PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Television

'Sherlock': "The Six Thatchers" Goes Beyond Disappointing Into Downright Nonsense

Carl Wilson
Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a hound try to sniff out a better episode.

Holmes spends "The Six Thatchers" hoping for a better plot to unravel, and I can't blame him.


Sherlock

Airtime: Sundays, 9pm
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Amanda Abbington
Subtitle: Series 4, Episode 4 - "The Six Thatchers"
Network: BBC
Air date: 2017-01-01
Amazon

Holmes' abductive methodology, through which an observed inference is arrived at through considering the known facts, may prove useful in understanding the crime at work within the Sherlock series four opener, "The Six Thatchers": namely that the episode is really quite terrible.

It's the first episode of Sherlock where I wanted the story to end a good 20 minutes before the conclusion and, after said dénouement, wished I had just turned the TV off and buried it in the garden, leaving a greater mystery for future detectives (my partner and my therapist) to solve.

One breadcrumb in this great unpacking might be that we’ve become so apparently inured to the spectacular nature of Holmesian detection that the viewer now has to be given an amplified barrage of data, which seems to be a visualized representation of the detective process, but ultimately serves very little function within the show. “Oh look, Sherlock is using his phone an awful lot. What a rude sort of fellow, yet one can't help but find some kind of empathy with a man who, when finally caving in to cultural expectations of the digital era, uses it in a deliberate attempt to negate actual social responsibility. Clever Cumberbatch. In this way we’re all a bit like Sherlock … hang on, what's the actual point of this texting-during-a-Christening scene?” I don't know either, but how cute was the pointlessly included bloodhound? At times, Sherlock feels more like it should be called 'Houdini', given how much misdirection and diversionary showmanship, signifying nothing, is involved.

Might one compare Holmes' (Benedict Cumberbatch) confidence with constructing text messages behind his back to co-creator Mark Gatiss' assured ability to manipulate and update the Sherlock text itself? Only if you believe in the quality of the final product. "The Six Thatchers" is more like a bum-dialed phone call to someone you were once good friends with, but now it's just awkward, embarrassing, and you no longer share the same interests; in many ways a bit like having a conversation with the modern iterations of Doctor Who, but not quite as cloying or sanctimonious.

Increasingly, it's all becoming nonsensical fan-service devoid of weight, which in this episode becomes haphazardly bundled with vaguely tangential links to Holmes' later serious vows to get serious when things get serious, but things don't go so well, so everyone else then gets equally, if not more, serious in the final scenes where Watson (Martin Freeman) lets out an unnatural shriekish howl as a wizened, clueless pensioner (Marcia Warren) has a grand day out in the local aquarium. This leads to a serious final-final scene that’s been lazily stretching out from the erstwhile dog days of meta-flippancy to embrace the bromantic tensions that arise when one of them suddenly becomes a widower. Looking ahead, the rest of the season will not be a fun romp: it’ll be solemn. More tears will be shed. An even darker color filter will be applied to the streets of London. This is now BBC Drama serious.

Think about how annoying the bait and switch was in the Sherlock Christmas special, "The Abominable Bride", which laid out an exciting 19th-century mystery to only thoroughly undercut it with waffle-y, modern-day bunkum. If the mind-palace of "The Abominable Bride" was a Victorian folly, then "The Six Thatchers" goes several Disneylands further along the path of Hollywood incredulity.

The shattered busts of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher don't lead to the black pearl of the Borgias, as they do in Doyle's short story "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" (which is briefly floated in the 2017 reworking); that would be too gratifying.


Please don't ad block PopMatters.

We are wholly independent, with no corporate backers.

Simply whitelisting PopMatters is a show of support.

Thank you.


Instead, the busts (surprisingly devoid of any notable social metaphor), lead towards a USB stick, which leads towards an assassin who looks a little foreign but turns out to also be British (Sacha Dhawan), which leads toward Sherlock engaging in ridiculous combat with the aforementioned super-soldier (it's like The Matrix meets some vaudevillian frying-pan fight), and Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington) going on a gap-year aboard (presumably because it's easier to film Abbington in a travel montage than it is to get more scenes shot with Cumberbatch and Freeman, or meaningfully develop a story in which the viewer can be even a little bit invested), and so on, through to a culmination of cascading James Bond-esque events that are far less interesting than a straight detective story would've been.

Regarding tired tropes, there’s also the case of "Watson and the bus-stop broad", which takes place through text messages, knowing glances, and other ploys to make things like character development seem easily won. This secrecy rings all the more hollow when one considers he's cheating on the female Jason Bourne and his friend, the world's greatest detective, hasn't noticed either. Watson's shenanigans also make him look needlessly foolish, and tinge his wife's final sacrifice with a bitter taste.

Mary Watson: annoying as a female character whose sole function is to be a plot device that stimulates the male relationships in the show. Mary Watson: even more annoying as a plot device that's expected to die when she's no longer useful to the Sherlock/John relationship. In series three's "His Last Vow", Sherlock was shot by Mary, and in "The Six Thatchers", Mary throws herself in front of Sherlock, to take a bullet for him. With all the facts, this scene might feel like the closing of a circle; based on the one episode, however, it just feels cheap and convenient.

These tonal issues stem from the show reaching for sincere and meaningful or action-packed moments before they’re properly developed within the story, making Big Moment decisions seem out of character.

Even Holmes spends the story hoping for a better plot to unravel, and I can't blame him.

3

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.