Fuck, Marry, Kill–the Sherlock edition

January 2, 2017 at 10:51 am (Writing)

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the most recent Sherlock (Season 4, episode 1) so avert your gaze if you don’t want to see a major plot point exposed.

Curt and I are huge Sherlock fans. In fact, Curt’s been a Sherlock Holmes fan since about the time he learned how to read. I got on at the Guy Ritchie/RDJ reboot and once Cumberbatch/Steven Moffat hit the BBC, I was hooked. So imagine our anticipation, our excitement, our New Year’s Day delight in knowing Season 4 was going to start last night.

And then we watched. Seriously, this episode belonged back in the dumpster fire of 2016. Oh, it started off innocently enough. We turned to each other when it finished, some kind of a smile for each of us, and expressed happiness and the little bits that were good and just a general post-Sherlock glow. Then I started.

“So one little thing that bugged me…”

2 hours later and we were still talking about it. I’ll save you the blow-by-blow and encapsulate our discussion in 2 words:

Lazy storytelling.

Again, I’ll save you the blow-by-blow of the many (many) examples of this and hit the one that I first started with, that bugged me the most.

Spoiler alert (if you’re still here!)

Mary’s death.

Now, to better examine Mary’s death, I bring a question I brought up to Curt last night: In the writer’s room, when they first started to break the story, what was the goal of the show? Seriously. When they all sat down, coffee in hand and laptops at the ready, what was the goal? “In S4E1, we want BLANK to go through BLANK to realize BLANK leading to BLANK.” I don’t think there was a clear answer to that–my only guess is they wanted to drive a wedge between Watson and Sherlock. (And here’s where my rage starts to build…)

Okay, boys and girls, what’s the quickest way to drive a wedge/bring to characters closer together/overall move the story forward? That’s right, it’s our old friends Fuck, Marry, Kill! (insert writer’s room applause here)

Goddamnit to hell and back, people–just because you CAN use a plot device that’s worked in the past doesn’t mean you SHOULD. There are many outstanding examples of Fuck, Marry, Kill being used well, but there are so many where they do not, and if you can’t tell the difference, then you need to practice your writing a whole lot more.

This makes me think of something that Jenny Crusie* once said–sex scenes are action scenes and need to happen FOR A REASON. There’s meaning behind them and emotion and something that led up to this point, and you can bet your ass there are going to be consequences from it; sex scenes can’t just be thrown in because the writer needs a way to bring two characters closer together. And I will go on to state that this is the same of any action scene, be it murder, a couple breaking up, a planet exploding, even robbing a convenience store; each and every one needs a reason, meaning, emotion, consequences. I’m damn sick of reading books or watching tv shows where it became obvious that Something Needed To Happen so presto, scripto–Fuck, Marry, Kill.


If the goal was to drive a wedge between Watson and Sherlock, you could have had Mary go and Watson stay when that text came in so Mary picked Sherlock and bingo–wedge! Or you could have had Watson hear Sherlock egging Vivian on, Mary saying stop, Vivian shoots and Mary tries to push Sherlock out of the way (not jumping in front of the bullet, FFS) and she does get shot but survives and bingo–wedge! I could go on and on, but truth be told, the problems started long before Vivian shot so it’s really hard for me to build a better plot device on top of this sad, wobbly, pathetic house of cards. But you see where I’m going. MARY DID NOT HAVE TO DIE. There could have been plenty of chances for wedges and picking sides and consequences without it. In fact, I say that the levels of emotion and Jenga-like tower of consequences would have been stronger had she lived.

And don’t even get me started on Watson’s bus fling (or whatever the fuck that was…)

Just don’t do it, people. If Something Needs To Happen, make sure there’s a reason why, events that lead up to it, layers of emotions and consequences, consequences, consequences. Not just a bullet, a guttural “You swore you’d protect her” (beaten into our heads the whole episode so we wouldn’t miss the irony when Watson had to once more point it out) and the inevitable and painful Wedge Between Friends.

Cue anguish. Cue tears. Cue one epic facepalm smack.

Here endeth the lesson.

*I’m remembering this from many years ago and can’t quote exactly what she said, but I remember it as being ‘sex scenes are like action scenes’. The rest is my interpretation of that so any misquoting, incorrect attribution or general fuckups are mine and mine alone.


  1. Pamala Knight said,

    OMG, I wondered if Lucas and I were the only people who were ANNOYED by that ending and worked up over the whole pointless Watson in the emotional/texting affair but you’ve made it a much more eloquent argument. I LOVE Sherlock and hope that they can make up for this mis-start in the upcoming episodes. Although I’m not sure that I can see a way to come back from killing Mary. She survives a trained assassin only to be killed by an elderly double agent/old lady 🙄

    • Pamela Cayne said,

      Yeah, the *whole* Mary thing…eesh. (I was SCREAMING when the old lady reached into her purse and neither Mary nor Sherlock reacted to it. C’mon!!!) Had they left Mary alive and whole, the ways they could have upped the emotion and stakes and who’s-taking-whose-side could have just made the conflicts so much better!

      I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the next two episodes also, though I’m worried that the villain is simply a mix of Moriarty and Magnussen. Just hearing Sherlock talk about this (no really–THIS) is the most heinous smart villainous villain in VillainTown makes me think my fingers crossed will be in vain. But they’ll stay crossed. 😉

  2. coffeegirl88 said,

    When “they” broke this down in the writer’s room, really?!? You mean when Moffat argued with himself in the mirror? There’s only one writer on this show. This is Moffat’s baby it’s his cluster.

    I did watch this episode, but for the life of me I couldn’t describe to anyone, felt like it was a patchwork of mini ideas that were all shoved into one.

    • Pamela Cayne said,

      Moffat wasn’t listed as anything other than an executive producer and I get the feeling that he gets that regardless, so if I had to bet, I’d say he didn’t have anything to do with this episode. I’m a huge fan of Moffat’s, both with Sherlock and with Doctor Who, so for my money, if he had written this one (or had a more active hand in it), I think it would have been soooo much better!

      • coffeegirl88 said,

        Moffat gets producer credit because that’s exactly what he is, along with Mark Gattis. And according to everything I’ve seen online, including the twitter account of Rachel Talalay the director of last night’s episode, Gattis and Moffat co-wrote the episode.

        Why do you assume Moffat isn’t actively involved with Sherlock?

  3. Pamela Cayne said,

    I didn’t say I assumed Moffat wasn’t actively involved with Sherlock, just last night episode. I say that because per the opening credits (and IMDB), he wasn’t listed as a writer, and I see no reason why he wouldn’t be if he did co-write it. Also, I assume such a thing because it straight-out sucked. You do not go from the awesomeness of His Last Vow to this. Period.

    • Montana said,

      Easy to assume Moffat didn’t write it, he didn’t receive credit for it, while he has for all other shows.

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