Sherlock returns to television with all the wit and visual flare the series has become known for, but with a story that lacks payoff after months of anticipation. Worse, it seemingly uses fan-favorite characters as mere plot devices, as means to an end, rather than give them strength, agency, and purpose.
I have always loved how Sherlock uses the camera to show us “clues” to the mundane things around us. Seeing video calls come in as a mixture of cutaways, split-screens, and that trademark Sherlock “text on screen” overlay, was wonderful.
The banter and teasing between any given set of regular cast members is fantastic. Sherlock and Mycroft are great. Sherlock, Watson, and Lestrade are great. Sherlock, Watson, and Mary are great. Hell, even Sherlock and the baby are great. Great.
And there is something genius about the rapid-fire resolution of so many unusual crimes with what is basically their punchline. It is at once a celebration and a mockery of the genre the show masters so well. “It’s never twins,” will come back to haunt us, I suspect.
John Watson’s apparent infidelity was either a drastically upsetting character development or a masterful misdirection. In either case, as it plays out through the end of the episode, it is raw and unwelcomed.
Let’s take it at face value first; John Watson meets someone on a bus and begins some sort of affair. Speeding up the delivery of the Watsons’ baby was a good move, I think, as it helps establish the passing of time when keyed along with the rush of strange mysteries Sherlock absentmindedly solves. But, without seeing John and Mary struggle through those awkward moments, without seeing them suffer and scuffle together in their newly evolving lives, John’s infidelity seems to come from out of nowhere. If we had a few scenes of John’s lingering doubt over Mary’s secret life, or how stressed he was with his new role of father, or how bored he was now that he had to play it safe – he would at least seem like a believable asshole.
Instead, we are left to believe that John Watson, like potentially all men, is just a jerk. And such lazy infidelity too, considering his best friend is a professional busybody and mystery solver, and his wife is a super-spy.
I believe that we’ll find out we were wrong about what John was up to as the series progresses.
I was unsatisfied with the way Mary Watson’s past was immediately brought back into the spotlight after we focused so much attention on reconciling her secrets in terms of her relationship with John last season. Tossing that flash drive into the fire last season was very significant, and figuring out a clever way to bring it back doesn’t negate that that significance seems somehow lessened now.
Look, Mary was a professional assassin, and maybe that really isn’t something that should be hand-waved away, but perhaps we should also give that storyline some downtime so that we can really appreciate the implications of this woman being a hired killer in her past. This is especially true considering that Mary didn’t really get the spotlight here at all. Her master-spy skills were hilariously countered by Sherlock as she failed to randomly escape into the world (the scene was fun, thanks to the performances of the cast), and the question of whether this professional killer has the right to grant herself a safe and peaceful life without ever having to pay for her past life is never addressed.
And it may never be addressed as Mary throws herself in front of a bullet to save Sherlock.
The scene was bad. Sherlock goads the episode’s frail and shaky villain into committing murder, and clearly that’s designed to place some burden of the Mary’s death on his sexy and vulnerable shoulders. He can brood and blame himself for this, and John can brood and blame himself and Sherlock for this. Meanwhile, the audience is left to wonder – Why would this disgruntled secretary risk a first degree murder charge completely out of her M.O? Why did super-spy Mary not see our villain was packing when it was painfully clear she was before the gun was drawn? Why do this at all?
I would have loved to see John and Mary pass off who gets to go on adventures with Sherlock and who gets to stay home with Rose. I would have loved to see John and Mary go off on an adventure while Sherlock stayed home with Rose.
Strong characters are hard to build, and harder to keep going in an established show. And without burying the lede here, strong female characters seem even harder to establish. The hardest part of getting us to accept Mary had already been done – she was there, she was part of the team, she fit in without having to replace anybody. She had places to go, and to grow. Taking her away now seems like a cheat, like an easy way to build drama, and easy drama is less impactful drama.
At this point, I’d like to step back and say that I expect I will turn out to be wrong. I suspect that what John was up to will turn out to be more complicated than we expected, that Mary’s death will be more significant (or hopefully, more staged) than we thought, that we’re being lead astray by the filmmakers who are capitalizing on our genre savviness to give us a good twist.
And while I’m in no way a celebrity gossip person, in research for this article I wanted to confirm that the reason for Mary Watson’s death wasn’t simply because actress Amanda Abbington got some amazing new job somewhere fantastic. It was only then that I learned that Martin Freeman (John Watson) and Amanda Abbington were a couple in real life, and that they officially announced their break-up before Christmas. It’s hard not to wonder if this impacted the events of this episode, but since I feel really skeevy talking about actors personal lives in any way, I guess I’m just going to end this paragraph here.
Anyway, it seems as if Amanda Abbington is credited as Mary Watson for the rest of the season, and hopefully this won’t be just a series a flashbacks. I would like to see some justice for Mary, for John, and for the this tired trend in genre as a whole.