'Sherlock Holmes has made one enormous mistake which will destroy the lives of everyone he loves and everything he holds dear.'
After two lighter-hearted episodes, the game was back on for the series three finale, 'His Last Vow', which turned out to be one of the strongest instalments the series has seen - and it's up against some stiff competition!
Set up perfectly by the deepened characterisation of the first two episodes of this series, ‘His Last Vow’ accepts that we care for the all the characters and hurtles us into an adventures with more twists and turns then Sherlock’s mind palace (I imagine, I haven’t actually been). Sherlock's ability to take its audience by the scruff of the neck has always been impressive but here Moffat has complete mastery over us, countermanding every expectation we have about what's coming next with a stonking great twist that's seemingly come out of nowhere but which was actually, as is one of his favourite phrases, hidden in plain sight.
Amongst the high drama, there is also the customary laughs - particular highlights being, as always, the Holmes boys sparring at at their parents' house on Christmas Day ('Are you two smoking?' 'It was Mycroft!') and also Sherlock's surprise venture into the human world of relationships. However, remember rule one about this episode: nothing is as it appears...
While also serving up the thrills and the rib-ticklers, this episode also finds time for character notes on all three mains. Mary’s character is significantly explored in ways that no one had foreseen and there is some wonderful material for John, who gets to do everything from showing his tough side by surgically beating up a drug addict to dealing with a terrible truth, very close to home. As it is called Sherlock, there is also considerable work done on the detective himself. In the fabulous scene in Sherlock's mind palace – featuring a gloriously insane Moriarty, chained up in a rubber cell – we get the revelation of Redbeard (with echoes of Citizen Kane) going some way to uncover why Sherlock is the way he is (incidentally, the young Sherlock seen throughout the episode is played by Steven Moffat's own son, Joshua).
Intriguingly, there seems to be a reinvigorated sense of patriotism to the character that hasn’t been seen before. The Sherlock of Series One and Two, who turned down a knighthood and went to Buckingham Palace naked is now England's Greatest Hero. Hero, being the operative word. Just as Conan Doyle also understood, Moffat and Gatiss knew that their Sherlock could not stand still and had to develop as a character. Despite what he says, the three series of the show so far are really about the journey of a high-functioning sociopath growing into a hero.
And this review could not finish without a word to Lars Mikkelsen, pitch perfect as the detestable Charles Augustus Magnussen. While Moriarty was, as he put it, ‘a good old-fashioned villain’, Magnussen really is a nemesis for the modern age. A newspaper magnate with a hold over the western world, he is an absolutely chilling concept and an even better villain, every inch the ‘dead-eyed shark’ and thoroughly deserving of the vitriolic disgust Sherlock shows him. It is such a shame we won't see him again - although, who knows in the Sherlock world...
Totally thrilling and unabashedly unpredictable, 'His Last Vow' was triumphant television, providing everything you could ask for from the show. Including the shocking reappearance of someone we all wanted to see again...
Sherlock, we will miss you.
Five Favourite Sherlockian References:
- Billy Wiggins, the drug addict that Sherlock takes under his wing, is a conflagration of two characters from the canon. The most obvious is Wiggins, the lead boy of the so-called Baker Street Irregulars (otherwise updated as Sherlock's homeless network). However, his first name is presumably a nod to Billy, 221B's page boy who helps out Mrs Hudson. Originally created for William Gillette's hit stage play, he was consequently written by Conan Doyle into the later Holmes stories.
- One of the first shocks we get in this episode is the revelation that Sherlock has a girlfriend! The fact that this is all an act to get into Magnussen's office is lifted straight from the canon, whereupon Holmes proposes to Milverton's maid for the same reason. Interestingly, the woman, Janine, moves to a Sussex cottage, which is home to a few beehives. In the story 'His Last Bow', Holmes retires to keep bees on the Sussex Downs. Maybe we haven't heard the last of her yet...
- While the twist of Mary's true identity is completely Moffat's own creation, the memory stick containing information about her real life, scrawled with her actual initials, is a sly reference to the canon. In Mary's introductory story, The Sign of the Four, she recruits to Sherlock to investigate the disappearance of the Agra treasure.
- At one point, Mycroft casually hints at the fate of 'the other one', presumably referring to another Holmes brother. This is likely drawn from the Sherlockian notion that Sherlock and Mycroft have an elder, and even cleverer sibling, Sherrinford Holmes. Whether this tantalising remark is going to be drawn on remains to be seen.
- The 'east wind' that Mycroft used to taunt the young Sherlock with is a clever inclusion of the famous patriotic closing speech of the original 'His Last Bow', published during the First World War: 'There is an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet... A cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared...'