For those who have felt that Sherlock has played itself too safe in series three than “His Last Vow” must be a breath of fresh air. The lingering bit of threat and foreboding that acted as a sliver on the last two installments paid off well here bringing Sherlock back to its usual thrills and chills and wrapping up its third series right. While “The Reichenbach Fall” delivered fans the shock of a lifetime, this seemed like the proper way to wrap up another all-too-brief series. Paced incredibly well, solved at a dizzying but deserving pace and leaving with a great after credits surprise made this a superb way to send off the show for assumingly the next couple years.
We start off a bit all over the place as we are introduced to Charles Augustus Magnussen, a name so powerful in the U.K. that it barely gets uttered. He is the blackmailing type who can remember anything but he meets a challenge in Sherlock once he gets his head on straight. From here we find Holmes’ in drug den supposedly on a case which he snaps out of once Magnussen is brought up in conversation. He’s also sleeping with Janine, Mary’s Bridesmaid from the previous episode. Did everybody get that? Good. The focus here is Magnussen and everything else is secondary so finally this series we get some real detective work that ultimately gets sent spiraling out of control in the episode’s midpoint.
Tone wise everything takes a big dip back into the Sherlock of old and you are questioning so much up until the last possible second. The big reveal here as I long suspected a few weeks back is the true identity of Mary Morstan who it turns out was once a secret agent and assassin which is learned after she non-fatally shoots Sherlock. The key here is both Sherlock and Mary will stop at nothing to protect John and while her actions go a little deeper nonetheless they aren’t as incriminating as they could be allowing reconciliation at episode’s end. There was time for a little tenderness and humor as was shown with the Holmes’ family Christmas dinner where we see Mycroft and Sherlock prattle on like teenagers still hiding things from mother.
I would be remised if I didn’t speak about one of the best explorations of this current series beyond the personal growth of our lead and that is the mind palace of Holmes. We knew of it, we saw it in flashes but the examination of that idea this season has been complex and fascinating to watch. Here we see him deduce how to not die from being shot by Mary all done through the likenesses of those close to him. This scene pivots great between the art of deduction and Holmes’ slow descent into cardiac arrest where we see Moriarty straight jacketed in a damp, padded cell egging on his nemesis.
In a long debate about what makes a great villain I had with a colleague of mine I was closely watching Charles Augustus Magnusson and while no Moriarty the boogeyman like texture of this insane businessman was well worth the watch. All the spitting water at life moments to make him an annoyance and build as something great was wonderful. Sometimes building a great baddie requires a bit of word of mouth which we get here through grand speeches of fear among our characters and how the media plays up his existence. Combine this with the helicopters, guns, and gigantic modernist mansion and you have a Bond Villain suited for the small screen.
Lars Mikklesen does a superb job of playing all the eye flicking and face licking traits of Magnusson to a disgusting and sometimes perverted level. It seems all too brief and in the end how do we look at this character? Much like Holmes he also has an extensive mind palace which he uses as a vault of knowledge that many believe to be real. There is a delusional level to him that ultimately sets up his fate; the fact that he seems to know all but does not anticipate various outcomes. The result is his death at the hands of Sherlock which is both surprising but like all things in his life serves a purpose. More importantly it feels well deserved. Moffat did a great job of writing Magnussen as an incredibly repulsive individual who probably deserved a quick and unexpected death considering his arrogance and manipulation of the lives of others through secrets. His biggest mistake was underestimating the high functioning sociopath in the room and in a way I guess we all did too.
But of course there was more than one villain here and if I learned anything from watching “His Last Vow” it’s never turn it off till the copyrighted logo comes up. From the moment the screen went static and a vague silhouette shown through the fuzz of television I knew it could only be one James Moriarty, back from the dead apparently. Part of me always believed despite his fate at the end of Series 2 there was always a possibility that the Napoleon of Crime would return but it had been muted and shrugged off. It was still a surprise to see the death stare of Andrew Scott with a looping voice over of “Did you miss me?” glitching continuously. It’s quite possible this is all an elaborate ruse and I assume at this point fan speculation has begun on the various theories of how he survived if he did in fact survive.
So for fellow Sherlock fans we are back where we were at the end of Series 2 with a big question mark. While we all dust off the schematics and reconvene over tea about various theories let’s not forget that this was quite a splendid season of Sherlock even if it took a lot to get to this point. Light and entertaining for two thirds of its run before plummeting into the suspense and danger of old Series three was plotted very well even when the individual ones weren’t and wrapped up neatly with “His Last Vow.” Narratively we have gone further than we have ever gone before and that says a lot about just how the show can continue to thrive. See you all in two years…hopefully.