Sherlock: His Last Vow Review

Sherlock Series 3 Review: CONTAINS SPOILERS!

HisLastVow

His Last Vow By Steven Moffat

Review By Taylor Blumenberg

This post contains spoilers!!!!

His Last Vow is the third and sadly final episode of Sherlock season three and sees a return to the single writer formula after last week’s co-credited episode. Directed by Nick Hurran, who was also responsible for the amazing Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special The Day of the Doctor, and penned by Steven Moffat, His Last Vow is an action packed adventure in storytelling full of elaborate twists and turns.

The amazing Lars Mikkelsen hits the screen as Charles Augustus Magnussen, the pitch perfect modern adaptation of Sherlockian nemesis Charles Augustus Milverton, and believe me when I say, and this is purely a compliment, he will make your skin crawl. From the moment he licks Lady Smallwood’s perfume from her neck it is obvious that Magnussen truly delivers on the promise of his being a villain that turns Sherlock’s stomach.  However, despite the fact that I could literally write for days about the amazing portrayal of the character, there is much more to this episode than a spine tingling villain. Not only is there a lot going on but there are more canon references than you could ever hope for. Without endeavoring to simply recap the entire episode I shall do my best to hit on some of the key references and analysis some of the juicier moments.

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The episode opens with a wonderful slice of Sherlockian canon lifted straight from “The Man with the Twisted Lip” in the form of John visiting a crackhouse in order to bring home a neighbor’s son and encountering Sherlock there. An opening sequence which, as confirmed by the drug test John forces upon Sherlock, seems to point to trouble for the detective who has turned back to narcotics following John’s wedding. There is also another lovely canon reference in the introduction of the character Wiggins, who in the original canon is the head of Sherlock’s army of street urchins the Baker Street Irregulars. In this series however Wiggins is seemingly one of the drug addicts whom Sherlock has been recruited as a protege. One of the shining moments is Molly slapping Sherlock not once, but three times, chastising him for risking “his beautiful mind.” Atta girl. Sadly, we also learn her engagement is off, but looking back at The Sign Of Three, all the signs were there. Poor Molly? Probably more likely, poor Tom.

As we progress into the episode, John returns Sherlock to 221b prepared to hunt out any narcotics he may have stashed in the flat. Turns out Mycroft is already there and waiting and has Anderson and his wife (maybe?) searching the flat for drugs. What follows is a glimpse into the person Sherlock was before he cleaned up: he’s volatile and angry and frankly, violent. After attacking Mycroft, he tells John not to go into his bedroom. As to why… well… It seems that in his time away Sherlock has become involved in a relationship with Janine, the Maid of Honor from Sign of Three. A fact that John may have a hard time wrapping his head around may not be that surprising to folks who are familiar with the Milverton story in which Holmes forms a relationship with Milverton’s house maid. All suspicions to this parallel with the original story are quickly paid off as it is revealed that Janine is Milverton’s PA, and that Sherlock is simply using her as a way to access Milverton’s office.

All of this leads us to the first real twist of the episode — the revelation that, while John and Sherlock are busy playing on Janine’s emotions to gain entry to the penthouse, someone else is already there. That someone is, shockingly, Mary Watson nee Morstan. In a mind boggling few minutes we witness Mary’s threatening of Magnussen, reveal to Sherlock, and, worst of all, shooting of our hero. This leads to what I think may be, both visually and emotionally, the most complex sequence we have ever seen as a part of the show. In an attempt to save himself from dying as a result of the shooting, Sherlock retreats to his mind palace and, as has been our pleasure throughout the season of narratives focused on Sherlock’s point of view, we follow him on the terrifying journey of realization and struggle to survive from within his own mind. I think it important to note that, whereas our previous glimpses of Sherlock’s mind palace have shown it as being rather devoid of people, instead acting as a catalogue of information, suddenly we discover that it is populated with people who are important to him. It is a subtle and wonderful piece of character development that, whereas he once may have thought things through wholly on his own, Sherlock works through the logistics of the bullet wound with the help of Molly and Anderson.

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Following the gorgeous mind palace sequence, which I am once again restraining myself from dwelling on too much, we get the big reveal in the form of Mary and Sherlock’s confrontation. The whole scene is a reference to The Empty House which plays with idea of facades and what can be found behind them, contrasting the literal empty house which hides the train tracks behind it with the creation of the character Mary Morstan, which we discover is hiding Mary’s past work as an assassin CIA agent. The scene solidifies the concept that Mary was not actually trying to kill Sherlock in the earlier shooting by demonstrating that she is a crack shot who would have been more than capable of taking him out had she wished to. This harkens back to one of the more dismissed episodes of seasons past, the Blind Banker, in which General Shan asks “What does it tell you when an assassin cannot shoot straight? It tells you that they’re not really trying.”. Of course Mary makes her entire reveal facing the shadow outline of Sherlock, or at least what we assume to be Sherlock. As Sherlock steps from the shadows behind her there is a moment in which canon fans will find themselves commending the use of a dummy as in the original story only to have their hearts shattered as it become apparent that the shadow is actually John. As always Martin Freeman is pitch perfect in his portrayal of the grief and anger caused by the revelation, someone should give him a BAFTA. Oh, wait…

As our trio of heroes adjourns back to Baker Street, we witness a psychoanalyzing of John Watson’s character by not only Sherlock, but Mary as well. We find that Mary is now simply a client to John and Sherlock, and as such, she offers up a flash drive with information on her past to John, asking him to read it when she is not there.  In a wonderful canon nod to The Sign Of Four, we learn that Mary’s real name contains the initials A.G.R.A, and that Mary Morstan was a name she usurped from a still born baby upon trying to make a new life for herself. This whole sequence is rather downplayed, though this could be readily excused as being totally in character. While John is emotional, and I personally would have like to see a bit more fleshing out of the couple’s standing, it only makes sense that John and Sherlock would continue on under the rush of adrenaline and a new case. But that’ll have to wait, because, thanks to previously escaping the hospital in order to get to Mary, Sherlock collapses and is taken away in an ambulance.

Suddenly we are plunged into Holmes family cottage at Christmas dinner where we are presented a series of strongly emotional character vignettes. While I feel the scenes are brilliantly done and do add to the story immensely, I personally am bothered by the fact that there is no context for how much time has passed since the 221b discussion of Mary’s past. We can make guesses based on Mary’s comments regarding her and John not really speaking for months and the fact that she is now visibly pregnant, but it still feels somewhat disjointed. We are however given the closure the story line needs as John admits that he has not read the flash drive and never will, but loves Mary and will stay with her. Even though he’s still really pissed off.

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When it seems that many things are wrapping up into their neat little packages we finally come round to the business of finishing off the case. As it turns out Sherlock has taken the entire family out of action via the use of drugged drinks, a trick we’ve seen him pull before, leaving Sherlock and John the only conscious members of the party. Through the use of a handy flashback scene we are treated to yet another jaw dropping moment as we discover that Sherlock has made a deal with Magnussen in which he will surrender his brother’s laptop in exchange for Mary’s freedom. It quickly becomes obvious however that there is more to this than meets the eye, and that Sherlock is using the laptop as a ruse to gain access to Magnussen’s vaults. Upon reaching Magnussen’s our villain lays out the whole of Sherlock’s plan which unfortunately includes one major flaw in that Magnussen’s ‘vaults’ aren’t real but are contained within his mind palace. This leaves John and Sherlock in a compromising position when a government task force arrives to collect the laptop. It is at this moment that we are treated to what I consider to be one of the most uncomfortable scenes I have ever encountered on television. Magnussen flaunts his victory and power in this penultimate scene by flicking John Watson in the face. There is truly no way to explain the magnitude of this gesture or if John’s constant acceptance of such treatment; it is something that must be watched no matter how uncomfortable it is to see. Of course it is just as uncomfortable and enraging, if not more, for Sherlock to witness and, knowing full well that he is already facing arrest on charges of high treason. In the canon, Holmes doesn’t let Watson stop Milverton being murdered and in His Last Vow we see a similar treatment. Sherlock snaps and uses John’s gun to shoot Magnussen in the skull, cementing his new reputation as a murder.

Of course Mycroft bargains for Sherlock’s release from lifetime imprisonment but sadly this deal sends Sherlock into exile on a mission which he is not expected to survive, and we are seemingly left with another forced parting of John and Sherlock as the final emotional kicker of the episode. We are treated to a heart wrenching farewell scene between the two in which Sherlock nearly confesses his feelings for John (though if you have another theory on what he was about to say, please comment and share) before chickening out at the last moment and finally boarding the plane to what he knows is essentially guaranteed death. An exile that last of all of 4 minutes before Mycroft is calling Sherlock back to protect the country as a new threat appears on the horizon, seemingly in the form of the return of Jim Moriarty. It’s an ending which leaves viewers immediately excited for a next episode which sadly does not come immediately.

But is it really Moriarty? Don’t think so. We think the big baddie for Series 4 may just be the real Colonel Moran, using Moriarty’s image to attract attention… but, only time will tell. When is Series 4?

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Moffat does often try to do a bit too much when it comes to major finales, layering twists on top of each other that sometimes don’t allow for a total fleshing out of things. I am dreading the Moriarty follow up because I am scared that if he returns, we will be once again forced to accept there are no permanent consequences to anything that happens, a situation that cheapens the death of characters. Though, it may all be a rouse to get us talking. Is someone using Moriarty’s image to attract attention? Is it the real Moran? Is it a new baddie?

I can’t help but feel that none of this matters as much as the fact that the episode enthralls, you can’t look away and are emotionally invested from start to finish. Despite any problems it may have, His Last Vow delivers an incredible emotional impact, a satisfying easter egg hunt of canon references, and a cliffhanger ending that, while not emotional devastating, leaves the viewer keyed up for more and excited to see where we go from here.

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taylorbioTaylor is a Baker Street Babe and a founding member of 221B Con in Atlanta, GA.

I enjoy working fan conferences. Along with establishing a Sherlock Holmes one, I work for the British Media Track at Dragon*Con (www.brittrack.org) and previously worked as the merchandise manager for the Harry Potter music festival Wrockstock from its second year in 2008 to its final year in 2011.

You can contact her at taylor@bakerstreetbabes.com

21 Responses to “Sherlock: His Last Vow Review”

  1. Almitra says:

    Dear Ms Taylor,
    Privileged to be the first one to comment…Nice review..Streaming was not good..So need to see it again..

  2. Rivkah says:

    I loved and hated this episode, just as I loved and hated Series 3.

    Perhaps what bothered me most is the pregnancy and the continuation of the pregnancy. I understood the introduction of Mary, and thought Amanda Abbington was good (not great) in the role. Then again, I don’t Ms. Abbington was given “great” material to work with and a lesser actress would have floundered. The pregnancy feels forced and contrived, as if it’s the only way to mark the passage of time as you mentioned in your post. I struggle with how the writers will incorporate a baby into the narrative without ruining the show/jumping the shark so to speak. I don’t know how they fit the baby into the show, but I also sincerely hope they don’t kill off the pregnancy or baby because I can’t see John surviving that. I might not love the character (absolutely nothing against Amanda Abbington, the character and the actress are two entirely different things) but I can forgive the introduction of Mary. I can’t stomach the pregnancy.

    I was also surprised by the pregnancy because Mary is a clever, intelligent woman. I would assume that she is on some kind of birth control, although I know and understand that birth control is not 100% effective. She’s a former CIA assassin, so I’m confident she would know about and utilize the latest and most effective birth control techniques. It’s not the sort of field where you can just get pregnant and request maternity leave. I also suspect neither Mary nor John are the domestic type.

    I also have to wonder if the pregnancy wasn’t a way for Mary to manipulate John, since it’s unlikely that Mary would have an unplanned pregnancy given her history. I’m not saying the character is evil or bad but she would hardly be the first woman to have a baby in order to keep her husband/boyfriend. I don’t know if John would have stayed with her despite his anger and grief if she wasn’t having his child. Obviously that’s a question that will go unanswered but John never really had a chance to walk away. If he left the marriage, then he would be leaving the mother of his child. There’s no clean break.

    Although I thought Martin Freeman was excellent in this episode, my favorite performances came from Mark Gatiss and Benedict Cumberbatch. I adore Mycroft and am admittedly biased in that regard. I love the interaction and the chemistry between the two. The understated sentimentality and emotion is what really left me crying. When Mycroft saw “little” Sherlock after he killed Magnusson I was openly sobbing. Their relationship has blossomed this season, and it was one of the highlights for me.

    As for the Moriarty death, count me in on hoping that it’s really Moran or another villain using his image. It reminds me of when Sirius Black died in Harry Potter. Fans were desperate to bring him back but Rowling was final and definitive. He died. Dead is dead, and the dead don’t come back. I don’t want another season of Moriarty. I want fresh material.

    This was a really lovely and insightful review. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it! xx

    • z says:

      I think you’re reaching way too hard here. You’re forgetting that this CIA agent had already gone ‘freelance’ (what’s this maternity leave business?) and might have even stopped entirely. I assumed that was the whole point of stealing an identity and getting married – I’m guessing she likes the idea of being a wife and mother. What does ‘domestic type’ have to do with anything? Even if indeed they both aren’t this ‘type’, do they not want or deserve children?

      In short, maybe consider that underneath all the troubles and special occupations, that these are at the same time, simply two adults who fell in love and intended to start a family together.

  3. I enjoyed this episode greatly, but felt the ending was a bit rushed. I was actually half expecting Mycroft to gun down Magnussen with the excuse that he had state secrets. But having dealt with Sherlock’s crime by sending him off on a (suicidal) secret mission, they barely allowed time for that to sink in before backtracking and keeping him in London. I would have preferred they end before the Moriaty revelation and save that for later.

    • Johanna says:

      Same feelings about the ending here. His departure felt like it was constructed to be this grave moment, storywise. Wiping it away within seconds just didn’t and doesn’t make any sense to me.
      It undermines the dramatic moment of the whole scene and puts the decision to send him away or whatever they were going to do with him in the first place into question. It’s just weird. And comes at such an unfortunate time, after a rather brilliant and strong episode. (Same goes for the Moriarty reveal. I’m just going to pretend this whole thing after the credits didn’t really happen. It didn’t make me excited for what’s to come but seemed rather boring. I’m with he babes, don’t think…or don’t dare to think they’re really going to bring him back. They wouldn’t do that….righ????)

      I LOVED the John & Mary stuff and the exploration of John’s need for thrill and fear. Perfect. LOVED to see Sherlock high/undercover and …in pain. It’s so important to see him compromised and vulnerable in one way or another now and then. And I think it’s perfect that he’s physically vulnerable/wounded here.
      And that moment when John and Sherlock sit down in their chairs to deal with Mary as a client, John in such horrible pain and Sherlock reflecting everything that’s broken in his whole demeanour and broken body. And they sit down the way they always do despite all the pain. SHOCKBLANKET!! There’s something weirdly british but also incredibly poignant, moving and heroic about this….gaaaahhh!!!! (Also, for heroic impression: Sherlock’s reflection in the mirror before he’s sitting down. AHHHH!!!)

      SORRY! Couldn’t contain myself. Thanks for all the work, words and wisdom, BSBabes! Cannot wait for the podcast ep! <3

  4. 221benaddict says:

    Great review, thank you very much!!
    Theres just one thing about the episode that didnt really seem to make sense to me: Why shooting Sherlock at all?? I agree, its made obvious that Mary didnt intend to kill him and having that point in mind it seems to be actually more than a bit of a risk, doesnt it? I mean, he was very close to dying and only the thought of John has saved him, so one cant really say that Mary could be sure the shoot wouldnt kill Sherlock. Why not shoot his leg? Or simply walk out the room? I just dont see the point in the shooting. Can anyone clarify??

  5. Pip says:

    Lovely review – thank you!

    So much to enjoy in the episode, which I did, greatly. My main problem with it echoes my problem with Scandal – that there is a world of difference between a strong female character and a male fantasy. And once again, we have an ACD story in which the villain was shot by the female victim – so why wasn’t Ultra-Mary allowed to make the kill shot?

    Like I say, much to love there (the Sherlock and John dynamic is particularly strong in this one), but I’m left with the vague feeling that Moffat is scanning the ACD canon for brilliant female moments… and then taking them away and giving them to Sherlock.

    I need to watch a few more times to pick up all the nuances I missed though. I never get them all in the first watch.

    • Corinne says:

      For me, it’s enough to know that Mary *would* have had the kill shot if Sherlock and John hadn’t shown up and ruined her plan.
      She didn’t shoot Magnussen because if she did, Sherlock and John would have been the prime suspects.

  6. KT Parker says:

    I don’t think Jim Moriarty is coming back. In the Sherlock Holmes canon, two brothers are mentioned: Colonel James Moriarty and Station Master Moriarty (assuming the one who died in the Moffat/Gatiss version of Sherlock is Professor James Moriarty). Although bizarre that three brothers would be given the same forename, I feel sure it will be one of the siblings popping up in Sherlock’s life to avenge the death of his brother. Moran has already been ‘used’ in S3Ep1 – he was the English peer spying for the North Koreans who laid the bomb in the underground car under the Houses of Parliament to coincide with the annual celebration of Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot on November 5th.

  7. Vera says:

    Great review. I admit that I need to watch the episode again to soak everything in. That said, however, my first impression is that if Moriarty is Sherlock’s counterpoint; Magnussen was Mycroft’s — the two are both bullies. The violent outburst by Sherlock toward Mycroft was indicative of what was going to unfold later.

  8. Corinne says:

    I loved this episode. I think it’s my new favourite. I’m a sucker for Mycroft/Sherlock moments and the mind palace scene near the beginning was probably one of the, if not THE most incredible thing I’ve seen on TV.
    Screw it, I’m watching the episode again. Now.

    I am also massively happy that Magnussen’s brains got blown out rather than the writers invent some way Sherlock would ‘win’, because of course this was always a case ‘dealt with’ rather than ‘solved’.

    I do, however, hope Jim Moriarty is still dead. There’s a problem particularly with Moffat-era Doctor Who (I am not a Moffat basher btw) where there’s just no finality. Anyone who dies seems to come back so when people do die, the emotional response just isn’t there. Moriarty shot a freaking bullet into his own mouth. We saw it happen. There’s no possible way he can come back without it being a bit of a hash as far as I’m concerned.

    I’m hoping it’s Moran. We got a glimpse of Moran in the first episode and we never saw him really taken down. He was just captured. I’m hoping that was a lead into seeing him in the 4th series doing some serious stuff.

  9. Carol says:

    It seems to be about 2-3 months since John has spoken to Mary. The wedding took place in August (invitations were shown in Episode 2). The opening of this episode is a month later, John hasn’t seen Sherlock for a month. And now it’s Christmas. So it would seem like it was a couple of months between the confrontation at Leinster St and the Christmas reconciliation.

  10. sandra says:

    I am convinced that Moriarty’s ‘return’ was engineered by Mycroft to save Sherlock. After all, it was not a mission from which he expected his brother to return, and losing Sherlock would have broken Mycroft’s heart (his own words).

    If he really did somehow survive, then this would be shark-jumping of epic proportions.

  11. Liesel Parish says:

    Uuh, I think you just summarized the series finale.

  12. Amber says:

    This is in no way a review. This is merely a summary of the episode. :/

  13. Cate says:

    Interesting review, but I have to disagree with you regarding the farewell scene. I think we can take this at face value. This is nothing more than the parting of two good, close friends and comrades in crime solving. They don’t even hug, they part with a handshake. What could be more Platonic? I didn’t see anything of what you suggested and I’ve seen this thing 3 times already. The gravity of the scene should not have escaped you. Sherlock is being sent to exile and on a mission most likely to end his life. You heard Lady Smallwood say to Mycroft that it was hardly merciful.

  14. Toby says:

    You say “Sherlock snaps and uses John’s gun” but I think the shooting was planned (or at least anticipated).

    * When Magnussen visits Sherlock’s flat, he’s distracted and tells Sherlock he’s “reading”, indicating his glasses.
    * After the visit Sherlock comments that Magnussen showing the letters was ‘extraordinary’ even if, at that point, he thinks it shows Magnussen was ready to deal, it could also, upon later thought, show Sherlock that Magnussen needed to convince him the papers were real.
    * When Sherlock later discovers the glasses are quite ordinary, there’s only one conclusion – that Magnussen was reading the documents *in his mind* (Note, Magnussen actually tells Sherlock the documents are phony when he shows them to Sherlock, perhaps something Sherlock didn’t miss)

    Sherlock then:
    * Tells John to bring his gun (because it might be needed)
    * Checks the guns location before boarding the helicopter (so he can access it later)
    * Tells John to let Magnussen flick his face (not because he has ‘won’ but because he needs to keep Magnussen happy until the police arrive – why? see my last point)
    * Tells Magnussen he’s a sociopath (either to tell us he’s planned this and he doesn’t care about the consequences, or to convince himself that this is what a sociopath would do)
    * Shoots Magnussen in front of witnesses (*so Watson would not be a suspect*)

    So even if the murder wasn’t planned before stepping on the helicopter, it was planned as soon as Magnussen revealed the non-existence of the vault.

    Not enough? How about the fact that Sherlock has the plans for Appledore – they’re on his laptop. We see them after Janine leaves the flat. They don’t show a basement. And Sherlock says Magnussen has “created an unassailable architecture of forbidden knowledge”. Buildings aren’t unassailable. But the mind is. Maybe he knew all along. Stealing Mycroft’s laptop to get invited to Appledore wasn’t to get to the vault, it was to get close enough to Magnussen to kill him.

  15. Vishal says:

    Moran has already appeared in the first episode of season 3.And,this is for the reviewer,You just might want to check out the after credits scene of the episode.You might not like it,though.

  16. […] ce billet, je cogite sur ce qui m’a amenée à ressentir une telle déception. Je lis la critique de l’une des Baker Street Babes, absolument enthousiaste, et mettant bien en évidence tous les […]

  17. Mssherlockian says:

    I found “His Last Vow” to be entertaining/confusing. I liked the “girlfriend” parts, especially when it makes Cumberbatch smile. But why make Sherlock a murderer? There were many other ways the blackmiler could have been killed without putting blood on Sherlock’ hands. Despite the success of “Dexter”, I can’t accept a murderer as a hero. Lestrade told John that Moriarty’s body had been recovered from the roof at the end of Series 2. The last view of Moriarty on the TV screen is obviously been faked. I thought the last fifteen minutes were rushed and over-full. Not my favorite episode.

  18. Patrícia says:

    Hello!
    Congratulations on your excellent review! I would like to ask your opinion about some part of the episode that caught my attention, but I am not sure what it meant, in the final, when Mycroft is “defending” Sherlock, saying that there will always come a moment when we need Sherlock Holmes, and the man on his right asks “if this is some brotherly compassion” or something like that, and Mycroft says that he does not fall for those things and says “look what happened with to the other”… he meant who? Other brother?…
    Best regards!

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