After a hiatus that lasted long enough for some “Sherlock” fans to graduate high school and forget about the show, the modern mystery solver is back. The premiere of the long awaited Season 4, “The Six Thatchers,” began with the funny self-proclaimed “sociopath” tweeting on his phone despite being in the middle of a Really Important Secret Meeting, lulling viewers into a relaxed amusement, tinged with anticipation. This didn’t last long: the plot twist of the final 20 minutes left me — and most of Tumblr fandom, where many of the show’s fans reside — alternating between a confused daze and suspicions that there might be genius somewhere in it. I happen to lean towards the former.
The arc of the mystery in “The Six Thatchers” falls slightly short, deriving more of its energy from the action than from a clever framework of the case and the clue-by-clue sleuthing, one of the main draws of the first two seasons of the show. Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”) first solves a mysterious death that Watson (Martin Freeman, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”) later blogs about, of course, but one of the clues from that case provides the link to the next — which has something to do with Mary (Amanda Abbington, “Mr. Selfridge”), Watson’s wife. Once again, we are plunged into confusion about whether to trust Mary, who runs away across the world, purportedly to protect her husband and daughter from her previous identity and the dangers that come with it.
Of course, Sherlock (and Watson) find her — but so does Mary’s would-be assassin, a previous co-worker in her line of secret agent work. While he is unsuccessful in his mission there, in the end of the episode there is a shocking death; but it feels, somehow, ungenuine. Either a major character has just been killed off in a very hasty way, or in the next two episodes there’s going to be some miraculous return from death — again. One would hope that the plot maneuver would only be employed once, though there are also allusions to another villain who was killed in Season 3 maybe making a return. The hints read neither as red herrings nor feasible plot points, making for a disjointed episode.
Throughout “The Six Thatchers,” there are moments of humor: Sherlock trying to explain things to a baby, Sherlock outsmarting people and being rude about it without meaning to, Sherlock choosing Mary and a dog over Watson as a sleuthing partner for an expedition, and of course the bitter banter between Sherlock and his brother. But though those feel familiar and comforting, they’re not enough to carry the episode. The show itself is a complex modern mystery, with weaving and dodging parts; the pacing — and the protagonist — can make you feel foolish if you can’t keep up. But despite that, even if the confusing elements were confusing intentionally, the overall episode doesn’t quite live up to the hype that a three-year hiatus inevitably creates.
Hopefully the next episode reconciles Sherlock and Watson, because while conflict makes for good TV, shots of Benedict Cumberbatch being sad and alone don’t.