SHERLOCK 3.03 ‘His Last Vow’
Episode Title: “His Last Vow”
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Nick Hurran
Previously on “Sherlock”:
It’s been well over three years since “Sherlock” premiered on BBC. Many fans may not recall that the partnership between Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Doctor John Watson (Martin Freeman) was sealed over a murder committed by John in defense of Sherlock.
Arguably, what John did was a justifiable homicide. But the fact remains, John killed a man to protect Sherlock. In turn, Sherlock pleaded ignorance about who fired the shot to shield John from any legal repercussions.
Thus it’s fitting that the final episode of “Sherlock” Season 3 is book-ended by another murder with the same goal. Sherlock and John want to protect each other and to save someone close to them. But there’s only one way to accomplish that.
Full spoilers lie ahead for “His Final Vow,” so if you missed last night’s third season finale of “Sherlock” then you should probably skip this review or else you’ll be glad that Molly isn’t wearing a ring.
Mads Mikkelsen has proven to be an amazing villain as the title character on NBC’s “Hannibal,” but his brother, Lars Mikkelsen was an equally compelling adversary as Charles Augustus Magnussen. I can’t remember the last time that I’ve instantly hated a villain, but that was the desired response here. Magnussen is not only a blackmailer, he’s vile. He is the kind of man who will take a piss in Sherlock’s fireplace and lick the face of Lady Smallwood (Lindsay Duncan) because he thinks he’s untouchable. Magnussen thinks that he owns everyone. And for the most part, he does.
By the time that Sherlock explains his newest case to John, it’s clear that he hates Magnussen perhaps even more than he hated the late Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott). It’s not just that Magnussen harms people, that’s not enough to earn Sherlock’s enmity. Instead, Sherlock appears to be offended by the way that Magnussen abuses his genius to achieve his goals. As unlikely as it sounds, Magnussen has a mind that may be even sharper than Sherlock’s. Magnussen is not a functioning sociopath, he’s a thriving sociopath.
Sherlock is so consumed by his burning hatred towards Magnussen that he fakes a relapse into drug use. Although if Sherlock was actually using, then it wasn’t really a fake relapse, is it? John stumbles upon Sherlock in a drug den while retrieving one of his neighbors. Domestic bliss with Mary (Amanda Abbington) has been good for John, but he eagerly took the chance to have some adventure in his life. Unfortunately for John, he got his wish.
Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) appears briefly and she seems to feel personally betrayed by Sherlock’s apparent relapse as she slaps the s*** out of him. In turn, Sherlock does actually relapse to his colder persona when he notes that Molly is no longer engaged to Tom (Ed Birch) and he’s happy that she didn’t hit him while wearing a ring.
Along the way, Sherlock becomes impressed with Bill Wiggins (Tom Brooke), a drug user with observational skills that suggest a lot of intellectual potential. From there, Bill reappears throughout the episode as Sherlock’s newest operative on the streets of London and Brooke was a fun addition to the mix.
Janine (Yasmine Akram) was also a fun addition as Sherlock’s girlfriend. Much to the disbelief of John, Sherlock has apparently hooked up with Mary’s bridesmaid for a real romantic relationship. However, Sherlock is still Sherlock. And his romance with Janine (and even his proposal) was just a ruse to get inside Magnussen’s office.
Of course the ruse was successful, but Sherlock has the shock of his life when he finds Mary already in the office as she threatens to kill Magnussen. And to protect herself, Mary shoots Sherlock!
That was a great twist that completely floored me. My initial reaction was that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss wouldn’t send Mary on such a dark character turn. She was just too charming in her previous appearances and she’s played by Martin Freeman’s real domestic partner, Amanda Abbington. But that’s why it was so effective. The “Sherlock” creative team lulled both the lead characters and the audience into letting our collective guard down around Mary.
Sherlock’s descent into his personal mindscape (or his Mind Palace, if you prefer) was an arresting sequence, as Molly and Moriarty appear to him as mental avatars that guide Sherlock towards the best way to survive his injury.
When Sherlock recovers, it leads to an intense confrontation between Mary, Sherlock and John that was very well played by all sides. Freeman was particularly good as he conveyed John’s silent rage; which only boils over later when he insists that Mary is just the client instead of his wife. As Mary relates her dilemma, Sherlock deduces that she was once a government operative (or an assassin) whom Magnussen is attempting to blackmail to get at John, to get at Sherlock and especially to get at Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss), Sherlock’s politically powerful older brother.
On Christmas day at the home of Mr. Holmes (Timothy Carlton) and his wife, Mrs. Holmes (Wanda Ventham), John reconciles with Mary before Sherlock drugs everyone except Bill and John to steal Mycroft’s government laptop in order to set a trap for Magnussen. On a side note, I love the idea that Mrs. Holmes was the first genius in that family, but both of Sherlock’s parents seem much more normal and well adjusted than their sons. That just makes it funnier to watch them all in the same room.
Sherlock’s plan to set Magnussen up for treason was brilliant. Or at least it would have been, if Magnussen actually had a vault of secrets as Sherlock surmised. Instead, Magnussen gleefully demonstrates that he keeps all of his files in his mind before abusing John’s face to demonstrate his power over them. With Mycroft coming to arrest them for treason, Sherlock sees no other alternative but to shoot Magnussen dead in front of several witnesses.
Perversely, that was the grandest gesture that Sherlock has ever made for John and Mary. He really does love them, as much as Sherlock can love anyone. Earlier in the episode, Mycroft suggested that he too feels a familial connection to his brother when he told Sherlock to turn down a dangerous undercover assignment that will likely end in his death. But in the aftermath of Magnussen’s murder, that mission is now Sherlock’s only option.
At least this time, John and Sherlock have a moment to say goodbye before Sherlock is ripped out of his life again. Every season of “Sherlock” has ended on an emotional cliffhanger, and this seemed to be setting the stage for Sherlock’s eventual return in a few years… if he survives his mission. But of course he survives! He’s Sherlock Holmes! Only one man could kill Sherlock Holmes, and he’s already dead.
Wait… Maybe he’s not so dead after all. Before Sherlock’s plane can even get out of the country, Jim Moriarty apparently announces his return from the grave by hacking into every TV channel in Great Britain. As happy as I am to see Moriarty again, Moffat and Gatiss have some explaining to do. We saw Moriarty commit suicide on screen, right in front of Sherlock. If Moriarty really is back, then how could he have possibly faked that?
The alternative explanation is that Moriarty isn’t back at all. The timing of that hack was very suspicious. I wouldn’t put it past Sherlock to have done it himself, since it saves him from exile. Aside from Moriarty or Sherlock, the next logical suspect would be Irene Adler (Lara Pulver); whom we’ve only seen in Sherlock’s mindscape this season. Irene has an intellect to rival Sherlock’s and Moriarty’s mind games. Perhaps this is her ultimate gambit.
However this plays out, “Sherlock” Season 3 was superlative television that was over far too soon. Hopefully we won’t have to wait two years for the next season.
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