Season 3, Episode 3: His Last Vow
Posted by Sage
Anxiety. Dread. Ice cream. Alcohol. These are what Sherlock fans usually bring with them to a finale episode. Especially after the relative lightheartedness of this season’s first two stories, we seemed to be due for a haymaker right to the heart.
But even though Sherlock Holmes killed a man and John Watson’s new wife put a bullet in his best friend, “His Last Vow” was almost cheery compared to “The Reichenbach Fall.” I mean, Moriarty is back. And we did miss him. Very much.
Charles Augustus Magnussen is no Moriarty. Jim Moriarty is a cuddly little bastard. He carves private messages into apples. He has a Bee Gees ringtone! I’m not sure I’d turn down brunch with him. Sherlock tells us that Magnussen makes him feel physically sick, so chances are he’s used that “the whole world is wet to my touch” line more than once. We meet him as he’s intimidating
Adelaide Brooke Lady Elizabeth Smallwood into dropping an investigation into his influence over the Prime Minister. He licks her face – so close to her eyeball that I actually wish I were dead – and in between shudders of revulsion I wonder just what was in the water at the Mikkelsens’ house.
Magnussen deals in information. Everyone has a weakness or two – “pressure points,” he calls them – and he uses this knowledge to hold people hostage. Sherlock is initially hired by Lady Smallwood to do something about this “shark,” which is how he ends up in the same smack house where John Watson goes to retrieve his neighbor’s junkie son.
The original Sherlock Holmes was fond of cocaine, which was totes not a big deal in the 1880s. Our Sherlock has substance issues too. He claims he’s undercover for a case. He is – he hopes to draw Magnussen out by advertising his drug habit as a pressure point – but John isn’t buying that as the only reason he finds “Shezza” lying on a dirty mattress in a pair of – gasp – sweatpants. And now is not the time to fuck with John Watson. He’s living in the suburbs, he’s bored, he’s dreaming nightly about war and Sherlock Holmes, and he’s just desperate for an opportunity to stick a tire iron in his pants and go sprain some people. “It’s just a tiny bit sexy,” Mary tells him, as we all nod furiously at home. “Yeah,” he answers. “I know.”
Also not thrilled with this development is our favorite pathologist, Molly Hooper. (Sherlock looks so busted when John calls her from the car. He doesn’t want to disappoint her again.) Molly Hooper got to snog and slap Sherlock Holmes in the matter of one series. Somewhere out there, The Woman seethes with jealousy. “How dare you throw away the beautiful gifts you were born with? And how dare you betray the love of your friends? Say you’re sorry.” She may say it louder now, but Molly has always called Sherlock on his shit. (“You always say such horrible things.”) And by not letting him off the hook for his bad behavior, as everyone else tends to do, she actually gets real apologies from him. But not this time. “Sorry your engagement’s over,” he counters, making this the third consecutive episode where he’s brought up Molly’s relationship status in conversation. He’s being petulant, but this low blow feels so much more personal than his usual lashing out. We don’t get an answer to that question because Molly won’t take the bait. But we see her flinch at the pain of it, and what is going on with these two?
In related news, I spent an hour tonight looking at Molly Hooper-inspired sets on Polyvore and pricing colorful sweaters.
Mycroft has engaged Anderson and his Holmes fan club to clear 221B of whatever gear his brother has hidden before Mrs. Hudson finds it and tries to sell it, probably. He clenches up at the mention of Magnussen, riling up John and Sherlock with his warnings to leave the creepy guy alone. Mycroft knew then that Magnussen would try to get to him through Sherlock; he’s aware of his own pressure point. Can I get some pity for Mycroft Holmes, over here? This poor guy has spent his entire life protecting his brother, and it’s definitely not because he’s getting any credit for it. (“Your loss would break my heart.”) What must it feel like for him to see Sherlock connect so easily with John? Maybe that’s the real reason he skipped the wedding.
Which brings us to the Janine problem. Sigh. As delightful as it was to watch Sherlock Holmes cuddle with buxom brunette and to watch John Watson reacting to Sherlock Holmes cuddling with a buxom brunette, the Janine storyline irks me still. We see that Sherlock has regressed since faltering at the wedding – it’s not a stretch to imagine that he’d push his sense of decency far enough aside to use a woman for the sake of a case. But Janine: how could you? The girl fawning all over the detective can’t be the same one we met when John married Mary. That lady was savvy and cool and figured Sherlock out in one afternoon. They understood each other. They were partners-in-crime. Now she buys this doting boyfriend act? Whatever happened to, “I wish you weren’t…whatever you are”? Is she really so desperate for a ring that she’s not the tiniest bit suspicious that her detective boyfriend wants access to the heavily guarded office of a controversial and dangerous man? Did she fall onto his penis and forget her own name? That is a hallmark of a Moffat woman, I suppose. We’re supposed to be okay with all of this after the scene in the hospital when Janine turns out to be just as capable of exploiting people as Sherlock and they forgive each other. But the assassination of her character isn’t just infuriating. It’s totally nonsensical. Here again we have Moffat refusing to honor the agency and truth of a female character, choosing instead to manipulate her so that he can get from story point A to story point B a little faster. Sherlock could have just as easily buddied up to Janine and engaged her in the plan. She even says so herself. “You shouldn’t have lied to me. We could have been friends.”
It’s almost a comfort to know that Sherlock Holmes can still be surprised by people. And he can, very much, be blinded by sentiment. Despite all the clues – which he later recounts, because he noticed them all on some level – Sherlock doesn’t deduce Mary’s secret. He just doesn’t want to. Yes, Mary Morstan is more than she initially seemed. But as we got to know her in the last two episodes, I became more and more adamant in my belief that she couldn’t possibly be revealed as a true bad guy, especially once she became pregnant. And I refused to believe that her relationship with our John was a lie. So, our Mary has killed a few people. Who on this show hasn’t? It’s practically a requirement to hang with this crew. She didn’t betray John. That would have been unforgivable.
In fact, she’s the perfect match for John. I love that the prototypical Dr. Watson – the one who just wants his chair and a cup of tea and “I say, old chap” and all that – is just a story that John tells himself. That is not who he is. He is as addicted to danger as Sherlock – maybe even more so. And he subconsciously picked himself a (nearly) rehabilitated assassin for his bride. What’s the big deal? I’d pity the nice, normal girl without a cat burglar outfit stashed in the back of her closet, who gets involved with these psychopaths. As Moffat said to Vulture, “Have we forgotten that John shot someone in the back in episode one? And then had a giggle about it?”
I’m grateful to this storyline for cementing Mary as a part of the team and for giving Martin Freeman further opportunity to knock my socks off. “This is where they sit,” he spits out, when he points Mary to the client chair. And then he has us just as nervous as she is when he comes to her in the Holmes’ sitting room. He’s unreadable at first. (That was a cruel time jump, wasn’t it?) Since I’ve called out Moffat at his worst, I will also recognize him at his best. “The problems of your past are yours,” John tells Mary. “And the problems of your future are my privilege.” “You don’t even know my real name,” she half protests. “Is Mary Watson good enough for you?” LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, JOHN HAMISH WATSON. How dare anyone threaten this beautiful OTP and their unborn child? I would have shot Magnussen myself.
We also have Mary to thank for sending Sherlock to his Mind Palace. These ultra-meta sequences are what this show does best. Not only is it beautiful to look at; every last detail reveals something about the true Sherlock Holmes. First of all, it’s not random that Molly and Mycroft show up to guide him through this life or death moment. Does Mycroft even know that Sherlock is, at least metaphysically, always looking to him for direction? And sweet, steady Molly. How long has she been there? When The Woman showed up there in “The Sign of Three,” he dismissed her. “Not now, I’m working.” She is distraction and fixation. Molly, on the other hand, is constancy. Safety. She instructs Mycroft to find something to calm Sherlock down and that’s when we meet Redbeard, the last being that Sherlock loved so unconditionally. His childhood dog. His most loyal companion. You see where I’m going with this. Redbeard is John. “They’re putting me down now, too,” he says, in case you had any uncried tears left in your body. “It’s no fun, is it?”
Beyond the people he looks to for help, past his childhood memories, Sherlock keeps the most dangerous part of him locked up. Moriarty is what Sherlock could be if he hadn’t chosen the side of the angels. But right now, harnessing some of that cold, inhuman strength might not be a bad thing. He needs to know how Moriarty managed to not feel any pain. “You always feel it, but you don’t have to fear it.” Remember that, Sherlock. Remember it the next time you think that keeping your distance from people is your best method of protection.
Once he’s in the clear, Sherlock Holmes the dragon slayer sets out to keep the promise he made at the wedding. Mary and John won’t be safe until Magnussen is neutralized. The plan is foiled when we realize that Magnussen’s information is kept in a way creepier Mind Palace, rather than a physical vault. (How does Lars Mikkelsen make flipping through files look so perverse?) Sherlock had Plan B in mind long before they got to Appledore; he’d made sure John brought his gun. We see the moment that he decides to go through with it – right around the time Magnussen amuses himself by making John his bitch. He’s not a “villain,” he insists. But he has boundless power and a clear motive to destroy John’s life. Sherlock, “the most human human being” Dr. Watson’s ever known, takes one last look at John and it actually hurts. “Give my love to Mary. Tell her she’s safe now.”
Mycroft always knew that things were headed in this direction. “Oh, Sherlock. What have you done?” He sounds exhausted. Even with his limitless power, he couldn’t protect his brother from himself. Sherlock was right -“human error” was his downfall after all. It’s Moriarty who turns out to be Sherlock’s savior, and I’m having Unbreakable flashbacks. Every hero needs a villain. And we’ve got a lengthy hiatus to bundle up against that east wind.
- Here’s hoping Sherlock’s junkie protege Bill Wiggins sticks around for series 4.
- Sherlock couldn’t stand staring at John’s empty chair. He hid it from himself because he also couldn’t stand to throw it away. Goodbye, cruel world.
- John is a foot shorter than Mycroft and I have no doubt that this is true.
- “Trying to put me off?” “God, no, I’m trying to recruit you.”
- Sherlock on relationships: “It’s very affirming.” “You got that from a book.”
- “I’m the only one who really knows what you’re like.” “Don’t go letting on.” Back to the Janine problem one last time. If Moffat explicitly tells me that this line indicates that Janine was in on the whole thing and played her part beautifully, all will be forgiven.
- John is one of Sherlock’s pressure points, but Sherlock isn’t one of John’s. And that’s forever going to be the story of their friendship.
- “It’s actually four pounds.” “Mary and I think seven – see you later.”
- “Don’t go into shock, obviously.” I would like Mark Gatiss to teach a class on how to speak with every word dripping in posh disdain.
- Best heading from Janine’s tabloid spree: “He Made Me Wear the Hat.”
- The people demand more Lestrade.
- One of Sherlock’s “bolt holes” is Molly Hooper’s bedroom. He sits on her bed and absentmindedly pets Toby while going into his Mind Palace. Molly makes them tea. No, really, I’m fine.
- “What have I ever done, my whole life, to deserve you?” “Everything.”
- The people also demand more Holmes Family Christmases.
- “Your best friend is a sociopath who solves crimes as a substitute for getting high. That’s me, by the way, hello.”
- These children:
- “But it’s Christmas.” “I feel the same! Oh, you mean it’s actually Christmas.”
- “Don’t worry – I’ll keep him in trouble.” “That’s my girl.”
- William Sherlock Scott Holmes. William Sherlock Scott Holmes.
- “To the very best of times, John.”
How did “His Last Vow” stack up for you in the tradition of epic Sherlock finales? And how will we ever survive another two-year wait? Leave it in the comments.