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We Review Sherlock's "His Last Vow"

We Review Sherlock's "His Last Vow"


Since 2010, each season/series of Sherlock has been pulling out all of its mysterious stops for the third and final episode. The first season’s “The Great Game” saw Sherlock squaring off with Moriarty across a swimming pool, snipers abounding, and Watson a ticking bomb. Then, two years ago in 2012, “The Reichenbach Fall” caused our hearts to explode when Sherlock faux-committed suicide as a helpless Watson looked on in horror. How can these boys top themselves? Does “His Last Vow,” the final chapter of the season of Sherlock, thrill us Conan Doyle style while breaking our hearts Gatiss/Moffat style? Or is the mixed bag of Sherlock tricks exhausted? SPOILERS!!!

If “The Empty Hearse,” and “The Sign of Three” left you feeling underwhelmed because there wasn’t a big enough external conflict for John and Sherlock to deal with, then rejoice! Because “His Last Vow,” brings Charles August Magnussen; the the easiest-to-hate villain not just on Sherlock, but maybe anything, ever. While we loved every moment Andrew Scott’s Jim Moriarty was on screen, Lars Mikkelsen’s Magnussen isn’t just creepy, he’s straight-up repugnant. Whether he’s peeing in Sherlock’s fireplace, eating food off other people’s plates, or flicking John in the face, Magnussen is more than just a jerk. He suuucks. As Mycroft tells Sherlock during a family gathering, “here be dragons.”

What’s Magnussen’s deal? Well, like his literary inspiration (Charles Augustus Milverton) he’s a blackmailer, and decidedly not the fun, redeemable Irene Adler kind. But somehow, Magnussen’s blackmail never approaches illegal activities, which is partly why Sherlock hates him. As he says, he doesn’t like Magnussen because he preys upon people who “are different.” And its here in Sherlock’s outsider status and sort of champion of “the other,” that the thematic core of this extremely taut and complex episode finds its themes. John Watson’s new wife Mary, does, at one point, shoot Sherlock Holmes in the chest, but like 20 minutes later, Sherlock asserts that John can trust her. “She shot you!” John protests. “Mixed signals!” Sherlock insists.

And it's in these mixed signals where “His Last Vow,” shines. After revealing that Mary has a secret past and whole other life as an assassin before she met John Watson, the master blackmailer Magnussen, tightens his grip around Mary, knowing it will affect the life of John, which will, in turn, harm Sherlock. To combat this, Sherlock and John end up going the most rogue they’ve ever gone, even to the point of kind of poisoning everyone they like so they can slip out (on Christmas Day!) and confront Magnussen. He keeps all his blackmail files at his fancy bad guy mansion; Appledore, which is where its all going to go down.

But wait! There are no files! He just keeps everything hidden in his “Mind Palace.” As John puts it Magnussen simply “knows things.” While seemingly an absurd premise on paper, this particular Holmes villain gets his own brand of superpower: he notices and remembers everything. In many ways, Sherlock has outdone itself with “His Last Vow,” simply because its so satisfying. When Sherlock Holmes realizes all of Magnussen's files exist inside his mind, the solution is so simple and devastating simultaneously: he has to kill Magnussen in order to protect John and Mary! The moment Sherlock makes this call is affecting not just because we’re shocked Holmes is willing to shoot someone in cold blood, but because it is punctuated with flashes of Sherlock’s inner psyche. We see how he felt as a child, alone, sad, confused.  And now, to protect the only person he loves in the world, he makes the ultimate sacrifice: he takes down Magnusson and surrenders to the authorities. In a word: heartbreaking.

Oddly, everything ends up okay, because though Mycroft is forced to send Sherlock into a one-way covert mission (read: death sentence) Sherlock is suddenly called back into action because... MORIARTY IS SOMEHOW ALIVE!

And so, the third series of Sherlock ends without really telling us how the great detective faked his own death, but does reveal one other person present for the event is also still alive. So, with Moriarty back from the dead, maybe the next cycle of Sherlock will shed some light on what really happened in “The Reichenbach Fall.” After all, Mycroft does tease strongly at the existence (or previous existence) of a third Holmes brother beyond himself and Sherlock. Could this third Holmes brother (Sherrinford?) be part of how Sherlock covered up his death? Will the return of Moriarty reveal all these answers?

It’s too bad we’ll have to wait at least another year to find out. But in the meantime, let’s all pretend the secret Holmes brother will appear in some capacity in the next series. And with that in mind; let’s start casting him!

Who should play Sherrinford Holmes?

Tags: tv, spoilers, reviews, bbc, benedict cumberbatch, martin freeman, sherlock, pbs

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About the Author
Ryan Britt

Ryan Britt is the author of Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths, forthcoming from Plume (Penguin) Books on 11.24.15. He's written for The New York Times, Electric Literature, The Awl, VICE Motherboard, Clarkesworld Magazine, and is a consulting editor for Story Magazine. He lives in New York City.

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