MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW
During the final moments of Sherlock‘s series four premiere on Sunday, “The Six Thatchers” literally interpreted something Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories had always alluded to — but never quite said. That is to say, they killed off Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington) during Sherlock Holmes’ (Benedict Cumberbatch) confrontation with the person ultimately responsible for most of the episode’s mysteries. The culprit fires at the consulting detective and before John Watson (Martin Freeman) can do anything about it, Mary instinctively jumps in front of the bullet and goes down.
In a subsequent interview with Entertainment Weekly, series co-creator Steven Moffat admitted “it’s never established that she died in the stories.” Yet the writers opted for the divisive plot twist after reinterpreting one of Doyle’s passages, in which “Watson refers to his ‘sad loss’ which is probably a death but not necessarily.” Despite the clever explanation, however, critics and audiences alike were up in arms after Sunday’s broadcast on BBC in the United Kingdom and PBS in the United States.
The Guardian‘s Ralph Jones was especially perturbed by what he interpreted as Sherlock‘s move towards a more James Bond-like story:
Holmes uses science and a phenomenal application of logic to make sense of physical evidence. Unlike Bond, he is just about human enough to remind us of people we have met at parties. He is a nerd, not an action figure; a scientist, not a spy. But, as Sherlock‘s stakes have risen, and as the guns and assassins have multiplied, it is starting to feel worryingly like we are watching villains be taken to task by a mutation named Sherlock Bond.
Whether or not other reviewers or viewers at home agreed with Jones’ assessment of “The Six Thatchers,” Sherlock co-creator and co-star Mark Gatiss took it upon himself to respond. He could have used his official Twitter account (which many other less discerning celebrities do), but Gatiss instead chose to compose a poem and submit it to The Guardian‘s “Letters” section. Titled “To an undiscerning critic,” Gatiss spends 20 lines suggesting Jones hasn’t actually read Doyle’s books:
Here is a critic who says with low blow
Sherlock’s no brain-box but become double-O.
Says the Baker St boy is no man of action —
whilst ignoring the stories that could have put him in traction.
The Solitary Cyclist sees boxing on show,
The Gloria Scott and The Sign of the Fo’
The Empty House too sees a mention, in time, of Mathews,
who knocked out poor Sherlock’s canine.
As for arts martial, there’s surely a clue
in the misspelled wrestle Doyle called baritsu.
In hurling Moriarty over the torrent
did Sherlock find violence strange and abhorrent?
In shooting down pygmies and Hounds from hell
Did Sherlock on Victorian niceties dwell?
When Gruner’s men got him was Holmes quite compliant
Or did he give good account for The Illustrious Client?
There’s no need to invoke in yarns that still thrill,
Her Majesty’s Secret Servant with licence to kill
From Rathbone through Brett to Cumberbatch dandy
With his fists Mr Holmes has always been handy.
As Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson rightly notes, Gatiss correctly chastises The Guardian for many of its reviewer’s failings. Yet other aspects of Jones’ critique, issues of “spycraft” — as they pertain both to Holmes and to Mary — aren’t mentioned at all. Hopefully Gatiss is composing a few more stanzas this very moment to address the issue.