Sherlock, Season 3, Episode 3, “His Last Vow”
Directed by Nick Hurran
Written by Steven Moffatt
Aired Sunday, 12th Jan 2014 on BBC1
Warning: spoiler alert!
There has been a lot of development since last week’s heartwarming episode. “The Sign of Three” divided fans and critics alike, as most commented on the change of tone, its overindulgent sentimentality, and lack of mystery. But it nonetheless nicely set the stage for the showdown between our eponymous hero and his most challenging adversary to date.
“His Last Vow” sees Sherlock up against the calculating Charles Augustus Magnusson, a mysterious influence with an incredible memory and a talent for procuring information. But as he tries to outwit Magnusson, Sherlock also uncovers secrets that threaten his own life and more importantly, Watson’s happiness.
The series plays the emotional harp in bringing out Sherlock’s more ‘human’ side, showing his compassion for his friends, the lengths he will go to protect them, and even dabbling in the relationship game (though this is relatively short-lived, manipulated, and completely coincidental). This is a drastic turn in character development; the show revolves around a smug, arrogant, yet incredibly deductive sociopath, whose emotional core is non-existent. But now, you have someone who is willing to kill somebody to protect the ones he cares about. With two more seasons planned, whether this is the best way to keep the character fresh and entertaining is debatable.
The key to this is John Watson. His importance in Holmes’ life has never been as significant as it is now. In last week’s episode, Holmes was taken aback when Watson called him his best friend and certain events during this season (saving Watson from the bonfire in “The Empty Hearse“; his difficult but heartfelt best man’s speech in “The Sign of Three”) proves that he feels just as strongly. Given that their partnership is the driving force behind the show, Watson is the factor that appeals to Sherlock’s ‘human’ side, and after all, Holmes “will solve your crime but it is John Watson who will save your life”.
Despite the subtle hints littered throughout the previous episodes about Mary, the final revelation is striking as it is so completely unexpected. The idea that this bubbly, loving woman is capable of murder, as well as lying so easily to the man she loves, is almost inconceivable but Abbington plays it well. Mary’s turmoil of her past coming to light and her fear of losing John is understandable, but considering her husband’s experience with violence and near-death, she should realise that nothing can shock John Watson.
Like Moriarty before him, Magnusson proves to be a worthy adversary for Holmes’ intellect, but one that plays on the secrets of people, rather than toying with them. Playing on the pressure points of his ‘victims’ by using a more convenient take on Google Glass, Magnusson’s media mogul adopts a nature in ‘owning his victims’ that is so crude and arrogant it is relatively easy to loathe him.
Director Hurran overdoses on the mind-palace concept a bit too much but with the most serious episode of season three to helm, his visual prowess comes into play, while writer Moffatt is arguably indulgent in hero-worship – reinforcing the idea that this sociopath, with an incredible mind yet capable of human error, can get away with drugs and murder just because he can solve crimes paints an unrealistic picture of our would-be hero.
With a poignant ending at hand, it is almost time to wave goodbye to Sherlock. But as he begins to fly away into exile (and if Mycroft is correct, certain death), we get the reappearance of a man who can send the country into shock with one simple phrase…
“Did you miss me?”
Two years is a long time to wait for Sherlock and Watson and with news of seasons four and five on the way, fingers crossed that the next visit to 221B Baker Street will not take as long.
We will be waiting.