Sherlock: The Case of the Busted Bust

Sherlock’s back, and on New Year’s Day, so maybe it’s a sign of better things to come in 2017. What have the boys been up to?

Not much. Precisely four minutes have passed since the season 3 finale in 2015, unless you count that very special episode last year, but it was only a dream (or another reality) and will never be mentioned again.

Previously, Sherlock murdered a guy to protect former-international woman of mystery Mary Watson. This led to his being sent away on a suicide mission to “somewhere in Eastern Europe” Pottsylvania, maybe. On route to his final destination, just after take off, he dreamed about a different time, and then got woke and called back to save the world once more because dead-Moriarty made an unscheduled guest appearance on British television—or possibly all television.


We open with Myroft addressing a very select small group including Lady Smallwood – one of the people whose asses Sherlock saved by taking out blackmailing super-villain, Charles Augustus Magnussen, but is she grateful? Not really. She seems downright testy about having to depend on Sherlock once more, which might be reasonable given Sherlock’s attitude. He’s in the room too, and his big brother has to pull away his phone to stop him from tweeting to the world about his newly won freedom. Tweeting? Who does he think he is? PEOTUS?

Mycroft is shocked that his brother is contacting the rabble.

Sherlock seems almost giddy, but insists it’s only a natural high because THE GAME IS ON. He believes Moriarty is really most sincerely dead and playing from beyond the grave, but not in a supernatural way. He also takes some time out to chat with a practically random old lady who’s sitting in the corner, and appears to be the small “s” secretary to a Secretary. Would they really allow someone like that in the room for a top secret conference, especially given that Mycroft doesn’t even want her to take minutes – her main function in life? Maybe not, but that’s television.

Mycroft shows them a preview of the doctored tape they’re going to show the world which proves that Sherlock did not kill that man (that he killed). Sherlock, bored with the proceedings asks small “s” inane and inappropriate questions to kill time.

Lady Smallwood asks him what he’s going to do about beyond-the-grave-Moriarty, and the answer he gives is “nothing” because he’s the target, and the target is supposed to wait – which is probably what most of us targets have been doing wrong. No one seems assured by this.

That’s all preamble before the credits role, and make note that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself is gets a prominent shout-out because this show is reverent. The title of the episode is The Six Thatchers is a play on the similarly titled canon Holmes story, The Six Napoleons. We begin with Sherlock walking around a shark tank in an aquarium – a cool reference for movie lovers to The Lady from Shanghai. We hear Sherlock, in voice-over, narrating a version of Appointment in Samara, a Sufi folktale known to westerners through Somerset Maugham’s short story. If you need a refresher, the moral is you can’t outrun death because it will find you.

We jump from there to another point in time. John, very pregnant Mary, and Sherlock are at Baker street. Sherlock is still tweeting, which is certainly NOT canon, nor is there any equivalent in the Holmes’ stories. It doesn’t feel right. Sherlock doesn’t connect this way to the world. Social media is John’s job. The best rationale – other than plot contrivance – is that when Sherlock gets in to something, he tends to get ALL in, so lets go with twitter as his new addiction. John meanwhile continues with the blog.

Sherlock is bored with the easy cases he can solve in under a minute and less than 144 characters. Then Mary goes into labor and Sherlock is in the backseat with her as John drives and quite the threesome they are – which is also not canon. The baby is born – a little girl, Rosamund Mary. Molly, Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock are all godparents. Happiness reigns. This can’t last long!

At some point soon after,  a pretty red-head on a bus starts making the googly eyes at John, despite or maybe because of his being a new dad, he seems abashed — way more than a married man and new dad should be, but our John is solid as a rock, right?

What’s that paper in the mystery woman’s hand? Will it be important later? You bet!

The case is from Lestrade, and we are reminded once again that Sherlock doesn’t do social niceties like remembering people’s names although somehow in this episode he seems like even more of an a-hat than we may have remembered.

It’s one of those unsolvable riddles that he and only he can easily solve. At the 50th birthday party for a conservative MP, the son calls from Tibet and asks his dead to take a photo of his car, parked in front of the house, to settle a bet. Dad does. A week later a drunk driver smashes into the car, which bursts into flames, and the son’s burnt body is found inside of it. He was already dead before the fire. Sherlock figures it out quickly, but something in the bereaved parents’ home distracts him – a busted bust of Margaret Thatcher.

Apparently, the Iron Lady Shrine is a common feature in all Tory homes.

The house had been broken into two weeks before, and it was the only thing disturbed. None of this has anything to do with the son’s death, but it intrigues Sherlock.

Sherlock goes to Mycroft asking if Moriarty  was involved in anything political. He tells Mycroft he feels“Something is coming.” Conan Doyle’s Holmes also said that though what he sensed was the Great War, in the story His Last Bow. The name of the season 3 finale was His Last Vow – referring to Sherlock’s promise to keep Mary safe, and throughout the season premiere, Sherlock reminds us of that vow.

Mycroft dismisses his brother’s “intuition.” Which leads to his mentioning Appointment in Samara, which Sherlock had rewritten as a child, changing the ending to a happy one. Mycroft tells him one of Moriarty’s possibly “political” heists was the theft of the black pearl of the Borgias. This is another reference to The Six Napoleons. In that story, the elusive jewel was hidden in a bust.

Back at Baker Street, Sherlock is still in “wait” mode and happy when Lestrade comes by with news of another busted Thatcher bust busted.

Sherlock and John head over to borrow a tracking dog named Toby, who belongs to a hacker who owes Sherlock a favor – because everyone owes Sherlock a behavior. Sherlock wants Mary’s help over John’s – and reminds John and us that Mary, after all, used to be a “super-agent.” But John sticks around too, with little Rosamund in his arms. Mary is thrilled by the break in her routine, while John probably feels emasculated, which could lead to trouble.

Is that a tardis?

The dog follows the scent of the bust-buster and leads them to a slaughterhouse where he loses the scent. Sherlock is more convinced than ever that Dead Moriarty is involved (but still dead).

Sherlock then uses the hacker to track down the owners of the remaining four busts. He’s too late three times, but he’s waiting when the mystery man busts in to smash the final Thatcher. There’s a fight scene in a swimming pool that’s pretty exciting considering there are no sharks. And where is Sherlock’s back up? Delayed in traffic?

Getting the better of the bust-buster, Sherlock demands to know about “the black pearl of the Borgias” but the buster has never heard of it, or of Sherlock Holmes either. When Sherlock smashes Maggie’s head, he finds a flash drive with the letters AGRA – just like the memory stick that John threw in the fire after Mary told him to look at it if he wanted to know the truth about her past. Then we get a flashback to Mary’s last top secret mission in Tbilisi Georgia, where Mary and her crew, including the buster, were supposed to rescue the British ambassador and her husband, both being held hostage, but it all went wrong, and the bust-buster got captured after he ran through the Thatcher bust factory, but not before he slipped the drive into Thatcher’s brain. Now this guy, who was held and tortured for six years, believes Mary betrayed him, and he wants her dead.

Backup finally arrives, and Mary’s ex-coworker escapes – vowing that revenge will be his.

Sherlock meets with Mary. He shows her the stick, which she had previously told John contained her initials. It wasn’t completely a lie. Her four person team each had a stick. The initials AGRA stand for Alex, Gabriel, Ajay (our head-buster)  and Mary’s “real” first name. The stick contains evidence against each member, plus aliases, location of stolen passports, money, etc. It was their insurance that they’d never betray each other. Sherlock asks Mary to tell him about the mission, and warns her he’ll know the truth when he hears it. The truth is that Mary got a phone call from someone code-named “AMO” and something went wrong on the mission. She thought she was the only one that got out. She’s shocked when Sherlock tells her that Ajay is alive, and even more so when he tells her that he wants her dead.

Sherlock says he can keep her safe but only if she stays in London, so of course she gives him something important to read, which it turns out is drugged paper which she probably carries on her person at all time. He passes out and she makes her escape – with the memory stick.

Sherlock consults Mycroft, asking him what he knows about AGRA, which Mycroft replies is a city in India. (It’s also the city that plays a role in the Holmes story, The Sign of the Four, which introduces the future Mrs. Watson, Mary Marston, and even features Toby, the dog.)

Mycroft admits he was aware of AGRA, but after that mess in Tbilisi where the hostages died, the government stopped using freelancers. Mycroft isn’t familiar with AMO. He asks Sherlock if he thinks he can keep Mary safe forever, given that retired special agents don’t have a long shelf life. Sherlock says for maybe the third time in the episode that he made a vow.

Mary is off seeing the world in more wigs and disguises then Philip and Elizabeth Jennings use in a year. She uses random rolls of dice to determine her moves. But somewhere in Morocco, or similar, Sherlock tracks her down, and after bluffing about how, he admits he’d put a tracer on the memory stick, oh and he’s brought John who seems a little miffed at her running off, but mostly relieved she’s okay. He reminds her that she told him AGRA were her initials. She tells him the R stands for Rosamund, and that her real name is Rosamund Mary. Viewers of Downton Abbey may shudder recalling little Sybie, named for her mother Sybil who died shortly after giving birth to her. What is up with naming your kid after you? Could this be… foreshadowing?

Maybe it is!  Ajay has also followed Sherlock and emerges from the shadows. He still wants to kill Mary, and almost does before the cops arrive and kill him, but before he dies, he talks about what his captures said. They also referred to “AMO” using it as a code name for “the English woman” who betrayed the team. There’s a standoff where Ajay is pointing a gun at Mary, and Mary is pointing a gun at Ajay. John, whom we know is a crack shot, has a gun too, and Sherlock is trying to sort out what exactly Ajay heard. Then the cops come in and shoot AJ dead, which leaves Mary sad, but now she and John can at least go home because the danger’s over, right? Wrong! Because whomever really betrayed the team might still want Mary dead. Sherlock realizes that the word “amo” is actually Latin for “love” and those of us who are really observant might have noticed that in the first scene at the very top secret meeting, Lady Smallwood’s code- name was “love.” Therefore, she’s the one who betrayed them, or so Sherlock suggests to Mycroft by telephone before he even comes back to London.

On the plane, John and Mary sit together, but John’s head is somewhere else. He flashes back to the woman on the bus and a whole bunch of stuff we didn’t see earlier, like how she wrote her number down and gave it to John and he almost threw it out but kept it, and finally texted her, and there was more, but we can’t quite be sure what.

Sherlock is watching Mycoft interrogate Lady Smallwood, and believes her denials, which can only mean one thing….

At the Watson home, Mary is telling John that his perfection makes things difficult for her. John seems to be on the verge of a confession, but they both get texts to meet Sherlock at the Aquarium – immediately.

If only they’d decided to stay home and order a pizza.

They can’t both go because they need a sitter, so John lets Mary go first, figuring it’s really about her. He’ll follow along after Mrs. Hudson comes because what responsible parent wouldn’t leave their infant with an old pothead that Sherlock got off for murder?

We have reached our final destination – the shark tank. Sherlock goes there because that’s where Lady Smallwood’s small “s” secretary, her shadow, goes most nights after work. Mary arrives. Small “s” tells them she’s like the Merchant in Appointment with Samara. She’s been trying to outrun fate,selling secrets to the enemy for cash back in the day, but the Ambassador found out, so it was a relief when the terrorists kidnapped her, but then Lady Smallwood sent AGRA in to get the Ambassador out, so she dropped a dime and told the terrorists they were coming because she just needed a little peace. She thought they were all dead. Her monologue echos what Mary told Sherlock about her own fears of her past coming back, and the “peace” she had found with John.

Small “s” asks both of them to please let her go on her merry way, but Mary almost tackles her for what she’s done. That’s when the secretary takes out her gun, and Sherlock, maybe stalling for time or just being a dick, or possibly trying to protect Mary by drawing the fire to him, starts dissecting her pathetic unhappy cat-filled life – but I say to you, dear reader, is any woman’s life truly pathetic if she has cats – lots of cats?

The secretary did it.

Mycroft and Lestrade arrive, having been called by John, who’s not there yet. Mycroft calls the secretary by name, Vivian Norbury, and calmly tells her she’s done. Sherlock, who has trouble remembering Margaret Thatcher’s name or even his friend Greg Lestrade’s, repeats her name precisely as he continues his epic take down, which is based on the premise that she was pathologically jealous of agents who got to lead lives of adventure, so she outsmarted them with her actions, but she couldn’t outsmart Sherlock Holmes.

Listening to this tirade, and with nothing left to lose, she decides to surprise Sherlock by putting a bullet in his chest, but Mary whose reflexes are quick, jumps in front of the bullet, saving his life, and taking the hit.

John runs in a second later, and takes her in his arms but there’s not much he can do, other than tell his dying wife that she is his whole world. She tells Sherlock that this makes up for that time she shot him. And then she’s gone, eyes open gone, and not fake-gone like Sherlock. There’s a muffled scream from John, and then he looks up with intense anger at Sherlock, reminding him he made a “vow” and failed – this without his even having seen what happened, that Sherlock had provoked Vivian, that Mary had died for Sherlock’s sins.

Remember how John was seeing a shrink for PTSD? She’s back, but now it’s Sherlock visiting her, trying to figure out how he can “help” John. Looks like he’s already “helped” too much .

Mycroft tries to call someone named, “Sheridan.” Who’s that? Here’s a clue: Sheridan Hope was Conan Doyle’s name for the Holmes character in an early draft, and he’s been the darling of fanfic before it was even called that.

We see Mary’s casket go into the fire, and John walking around a graveyard. It’s a shout-out to the Season 2 Finale when Sherlock was watching John look at Sherlock’s grave.

Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson are at Baker street. He tells her to just say “Norbury” to him if ever he gets too full of himself – which would be all the time, unless he is now permanently changed – but can he be changed and still be Sherlock? And herein lies one difference between Conan Doyle’s Holmes, and television’s Sherlock. Holmes never changes. But Sherlock and John, as portrayed in this modern world by Cumberbatch and Freeman, feel too real, too alive to remain the same.  “Norbury,” in case you haven’t googled, is a reference to a place in another canon story, a story in which Holmes was wrong about a thing.

Mrs. Hudson gives Sherlock an envelope that got mixed in with her mail. There’s no return address, and inside there’s a DVD with the words “Miss Me.” He thinks it’s Moriarty, but it’s Mary contacting him from beyond the grave, using Moriarty’s line to get his attention. It’s her “You’ll only see this if I’m dead” tape, in which she orders him to save John.

Sherlock goes over to John’s. Molly, babe in arms, answers the door, and tells Sherlock that John is breaking up with him.

The episode ends with Sherlock’s voice-over. He’s wondering if “Samara” can be avoided. But isn’t everything that happened proof that it can’t? Have you learned NOTHING Sherlock Holmes? Mary’s death was certainly ordained. Mary Watson dies offstage in Conan Doyle’s version, cause unknown to us, sending Watson back to Baker Street.

What have we observed for our speculation? Looks like this Sheridan person is important. Could he be a third brother or foster brother? Another sibling was hinted at in the S3 finale by Mycroft, as we were reminded in this week’s “previously on.” And what of the red-headed temptress on the bus? Anyone who thinks we’ve seen the last of her, or that she was there by accident hasn’t been paying attention.

Thoughts? Theories? You’re welcome to share them in the comments below.

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: Sherlock

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