“Sherlock” Season 4’s inaugural — and horrifying — episode “The Six Thatchers” (Jan. 1) reiterates how crucial family is to the whole series — just like “stories,” everything comes down to both the families we find ourselves in and those we create.
But we’re thinking that central conceit (familiar to viewers of Steven Moffatt’s other shows, such as “The Amy Pond Hour,” “What Can’t River Song Do?!?!” and of course his annual Holiday Special, “The Magic of Moms”) may just be the key to figuring out how Moriarty is getting so much done, despite being adorably dead.
“It’s never twins,” Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) remarked about his archenemy’s “Miss Me?” message from this past Christmas Special. In the opening act of Season 4’s first episode, this offhand comment stands out from his fixation on just throwing himself into work — and sets the stage for everything that happens in the rest of the episode in a way that nods to the real power of blood relations.
Surprisingly, season 3’s cliffhanger — Sherlock straight up murders the bad guy — is wrapped up quite neatly, and functions as an overlooked clue. We’re presented with his careless (and clearly under the influence) attitude toward elder brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) when he gets his murder charges dropped with a doctored sniper video… Because when you’re the little brother you just get a slap on the wrist, clearly.
Despite their mutual indifference, it’s still important to note that Mycroft did stick out his neck for his brother and seems to be easing up on him. So we start season 4 with the most emotionally impenetrable character displaying reluctant care for his brother: A weakness.
Interestingly, in a reversal to Mycroft, we see Sherlock detaching himself from the family he’s created with John and Mary (Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington), and their newborn, by immersing himself in the web for cases — the literal digital web, of course, but which also metaphorically functions as the web he puts himself in to create a state of anticipation for Moriarty’s (Andrew Scott) game to begin again…
And because of which he misses the birth of baby Rosamund — physically present, he isn’t mentally there. Doesn’t even look up from his phone while accepting the role of godfather to the child. He’s glued to the keyboard of his phone, tackling case after case as John Watson and Mary settle into parenthood.
What seems to stand out here is that he decides not stroke Moriarty’s ego, but stays busy, waiting, in response to the message. All the while, he’s distancing himself from the human connections he created. Though we have great moments, where Sherlock’s on the case with Mary, John, the baby and a hound — he still isn’t necessarily present. He’s missing out on the life he was enjoying with those he cares most about…
Until the case of the “Six Thatchers” presents itself.
About a Son
It’s important to note Sherlock is called upon to investigate the death of a wealthy couple’s son who was supposedly traveling in Tibet — but whose dead body’s revealed to be in a vehicle on the family’s estate after a drunk driver crashed into it. As Holmes uncovered, the son had created a video call that made it look as if he was in Tibet, but was actually hiding in the car — an attempt to surprise his family, until he died from a seizure or something.
What’s interesting is how the video fools his family into thinking he was skyping from Tibet — which gives us a possible hint as to how technology is advanced and manipulated in the show’s universe. It’s not unfathomable this would come into play with Moriarty’s video message.
There’s Something About Mary
The show, of course doesn’t linger. It leapfrogs from the dead scion, to Sherlock’s obsession with the broken Thatcher bust from a break-in at the family’s estate — and thence into the title thread of the episode, a series of mysterious broken busts. But when Sherlock tracks down the person who’s breaking into homes, he finds out that it’s an agent with a vendetta against Mary when he finds another “AGRA” flash drive inside a bust during their scuffle.
Turns out Mary lied again, about A.G.R.A. being her initials — and about the flash drive only pertaining to her protection of her newfound family. She confesses to Sherlock and Watson that she was a part of an elite killing squad that was all but destroyed in a coup that she believed she was the only survivor of. The flash drive (which each of them had, with everyone’s info) was their safeguard to make sure no one betrayed one another. The R in AGRA, she reveals, was Rosamund: The name she gave to her daughter with John.
What sticks here is how reckless it was for Mary for fall in love with Watson… And entrust Sherlock with their family’s safety, as he’s becoming more and more unhinged.
An Appointment in Samarra
Mary flees her now-homicidal ex-colleague Ajay (Sacha Dawan) — who considers her a traitor to the family of criminals they’d formed — and get her current family away from danger. Ending up in Morocco after various identity changes harkens back to the childhood story Mycroft told Sherlock about death being unavoidable. A story which we see manifest itself multiple times in this episode, including a reverie Sherlock has about his alternate ending where he as a child outwits death by going somewhere else and being a pirate.
It also echoes how Sherlock is already where Mary spontaneously ended up… and where he was followed by Ajay to kill Mary but fails.
Like in Sherlock’s version, they both miss their appointment with death and go home.
Mycroft has to deal with the reveal that his contract with the AGRA squad was sabotaged from within, and even questions his own colleagues — until Sherlock is tempted by the real culprit into a meeting at an aquarium. Full of himself, Sherlock takes the bait and discovers it’s just a secretary from Mycroft’s division, who carried bitterness against those who were able to become field agents when she couldn’t.
That stands out, showing that this is someone who’s harbored resentment for her superiors, and reveals exploiting their organization for selfish reasons. Maybe she could have operated as an inside contact for others in Sherlock’s past, and/or those yet to be revealed.
Before Mrs. Norbury goes off, Mary tries to talk her down, sharing a moment about wanting to have peace and a family, but the secretary cautions that would never work out for people like them. Those are the words we’re left with, as Mary takes the bullet for Holmes.
The codeword Norbury uses to sabotage Mycroft’s AGRA operation, six years earlier — originally mistaken for “Ammo” — is “ama,” a form of the Latin word for “love.” It might be plausible Norbury has resented Mycroft for a long time, a resentment she might have passed on to those children work kept her from.
We can’t help but notice that it’s right after this that Moriarty showed up in Sherlock’s life — and wonder if there’s a connection between he and Norbury: A blood connection.
It might make sense that a family member might be the one carrying out the rest of Moriarty’s plan for him, and that it could be his mother since this episode dealt with the lengths one goes for their family. Don’t you think Moriarty would have a mom like Jason Voorhees and Billy Loomis from “Scream”? Even Mary’s video message to Sherlock to save John was labeled “Miss me?” — way too much to be a coincidence. Connections will definitely be coming to light from the Graves of both Moriarty and Mary.
In any case, we haven’t seen Toby Jones’ Culverton Smith connected yet — but it seems like a safe bet. Or perhaps Moriarty’s final game might serve as practice for Sherlock’s boss battle with “the most dangerous man he’ll ever encounter.”
“Sherlock” continues its fourth season on PBS Jan. 8 at 9 p.m. ET/PT and Jan. 15 at 7:30 p.m.