Sherlock finally returned last night after a long wait, and what started out on a somewhat happy-ish (and at times hilarious) note took a dark turn at the close of the Season 4 premiere.
WARNING: There are spoilers for “The Six Thatchers” below. If you haven’t seen the episode, proceed at your own peril.
Returning after a three-year absence (sure, we had the New Year's special “The Abominable Bride” at the same time last year, but Season 3 ended back in February 2014 with “His Last Vow”), Sherlock ended with the death of John Watson’s (Martin Freeman) wife Mary (Amanda Abbington), who heroically took a bullet to save Sherlock's (Benedict Cumberbatch) life, dying as her despondent husband looked on. Before you guys think there’s a chance Mary didn’t actually die, showrunner Steven Moffat confirmed that yes, Mary is well and truly dead.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Moffat explained why they decided to kill Mary off, and whether the decision had anything to do with the fact that the character died (or at least, we think so) in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
“The truth is it’s never established that she died in the stories. We just assume she died because Watson refers to his “sad loss” which is probably a death but not necessarily. The reality of this, of course, is that Sherlock Holmes is about Sherlock and Dr. Watson and it’s always going to come back to that — always always always. They had fun making it a trio but it doesn’t work long term. Mary was always going to go and we were always going to get back to the two blokes. That’s the format. [Sherlock writer-producer-actor] Mark Gatiss and I do not have the delusion that we know better than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. That’s how the show works and always will. We reset to the most traditional and famous version of the format.”
Not only does Mary’s demise serve as a reset button of sorts for the remainder of the series, it also creates a huge rift in John and Sherlock’s friendship (more on that below). Moffat explained why they didn’t wait until the third episode to pull the trigger on the character:
“There was a big debate about whether to kill her in episode 1, instead of more traditionally in episode 3 at the end of the [season]. But let’s not give ourselves that two years to forget how mad they are at each other. Let’s do it in a circumstance where we have to come back in a week and make this show work again. I think it does. Obviously, I’m not the person who makes the judgment. All the consequences are believable and painfully in place with a Sherlock Holmes plot and with some kind of resolution to it all that makes continuing possible. If we do pull that off that will be great.”
As for that rift, don’t expect it to go away by the time “The Lying Detective” rolls around this coming Sunday. Au contraire, my dear Watson. Things are about to go from bad to worse for our dynamic duo.
“We take that rift head-on in the remainder of the [season]. We don’t ignore it. We don’t have John come back and say, “Well I’ve thought about it and it’s all fine.” If anything, the rift gets worse. We decided if we were doing this we’re doing grief properly. We were doing the consequences properly. We tried to have people go through what they’d actually go through in this circumstance which, of course, is hellish. And as emotionally reticent as Sherlock Holmes is, it doesn’t take a 12-year-old to figure out he’s a profoundly emotional man. We don’t skirt around it. We don’t just get on with the story of the week — although there is a story of the week. There’s a big villain to fight. But front and center are the consequence of Mary’s death and Sherlock’s culpability. He could have done better, it’s his lifestyle that killed her in the end.
We spent a long time trying to work out what his culpability was. Obviously, it wasn’t his fault. Mary tried to save his life. But having Sherlock unable to stop himself from showing off and that’s what riles her up to take the shot, I think it adds another layer. We were determined to make it as difficult for us as possible [as writers] to take on the following things: We will do grief in a big way, we will have the rift between them, and it will be real and will never completely go away — because you’ll always think about that, however imperishable that friendship is. At the same time, we’ve got to be a proper detective show with proper action, proper villains, proper mystery solving.”
As for those proper villains, the big one will come in the guise of Toby Jones’ (Captain America: The First Avenger) Culverton Smith this coming Sunday, and you can have a little taste at how much Culverton will rattle Sherlock in the promo below.