Could it be possible? Are we already at the third and final episode of the season?
It would appear so as we’re delivered another highlight in the form of a season finale.
The basic premise of the episode is centered on the villain Charles Magnussen played by Lars Mikkelsen. Magnussen holds an unidentified position in government and wields an unseemly amount of power that he uses whenever he can. He’s a genius, he’s disgusting, he isn’t afraid to taunt and get into his victims faces, anything that will throw them off balance. He has a wealth of knowledge on anyone he meets, able to deduce their weaknesses like Sherlock can deduce a crime with a second glance.
He flitters in and out of the episode but it’s hardly the strongest aspect, so we’ll get back to him later.
The major part of the episode that needs addressing is Sherlock, John and especially Mary.
Firstly though, to backtrack, we find ourselves viewing a doped-up Sherlock Holmes in a position not too far from one I mentioned in last week’s review. John has been called upon to help in a case which leads him to a dingy warehouse where drug addicts hole up. He finds the one he was looking for and lying beside him is Sherlock.
Despite being grilled by John, Molly and Mycroft alike, Sherlock maintains that it was all for a case but seeing him so weary and downtrodden is unsettling for the viewer. He has survived too much, solved too much to fall victim to his drug addiction and to watch him, no matter the slight of hand Sherlock is playing, is unnerving to viewers who are used to their invincible Holmes.
Which is why I wish it had lasted longer—the greatest benefit to this season has been their mission to humanize the character.
Sherlock convinces John of his plan, that he’s creating the charade so that when Magnussen comes to pay him a visit, he’ll see the addiction as his weakness and won’t have much of a holding on him as he may have previously.
And he does deduce that along with so many other weaknesses that Sherlock himself is likely unaware of at this point. One of those being John Watson.
He leaves, leaving both Sherlock and John on edge. Sherlock wishes to discover more and with the aid of his fake relationship with the maid of honor from last week, manages to sneak him and John into Magnussen’s office.
They find his fake girlfriend knocked out and John stays with her as Sherlock runs ahead to find Magnussen but instead finds Mary, holding Magnussen at gun point. Shocked, he tries to stop her but she tells him no and fires her gun, shooting him in the chest.
The second that Sherlock is shot by Mary is the moment that this episode dives head first into uncharted territory—mixing style and substance in such a visually stimulating manner that it’s easy to understand if this is the sequence that sticks with you the longest.
Up until this point I had found the whole “mind palace” concept mildly hokey—always adding a camp edge to a show that’s never had it before and created jarring scene transitions. Up until this point apparently it was simply not utilized to its greatest effect.
It’s a lot of flash and bang to ingest, along with a lot of phenomenal acting by Benedict Cumberbatch who has to sprint through a multitude of emotions in a five minute scene. Right as the bullet hits him he dives into his mind palace where he’s met with Molly, playing his logic, who makes him think of how to fall, backwards or forwards. Which will do the most damage? He falls backwards.
Next, he must avoid shock. Molly, the face of logic, pops up again with Anderson there as well playing the Greek chorus to the potential tragedy. They must convince him to allow the pain in, to accept his position and still be able to use his intellect to get out of the situation.
We watch him as he runs through his mind palace, seeking a solution and he runs into Mycroft, the face and voice of reason, reinforcing the need to act.
The pain, it seems, begins to overtake his senses and we seem him racing down flights of stairs and locking him in a room, padded and containing a prisoner—Moriarty. Moriarty is where he flatlines, losing everything and giving up. Moriarty taunts and teases and tells him as he paces around, shackled, that Sherlock can deal with pain and death as long as he doesn’t fear it, as long as he never allows that fear to win.
Sherlock, seeing a fate that could soon be his own, races from the padded sanctuary, and runs back up the stairs, climbing and clawing his way to the top. It isn’t an easy task as he fights for his own life, fights for his friends and family, and pounds on the stairs as if pounding his own heart back to life.
He makes it to the top. He survives.
This should come as no surprise to anyone realizing the amount of time left in the episode but it was a wonderful, visually imperative scene that left me breathless. That scene is the heart of Sherlock to me and what it can accomplish when it’s at the pinnacle of its efforts.
When he wakes up there is another huge problem awaiting him—Mary and how to tell or not tell John.
Still recovering from the bullet wound he coerces Mary to meet him and has her lay out her plan but she isn’t giving up information that easily. He wants to know how good of a shot she is and she shows off a bit, letting him know and he tells her if she’s that good she could have easily killed him. She may be an assassin for whom Magnussen has a great deal of blackmail on, but she still saved Sherlock’s life, allowed Magnussen to live so that Sherlock wouldn’t be targeted and called the ambulance so that his life would be saved.
What does that say about her? Her relationship with John couldn’t have been a pure fabrication if she had that much heart for a friend.
Or so he hopes as it’s revealed that John had been listening in the entire time.
They go back to Sherlock’s to discuss and Mary tells them as much as she can and tries to convince John of her feelings for him but he isn’t buying it so quickly. He wants to know why everyone in his life is a sociopath and Sherlock proposes that maybe he’s predisposed to it. He fell in love with an assassin and is best friends with a man who solves crimes to stem off the itch of drugs and he himself can’t go a week of peace without wishing for an adrenaline rush.
It’s true, and we can tell that John believes it, but it’s too soon for forgiveness.
That will have to wait until Christmas which we’re brought to in a forced lapse of time. Sherlock, Mycroft, John and Mary are at the Holmes for Christmas which Mycroft loathes for a presumably familial Holiday. But it’s soon revealed that Sherlock has other intentions.
But first there’s the matter of Mary and John. He goes to her, after what has been apparently months of silence, and he tells her that her past doesn’t matter to him, but her future does which he wishes to spend with her.
Reconciliation done, it’s revealed that Sherlock has drugged everyone’s drinks aside from his own and John’s and has stolen Mycroft’s laptop. He plans on the two of them bringing it to Magnussen as a bargaining chip.
It doesn’t go as planned. He is more unhinged than the two of them could have predicted and knows that there is a tracking device on the computer, so he won’t touch it. Instead he leads them to what he calls his mind palace (a nod to what Sherlock’s genius could lead to if he had taken a darker path) and they enter a florescent, glaringly white room with a singular chair.
This is his treasure trove; this is where he keeps his secrets. They’re all in his head. There is nothing that the two of them can get their hands on, no evidence, simply a mad man with too much power, too much knowledge and a love for holding what he knows over people’s heads.
They’ve run headfirst into a losing battle and we know the moment that Sherlock realizes this.
Throughout the entirety of the complex ending, there is a pivotal moment that stands out—it’s subtle but it’s moving if you catch it. It happens just after Magnussen has left his mind palace, convinced that he’s won. Sherlock closes his eyes and a terrible, dawning realization hits him. Cumberbatch has been given some wonderful material this season to work with and this blink-and-you-miss-it moment is exemplary because it tells us all that we need to know. We know what his next step is in that momentary look.
John and Sherlock follow Magnussen out onto his front terrace—the tracker having already been activated—and wait for the authorities and governmental officials to arrive once Mycroft realizes what has happened. There are only moments where Sherlock watches on as Magnussen antagonizes John, steady, his frustration noticeably building, until Mycroft and co. arrive, the former in a helicopter and speaking over intercom for Sherlock and John to stand down.
Sherlock, having already made his decision, takes John’s gun (the one he had made sure he had on him before taking the trip to Magnussen’s) points it at Magnussen’s head and fires.
That’s when it all falls apart. John is in shock, Sherlock is kneeling down as the authorities move in as Mycroft tries to desperately ensure his younger brother’s safety.
There is something lyrical about how the turn of events happened, something eerily poetic. In the first episode ever of the series, Donovan told John as he watched Sherlock from afar, still trying to understand him, that one day Sherlock Holmes would be standing over a dead body, having been the one who killed him. Why, John asked? Because he’s Sherlock Holmes, she told him, and because he’s a psychopath.
It turns out that she was half true—about the murder bit.
However, the murder was potentially the most human, most selfless act that Sherlock Holmes has ever performed. His decision to kill Magnussen wasn’t calculated, it wasn’t anything detectable, it was based solely on unadulterated emotion.
The moment after, as we see Mycroft watching from the helicopter, is just as moving.
One of the best things that season three has done is expand upon the Sherlock and Mycroft relationship like they never have before. They showed this bit before, as Sherlock sees him as a little boy in Mycroft’s eyes, but it’s all the more poignant as we see Mycroft seeing the same little boy, knelt before the onslaught of government officials. We’ve learned that not only is there an undercurrent of care beneath the façade of hostility, but Mycroft has never stopped seeing Sherlock as a boy he needs to protect.
It turns out as the end of the episode draws to a close that Sherlock’s punishment is to be exiled and forced to do deep cover work for the government. He says his goodbyes, says he won’t be back for a while and is on the plane for all of two minutes before being called back.
It seems like trouble may be on the horizon as Moriarty’s face has begun to pop up all over London, signaling a return.
But how? And why?
This was a hugely entertaining season of Sherlock which touted some great work by the cast but “His Last Vow” was easily the strongest of the three. The first two suffered with lackluster plots and boring mysteries but episode three made sure to quadruple their efforts in making sure that the narrative was consistent and powerful and the emotional core remained. His last vow, the one he promised during his best man speech, was to protect Mary and John at any means necessary, and he did.
They succeeded with the emotional bit.
I have a love-hate relationship with this show, mainly due to the fact that when it’s good, it provides exemplary television and when it’s bad the disappointment is all the worse since we know what the show is capable of doing. This, while not reaching “The Reichenbach Fall” heights, was a very strong episode and one that had moments that I’ll be thinking of for a while after its aired.
Sherlock Holmes is one of my very favorite characters, no matter his iteration, so I’m always looking for nuances and personality traits that I’ve yet to see before and this season finally delivered on that want.
Why is Moriarty back? Is he really back? How will they explain this? Do we care right now?
No, we can return to those questions once season four hits the airwaves.