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.