TV Review: Sherlock - Season 3 Episode 3: "His Last Vow"
EPISODE: "His Last Vow"
SYNOPSIS: A case of stolen letters leads Sherlock Holmes into a long conflict with Charles Augustus Magnussen, the Napoleon of blackmail, and the one man he truly hates. But how do you tackle a foe who knows the personal weakness of every person of importance in the Western world?
REVIEW: It feels like just three weeks ago we were anticipating the return of SHERLOCK to U.S. airwaves and here we are discussing the finale. I know I am not alone in feeling that the series for the BBC detective show are far too short, but with the leads difficult to pin down, I will deal with three movie-length mysteries. But, the flipside to that is SHERLOCK must be of the utmost quality when there are only three chances per run. Where the premiere episode was somewhat underwhelming in reuniting Holmes and Watson, the middle episode thrilled and made us laugh at getting to know the relationship better between these uneven partners. Now, the finale has the difficult job of being the episode everyone will remember until season four rolls in, whenever that may be.
With Moriarty gone and no true nemesis appearing this season, we are introduced to Charles Augustus Magnussen, a media magnate with an unlimited library of knowledge on everything and everyone in the known world. This library, known as Appledoor, seems like a political allusion to the likes of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, or even the wire-tapping scandal involving Rupert Murdoch. Instead, Magnusson's high tech eyeglasses and limitless wealth instead makes him come across as the BBC equivalent of Hannibal Lecter, a funny comparison since he is played by Lars Mikkelsen, brother of Mads who plays that character on the NBC series HANNIBAL.
But, before we get into that case, we must first visit with The Watsons as they settle into domestic bliss. It has been a month since the wedding and there has been little communication between Holmes and Watson. Mary and John have entered into newylwed mode when their neighbor asks for help finding her drug addict son. Watson, longing for the adventures he enjoyed with Holmes, goes to a known drug den to save the teenager and stumbles across an undercover Sherlock. While Sherlock insists it is for a case, he tests positive for drugs and Watson becomes worried that his friend cannot survive without him. Lo and behold, Sherlock is not only telling the truth, but is shacking up with Mary's maid of honor, Janine.
As all of this happens in the first twenty minutes, I began to wonder if Steven Moffat was trying to cram as much as possible into the final episode of 2014 at the expense of the story. So much contrary information is thrown at us (Sherlock the addict, Watson discontent at home, the case itself) that it is hard to tell if they are aping ELEMENTARY or what to make of all of this. Then, in walks Magnussen, challenging Sherlock with his unlimited resources of information. Sherlock does seem caught off guard at first and quickly recovers, thereby throwing his plan into motion. As it turns out, everything in the first part of the episode was a setup for what comes next. As Sherlock breaks into Magnussen's office under the guise of a proposal to Janine, he discovers someone holding the villain at gunpoint. I can honestly say I did not see this twist coming.
The reveal that Mary is not who we thought she was is a risky one as it could have broken relationships forged in the first two episodes of the season, both for Watson and Holmes. What follows is a scene in which Sherlock is shot and must, in his mind, deduce the best way to stay alive. This sequence is by far one of the best uses of Sherlock's "mind palace" in any episode of the series and compresses a real time few seconds into some truly thrilling minutes of television, including welcome new scenes of Jim Moriarty taunting Sherlock from beyond. Making Mary an ambiguous character is definitely an interesting one, but how will it play in the long run?
Once Sherlock is in the hospital, the show has now turned away from Magnussen as the focus and now forces us to try and unravel what is to become of these new wrinkles in everyone's relationships to one another. This bothers me. Last week's episode was all about taking disparate stories and linking them together while this week seems to be forcing too many plot elements into one episode without satisfactorily wrapping them up. Once things do get straightened out (one of the worst resolutions in SHERLOCK history), we get Holmes' true plan to turn over his brother's laptop to Magnussen in exchange for something else. This leads our characters to the famed Appledor where we not only learn that Magnussen has no library of knowledge, but in fact it is all in his "mind palace".
Moffat and Gatiss made a key writing error here. I am sure it seemed like a brilliant idea to make Magnussen use the same plot device as Sherlock, but it leaves our brilliant hero without an exit strategy. As Magnussen awaits the authorities and taunts Watson with flicks to the face, Sherlock looks completely beaten, something we have never seen before. What is the resolution? Shoot him dead, therefore destroying his library. What a cheap resolution, the second of the episode. While Sherlock's intentions are noble in saving Mary and his best friend John, his exile from England thanks to his brother's connections feels trite. Magnussen could have been a great recurring foe but is instead wasted here, Darth Maul style.
The closing moments to "His Last Vow" offer the twist that many had been waiting for: the return of Moriarty. His face plastered on every device in England, Moriarty asks the world if we missed him. The answer is yes. The third season of SHERLOCK was a great return to these roles for Cumberbatch and Freeman, but left me wanting more, especially this, the weakest of the three episodes.
Unlike the first two series, the weakest episode this year was the finale, whose twist couldn't even save a very convoluted plot. I applaud the dream sequences in Sherlock's mind as well as the twist on Mary and John's no longer cookie cutter relationship. Mary serves as a nice third wheel and her experience as a spy/assassin should offer some aid to the two investigators in future cases. I just feel that this entire story wasted the villain role which was impeccably played by Mikkelsen. I always knew Moriarty would return as well, but the twist ending also undermines Sherlock's exile which could have been another strong plot for future episodes.
NEXT TIME ON SHERLOCK:
Season 4 and 5 have been announced by creator Steven Moffat, but there is no set production or air dates as both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have multiple projects in development. I wouldn't hold out hope for new episodes of SHERLOCK to air this time next year, but crazier things have happened.