SHERLOCK Review – His Last Vow (SPOILERS)
by Kyle Anderson on February 3, 2014
And just like that, it’s over again. Sherlock series always fly by, but this one especially seemed to cruise, I think in no small part because of how long we had to wait between series. There’s really no getting around that fact, and it’s caused me to feel initially like it was a slight or thin year for the show. However, stepping back a moment as writing these reviews makes necessary, I see all the chances and up-shaking the creators were doing, especially in changing the dynamic between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson with the addition of John’s now-pregnant bride Mary. The storytelling, too, changed quite a bit in the first two episodes, being much more segmented and episodic than previous episodes. With the finale of Series 3, “His Last Vow,” we get a lot closer to the single-thread mysteries of the past while still keeping the character arcs rich and interesting. It’s a very good episode, with a sort of baffling ending.
But, first things first.
Once again, we’ve jumped ahead from the wedding. Lady Smallwood, a high-ranking British official (played by Lindsay Duncan), is on a board of investigation inquiring against Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), a foreign news media tycoon who also, through a massive vault at his home, called Appledore, has sensitive information on just about every person of power in the U.K. He uses this knowledge to extort favors from people, and he threatens to expose Smallwood’s husband’s affair with an underage girl if she continues her investigation. So confident is he that she won’t do anything, he licks her face. Lady Smallwood wants someone to get Magnussen, and hires Sherlock Holmes to do it.
However, in order for that to happen, Sherlock has to be thought of as a drug addict. I mean, he is anyway, but a USING drug addict. It’s been awhile since Watson has seen Sherlock, and the newlyweds are living “blissfully” in the suburbs when they are approached by a weeping neighbor whose son has taken up with some smackheads. John decides to go get the kid back and Mary insists on coming along. After roughing up a druggie, John finds the neighbor’s son and, surprisingly, Sherlock, who’s been shooting up. He then takes all of them back to the car and they go to see Molly to run some tests on Sherlock’s blood. She’s pretty unhappy about the findings.
But, aha, this was all part of Sherlock’s ingenious plan. You see, Magnussen has a list of emotional or mental pressure points for each of his adversaries or people in power, and Sherlock is therefore assured that, with the media coverage, Magnussen will count drug addiction as his. Mycroft is very displeased that Sherlock is trying to take down Magnussen, given that he’s got information the elder Holmes would love to get his hands on. But, Sherlock’s a stubborn sort. John is also very surprised to learn that Sherlock has been seeing Mary’s friend Janine (from the wedding) and that things seem to be going well.
The beginning of this episode really puts the audience in John’s shoes in terms of confusion. He really doesn’t understand Sherlock’s intentions, or his motives, or whether or not he really is back on the drugs. When Sherlock takes him to Magnussen’s office, with his plan to get up the private elevator contingent on Janine being the bad man’s personal assistant, things start to fall into place, though Watson is still kept in the dark about the full depth of the problems at hand when they find that Janine has been knocked unconscious, which begins my favorite portion of the episode.
Magnussen is being held at gunpoint by a woman who wears a specific perfume. Sherlock assumes it to be Lady Smallwood, but in actuality it’s Mary, who hasn’t been who she says she is. When Sherlock calls her bluff, she actually shoots him in the chest and his mind begins to race, determining all the things he should do in order to not die. This sequence is amazing; we see Molly, Anderson, Mycroft, and even Moriarty at various points either helping or hindering Sherlock as he attempts to cling to life long enough to be taken to the hospital. This episode was directed by Nick Hurran and this sequence really exemplifies what’s great about his visual style. And it goes on quite a while, too. The beauty of the length of these episodes is that they can linger in moments and have an entire 10 minute sequence take place within Sherlock’s brain in probably 15 seconds of real time.
The next section deals with the truth about Mary, and it turns out she’s a former assassin, a surgeon with a pistol. Magnussen was using her past as leverage against her, and John, and by extension Sherlock. John, when he finds out, is understandably angry and feels betrayed, though Sherlock seems to immediately know that she didn’t actually want to kill him, and could have if she wanted. It was she who called the ambulance that saved him, and so he realizes this means she’s trustworthy. He also tells John that it made sense that he would fall for someone “dangerous,” given his proclivities toward that kind of exciting lifestyle and his restless ennui when he was just living at home. This also doesn’t make John happy. Eventually, they take on Mary as a client and she gives John a thumb drive with all of her information on it and knows that when he reads it, he will want nothing to do with her.
Now, it might be easy to get irritated by this turn of events and say that Steven Moffat is just yet again writing a badass chick character like he loves to do so much. However, in this instance, it seems to make really good, logical sense. Mary, or whatever her real name is, WOULD be the kind of woman for John. John went out with “regular” women before and it never worked out because they couldn’t take Sherlock or his lifestyle. Mary liked Sherlock right away, because she’s weird too. And by weird, of course, I mean “a former murderer.” But, it says a lot about Watson as a man, which I think is more important than simply having a character who suddenly is a murderer. In the books, Mary is kind of a nothing character, so this gives her a huuuuuge bit of business and something for John to deal with. That they reconciled at Christmas feels earned and totally within character.
As much as I’d like to talk about all the great stuff at Christmas, I really need to get to the end of the episode and why I still don’t understand part of it. Okay, so Sherlock drugs everybody in order to take Mycroft’s classified laptop to Magnussen in the hopes of trading it for the information about Mary that he has in his Appledore vaults. Magnussen realizes immediately that the laptop has a tracking thing on it so he’d be caught with it right away. This was all part of his plan; get to Mary to get to John to get to Sherlock to get to Mycroft. Sherlock and John want to see the vault, except there isn’t one. It’s all Magnussen’s “Mind Palace.” There’s no evidence at the ready, he just knows everything and can access it any time he wants. So, he basically, apparently, has them over a barrel because he can do whatever he wants. The two of them will go to prison for trying to sell State secrets and he’ll still have all the information on Mary to keep them in his pocket.
He starts flicking Watson’s face because he can and Sherlock tells him he has to let him… okay… Mycroft and the authorities arrive in a helicopter and Magnussen laughs, having succeeded yet again. Sherlock then takes out Watson’s pistol and shoots Magnussen in the head, leading to his arrest and Mycroft essentially sending him on a suicide mission. My question is this: Why is this such a big deal? Other than the fact that murder is a crime (which I’m not disputing in the least), why is Sherlock killing Magnussen so terrible? Magnussen had NOTHING except what was in his mind. He was blackmailing dozens of people in high positions in the UK and abroad and, I would think, him not actually having any documents and admitting to them only being in his brain would be like welcoming someone to kill him. Let me reiterate: he had NOTHING and yet was flicking John in the face because he was “untouchable.”
Why would Mycroft care? I could see if Lestrade had witnessed it; he’s an upstanding policeman and everything, but Mycroft is like the head of spies in Britain, he can make anything go away. He didn’t even have to report about it. Was he really so upset about losing information he thought Magnussen had? The man had been blackmailing people for years, and basically doing anything he wanted, including threatening people within the British government and, it’s believed at the beginning, the Prime Minister. I don’t know if I’ve said this already, but he had NOTHING.
Anyway, it just didn’t make sense and was kind of dumb, especially given that after a touching farewell, Sherlock is no more than 4 minutes away when he’s called back because *shocker* Moriarty is back. Is he, though? I kind of hope this is just one of Moffat and Gatiss’ patented red herrings and it’s Moriarty’s network or something. I liked the way he died, and it’s not like he hasn’t been around enough in Sherlock’s brain since then. But, we’ll have to wait a year or so for that to be answered.
Despite my complete bafflement about the final act, I really liked “His Last Vow.” It was a good mystery with some excellent twists, some great character moments, and a really effective and despicable villain who, let’s face it, sort of deserved to get shot in the head. Is that bad of me to say?
Sherlock’s done for another year. Sigh. I guess I’ll just have to watch the whole thing again. Again.