[Review] - Sherlock Series 3 Finale, Episode 3, "His Last Vow"

Courtesy of the BBC

"Miss Morstan entered the room with a firm step and an outward composure of manner. She was a blonde young lady, small, dainty, well gloved and dressed in the most perfect taste... In an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents, I have never looked upon a face which gave a clearer promise of a refined and sensitive nature. I could not but observe that as she took the seat which Sherlock Holmes placed for her, her lip trembled, her hand quivered, and she showed every sign of intense inward agitation."
~Arthur Conan Doyle
First off, I was right. Mostly right. Partly right. I'm very glad that I wasn't completely right, because this episode packed in twist after twist, while also clustering the references to canon, and somehow managed to divert the series off into it's own original direction, one that will potentially drive the series from here on out. It was the most mystery drive episode of this bunch, the most conventional episode, if Sherlock has conventions, and inevitably will likely be the most derisive. It was also a hell of a way to end out what I firmly believe to be the strongest series yet (that two year break served the writing well) of one of the best shows on television.

And for a moment there, every Cumberbitch on the internet hated Yasmine Akram.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that aren't funny, just this once, not this time.

This was very much a Moffat scripted episode. While Gatiss tends to favour smaller mysteries with greater focus on character moments, and Thompson tends to favour characters over plotting, Moffat just dives whole hog into the plot. It's mystery from moment one, and never relents in that regard for the full 90 minutes. Because of this, he is able to burn through several elements of the Doyle canon in short order, and even managed to bring things back around to Mary's literary origins. As an episode, it served as a wonderful conclusion to this series, bringing to conclusion all the lingering story points introduced over the last two (or five, or eight) episodes. If it weren't for those last five minutes, this would have served as a solid final episode, sending everyone off in their best possible, if not brightest futures. John and Sherlock even finally got to say their proper goodbyes.

There was clearly something about Mary, and Moffat didn't disappoint in making that as extreme a reveal as possible. It's important to note that absolutely nothing about her past was actually revealed, leaving plenty of room for it to come back and haunt her in series future, which she seems poised to stick around for. Some will argue that a lot of what happened in this episode was done entirely for shock value, and I agree with that. However, the hints were there from day one (otherwise I wouldn't have been able to land my theory as close as I did), so it was a well planned and executed shock. Moffat has a tendency, as I've discussed in Doctor Who reviews, to pile things one, and this episode followed that tendency to a tee. Things keep moving in an unexpected direction, from heroin to Mary to Magnussen to the big reveal, that you barely have time to assimilate what you've just learned before someone goes and gets shot in the chest. It also played with none linear storytelling, not to the extreme of last week, but enough to cross narrative streams and keep cards pressed closely to the chest.

Let's go down the list, one by one, shall we? First, Magnussen. Congratulations to Moffat for creating such a revolting, sinister, horrible creature as him, and all credit to Lars Mikkelsen for playing him with such animal agility and utter disinterest. He and Mads must have spent time playing psychopath when they were younger. Magnussen was equal parts his brother's Hannibal Lector, Rupert Murdoch and Bond villain all blended together in disgusting perfection, and continues the show's trend of having the most interesting and reviled villains in film and television. It's easy for the baddies to outshine the heroes, and it's easy to make cardboard cutouts for the heroes to knock over. It's a rarer and more precious thing for the heroes and villains to stand eye to eye. Moriarty, for instance, was in every way Sherlock's equal. He was what Sherlock would be, if he went bad. The thesis that Moriarty introduced, and that Sherlock fully embraced in this series, was that without the humanising effect of John Watson, Sherlock gives in to his sociopathic tendencies and becomes little more than a terrorist. Though, as this episode showed, too much of a reliance on John also causes him to give into his sociopathic tendencies. With great power comes great self control, apparently.

Magnuseen, on the other hand, is Sherlock's better. A lot of this series has focused on Mycroft and Sherlock's relationship, and Gatiss has had a cherry orchard of fantastic scenes in these episodes. But the message of each has been that, as good as Sherlock is, Mycroft is better. He older, smarter, and in his prime, faster and better. But, run as many laps on the tread mill as he might, he's gone soft around the middle. Magnuseen is the evil version of Mycroft, finely honed and sharp. Magnuseen is what Sherlock can never be, through no fault of his own. And, considering the horrible childhood the Holmes boys apparently forced onto each other, Magnussen's intelligence represents what Sherlock has always envied and reviled. Magnussen is an acceptable surrogate for all the hate he feels towards his brother. Which he takes to a logical extreme, once brother dearest is within eye shot.

Next, the canon. The Sign of Three was remarkably (and refreshingly) canon free, and this episode more than made up for it. Watson's investigation of the smack house, and finding Sherlock there was pulled from The Man with The Twisted Lip. Billy Wiggins gives voice and face to the Baker Street Irregulars. Mary's eventual turn as a client hearkens back to her origins from The Sign of Four. The cottage in Sussex Downs, Sherlock's intended government work, as well as the East wind all come from the episode namesake, His Final Bow. The brunt of the episode, including everything to do with Magnussen, was taken from Charles Augustus Milverton. The literal empty houses, and the Sherlock dummy facing down an assassin even brought things back to The Empty House. Even the fleeting reference to another Holmes brothers played into the non-canon, non-fiction deductions of William Stuart Baring-Gould. In short, this was an episode content to frolic in the establishment, like a child in a water sprinkler.

I will briefly make mention of how spectacular the cast has been this season, but Martin Freeman deserves special attention for his performance here. Watson, to my mind, remains the more interesting of the two leads, and Freeman brings so much damage and vulnerability to the role, it's a pleasure to watch him work (and, he had a chance to audition for some action roles, as he Bourne's his way through a smack house). I should also point to director Nick Hurran and jump up and down a few times, because his work here was far and away the best the series has ever looked. The entire "getting shot" sequence was a masterpiece of television direction, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see Mr. Hurran (a Doctor Who transplant) get some exciting cinema work based off of this.

Lastly, the original direction of the plot. The show has never been bound by Doyle, and has judiciously used his materials as inspiration rather than the word of god. And the show has benefited immensely from this freedom. Now it appears that they are comfortable enough, and that fans are willing to follow them, into a greater original territory. Mary is still (for the time being) alive. There is a wee Watson lass on the way. A third brother may have once existed. And faking your death appears to be in vogue. As I said, this episode did a very good job of bringing the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to a close. Now, with the promise of an East wind blowing, the future can literally be anything the writers want it to be. It can, and should, continue to grow, the characters refusing to remain stagnant. I just hope it doesn't trip over itself, constantly trying to one up each of it's increasingly outrageous cliffhanger finales. Moffat has a history of succumbing to grandiosity, which this episode had in heaps. Hopefully, Gatiss will keep him in check for the foreseeable future.

Now, let's hope that the success of Cumberbatch and Freeman doesn't keep Sherlock off our screens for too much longer. The game, as it happens, is still on.

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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