‘Sherlock’ review: 4×01 “The Six Thatchers”

Sherlock review: Season 4, Episode 1, “The Six Thatchers,” Aired Jan. 1, 2016

MAJOR spoilers below!

The latest episode of Sherlock, “The Six Thatchers,” is titled after the Arthur Conan Doyle story, “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” in which Lestrade calls on Holmes to help him figure out why a man is hunting down and destroying busts of Napoleon. Similarly, in this episode of Sherlock, busts of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher are being destroyed, and Lestrade goes to Sherlock for help. During the course of his investigation, Sherlock uncovers more information about Mary’s past as a highly sought after mercenary.

The Watsons are front and center in this episode, as is the state of their marriage (more on that later). The creators of the show weren’t kidding when they said this was going to be their darkest season yet. There is a lot of foreshadowing throughout the episode; on more than one occasion, the show evokes water and shark imagery. It is unclear whether that imagery is meant to hint at what happens in the aquarium, or if it’s evoking the pool scene with Moriarty in the show’s first season, pointing to a larger looming threat.

Since this was a much darker episode than usual, let’s recap some of the more depressing aspects and moments of “The Six Thatchers.”


Mary’s death
To say that the creator’s teased a major tragedy leading up to the premiere would be an understatement. The trailers and the promotional material all promised a devastating season, touting the tagline, “It’s not a game anymore.” Many fans anticipated Mary’s death since the character dies in the original series. Watson is famously a ladies man, tallying a total of six wives during the run of Doyle’s publications. There was no way they were going to kill Sherlock or John, and while Mycroft may have been a contender (and maybe he still is), Mary dying made the most sense — to an extent.

Mary’s presence made John redundant. She was arguably a better partner to Sherlock than John was; she could easily keep up with and even outwit the consulting detective. So I could see why the writers felt like they needed to write her out of the show. That said, it’s difficult not to feel like the character was fridged — killed only to further the men’s character development.


John cheating
This was almost as upsetting as Mary’s death. Or maybe unsettling would be a better word to describe how I felt when John Watson started cheating on his wife. It felt very out of character for someone who is constantly defined by his loyalty. Perhaps that loyalty only extends to Sherlock. I’m not sure why this subplot needed to be in the episode. Maybe the writers wanted to explore a midlife crisis storyline? Maybe they wanted to give John some inner conflict? You could definitely see his guilt rearing its head at the end of the episode, especially when he lashed out at Sherlock after Mary’s death. Misplaced guilt, perhaps?

Maybe, as some fans have speculated, John wasn’t cheating on Mary at all. He could have been texting someone else in the middle of the night, like Sherlock or his sister, Harry. It doesn’t seem likely,  since one of the texts John received said, “miss you,” which is something Sherlock would never say to John and Harry hasn’t been described as being especially warm. However, it is suspicious that neither Sherlock nor Mary seem to be aware of John’s indiscretion, which is almost as out of character as John cheating. Here’s hoping that the entire cheating arc is actually a bit of clever misdirection.


The bromance is dead
Sherlock’s appeal and that of the source material and the many Sherlock Holmes adaptations is adventure, mystery, and the friendship between the two main characters. This can be boiled down to a very simple formula: Sherlock + John + case = enjoyable episode. But John and Sherlock have very little screen time together. Granted, Mary does have a larger role than any of her previous episodes and that could have eaten up some of John’s screen time, but still, John and Sherlock barely speak to one another in this episode. It was one of the many unsettling things about this episode. It’s possible that the distance between them was intentional and meant to foreshadow and encourage the growing rift between John and Sherlock.


Favorite moments
Although this was a dark episode, there were a few, precious moments of levity:

  • Unfortunately, Sherlock hasn’t adopted a dog, but he did bring one along to track the scent of some blood found on one of the Thatcher busts. The bloodhound, Toby, even got his own Sherlock-style montage as he ran through the streets of London, complete with a glimpse into his mind palace.
  • Sometime over the course of their relationship, Sherlock deleted Lestrade’s first name from his memory. So when Sherlock finally gets his name right, Lestrade lights up like a crime scene. In these dark times, Lestrade’s smile is everything. Of course, Sherlock had to ask John what his name was, but Greg doesn’t need to know that.
  • Sherlock needs an audience to witness his mind at work, but as a new parent, John doesn’t have the time to sit around and feed Sherlock’s ego. Enter Balloon John.

What’s next?
On the whole, it felt like this episode was a lot of setup for the next two episodes. Here are some things we can look forward to in the next episode:

  • In the final episode of Season 3, Mycroft references another Holmes brother. Some people believe that Sherrinford, the person Mycroft calls after seeing the note on his refrigerator, is that brother. There have been rumors that Tom Hiddleston might be appearing in an episode this season, and he’s a fan favorite for Sherrinford.
  • There is no doubt that Sherlock and John will be friends again. Their friendship is the show’s foundation, and it’s safe to assume that a large portion of the next episode will be dedicated to rebuilding that bond.
  • The trailer for the next episode teases a lot of Toby Jones as Culverton Smith, who, according to the creators, will be the show’s most evil villain yet.
  • In her message, Mary tells Sherlock to go to hell. Some fans have speculated that “hell” is actually referring to the village Hell in Norway. If you look closely during Mary’s travel montage scene, you can see that she passes through Norway, so it’s possible that she left Sherlock some kind of clue.

Catch the next episode of Sherlock, “The Lying Detective,” on Sunday, January 8th at 9pm on PBS.

(Image: BBC)


Tamar Altebarmakian

Writer, fangirl, and cat-enthusiast. My work has appeared on The Mary Sue, The Portland Review, Ranker, and other websites. My favorite show growing up was Xena – I've tried to emulate the Warrior Princess in every way (see current hairstyle).

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