5 more paragraphs on ‘Sherlock: His Last Vow’

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A few readers noted that I didn’t offer much of an opinion on “His Last Vow,” the third series finale of “Sherlock.” This is fair criticism of my criticism. I was ambivalent about the episode. Sherlock is a murderer now. And that is difficult to square with the hero of a series.

My friend Jane, a mentor and friend for more than 20 years, said she expected something smarter and better from “Sherlock.” That’s fair. The strength of this interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective is Sherlock’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) ability to outwit even the most diabolical opponent. There isn’t much wit in shooting a villain in the head.

I don’t like that Sherlock murdered a man. But I also think it is a bold and surprising move, and I am willing to give writer and co-creator Steven Moffat credit for that. The series narrative has long warned us that Sherlock is dangerous. Lestrade’s (Rupert Graves) cohort, Sgt. Sally Donovan, (Vinette Robinson) noted in the first episode that it would only be a matter of time before Sherlock got bored hunting killers and became one.

Again, I go back to the scene in which Sherlock entered his “mental palace” in effort to control his pain. He sought refuge in the darkest corner of his mind — a padded cell that contained his arch-nemesis Moriarty (Andrew Scott) in a straight jacket. Sherlock’s construction of his own mind contains a place where his opposite exists. He is a hero with the full capacity to be a monster.

In my first review, I was remiss in not noting the fine acting by Lars Mikkelsen as Charles Augustus Magnussen, the powerful blackmailer whose mental acumen surpassed even Sherlock’s. He doesn’t desire to rule the world, only to use people’s secrets to screw with them. His maddening flicking of John Watson’s (Martin Freeman) face was a perfectly executed scene that showed the viewer just how base, callous and demeaning this villain could be. And Sherlock was forced to lower himself to his lowest level in effort to stop him.

5-paragraph review of ‘Sherlock: His Last Vow’

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Series 3, Episode 3: “His Last Vow” | Original air date (U.S.): Feb. 2, 2014

1.) The worry about Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) has always been that he is a high-functioning psychopath. This is mentioned almost as a cute aside, but “His Last Vow” shows how truly dangerous a man the great detective really is. “Sherlock” concluded its their series brilliantly and with a daring twist that dramatically alters how one may look at Sherlock.

2.) The villain is Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), a blackmailer and reporter who uses secrets to manipulate the powerful. Sherlock fakes a drug addiction in order to draw Magnussen’s attention, but Magnussen strikes a different target: John Watson’s (Martin Freeman) new wife, Mary (Amanda Abbington). She’s hidden her past as an assassin and secret agent. 

3.) Mary sets out to murder Magnussen, but Sherlock intercedes. Mary shoots him, but precisely enough not to murder him. What follows is a beautiful series of scenes in which we travel inside Sherlock’s mind to see him cope with pain and attempt to survive. At one point, he ducks into a padded room and consults with Moriarty (Andrew Scott), his arch nemesis strung up in a straight jacket. The metaphor is truly foretelling. Inside Sherlock is caged Moriarty — for all the good Sherlock does, his capacity for evil is restrained, perhaps just barely somewhere in his own mind.

4.) Sherlock tricks Mary into revealing her past to Watson. The two eventually reconcile, but Magnussen still possesses the secrets dangerous to Mary’s survival. Holmes and Watson seek to trade Mycroft’s (Mark Gatiss) laptop for the documents against Mary only to learn that Magnussen memorizes the details and keeps no paperwork. The vault is in his mind, just as the monster is in Sherlock’s. 

5.) With no recourse left him, Sherlock gets in touch with his inner-psychopath and shoots Magnussen in the head, an act of cold-blooded murder witnessed by Mycroft and scores of British agents who tracked the laptop to Magnussen’s home. The seen is unsettling. Sherlock rejects his role as hero and kills the bad guy. It was the only solution, but that he resorted to it — rather than relying on some sort of sleight of mind to outwit his opponent — proves what some have long expected: Sherlock is every bit as dangerous as those he hunts. Sherlock is to be exiled to secret agent field work, but is called home suddenly when it’s revealed Moriarty is alive in more places than Sherlock’s mind.