“Sherlock” recap: Suddenly, death comes to 221B [SPOILERS]

Courtesy of Todd Antony/Hartswood Films 2016 for MASTERPIECE

“Sherlock” Season 4 | “The Six Thatchers” | Aired Jan. 1, 2017

When the Season 4 premiere of Sherlock, “The Six Thatchers,” finished, I tweeted that I thought it was a “solid episode.” But nearly 24 hours later, I’m rethinking what I saw and what some of the problems were that were forgotten in the midst of John’s surprising indiscretions and the emotional ending.

If you are here reading this and you don’t want any spoilers, first, why are you reading a recap? Second, you might want to leave and come back to this when you’ve watched the episode.

Mary’s death was something that I was hoping for since last season, if I’m being honest. It’s not so much that she’s a woman as to why I was hoping she’d die–I feel like I must point this out, because her death goes along with so many other fridged women in entertainment. Did I think she ruined the dynamic between John and Sherlock by marrying John? Yeah. But I wanted her to die for two reasons:

1) It was canonical, and if they kept her around to keep the show “Happy Fun Times,” then it wouldn’t be a Sherlock Holmes show. The amount of happy fun times in Season 3 was jarring and irritating enough as it was; I didn’t want happy fun times to be dragged into the next season.

2) Mary as a character was weirdly conceived, and that’s a real shame, since on some level, it seems like she was only built up the way she was only for her character’s death to have the most impact for John, and not so much for us the audience when looking back on her life.

I’ve never really liked Mary’s backstory—something about it has always felt false to me. I feel like as a relatively blank character, there was a lot Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss could have come up with. But they decide to make Mary a spy? An unrealistic one, at that? They also decide that John should have yet another person close to him to lie to his face?

Look, Mary didn’t have to be an agency-less person, but making the extreme jump from basically nothing to international spy is a quite a leap. Also, it’s a leap that could have been made successfully if there weren’t so many jarring aspects to her and John’s relationship. In effect, Mary lied throughout their entire courtship. That should have made John angry as f***! In fact, it did make him angry as f***, but the writing for the scene in which John forgives Mary is so…disturbing in how easily John decides to brush stuff under the rug.

I’m thinking to myself as I’m writing this if I would still feel this way about Mary’s double life if Mary were a man. I think I would, and I have proof of this—Moriarty himself. During the first season, he pretended to be Molly’s boyfriend just to get close to Sherlock. When I found out that was Moriarty, I was devastated for Molly, who only wants love in her life, and angry at Moriarty for breaking poor Molly’s heart. Similarly, I feel devastated for John, who only wants love and normalcy to balance out his wild ride with Sherlock.

What irks me is that John does deserve some normal moments in his life; he clearly gets overwhelmed by all the zaniness around him even though he does crave it sometimes. Mary could have been that. She could have been normal, but just off-kilter enough to mesh with Sherlock’s Sherlock-isms. The fact that John has no one in his inner circle willing to share their whole selves with him, including his own wife, is really disconcerting.

Equally disconcerting is when John randomly decides to cheat on Mary. We hadn’t seen them quarrel or anything, and you don’t have to have quarreled to cheat on someone, but what was the impetus for John’s decision? Was it because he felt like he really didn’t know his wife after all? Was it because she was spending too much time bonding with his best friend Sherlock? (Was it because he actually wants to be in a relationship with Sherlock but can’t handle outing himself so he acts out his lust on other women?) WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?! John has never acted so out-of-pocket before, so this woman has to mean something to the story further down the line. Otherwise, the writing room needs to check themselves before they wreck themselves like this again.

Onto the comedy. Or “comedy.” Was it comedy? Or was it just very annoying attempts at comedy that didn’t really gel well with the rest of the proceedings? I think what was supposed to be “comedy” became a lot of comedic-sounding padding to fill out a movie-length show. Did we need to see all of those mini-cases? Did we need to have the banter between John, Mary and Sherlock happening as much as it did? I don’t know what I’m saying here, but what I’m getting at is that the first season, as most first seasons of most shows are, was the most concise and succinct version of Sherlock we’ve seen. It knew what it wanted to do and it did it. Now that we’re three seasons in and in the fourth season, the writing has become relaxed to the point of a dramedy that leans too much on “sitcom” than it does “drama.” If the writing can get back to just focusing more on the cases, that’d be cool.

There were also a lot of weird transitions. Again, it seemed like a lot of padding for the time allotted. We didn’t need all of those weird wipes and artful transitions. All together, it made the episode seem even more disjointed, like it didn’t know where it wanted to go or what story it wanted to tell.

So now the real question: How much culpability does Sherlock have in Mary’s death? One might say, “none,” and indeed, that’s what I said to myself when the deed actually happened. But Mary’s death also informed Sherlock’s emotional growth, too (once again, the woman’s death helps only the men in the story). Sherlock finally learned that his braggadocios lifestyle could actually get someone he cared about hurt or, in this case, killed. He has thought himself to be in control of everything, and finally, just as the therapist said, his world is crashing around him. He didn’t have to take it that far with that old secretary; he and Mary already knew the old woman was the culprit. But Sherlock, being who he is, had to take it to that next deadly step.

So what did I think about this episode overall? Well, I thought that even though I didn’t like Mary, I feel really bad for her. She was always going to be a sacrificial lamb, unfortunately. But I wish Mary had been treated with a little more care throughout the last season and the beginning of this one. Mary always seemed like a character that was meant to be both an avatar for the most rabid of fangirls who love to Tumblr-squee over John and Sherlock (which is something Mary did to a certain extent), and a sketch of a woman who could be John’s wife and could be a second sidekick to Sherlock, but was never solidly thought out as either.

There was a level of authenticity to her that I just never got. Maybe it’s because we came in on her and John’s relationship right when they got engaged. We never really got to know Mary the way I would have liked to. I feel like there was a lost opportunity with her character on some level. Even more saddening is that her brief life and death aided in the emotional exploration of the men in the episode instead of us getting closer to Mary through her life and her experiences, which would have allowed us to truly mourn her when she died.

My thoughts are jumbled. I turn it over to you; what did you think? Give your comments below!