Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sherlock: The Six Thatchers


The most frustrating part of being a fan of Sherlock is the paucity of new episodes. Developed by Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock is a modern pastiche on the classic Sherlock Holmes character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Wonderfully brought to life by some really good crackling writing as well as the superb acting skills of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as his companion in crime solving, Dr. John Watson, the show has become a bit of an international sensation. 

This despite the show only producing 3 episodes a season. And producing a season every 2 years or so. It is a pace that has led my daughter Randie to joke that sometime in the future, she will be looking forward to the 47th season of Supernatural and the 6th season of Sherlock.  

After a side trip last year with a one off special set (mostly) in the Victorian era of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Sunday night finally brought us to the 1st episode of the 4th season. Oh joy and happy delight! 

But the episode begins with an ominous warning in the form of a monologue from Sherlock telling of a merchant who meets the personification of death and seeks to avoid him but cannot escape his fate.  

Pay heed to that. 

But it looks Sherlock is escaping responsibility for the murder of  Charles Augustus Magnussen thanks to the machinations of brother Mycroft. The two Holmes brothers are in a high level meeting with 2 high ranking peers of Mycroft and a secretary. Mycroft stresses the seriousness of the ongoing matter of Moriarty's apparent return but Sherlock is busy goofing around asking the secretary about lollipops. 

Meanwhile, John and Mary Watson have a new baby daughter they name Rosamund. Sherlock is staying extremely busy solving numerous cases in a bid to detect a pattern from Moriarty or his organization.  This flurry of investigative activity leads Sherlock to solve the mysterious death of a rich couple's son. While on that case, Sherlock's attention is drawn to another mystery surrounding the destruction of a bust of Margaret Thatcher owned by the couple. 

It seems a trivial matter but apparently smashing busts of Margaret Thatcher is a thing with Detective LaStrade bringing reports of similar incidents. Apparently they are part of six that were made so Sherlock hones in the 6th one where he finds the perpetrator of these acts, a former agent of Mary's team who seems to blame Mary for betraying him and his fellow agents.  

Sherlock learns from Mary that she belonged to a freelance task force named 'A.G.R.A' (derived from the members' names, Mary being 'R' and A, her pursuer, AJ). Each member of the task force had a memory stick containing all their info as a means to assure one member would not betray the others. (To be honest, I'm not really sure of the effectiveness of this deterrent.)  

Set off by the code word "ammo", a mission to rescue hostages held by terrorists at the British embassy in Georgia (the country, not the state) is put into motion but goes badly awry. Seems the terrorists were tipped off. Mary assumed she was the only one of A.G.R.A. to make it out alive. But AJ survived as well but is convinced Mary was the source of the betrayal on the "ammo" mission. 

Mary runs off to keep John and the baby out of danger. She employs various disguises while using random numbers to determine her many destinations in her trek around the globe. Only to find Sherlock waiting for her. And John. They placed a tracking device on the memory stick. 

Unfortunately, Sherlock and John were followed by AJ (Really? They didn't see that coming?) where during a stand off with guns drawn, we learn AJ was tortured for years, his tormentors revealing that "the English woman" was the reason for the mission failure which AJ is convinced is Mary. But before AJ can kill Mary, he's shot by police. 

Sherlock confers with Mycroft who says he used to hire 'A.G.R.A' but hasn't since the failed mission. Mycroft also has no knowledge of 'Ammo'. Later, Sherlock realizes that "ammo" is really "amo", the Latin word for "love" which is the code name for Vivian Norbury, the secretary Sherlock was goofing around with about lollipops.

Sherlock meets Vivian in the London Aquarium where she reveals she tipped off the terrorists to put a stop to A.G.R.A. Apparently Vivian had a little thing on the side where she was using A.G.R.A. for her own purposes. But things were getting dicey and Vivian was ready for a "quiet life". So A.G.R.A. had to go.  

When the police and Mary arrive, Vivian pulls out a gun. Sherlock does his "I'm going to tell you to the story of your life" bit in an effort to demoralize her to put down the gun. But Sherlock doesn't know to stop when he's ahead and winds up goading Vivian into shooting at Sherlock.  At the last second, Mary jumps in front of Sherlock to take the bullet. 

John appears but it's too late for Mary. Fatally wounded, she tells Sherlock she's sorry about that time she shot him and figures this makes them even. Then Mary tells John she loves him and she loved being "Mary Watson". And with that, Mary dies in John's arms.  

John is understandably pissed at Sherlock who had vowed to protect her. In the aftermath of Mary's death, Sherlock is devastated by her loss and the rift that now exists between him and John Watson. But it is a rift he must heal for it seems Sherlock has a new case from Mary Watson who, in a posthumous message on DVD instructs Sherlock to "save John Watson".   

....

Whoa. 

The Six Thatchers was an intense, high octane 90 minutes of television that never let up with Sherlock working on several mysteries in rapid succession and in one instance, simultaneously. The odd mystery of the destroyed busts of Margaret Thatcher seems so random yet deliberate, it has to point to Moriarty or whatever schemes put in motion after his death. The sudden shift of focus from Moriarty to the mystery of Mary Watson's past is shocking but in retrospect, not unexpected. As Sherlock's doing his thing, John and Mary are adjusting to their new life as parents while still being a part of Sherlock's world. It is too perfect a balance that can't help but be overturned. And waiting to topple it all over is the pull of Mary Watson's dark past. 

The story Sherlock tells about the merchant seeking to avoid death at the start of the story is a warning that points to the story's end. Sherlock, obsessed with Moriarty, thinks he's at the center of the threat, that he is the merchant who can't avoid his fate. That is until Mary's involvement is revealed. At which point, the die is cast. As Mycroft ominously informs Sherlock, agents like Mary don't often live to retirement age; they get retired. 

When Mary arrives at the end of her travels only to find Sherlock waiting for her, we should know what's coming. If Mary is the merchant seeking to avoid death, what does that make Sherlock? 

Mary's death is a major shock to the system, not just to John as her husband and the father of their child but also the relationship between John and Sherlock. Sherlock had vowed to keep Mary safe. Mary died saving Sherlock from a bullet that Sherlock goaded Vivian into firing. Sherlock's culpability in Mary's death was foreshadowed when his quest to find Mary in her travels actually draws the deranged AJ to her location. Mary stares down the barrel of a gun held by a man who wants to kill her; she avoids that fate only to be taken down by a bullet meant for someone else, the man who vowed to protect her. 

As I said earlier....

Whoa. 

John Watson has more or less done this math in head and is extremely angry with Sherlock, refusing to speak to him or allow him to help in any way. But John hatred of Sherlock is accompanied by John's own feeling of guilt. While Mary had praised John as being a perfect husband, it seems John may have been less than faithful. A random flirtation on a city bus between John and a lovely Scottish red head leads to a longer term connection. The exact extent of the affair is not fully established. But whatever it is, it's a blemish on the regard Mary had for John who now has no chance to confess his sins to Mary and make them right.  

So the dynamic of the show has shifted from three back to two. But the two are not a pair but separated by a gulf of tragedy, grief, rage and regret. What, pray tell, is going to happen to Holmes and Watson now? 

At least we won't have 2 or 3 years to ponder that. The next episode is next Sunday. And next Tuesday here on the blog, I will offer my thoughts on Sherlock: The Lying Detective. 

Until next time, remember to be good to one another.  

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