Sherlock: “His Last Vow” Review

his last vow sherlockSo here we are, the last episode of Sherlock before another agonizing wait. As much as I’ve enjoyed the first two episodes of series 3, they felt incomplete to me. My feelings about each episode are pretty much summed up in both Saika’s and Luce’s reviews. This series has felt much more character-driven than the past two series, which were much more of a “case of the week” or “overarching villain” nature. The first episode was very much about repairing John and Sherlock’s relationship, and the second episode dealt with how Mary would fit into that dynamic. Now I see that both episodes were absolutely necessary to prepare the audience for this series’ final act, “His Last Vow.”

Spoilers abound under the cut.

“His Last Vow” refers to one of Sherlock’s final lines of “The Sign of Three”: that Sherlock will protect John, Mary, and their unborn child, no matter what it takes. This episode certainly tested the limits of what Sherlock can take.

sherlock his last vow magnussenWe begin the episode up close and personal with Charles Augustus Magnussen, a newspaperman and the Napoleon of blackmail. He’s as cold and calculating as Moriarty, but has swapped out Moriarty’s sheer maniacal insanity for a hedonistic pleasure in metaphorically owning people. Where Irene Adler retained an air of class when she blackmailed for personal protection, Magnussen blackmails for gain, and expresses his dominance with a slew of disturbing dehumanizing activities. Minutes into the episode, he blackmails a woman and seals the deal by licking her face.

janine his last vow sherlockCut to John and Mary consoling their teary neighbor. John runs off to go find the neighbor’s son in a crack house, only to find who else but Sherlock, high on whatever the kids are doing. All in the name of a case, of course. They head back to Baker Street to find that Sherlock’s hooked up with Janine, Mary’s bridesmaid. John’s shocked that Sherlock has a girlfriend, but this also turns out to be another clever ruse. With a nice hat-tip to Conan Doyle canon, Sherlock pretends to propose to Janine (who happens to be Magnussen’s personal assistant) in order to get into Magnussen’s private office and penthouse apartment. Once there, Janine is found unconscious. While John tends to her, Sherlock walks in on a figure in black holding a gun to Magnussen’s head. Sherlock believes the person is the woman Magnussen licked, but the woman turns around, revealing herself to be none other than Mary Watson.

Mary shoots Sherlock, and we’re treated to a great mind-palace-esque scene in which he tries to figure out what to do in the three seconds before he blacks out. While the Sherlock of the “Hound of Baskerville” needed to keep people out to search his palace, now we see Sherlock’s mind populated with many of his friends offering their helpful expertise. Sherlock tricks Mary into revealing to John that she was his shooter and that she’s got a much more dangerous past than she let on, and Mary turns out to be some kind of former CIA/intelligence/freelance assassin who genuinely loves John more than anyone in the world.

mary watson his last vowmary watson his last vow

Let me take a moment to consider Mary as a Steven Moffat creation. Moffat loves to write Bond Girl style strong female characters: clever, sassy, sexy, and good with a gun. Oh, and all about a guy they fancy. Mary nearly fits this mold. She’s a former assassin, nearly as clever as Sherlock at times, and is totally in love with John Watson. But for some reason, she feels different to me than Irene Adler or River Song. I think this is because when we meet Mary, she’s John’s new fiancee. Other than a Sherlock thought bubble saying “liar,” that’s all we know. Mary seems to read people very well; she has both John and Sherlock figured out within minutes, and realizes that they need each other, and encourages them. Mary plays them both to get them to do a case together. She’s sassy, but not in a sassy-for-sassiness sake—she’s actually quite funny. She’s very pretty, but not in-your-face sexy.

Mary’s clever, too, but this is a bit of a sticking point with me. It’s a bit odd that Sherlock thinks the most likely reason for Mary’s ability to identify a skip code is that Mary has a mysterious past. I’d have prefer him making that deduction on the basis of a little more evidence—he’s certainly capable of that. Furthermore, why can’t Mary be clever just because she’s clever? Why must there be some exceptional reason for it? Sherlock’s allowed to be clever just because he is. The very last thing we learn about her is the one thing that you’d normally think would make her most interesting: her dark and bloody past. But that’s not why we love Mary. The first two episodes of series 3 showed us how much Mary loves John, so her declarations in the last episode feel real. It built up to the back story, letting us first see her as a person.

The biggest drawback I see to Mary’s character is that she’s still very male-centric. Like Irene and River, all of her plot-relevant actions are for the sake of a man. She’s recently adopted the alibi of orphaned Mary Morstan, and while that makes for a convincing story to go with her former-assassin-status, it means that we don’t see her interact with friends and family. Sure, the series is about John and Sherlock. But would have been nice to see Mary interact with Mrs. Hudson, or even Janine. We do get a lot of time seeing her relationship with John (and Sherlock) unfold, so her love for John feels real. With River and Irene, it’s an issue of doing more telling than showing. At least with Mary it’s more showing than telling. Still, everything we’ve learned about Mary’s real identity is very vague, so I hope it’ll get fleshed out more in series 4.

Fast forward to Christmas, where John, a heavily pregnant Mary, Mycroft, Sherlock, and Sherlock’s clever friend Billy are preparing for Christmas dinner at Sherlock’s parents’ house, and Sherlock and Mycroft sneak out for a smoke.

sherlock mycroft christmas his last vow

tumblr_mzbav0z0we1qfdvczo2_250Meanwhile, Billy (on Sherlock’s instruction) has drugged Mr. and Mrs. Holmes, Mary, and Mycroft. Sherlock grabs Mycroft’s laptop (full of state secrets, of course) and he and John run off to go meet Magnussen in his lair, Appledore. Magnussen claims to have vaults of all kinds of personal information hidden in Appledore, and Sherlock hopes to trade Mycroft’s laptop for Mary’s file. But Magnussen’s seemingly endless vaults turn out to be nothing more than… his own mind palace. He never actually needs proof to print any of the things he knows in his papers. Figuring out someone’s “pressure point” and the threat of exploiting that information has always been enough. Now it just looks like John and Sherlock are trying to give state secrets away to Magnussen, and with Mycroft’s prior declaration that he’s trying to protect Magnussen, the dynamic duo are stuck. Sherlock asks Magnussen one more time if his vaults really are a mind palace, and when Magnussen confirms it, Sherlock shoots him point-blank in the head.

Mycroft arranges for Sherlock to skip any jail time and instead signs him up for a six month mission in Eastern Europe… a mission that was previously mentioned to have a certainly fatal end. Sherlock and John share a final few moments together and Sherlock, in lieu of anything else to say, tells John that his full name is William Sherlock Scott Holmes, in case John needed baby names. John laughs and tells him that they’re having a girl. Sherlock quips that “Sherlock” is a girl’s name. He then boards the plane, and we see it take off…

Minutes later, all the television feeds in the U.K. are interrupted by a strange voice asking “Did you miss me?” The camera pans to one, and none other than Moriarty’s face appears on the screen. Mycroft immediately calls the plane back, cancelling Sherlock’s exile, likely to enlist his help in figuring out what the hell is going on.

his last vow moriartyOverall, I absolutely adored this episode. I’ve really missed the good old fashioned crime solving plots, and as much as I enjoy seeing the relationships between the characters unfold, I prefer it to happen while they’re working a good case. This one was filled with tons of twists and turns, but they didn’t feel cheap to me, because most (if not all) were foreshadowed in some way. I also love Sherlock’s character development this season, especially when compared to the Sherlock of series 1. Sherlock doesn’t seem to make the same mistake twice, which is one reason why I think his development often happens so quickly. He only needed to be told once that he was an ass to Molly, and it turned his behavior around almost completely. John’s shown Sherlock the importance of human relationships, and it really makes Sherlock question all the things about people Mycroft taught him as a boy. Sherlock is really starting to see the necessity of friends, and how to be a good friend. When he’s in the hospital, Janine comes to visit Sherlock. She tells him that they could have been friends, that he needn’t have lied so much to her. Sherlock is visibly concerned by this, and it seems that he has gotten another lesson in manipulating people.

This brings me to what I think is an overarching theme of series 3: power and power relationships. Magnussen lies on one end of the spectrum. He’s power-hungry and revels in making people feels uncomfortable and dehumanized. On the other hand, with John and Mary’s relationship, we see the importance of relationships where the power balance is equalized. John explodes when he discovers that Mary had lied to him about who she was, he feels manipulated. So what does Sherlock have him do? Treat Mary like a client. It gets John over his anger enough so the two can work through their relationship issues. After much thought, John decides not to read Mary’s thumb drive, allowing the two to move forward in their relationship, instead of dwelling in the past. The two reconcile, and while John tells Mary that he’s going to be pissed about it for a while, the balance is restored in their relationship.

Another major theme is friendship versus loneliness. In one corner we have Mycroft “caring is not an advantage” Holmes, and in the other John “friends protect people” Watson. On Christmas, Mycroft admits that he did not want to send Sherlock off on the six month mission to Eastern Europe because losing Sherlock would break his heart. Sherlock sputters in shock, and probably disbelief. Almost immediately, Sherlock attempts to sell out all of his brother’s secrets in order to protect John. Though it’s possible that Sherlock figured that Mycroft was powerful enough to take care of himself, the fact that he was willing to make that gamble tells us a lot about how far Sherlock has come. He’s gone from being totally under his brother’s ideological thumb to rejecting it to save his best friend. Caring may not be an advantage; it certainly gets Sherlock into all kinds of trouble. But he learns that “friends protect people” is a more rewarding code to live by.

his last vow sherlock john airplaneGoing forward, I’m excited to see what’s in store for Sherlock and the Watsons. I’m so glad Moffat and Gatiss decided to not kill off Mary or the baby, and are bringing back Moriarty (though in what way remains to be seen). Gatiss has said on Twitter multiple times that Moriarty is definitely dead, and the only thing that prevented them from making Moriarty’s gunshot to the head look more realistic were BBC rules. With all the potential Moriarty’s return provides, I hope we don’t have to wait another two years to see what happens next.