For much of BBC’s Sherlock, the titular character has been practically omniscient, as well as sociopathic and completely lacking in empathy. With “The Six Thatchers,” that is changing.
That’s not to say that this hasn’t been a theme in the show before, but it’s much more so now. Once Sherlock is back in the game and waiting on some posthumous scheme from Moriarty to show up, he assists Lestrade with a variety of minor cases, mostly using them to show off. But in these moments he lets on with a smirk that some of his showboating is just ad lib tomfoolery. Watson once asks “You’re making this up, aren’t you?” to which Sherlock amiably replies, “Possibly.” At another point when this is revealed, he smiles and says “Wasn’t it good, though?” While used as a comical element, this puts forward that, in contrast to the series’ earlier episodes, Sherlock doesn’t actually know everything.
Next, a mysterious case arises featuring a missing boy, a dead body, and a missing Margaret Thatcher bust. The latter’s of those three launches a rather curious investigation, one Sherlock is especially suspicious of, watching for Moriarty’s posthumous revenge. Except there’s just one problem.
Not everything is about him. While it’s frustrating, and ultimately a bait and switch, that Moriarty is not addressed here, this thematic element is a welcome direction for the show. In fact, through this story, Sherlock learns some very painful lessons about his own blinding pride. No longer is Sherlock’s asinine behavior treated as just a brand of comedy. Instead, the mysteries are a means to explore the character of Sherlock, a character that is discovering the cost of his own vice.
(Note: Heavy spoilers are in the following sections).
As it turns out, the plot has nothing to do with Moriarty. But it has everything to do with Mary. Almost too late, Sherlock is reminded of his vow to protect her, John, and their newborn child. He does follow through on this, even though he has to do this forcibly at times. But it’s when she is safe, when he’s figured out who is to blame for the whole problem, when he makes his fatal mistake.
He invites his friends to the final confrontation with this story’s villain. And it doesn’t end well.
There’s a lot to be said about this, but I think the biggest thing it shows is how pervasive Sherlock’s pride is. He takes this promise of protection very seriously – “I made a vow!” he practically screams in Mycroft’s office. And yet the temptation to gloat in front of an audience leads him to abandon that protective instinct.
In one of the episode’s more subtle and powerful moments, Sherlock tells Mrs. Hudson, “If you ever think I’m becoming a bit full of myself, cocky, or overconfident,” to speak a name that will remind him of that case. That tells us just how much Sherlock has changed – that he is even aware of his mistakes, and is truly sorry and in mourning for their consequences.
There are numerous reasons I like this character development. But perhaps the biggest reason is that, while Sherlock has always been something of a narcissist, that’s never quite been condemned in him. But here we have a humbled Sherlock, showing us that not everything about him should necessarily be imitated.
In Proverbs 6, the first sin that is called out as being one that the Lord hates is pride (“a haughty look”). It would seem that, following the events of “The Six Thatchers,” Sherlock would agree.