There be spoilers here
There’s nothing more disappointing than a great show being crushed by the weight of its former grandeur.
The first episode of season four of Sherlock was just that, leaving me more emotionally shaken by the disappointment I felt rather than the death I witnessed. After a run of mediocre episodes that failed to live up to the first few seasons – here’s looking to you, The Abominable Bride – it seems like season four has begun by adding to the bunch.
Now, I may be wrong. Maybe I missed something in The Six Thatchers. There are definitely highlights to the episode. The comedy, always a vital part, still remains. But there seems to be something forced about the way the comedy is put together, whole scenes are seemingly created for a clever one liner which adds very little to the overall plot. Mary’s tortuous flight around the world to get to Morocco, for example, in which the show has a montage of her journey only to be met by Sherlock and John at the end destination due to a GPS tracker they’d put on her memory stick. Funny, yes. Actually useful for the plot, not really, since the whole scene could have been set in London without changing what happens. If the show were purely comedy, and had not set a precedent of slick detective stories, I wouldn’t have minded.
“Yes, the story line was furthered, but it was all too much”
The whole meandering storyline of the show also bothered me. While there was some logic to it, it felt like a jumbled mess of scenes with a rather loose thread that somehow tried to bind them together in the same episode. The dichotomy is that the show retains its top quality production, cast and – at times – script, while at the same time failing to provoke any real interest in the events it portrayed. It was strange that the death of Mary, an important character over the last few episodes, in her husband’s arms somehow failed to evoke any real emotion. Well acted, all of those involved are beyond competent, but it should have created a more decisive reaction in me than wondering why they’d waste a character on something so throwaway. The episode was littered with beautifully performed pieces, little bits and bobs that sat so apart from each other that you spent most of the time wondering how they connected rather than appreciating the acting or script. This is not to say that the script was at fault, although it feels rather like they create such lines for their own sake rather than because they fit well into the story. It is difficult to say exactly where the problems lie, as a great cast is bogged down by an overly complicated and convoluted story line.
They are, perhaps, trying too hard. There were definitely elements that are brilliant throughout. The shark and water imagery, that evoked the swimming pool scene in season one, created a looming threat that embodies Moriarty – a character who was, to the excitement of most if not all, possibly resurrected at the end of season three. It’s cleverly done, and by mixing it with the story of the Merchant of Baghdad, it created a sense of both threat and the inevitable, with many loose threads about to come to fruition in the next two episodes (I assume).
It is possible that I am wrong, and that every single part of this episode is going to reconnect in an apogee of brilliance and clever story writing. Or maybe not. Either way, each episode of Sherlock should be able to stand alone, while also providing the added satisfaction of an overarching storyline slowly revealing itself as the series progresses to conclusion in a way that does not hinder the plot of any particular episode. Instead, this first episode became so overt in laying the foundations for future plot developments, that it lost its charm and the essence of what makes Sherlock ‘Sherlock’ – the pleasure of simple and interesting mysteries being solved by his extraordinary powers of deduction. Yes, the story line was furthered, but it was all too much – too many strands, too many jumps between scenes. Each of those separate plot developments should have been interwoven and built up, rather than dumped on the viewer with the aim of making sense of future episodes. It is bad plot making at its finest. We know they have all the tools available to create greatness, the fact that they chose not to use them is a mystery that Sherlock himself might struggle to untangle.