As with each of the episodes of series 3 of Sherlock, we open with a corker of a teaser. The first episode had an international manhunt and Sherlock finally being rescued from certain death by Mycroft Holmes (the ever creepy Mark Gatiss) who stepped-in for a brotherly chat, before telling Sherlock to stop mucking around and get back to his day-job: saving the realm.
The second was the long-suffering Greg Lestrade (Rupert Graves) being prevented from nabbing the Waters gang by a cry for help from Sherlock, who merely needed help with some funny stories for his speech at John and Mary’s wedding.
This episode begins with a faux Leveson Inquiry where Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) is being lightly sauteéd by politicians. He evades their questions and privately confronts the chair, Lady Smallwood (Lindsay Duncan) with threats of exposure.
She is so angered by this, she later engages the services of the recently resurrected tenant of Baker Street that we all know and love.
From the outset this adventure looks much darker, and perhaps a return to form for the curly-haired detective. That the scenes of the inquiry were light on questions and heavy on atmospherics can be excused; the directors of Sherlock seem to have been picked for their visual skills as well as getting actors to hit their marks. Sherlock as a whole seems more motion-picture drama than weekly mystery. For all the positives of the U.S. version, including a female Watson and Moriarty, Elementary still looks and feels like a weekly TV show. Of course, Sherlock lasts three episodes of an hour and a half, while Elementary has 24. And having watched the original pilot episode of Sherlock on the series 1 DVD box set, by comparison I can see that style is definitely a defining aspect of the show. This is, of course, wrapped around the re-tooled mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In this episode we have a new boss in the form of Magnussen, who could be said to be many things, chilling, manipulative and cruel to name but three. Really though, he’s a child playing with an ant-hill. He has enormous power but no empathy with those whom he manipulates and exposes; he is a gestalt of what we think of Rupert Murdoch and the NSA and GCHQ. He is, therefore, somewhat of a stereotype. But oh what a stereotype, from licking the face of Lady Smallwood, contemptuously pissing in the fireplace at Baker Street to relentlessly flicking John Watson’s eye in the closing minutes of the episode. I’m unsure of how well he would have played as a character had he been cast from British actors, or whether his faintly Danish accent is the icing on the cake.
With nods to canon, and Sherlock being discovered in a crack-house by a tyre-lever wielding Watson, we move into the story proper: Sherlock has accepted Lady Smallwood’s case and is faking a drug habit to give Magnussen leverage on him. Unfortunately for him, no-one believes this is true, from a face-slapping Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), to Mycroft and the Sherlock fan-club of Anderson (Johnathan Aris) and Benji (Katherine Jakeways) who are tossing his flat for drugs. Everyone thinks the worst of Sherlock and rightly-so, for he is hiding something. That the something is not drugs but Mary’s maid of honour, Janine (Yasmine Akram) is jaw-dropping.
That Sherlock has been faking a romance with her as she’s Magnussen’s private secretary is not. The sociopath comes out to play much more in this episode, but is tempered with, perhaps some guilt for hurting his friend so badly. The vow he makes in the closing minutes of The Sign of Three is met in this episode as a result of a sacrifice he makes to save his friend and wife from the nefarious newspaper intentions of Magnussen.
His Last Vow contains a series of both humorous and dramatic shocks which is why I think this is the closest of series 3 to the promise of series 1 and 2. There is heavy deduction, when Sherlock is shot by Mary herself, who is revealed later to be ex-military and looking for a quiet life with a good man.
Sherlock’s search for a way to survive are personified by Molly and Anderson who assess the medical aspects, Mycroft who appears to be Sherlock’s superego, reasoning the bullet is still within and finally, in the deep, dark depths, the psychopath, his id, in the form of a chained Moriarty (Andrew Scott). Here is striking imagery which points to Sherlock being far more vulnerable than we might think, and in awe of his brother Mycroft.
It is, however, Moriarty’s reminder that Sherlock is letting Watson down which brings Holmes back from the dead, but there is more in this exchange which may point to a far deeper understanding of the sleuth: “you always feel pain but you don’t have to fear it”. Mycroft’s disdain for his brother while dying reduces Sherlock to a crying child, and his dog brings him joy. Reading between the lines, and using a little guesswork, it would seem that Mycroft was the man who Sherlock learned most from, his father seeming to be a quiet man who “could never bear to argue with [his wife]”. It is therefore unsurprising that Sherlock has turned-out the way he has. Yet perhaps Sherlock took the wrong message from Mycroft’s cool and calculating demeanor and is coming to realise that there are things he can care about with the resulting pain this could cause.
Sherlock’s Last Vow is therefore a humanising of the sociopath, an indication that Moriarty was right in that swimming pool at the end of series 1, that Sherlock does have a heart and it can be broken. That Magnussen so succinctly demonstrates the power of leverage shows he, like Mycroft, understands the power of emotion: Mary leads to John, John to Sherlock and Sherlock to Mycroft. With Mycroft, Magnussen has the British government at his beckon-call.
That is, until Sherlock follows-through on his vow to protect his friends. In doing-so, he solves the mystery with a potent mix of deductive reasoning, and emotional engagement.
He is, therefore a new man at the conclusion of the series, one which some would argue was less Sherlock and more melodrama. However, I would argue that the first two episodes needed to be written to show Sherlock that he is not the centre of the universe and that he needs to step-up and be more of a friend than he has ever been before.
Series 4 and 5 have been commissioned by the BBC, and I’m very much looking forward to them, especially with the apparent reappearance of Moriarty himself, saving Sherlock from certain death in foreign lands (not unlike Mycroft at the beginning of the series). How the consulting criminal survived has yet to be revealed, but it’s sure to be a ride when the series reappears, hopefully this time next year!
Series rating: 4/5