It's a new year, and that means it's time for new #Sherlock. It's been a long time since we last met up with our favourite crime fighting duo, but season four has finally kicked off. It's been a year since we last set eyes on Sherlock (#BenedictCumberbatch) and John Watson (#MartinFreeman) in a one-off special called "The Abominable Bride".
That episode served as a bridge between season 3 and the new season, as well as hinting at the possibility that Sherlock's drug problem - hitherto mostly ignored - might have more of a foreground role this year. As well as that, of course, the season 3 finale "His Last Vow" suggested that Sherlock's nemesis #Moriarty was back from the dead, just like the famous detective himself.
The Sherlock showrunners have plenty of balls in the air, and that's before we even get to John Watson's new domesticity (and new arrival), Toby Jones' villain and the rumour of a third Holmes brother making an appearance...
It goes without saying that SPOILERS for the first episode of Sherlock's season 4 follow below, please proceed with whatever level of caution you feel is appropriate.
"The Six Thatchers"
With all that to think about, how did season four's opener, "The Six Thatchers", fare? The episode ties up some loose ends from both "His Last Vow" and "The Abominable Bride" early on. We see various secretive high-up government types absolve Sherlock of any blame for the murder to Charles Augustus Magnusson thanks to an expertly doctored video, and that's that. Those hoping for a continuation of Moriarty's return will be disappointed; though Sherlock mentions he knows his (apparently) dead nemesis' next move, but that plot thread pretty soon falls by the wayside.
The episode's title refers to the central mystery, such as it is, involving busts of Margaret Thatcher getting smashed all across London. In a nod to the Arthur Conan Doyle story it takes its inspiration from - "The Six Napoleons" - Sherlock assumes the busts are being broken in search of the missing Borgia pearl hidden inside. As it turns out, the pearl is a MacGuffin, with the criminal instead looking for a memory stick.
The episode moved briskly through the sleuth's unofficial, off-the-record non-pardon, swift precis of solved cases, the birth of the new baby Rosamund Watson and plenty of good gags. A mystery, tangentially tied to the Thatcher busts, was offered and then solved all-too-quickly. This wasn't an episode with a single twisting mystery for our heroes to solve, instead it was a collage of moments cobbled together to move forward several plot threads. In many ways, this didn't feel like a classic Sherlock episode, and maybe that's because the eponymous detective was not the episode's real focus.
We always knew that the mysterious, globe-trotting, mercenary past of #MaryWatson (#AmandaAbbington) would come back to haunt her, and so it proved. AJ (Sacha Dhawan), a former colleague Mary thought long dead, was the man hunting the memory stick he had hidden in a Thatcher bust during a mercenary mission gone wrong - and he was also hunting Mary, the woman who he believed had betrayed him years ago.
This plot allowed Mary to go on a globe trotting, Jason Bourne-esque adventure that just seemed like an excuse to use exotic locales and give Abbington a chance to put on some wigs and try out some accents.
We eventually found out Mary had not betrayed her colleagues, and the identity of the woman who did came from nowhere - Vivian Norbury, introduced the episode's early moments a something of a throwaway character - turned out to be the woman behind the curtain, committing evil for rather ill-defined reasons.
The confrontation with Norbury exists as little more than a vehicle for Sherlock's smug hubris to cost Mary her life, after she dives in front of a bullet to save him. Mary's death is meant to be a big twist, but in reality it didn't shock - those who've read the stories know that John becomes a widower (though her cause of death is unknown) - and it makes sense for Mary to go. As Sherlock points out in this episode, Mary is simply a better sidekick than John - smarter and generally more capable - and it would be difficult for the writers to have to constantly come up with contrivances to have the unsentimental detective take John on adventures rather than Mary.
In many ways, the episode seemed to exist solely to set the stage for forthcoming episodes. Moriarty, alive or dead, has yet to make a move. Grieving John Watson is at odds with Sherlock, who he blames for Mary's death, Sherlock himself is in therapy to cope with his role in it, and Mycroft has made a call to Sherrington, the third, as-yet-unseen Holmes brother.
So, what next? Enter, stage left, Toby Jones as the villain Culverton Smith and (maybe?) #TomHiddleston as Sherrington. With the decks cleared, maybe next week will feature a crime to solve, and some villainy from Moriarty, wherever he is. After an uneven start, here's hoping season 4 really gets running from this point on.
What did you think of "The Six Thatchers"? Let me know in the comments below.