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Sherlock’s third season comes to a close with an episode full of twist and turns, an intriguing and loathsome villain, interesting character work, and a cliffhanger which, well, I’ll get to that. There as a lot to like about “His Last Vow”, but there were other elements that just didn’t work as well as I think the writers/producers would have wanted. For me, this season ender was a bit of a mixed bag.
“His Last Vow” has Sherlock going up against Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), a Rupert Murdoch-type media king. Magnussen has a precise way to obtain information and blackmail various key people in order to get what he wants out of them. Magnussen is a terrific villain because he knows he has other people completely under their thumb and they cannot do anything about it. He works from the fear he installs, and with no one above him to put an end to his activities, he truly is the ultimate bully. He isn’t doing his blackmailing for any personal or financial gain. He does it just because he can. That really is terrifying.
As we discover in the episode, Magnussen has some key information on Mary Watson. She is desperate to keep that info quiet from John, so she attempts to kill Magnussen (who, perplexingly seems to have never had a hit on him before), which fails. Mary’s secret comes to light (I’m not going to reveal it here), and John is devastated. While I found the reveal and the fallout dramatically interesting, it seemed odd that Magnussen would care about a nobody like Mary to even warrant blackmailing her. Granted, Magnussen just likes to pick on people and likely has no standards on who he chooses, but a slight explanation would have done this plot element justice.
I do have to give this episode credit, though, for some of its character work on Sherlock. Since the beginning of the series, Sherlock has described himself as a “high-functioning sociopath” to explain away his strange behavior. Despite that, he never really acts like any sort of sociopath. True, is socially awkward without realizing it and continuously says whatever is on his mind. I’d argue he is more autistic than anything else. And this season, I’ve noticed a warming of Sherlock’s personality. Sociopaths are people who are incapable of expressing true emotion and fake their way through it in order to get what they want out of other people. Sherlock has never openly done this…except for this episode where we find him in a loving emotional and sexual relationship (and possible engagement) which is revealed to be a giant ruse so he could gain access to a secure office building. Now, that’s being a sociopath.
And we have our cliffhanger. It’s terrible and incredibly tacked on. I know, the Sherlock fans out there have gone ga-ga crazy over it, but none of it comes naturally. The episode has a solid resolution, but it felt the need to have this curveball thrown in at the (literal) last minute. I almost wonder if the writers/producers were worried the way they were ending the season would have been considered a disappointment, so they felt it would have been better to give something to the fanbase to chew over. Nothing would have been as audience grabbing as Sherlock’s apparent death from last season, so they shouldn’t have felt the need to try to top it. That said, I am intrigued by what they might do next season. No, I’m not going to reveal it here. It does come out of nowhere and I doubt any viewer will truly expect it.
So, that wraps Sherlock season three. I really wanted to like “His Last Vow” a whole lot more. It has so much going for it, but it falls just short with some odd character beats and story elements. This has been a pretty solid year for the program. Very game-changing and, much to my surprise, did not reset things to the status quo of the previous two years. I really hope they keep changing and evolving as the show progresses.
“His Las Vow” is scheduled to air in the US on February 2nd (Super Bowl Sunday!) on PBS.