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Sherlock: “His Last Vow”- A Superb End to a Great Season

Well, that’s all she wrote for season three of Sherlock, folks. But what a truly amazing way to end a season. There’s a lot to unpack with regard to the finale, so let’s dive in!

Remember in “The Empty Hearse,” when the strange man with the glasses was watching Sherlock save John on repeat? Well, we finally get a chance to meet him, and it turns out he’s a brilliant super villain! More specifically, he’s Charles Magnussen (played with just the right amount of scary glee by Lars Mikkelsen, who happens to be the brother of Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen- apparently the Mikkelsen family specializes in portraying refined sociopaths), and he’s a media mogul with a penchant for manipulating important individuals.

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The power of information has always been a central element of Sherlock, as Sherlock is able to solve the various mysteries presented to him through only his own powers of deduction (which, when one boils it down, amounts to the collection of information, although using the term “deduction” makes it sound way more complex). Having a villain whose power is solely derived from his ability to possess and trade in deep secrets (many of which are gained in a way similar to how Sherlock gets his own information) is much more frightening than a bad guy who wants to blow something up or use brute force. The finesse in the way Magnussen runs his operation makes it all the more terrifying. Especially when he has information that can easily ruin the characters we have come to care about.

And that is the key element of not only this episode, but of this season as a whole. Sherlock has, on many occasions, declared himself to be a high functioning sociopath. And, while that might be true of Sherlock in season one and for most of season two, I’m not sure that moniker fits after season three. The theme of season three was the power of love- whether it be romantic or platonic. We’ve known for a while that John and Sherlock shared a deep loving friendship (even if Mrs. Hudson remains convinced that there was something more going on there), but seeing the strength of that love on display throughout this season has been refreshing to witness- particularly in regard to Sherlock’s personal feelings toward both John and Mary.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in series three, episode three – His Last Vow.

Magnussen correctly deduces that Sherlock’s pressure point is John (which, after watching the pair for ten minutes, is fairly easy to see, so this deduction isn’t particularly impressive). How Magnussen utilizes this knowledge is where things get interesting within the episode. Sherlock never gets angry. Even when Moriarity was taunting him, Sherlock managed to keep his cool outward façade and remain emotionless. However, when he sees Magnussen flicking John in the face, explaining how he has complete power over John and Mary through his knowledge of her mysterious past (we’ll get to that revelation in a bit), we finally see Sherlock snap. That’s not the reaction of a sociopath- reacting to protect someone he loves from pain. That’s the reaction of a normal human being. And really, I doubt anyone could blame him for killing Magnussen (Mycroft certainly doesn’t, as he goes to great lengths to try and save Sherlock from punishment). The world is certainly better without Magnussen, even if he would have turned out to be an incredibly interesting foil for Sherlock: someone with the same mental abilities as Sherlock.

The other huge revelation of the episode is Mary’s past as a CIA operative. I have to admit, I really didn’t see this reveal coming at all. Even when the comment about the perfume was made, I just assumed it was a red herring. I’ve been very clear on my love for Mary, and that I feel she’s been a huge boon for the series. And this twist only serves to make her even more interesting and complex as a character. It also means that the boys have a trained assassin (or super spy, since we never really know what she was tasked to do as an agent) working alongside them now, which can only make the show more interesting.

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But this twist felt incredibly earned. There were distinct clues sprinkled throughout the previous two episodes (as evidenced by the flashbacks when Sherlock realizes who Mary truly is). And, perhaps most importantly, Mary is proven to be an effective spy, as Sherlock was unable to piece together the pieces until he is presented with her standing in Magnussen’s office. Her love for John and respect for Sherlock is proven through her decision not to kill Sherlock and her calling of the ambulance. All-in-all, the reveal of Mary’s shady past and current loyalties is incredibly well crafted.

I would say my one quibble with the episode is how quickly Sherlock’s “death sentence” to Eastern Europe is reversed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly intrigued with the cliffhanger (and yes Moriarity, I have missed you- far more than I thought I would). But I would have preferred Sherlock to be ensconced in his mission prior to the Moriarity reveal. It all seemed just a bit to neat- too much of a deus ex machina. But it’s a minor quibble in the scheme of things, since we all knew Sherlock would somehow survive his mission (as the fourth season of the series has already been announced as a go). And who in their right mind would kill of Sherlock when he was “killed” for last season’s cliffhanger? A smoother transition would have been nice, especially considering that we now have an unknown number of months to wait for the next installment.

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Final Thoughts:

— Adding to the fun family facts of the episode, Sherlock and Mycroft’s parents were played by the actual parents of Benedict Cumberbatch. And, yes, there is a clear family resemblance.

— I’m happy the writers chose to have John not look at the flash drive. He trusts Mary. Sherlock trusts Mary. We should trust her as well. Although, I have a feeling her past will come up again in the future.

— I’m still trying to figure out the Moriarity cliffhanger. Is it possible he’s alive? Or that he wasn’t actually the one on the roof? Or that the man we knew as Moriarity wasn’t actually him? So many questions. I just hope it means more Andrew Scott in season four.

— Finally, there has been no mention of a return date for season four. With the climbing popularity of both Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (who is also set to star on the television version of the film Fargo), questions remain as to when the pair will have the time for a new season. But, rest assured, both have verbally stated they will be back.

Rating
9.7
Pros
  • Strong mystery
  • Excellent villain
  • Brilliant twist with Mary's past
  • Great cliffhanger
  • Moriarty!
Cons
  • The ending wrapped up a bit too quickly

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About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeanHenegan on Twitter.

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