Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Six Thatchers

The BBC's Sherlock returned this past weekend after a long hiatus (longer still if the one-off special a year ago didn't completely scratch the itch for you). This fourth (and possibly last, according to some rumors) series of episodes kicked off with The Six Thatchers.

(Some SPOILERS follow, folks.) The episode felt very much split into two halves. The point was clearly to contrast a light, consequence-free world in which Sherlock could literally get away with murder against a dark and serious world where consequence painfully asserted itself. Thematically, I get it. But I still felt as though the two halves didn't quite gel.

For me, the first half was the more effective. This was probably because I've been waiting so eagerly for the return of the show, and the episode immediately served up some fluffy fun to satisfy me. (This was the "give the people what they want" element mocked within the episode itself.) The jokes flew one on top of another, and nearly all of them worked thanks to great performances from the entire cast -- particularly (and not surprisingly) Benedict Cumberbatch.

Or perhaps I was deriving a bit too much satisfaction from knowing where the story was going throughout the first half? As much as (or more than) most Sherlock episodes are inspired by a particular story by Arthur Conan Doyle story, this one was playing out "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons." And I was also appreciating the additions and tweaks here; the entry by way of the victim burned alive in his car was a fun diversion, and the twist that the busts were holding information on Mary's dark past was a great reveal.

Why the second half didn't work as well for me feels harder to pin down. I think part of it was difficulty in my suspension of disbelief over Mary's assassin past. I know that was revealed to us in the previous season (and I found it hard to swallow then too), but somehow seeing it portrayed on screen made it even less believable. Amanda Abbington is a fine actress; she's just not the one I'd cast first as a super-spy.

Or perhaps it was that the whole thing felt engineered to lead to the ending we got. (Alright, big SPOILERS here, folks!) Mary sacrificed herself in a way that didn't make sense to me for her character. Instead, it felt like a necessary plot device to get at some angst between Sherlock and John that the show wants to explore in its next episodes. Depending on how that plays out, I could later be more forgiving of the manipulation here. But for now, it feels very much like a manipulation. I will say, though, that Martin Freeman gave a chilling and raw performance in the scene.

It's hard, when we get only three of these at a go, to admit that one is less than "absolutely everything I want it to be." Fortunately, there was enough good in the episode that I don't have to come to grips with it actually being "bad." I'd give The Six Thatchers a B. But I do hope we get more from the next two installments.

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