sherlock and Watson, and the impact Mary has had upon them as a prop in their story arcs.
It’s almost worse this way. That Moffat and Gatiss genuinely think what they’re doing is progressive and subversive, that it does anything other than pander to continuity. It smacks of a writer who wants to have a commitment to real-world issues but just can’t face betraying the source text.
January 3, 2017 @ 11:59 pm
“That Moffat and Gatiss genuinely think what they’re doing is progressive and subversive, that it does anything other than pander to continuity.”
Have they said that?
January 4, 2017 @ 8:48 am
No of course they haven’t – it’s a person on the Internet telling us not just what they think but also what Gatiss and Moffat think.
January 4, 2017 @ 10:33 am
That’s what I thought. But it’s polite to check first, isn’t it?
January 4, 2017 @ 3:30 pm
Well, obviously I’m not a psychic. Obviously I’m not best friends with Steven Moffat or Mark Gatiss. That’s not exactly Mary-level complexity, or even Sherlock-level. I figured out people on this site wouldn’t need that sort of thing spelling out to them.
But then, quite frankly, is there anyone on Eruditorum Press, of all sites, who’d really argue that Moffat and Gatiss aren’t aiming for a progressive series of Sherlock? After Series Nine of Doctor Who, after Series Three of Sherlock and The Abominable Bride, that being new and revolutionary isn’t at least one of their aims?
January 4, 2017 @ 11:25 pm
Perhaps. I just make a habit of never trusting any source that purports to tell us what somebody else “genuinely thinks”…
January 4, 2017 @ 11:44 pm
“Who’d really argue…?” you asked. So I’ll step up to the plate and suggest (as I ‘genuinely’ don’t know for sure) that being new and revolutionary might be more of a means than an aim.
January 2, 2017 @ 12:26 pm
“It is of course entirely possible that Mary isn’t dead.”
Well, there are enough clues. Apart from the blatant lampshading of Mycroft opening his fridge, and the whole ‘Mary works out how to fool Sherlock’ travelogue in the middle, there’s the cryptic “Save John” at the end, which implies that Mary (and possibly Mycroft) are aware that Watson is the subject of whatever Machiavellian scheme is about to unravel.
The scene where John and Mary are discussing Rosemary’s Baby / The Omen was repeated twice. The second time, ending with Mary picking up John’s phone, which had a fresh message from ‘E’. I’m guessing that’ll be flashbacked at least once.
Otherwise, it would be deeply depressing to think that Moffat and Gatiss have relegated Mary to the fridge, and Molly to the role of babysitter, whilst John and Sherlock get on with the fun of solving crimes.
January 2, 2017 @ 12:37 pm
That’s a good point about Mary picking up the phone – I’d forgotten that. I wonder how that’ll play into the rest of the series.
As much as there’s plenty to suggest that she’s not dead… I just can’t see them going there again. Besides, surely John would have to be in on it? He cradled the body. As a medical professional, I’m pretty sure he’d have been able to tell if she was still alive.
January 2, 2017 @ 2:19 pm
Well, John wasn’t even in on Mary’s real name (or that she was an assassin) until after they married.
And Sherlock was also ‘dead’ once, wasn’t he?
Mary has been presented (so far) as Sherlock’s superior. I hope it continues …
January 2, 2017 @ 2:27 pm
Oh, so do I. Desperately. Anything to bring back Mary. I just don’t think Moffat would go for “John learns that the person he has been grieving for the last [however long] faked their death and has to come to terms with it” as a source of tension for the second series in a row.
January 2, 2017 @ 1:36 pm
Just picked out another one.
“If you’re watching this, then I’m PROBABLY dead.”
Probably. Like there’s an alternative, another reason Sherlock would have for watching that video.
We also never see the gravestone. And there’s a scene in the trailer of John standing over a hospital bed.
One must wonder…
January 2, 2017 @ 1:44 pm
I’ll be happy if Mary’s death was a fakeout, but I don’t know if Mofftiss would really pull that card yet again and risk feeling so overtly samey.
January 2, 2017 @ 2:20 pm
Sure. Moffat never repeats ideas … 🙂
The Flan in the High Castle
January 2, 2017 @ 3:32 pm
The use of the name “Jack Sandeford” for a throwaway minor character has now supplanted Neil Cross’s co-opting of “psychochronograph” as the BBC’s best oblique Eruditorum Press shout-out.
January 2, 2017 @ 5:59 pm
It’s debatable, as Mr Sandeford of Reading (no first name given) is also the final bust-owner in the original Six Napoleons, and Jack is a common name. The suppliers, Gelder & Co., and two other owners’ names, Dr Barnicot and Horace Harker (gender-swapped as “Orrie”, presumably short for Horatia), are also retained, with Morse Hudson transmuted into Moandez Hassan.
But it would be nice to think so, especially with the trolling implications of making him the conspicuously wealthy proud owner of a bust of Margaret Thatcher.
January 3, 2017 @ 10:47 am
I thought Mary’s death was absolutely awful and trite, but I seem to be in the minority of not liking her as a character (She’s a SPY because every single character in a Moffat show needs to be super special and unique and not like, a person). And once more, Sherlock is another episode of navel-gazing
January 3, 2017 @ 6:08 pm
The guy dying in a Chair disguise is, of course, a shout-out to The Chair Agenda.
Be very afraid of chairs.
January 3, 2017 @ 6:41 pm
I was just waiting for Sherlock to say “This isn’t a murder! It’s an ascension…”
January 4, 2017 @ 8:49 am
More of a seat than a chair, really.
January 8, 2017 @ 9:13 pm
My predictions from this episode:
Watch the relationship between Mary and Mycroft. He knew her when she was an agent, before she met John.
Mycroft has a history of manipulating John with women.
Mycroft assigned Mary to form some sort of relationship with John, when Sherlock disappeared, to keep an eye on him.
That’s why, in “The Empty Hearse” Mycroft knew exactly where John would be that night – he had Mary report in, because he knew Sherlock would ask.
This is the real secret that Mary was keeping from John, the one she said would lead to John hating her – not that she was an assassin (John has killed too, would understand) but that she was Mycroft’s agent assigned to him.
Ohio chase locations
October 11, 2019 @ 9:29 am
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