2015’S SHER­LOCK CHRIST­MAS spe­cial, ‘The Abom­inable Bride’, proved di­vi­sive: a mash-up of horse-drawn Vic­to­rian melo­drama and In­cep­tion-es­que mind-trick­ery, it pleased some and made oth­ers fling their re­motes across the room. The show re­turns to stead­ier ground with ‘The Six Thatch­ers’, this opener for Se­ries 4, a com­par­a­tively straight­for­ward mys­tery, but one which still man­ages to fit in sharks, a para­mil­i­tary snatch team, Ti­bet and the tit­u­lar Bri­tish PM. Most im­pres­sively, it shows tonal con­trol, as it starts light and breezy, slowly slid­ing into dark­ness and cli­max­ing with per­haps the most com­bus­tive bomb­shell to date. And no, it’s not that Sher­lock has fi­nally bought some taste­ful wall­pa­per.

As it opens, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch’s Holmes is, very amus­ingly, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing PMWS (Post­mo­ri­arty With­drawal Syn­drome). With his bête

noire van­quished, he should be kick­ing back with a sci­en­tific jour­nal, but in­stead he’s gone into hyper­drive. More specif­i­cally, he’s logged onto Twit­ter. Tap­ping up a frenzy — and even com­ing up with his own hash­tags (“#221Brin­git”) — he’s solv­ing cases in 140 char­ac­ters or less, even dur­ing clas­si­fied brief­ings, much to the cha­grin of his brother My­croft (Mark Gatiss). Martin Free­man’s Watson, mean­while, is adapt­ing well to fa­ther­hood; as he points out, hav­ing Sher­lock as a part­ner is ex­cel­lent prepa­ra­tion for look­ing af­ter a pissy, self-cen­tred in­fant. His mar­riage to ex-spy Mary (Ab­bing­ton), on the other hand, is per­haps not go­ing quite so well...

Based (ex­tremely loosely) on Arthur Co­nan Doyle story The Ad­ven­ture Of The Six Napoleons, the tale re­tains such clas­sic el­e­ments as the black pearl of the Bor­gias and a set of busts of a fa­mous fig­ure, which are be­ing tracked down and smashed by a mys­te­ri­ous n’er-do-well. (The élan with which the like­nesses of the Iron Lady are wrecked on screen sug­gests showrun­ners Mark Gatiss and Steven Mof­fat may have en­joyed those scenes.) True to Sher­lock form, how­ever, the case veers closer to home than is orig­i­nally sus­pected. Sher­lock is at its best when there’s a dev­il­ish vil­lain tor­ment­ing our he­roes, whether it’s An­drew Scott’s imp­ish Mo­ri­arty or Lars Mikkelsen’s ser­pen­tine black­mailer Charles Au­gus­tus Mil­ver­ton. Se­ries 4 prom­ises to add a humdinger to this line-up, with a blond­bar­neted psy­chopath played by Toby Jones. But that’s still to come. ‘The Six Thatch­ers’ does have a bad guy, but he’s very much in the back­ground. In­stead, the episode fo­cuses on the cracks start­ing to form be­tween Sher­lock, John and Mary. The emo­tional events of the fi­nal act change the dy­namic of the show ir­re­vo­ca­bly; it will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see where it goes from here.

With all the dark­ness — and this episode gets pretty darn dark — Gatiss and Mof­fat make sure to keep a cur­rent of fun fizzing through it. This comes in the form of wry rev­e­la­tions (it turns out Sher­lock in­stantly deletes any text mes­sage that be­gins with “Hi”), call­backs to Doyle (Toby the blood­hound, from The Sign

Of Four, fi­nally makes an ap­pear­ance) and bold bits of pro­duc­tion de­sign (the vis­ual mo­tif for this week is “sharks”). En­er­getic, smart, finely pol­ished and just a lit­tle pleased with it­self, it’s quin­tes­sen­tial Sher­lock. The boys are back in town.

VER­DICT A very solid re­turn to moder­nity for Watson and Holmes, with a dab of silli­ness, a smidge of glo­be­trot­ting, and a shock­ing end­ing that might just give you sleuth-ache.

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