Bold, budget-busting and a bit bonkers, ‘His Last Vow’ felt like a real series finale: guns, girls, girls with guns, guys with guns, gadgets (but not really), helicopters, sleeping potions, twists, twists-upon-twists, face-flicking, face-licking, resurrections, references and revenge. It delivered the goods, and (figuratively speaking) had them sent in a private jet. How often do you see something this grand, this impressive, this BIG on British TV?
If you like feeling wrong-footed, this was the episode for you – I honestly can’t count the number of “…the hell?” moments I enjoyed. For those not familiar with the original Conan Doyle story of ‘The Man With The Twisted Lip’, seeing Sherlock choose life in a drugs den would have been one of them, but if you have read that short story, it’s a very similar set-up: one of Watson’s neighbours can’t find her husband, says he’s probably in a cloud of opium, and when the good doctor discovers him, the Duke of Wellington of crime-fighting (to extend a metaphor somewhat) is copping some Zs right beside him.
For me, this was not a “…the hell?” moment because, dear reader, I called it. At the end of my blog for the previous episode, I predicted this scene would feature, and bizarrely, it did. But enough of my patting my own back, and back to patting Sherl’s.
Perhaps the second – or is it third? – moment you were tempted to say “Am I really watching this?” was when Lars Mikkelsen’s media magnate Charles Augustus Magnussen took a leak (pun intended) on 221B’s hearth. Sliming Lady Smallwood with his tongue doesn’t really count, because we’ve all seen a super-creep slobber on an innocent’s face before – Jabba in Return of The Jedi; Catwoman in Batman Returns; Jesus vs. his bowling ball in The Big Lebowski – but firehosing a fireplace? That’s new to me. A tip of the deerstalker, at least, for the lines “Yum, yum” and “It never tastes like it smells”, mind.
Then there’s Yasmine Akram’s Janine, who was the secret in Sherlock’s bedroom. As if the Molly snog and Moriarty sort-of snog weren’t enough, this was bound to turn Tumblr into a hair-tearing nightmare, and it’s handled very well indeed. Part of your brain knows it’s a ruse of some sort, but in the moment, you’re just as astonished as Watson is, and it rolls on so quickly to the engagement/corrupted card break-in scene that you just go with it.
In the original story, Watson and Holmes want to steal Lady Smallwood’s letters from a safe, and to get in, Sherlock romances Milverton’s housekeeper, even going so far as to actually get engaged to her. Here, Moffat and company have ingeniously updated the original source yet again, and although I knew the basic outline of what was happening, I was still surprised.
Perhaps this was because I was back in love with the show’s style: the security guards disappearing into a trash bin put a big smile on my face, and every humour beat landed well for me. Watson asking Bill whether he calls that a knife – or words to that effect – was excellent, though I wonder why walking up the stairs didn’t occur to him earlier, and why the word “squishy” is making its second appearance this season.
Other humour highlights: “Mike-roft” and riffs to that effect; “Sherlock Holmes needs to pee in a jar”; “We’re in a good place. It’s very affirming”; “I thought we were waiting until we got married”; getting caught smoking (like beginners) by Ma Holmes; Mrs. Hudson’s marijuana pressure point (and YouTube videos); “I still don’t understand” on the back of the T-shirt (trumping The Empty Hearse’s “I don’t shave for Sherlock” tee, presumably); Billy’s “I help out a bit”… the list goes on. It wasn’t the funniest episode so far – I think The Empty Hearse wins that – but despite its darkness, there was still a rich seam of chuckles.
Maybe Magnussen’s pseudo-Google goggles count as a “WTF?” too, with his Courier typeface lending credence to the not-that-out-there-by-comparison idea that C.A.M. might be a Terminator-type robot. You no doubt queried your flatscreen whether it was shitting you when Magnussen revealed he had a tiny Apple store in Appledore, all super white backgrounds like he’s about to explain who’s a Mac (Sherlock) and who’s a PC (Magnussen).
After taking the mick out of the Mind Palace idea in both ‘The Empty Hearse’ (with the bomb, as well as Derren Brown’s appearance) and ‘The Sign Of Three’ (with the room number), Team Sherlock have the balls to wheel out the biggest cerebral castle seen so far, and ask us to accept it, point blank. You need a lot of trust in both your own work and your audience to get this to fly, and through charm, speed and deft lines, it really does.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Unpacking an episode as dense as this is tricky, and I haven’t even mentioned A.G.R.A.’s reveal. That was also tough to get your head around. A pregnant woman in a black beanie, Mission: Impossibled up to the nines, popped a cap in Sherlock’s sternum with her silenced firearm. Even with the “Claire-De-La-Lune” clue in advance, and the joy of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch sniff so extravagantly, it’s a big ask.
They solve this problem with a slap-filled supporting cast member cascade. Disappointed Molly, unimpressed Mycroft, Redbeard the beautiful Irish setter – this trio had been sneakily brought to the fore over the past two episodes, and suddenly they’re in his noggin to solve this problem. It’s here that TV’s Sherlock reminded me most of Robert Downey Jr. and Guy Ritchie’s cinematic take, using just three seconds to work out a HUGE amount of information, and sinking into a deep bath of slo-mo in the process.
On top of all that, they slip in Moriarty one more time – steady now – cueing up the final twist as well as justifying the overwrought “He’s ALIVE!” Frankensteinery that, without all this, would also be too sizable a biscuit to swallow whole. I’m still not sure how I feel about this section. It’s too long, and the brotherly-love-to-bring-him-back thing feels a bit done to me, but as with much of this episode – and this series – a swish of the cape is all I need as the story rollicks along.
Likewise, Sherlock’s dummy double-cross of Mary in that corridor is another exercise in astonishment excusing potential ridiculousness. Lovely Mary Morstan is shooting 50p pieces mid-air like Clint Eastwood put caps in caps in For A Few Dollars More! Seriously: WHAT THE HECK ARE WE WATCHING? Then, like Gail Porter on Big Ben (minus the nudity), there’s a projection of Mary Morstan’s face on the “Empty House” to contend with. I thought this whole scene was tying together the tube fascination from the first episode with the name of the original story and so, thanks to the locked room mystery of the second episode, it feels like another big shiny bow on this arc-filled run.
There’s so much stuffed into this episode, more than even the first and second shows. For me, these three installments connect with each other more closely than either of the other two seasons. They’re meant to be watched back to back, or, at least, closely in sequence, so that eagle-eyed viewers can pick apart and appreciate the layers upon layers of humour and references and plots and twists and character development and so on, which has made most first reaction reviews unfair (mine included). This is a series that needs to be dissected and digested, and once everything has settled, this is going to make for three must-listen DVD commentary tracks. Look at this blog: I’ve barely scratched the surface and we’re looking at approximately 221,000 words already.
But back at the “Say what now?” foundation where I’m hosting this Mind Palace fire sale of a blog – let’s discuss the dummy double cross in more detail. I thought the skip code ‘n’ “orphan’s lot” flashbacks were excellent, feeling both natural at first viewing and working well as a reveal. Notice the upturned-collar-and-curly-hair silhouette: this TV show has created iconography as strong as the equally non-canonical Deerstalker hat and curved pipe nonsense that’s littered every other adaptation before it. Moffat and Gatiss have created a new cornerstone of British pop culture, so much so that a smart coat – “I have lots of coats” – and some ruffled-up hair can summon up so much.
More than this, MARY MARSTAN IS AN EX-CIA ASSASSIN! WITH A NAME THAT SEEMS TO REFERENCE AGRA, A TOWN IN INDIA MENTIONED IN THE ORIGINAL ‘SIGN OF FOUR’! SHE’S NOT EVEN ENGLISH! SHE MUST HAVE BEEN WETTING HERSELF WHEN THE ‘DEAD’ SHERLOCK CAME BACK ON THE SCENE! CAPITAL LETTERS! EXCLAMATION MARKS!
All those Bond nods in the ‘The Empty Hearse’ have paid off: we’ve gone full 007. This is Dr. Watson And Mrs. Smith. And Sherl’s* been caught with his pants down: outfoxed by Mary, by Magnussen, and eventually by Moriarty. For all his cleverness, Sherlock isn’t that smart all the way through this episode. He’s weakened, physically and mentally, and he’s let his emotions get away from him. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a finale.
And a finale deserves a big villain, and it gets one, though he’s not on screen for all that long. Aside from the slightly blunt “Here’s the bad guy!” opening, I thought Magnussen was a great character, and one who really justifies what Sherlock ends up having to do. As such, he needs a big mansion to evilly rub his hands together in, and moving his pile from Conan Doyle’s original Hampstead to what looks like an annex of The Eden Project crossed with Tony Stark’s Malibu mansion (but is actually a Gloucestershire eco-manor that’s never been lived in) is very enjoyable, if only because it feels a little like Skyfall’s finale. Seeing Magnussen watching the bonfire from the end of the first episode also dovetails neatly into this, so we recognise the oddments littering the “underground” lair. That clown doll looks especially weird.
Incidentally, note that none of the rival newspapers that Janine sells her story to – see, Sherlock’s sudden fame was all for this! – include any belonging to the Murdoch media empire. Also, the cottage in Sussex that Janine is buying is a thumping nod to where Sherlock himself retires in the original stories. Yes, he takes up beekeeping, and yes, this is what Sir Ian McKellen will be tackling in his upcoming Holmes movie, A Slight Trick Of The Mind, where he’ll play the great detective at the grand old age of 93.
Further fuck-the-what-ishness comes in the aforementioned finger-to-face-flicking, which I can only imagine made Martin Freeman laugh quite a lot, what with his fondness for flipping the bird. Also, young Sherlock’s appearances, which, alongside the nod to the phantom third Holmes brother and the further adventures of Momma and Poppa Sherlock, cement The Family Holmes as a new permanent figure of the modern Sherlock landscape.
Before the Napoleon Of Crime (rather than blackmail) cackled back to our screens, everything appears to be wrapped up thanks to HM Government electing to use Agent 221(B) as a tool against their enemies instead of locking him up for murdery murder. The reasons why imprisoning Sherlock would not be not a good idea land well: aside from bringing back the death penalty (which Sherlock would probably dodge anyway) he’s an impossible man to keep in one place, as all those in-joke friendly alternate hole-ups listed prove.
Quite how they’re going to even it all out next season remains to be seen, but after all that they’ve explained away so well this time around, it’s something to look forward to rather than worry about. Like Breaking Bad, Gatiss and Moffat have indulged in painting themselves into a corner, sure that they’ll be able to leap out from it with a flourish when the time comes.
Then… “Miss me?” Like a chattering ventriloquist’s dummy, he’s seemingly alive, though you know he can’t be. Remember what Moffat said on the topic of whether Moriarty might come back (during The Empty Hearse Q&A): “They did not fake suicide at each other. Imagine how stupid you’d feel if you bumped into each other afterwards!” When I first clocked what was happening on the TVs, I thought this was some other villain using Moriarty’s image as a sort of Bat-signal for Sherlock and Robin Watson, but with the final post-credits sting showing the real-life Andrew Scott, in the flesh, that doesn’t seem to be the case. As with the superhero universe, it looks like staying dead is going to be a tough ask in Sherlock. Fingers crossed that Magnussen really has snuffed it though. He was a twerp.
A few other stray thoughts:
Dishevelled Sherlock should be one of many Sherlock action figures.
The pressure point onto pressure point onto pressure point idea worked well. Mycroft’s weakness is ultimately somehow Mary Morstan, and I like it.
In Conan Doyle's books, the "east wind" refers to World War I. It does not here.
Magnussen putting his fingers into Sherlock’s water at the Italian restaurant was so enjoyably childish I wanted Shezza to blow a raspberry back at him.
Someone called "C.A.M." wishes Mary good luck in a telegram at the wedding the previous episode. "Wish your family could have seen this..."
The Holmeses are so Home Counties they could never have any other breed of dog than an Irish Setter. Retriever is too LeStrade.
Those letters in Magnussen’s pocket really fooled Sherlock, didn’t they?
“Your loss would break my heart.” Another brilliant bit of subtle set-up, this time for the pressure point chain.
The morphine bar, which is a lot like something you’d see on a computer game’s heads-up display. Do you think Sherlock is partial to a bit of Xbox now and then?
Bill Wiggins is part of the original stories, but not in such an important way. He doesn't have experience in chemistry, for example.
Is there a feeling that, the way things have ended now, things are - aside from Mary and Watson - quite similar to the way things were back in the middle of season 2? Molly's single again, Moriarty is on the scene, Sherlock's not, um, dead...
Even moments after being shot in the chest, Sherlock would have known which gun Mary was using, I thought. You’d never put that silencer on a snub-nose. Hell, what am I saying? He comes back from the dead – what does the gun matter?
Do the lyrics of the carol playing during Mary and John’s reconciliation have the lyrics “Mary mild” in there or did I just imagine that?
Yes, the Bond film this most reminds you of is Tomorrow Never Dies.
*Who shortens Sherlock to “Sherl” for a pet name? “Sher” we could just about get behind, but “Sherl”? “Shirley” would at least be funny, but perhaps he reacted to that in an Airplane! style. I’d go for “Shezza” every time if it were my call.
7eke Posted on Monday January 13, 2014, 15:40
Was late to the party with Sherlock, but ive watched them all over the past week. This show is absolute class!
craftyexpat Posted on Monday January 13, 2014, 15:45
So many "M" names - Moriarty, Mary, Magnussen, Mycroft, Molly, Mike Stamford, even Mrs Hudson, since she's always known as such. Then it seems they're working through a section of the alphabet for the rest: G for Greg Lestrade (or Graham, if you're Sherlock), H for Harry Watson, I for Irene Adler, J for John.
I've forgotten my point.
Ep 3 was hugely enjoyable, as have been the rest of the episodes this series, but I can't help wondering if we couldn't do a whip round for some actual plots for Steven Moffat - every plot given goes toward giving these poor characters something concrete to do, rather than fall further into meta self-parody. Also, are lying tricksy CIA assassin (or dominatrix), lovelorn idiot, or landlady the only options available for women characters in Moffat's imagining of the Holmes universe?
All of which sounds as if I didn't enjoy S3 nearly as much as I actually did. Doesn't mean the showrunners get a pass.
Pandora Posted on Tuesday January 14, 2014, 11:22
I enjoyed this episode and thought it was a good finale for season 3. But is it just me or are they starting to go a bit too over the top with the visuals (cue mind palace et al)?
Do we have to wait 2 years for season 4 now??? :(
MDG_78 Posted on Tuesday January 14, 2014, 15:09
Sorry but I was kind of disappointed with 'Series' 3 (series being a loose term for 3 episodes!).
I found the humour a bit too much, storyline's not quite as interesting as the other shows and ending very predictable with Moriarty's return. And don't get me started on the explanation behind Sherlock's 'death'!
Oh well, it's only a show and Game Of Thrones starts again in April.
PS Most people I have spoken to really liked the entire series so perhaps it's just me.
elsquig Posted on Tuesday January 14, 2014, 19:13
nobody else think magnussen was blind ? I also think the irish bird is either moriarty or his sister. that is all.
JediBobster Posted on Tuesday January 14, 2014, 21:17
With all this talk of Bond I can't find any mention here of the MOST obvious link. Mycroft at the end says something about his colleague always telling him that sometimes a blunt instrument is needed - and sometimes something a little more scalpel-like..or something. This was clearly a reference to Bond.
dunc2001 Posted on Wednesday January 15, 2014, 14:16
It was by the far the best episode of series 3, with a good plot, engaging villain and great dialogue as always.
But in the attempt to push everything to the max this series, the show has lost much of its charm and the believability of its characters. I thought the Mary reveal in His Last Vow was completely unconvincing. Plus blowing Magnussen's brains out was a lame ending and contradicted Sherlock's moral character, especially since there were in the end no consequences for this murder. Finally bringing Moriarty back just seems quite lazy writing.
I think one of the best things about the previous seasons (and the original books) is that the cases are quite independent and a bit eccentric, involving entering another small world. Episodes like the Hound of the Baskervilles were great in their more subtle atmosphere and storytelling. I hope Season 4 goes back to this style, rather than the more bombastic end of civilisation as we know it Season 3.