WARNING: contains spoilers for Sherlock series 4 episode 1: ‘The Six Thatchers’
A year to the day since the last episode of Sherlock aired and we’re glued to the television for what has become one of the most heavily anticipated crime dramas on the box. What a way to kick off 2017.
Even before the credits roll there’s the small issue of having to tie-up previous loose ends involving Sherlock having shot Magnussen in ‘His Last Vow’. A top-secret briefing ensures Sherlock will not be blamed for the death and reminds us the threat of Moriarty still hangs over him. He may think Moriarty is dead but he’s suspicious of what he’s capable of – a posthumous revenge game perhaps?
“I always know when the game is on. You know why? Because I love it.” Sherlock’s back and it’s game on.
An eerie fable threads through the episode, telling the tale of a merchant who can’t outrun death. The first part of this story, told by voiceover, hints at what is to come, as in true Sherlock form we’re drip-fed pieces of the puzzle to slowly fit together.
It’s not long before a heavily pregnant Mary goes into labour and a baby girl is born. Who wouldn’t choose Sherlock as a godparent? And suddenly the awkward sleuth has more than just himself and his cases to care about.
This is a different side to Sherlock. He is protective of the baby, Rosamund Mary, and of the Watson family unit. Cumberbatch cleverly balances this more emotional side to his performance – he’s still the same high-functioning sociopath but there’s more heart to him this series.
When Lestrade turns up at 221B to enlist Sherlock’s help with a tricky case we’re back in familiar Sherlock territory. Nothing’s too tricky for Sherlock as he solves the case almost immediately, but in the process becomes fixated with a smashed statue of Margaret Thatcher.
It turns out Sherlock is on to something, as always, when a second Thatcher is smashed at a different property. Then a third. All Sherlock can assume is it must be to do with Moriarty. He’s ready for him.
The brilliance of Sherlock as a drama is that it always feels like we’re watching a game as well. Sometimes it’s a wild goose chase, often it’s cat and mouse, but always the theatre of Cumberbatch’s performance supported loyally by the rest of the cast makes it a fun and entertaining watch, whatever the twists and turns.
And twists and turns there were. Sherlock lies in wait for the next Margaret Thatcher statue to be stolen and an epic fight ensues. There are struggles, punches, a fall into a swimming pool where the fight continues with plenty of slow-motion face-plunging-into-water moments. Even fight scenes are given the full drama they deserve.
The Thatcher statue is smashed to reveal a USB stick marked with the letters A. G. R. A. Of course we don’t know what it means. Neither does Sherlock. But we know we’re going to enjoy finding out.
A flashback confirms Mary is embroiled and is coupled with a threat to her life. Mary is a dead woman walking and the Thatcher thief is the man who’s planning on killing her. Not if Sherlock has anything to do with it.
Suddenly we’re in Georgia, with the action moving as fast as Sherlock’s mind. It’s six years previous and a code word command leads to the failure of a rescue attempt by four super spies in the British Embassy. One of those spies is Mary, with Amanda Abbington making a convincing kick-ass special agent alongside AJ, the thief now wanting her dead because she betrayed him. But was it really her?
This mystery turns out to be the real thrust of the episode, which seemed to take its time getting to the point. But once it does the stakes are high with Mary on the run, Sherlock hot on her heels and John left holding the baby, slightly redundant at points.
The star of the episode is Amanda Abbington, and rightly so, as the drama trawls through the secrets and lies of her past life making her the woman she is now.
The story climaxes in the shadows of the London aquarium, as Sherlock solves the mystery of who really betrayed AJ and Mary repays his loyalty with the ultimate sacrifice.
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s source books John Watson is said to be bereaved. So perhaps the conclusion of the episode was a predictable inevitability? Even so, it was a surprising twist that will have seen Sherlock fans screaming at the television, as Abbington delivered a tender and emotional final speech to a teary Watson.
The end of the episode sees Sherlock and Watson broken, but Sherlock with a new case that may be the hardest of his career. He needs to save John Watson. But can he do it?
Roll on next week to find out…
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