This Sunday, Sherlock Series 3 concluded with “His Last Vow”. Sherlockians were looking forward to the episode because we would be finding out more about Mary, including her dark secret; meeting the new villain, Charles Augustus Magnussen; and because every series of Sherlock ends on a tantalizing cliffhanger!
Sherlock and John
In “His Last Vow” we discover Sherlock’s Achilles’ heel, his blind spot. Mycroft says to Sherlock in “The Sign of Three”, “I warned you, don’t get involved” and he mentions “Redbeard”. In this episode, we find out that Redbeard was the family pet, a dog, to whom Sherlock was very attached as a child. And despite Mycroft’s warning, Sherlock is “involved”. Sherlock, although he tries to hide it, cares deeply about a few special people, and top of that list is John. Sherlock is very attached to John, their friendship runs deep, and Sherlock would risk everything for John. In “His Last Vow”, Sherlock risks his own life to protect Mary because she is John’s wife. Whilst his love for a few special individuals is the chink in his armour, it also makes him human. This Sherlock is far from a detached cold calculating machine, even though that may be what he wants everyone to believe.
In “The Sign of Three”, we heard Sherlock describe John as the “bravest and kindest and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing”. But we all know that actions speak louder than words and it is here, in “His Last Vow”, that Sherlock shows just how much John means to him. Sherlock is at death’s door, the “game” is up, but what Jim says to Sherlock at this point (in his head) motivates Sherlock to fight his way back from the brink of death, “You’re letting him down, Sherlock, John Watson is definitely in danger”. Sherlock comes back from the dead to save John. That one action speaks volumes.
We also gain much more insight into John’s character during this episode. John is as much of an addict as Sherlock; he is addicted to danger. John is unable to lead a quiet life in the suburbs, as an ordinary family doctor, he grows restless, impatient for excitement and adventure. He craves action and the thrill of the chase. John is someone who brings a gun when visiting the Holmes household for Christmas dinner. As Sherlock observes, John is “abnormally attracted to dangerous situations and people”. And both Sherlock and Mary are wise enough to realize that is why John chose Mary as his wife – he chose her because she was different.
John proves his true value – yet again! – in this episode when he accepts Mary for the unique individual that she is. “The problems of your past are your business, the problems of your future are my privilege”, John reassures Mary, after he has had time to come to terms with the fact that Mary Morstan is an assumed name and the woman he has married has a dark past.
Surprisingly both Mary and her unborn child survived this episode, as did John and Mary’s marriage, despite her dark secret being revealed. And what a secret! Mary’s secret was not some past indiscretion or infidelity of a personal or sexual nature, but the fact that she was a trained intelligence agent, an assassin. This big reveal brings the character of Mary Watson bang up to date for modern times, because she is a true match for Sherlock and John, as accustomed to fighting crime and criminals as they are. Mary has a mind that retains everything, she can break codes, and she shoots to kill. What a woman!
The Holmes Family
I was delighted to find that this episode brought further insights into the Holmes family history, including Sherlock’s childhood, and the relationship between the Holmes brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft.
“His Last Vow” reinforced the fact that Mycroft believes himself to be cleverer and smarter than Sherlock. When Sherlock has been shot, the Mycroft in his head scolds him for being stupid, “you always were so stupid, such a disappointment”. And Sherlock’s drug use was clearly a cause of concern for both Mycroft and his parents. Despite this, I believe that Mycroft loves his little brother, Sherlock. Mycroft informs Sherlock on Christmas Day “your loss would break my heart” and whilst this causes Sherlock to almost choke on his cigarette I believe the underlying sentiment is 100% true. And when Sherlock shoots Magnussen at the end of the episode, Mycroft looks down and sighs “Oh Sherlock, what have you done?”, seeing Sherlock as a young boy. Mycroft realizes that this time even he can’t get his little brother off the hook.
This episode reinforced the fact that the Holmes brothers need eachother and rely on eachother. Although they rarely show their emotions, deep down they love eachother and are there for eachother. I was also intrigued by Mycroft’s throwaway remark that “I’m not given to outbursts of brotherly compassion, you know what happened to the other one”; which means there was/is a third Holmes brother.
The Holmes family Christmas was a pure delight. And I liked the fact that it is Sherlock’s mother who turns out to be the clever one, with the Holmes brothers probably inheriting their intelligence from her. She is a mathematician by trade, writing “The Dynamics of Combustion”, before giving it all up to be a full-time Mum. Unlike her sons, she is very modest about her achievements, dismissing the book as a “silly old thing”.
This episode was heavy on character and action and lighter on comedy. However there were a few rare gems in this episode that I really enjoyed. There was Sherlock using the name “Shezza” for his undercover drugs work; Janine calling Sherlock “Shirl”; Mycroft being called “Mike” and “Mikey” by Janine and his Mum; the Holmes family Christmas; Mrs Hudson’s defence of her involvement in a drug cartel, “It was my husband’s cartel, I was just typing”; and Sherlock and Mycroft being caught smoking in the garden by their Mum!
Charles Augustus Magnussen
Charles Augustus Magnussen, the new Sherlock villain, is a newspaper proprietor who can make or break people’s reputations through the “news” he prints and publishes in his papers. As such, he is a man of great power and influence, someone who has regular meetings with the Prime Minister, someone whom the British Government wants as an ally because he is useful, a “necessary evil” as Mycroft says.
Charles Augustus Magnussen is derived directly from the canon character Charles Augustus Milverton. In the canon story “Charles Augustus Milverton” Holmes asks, “Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that’s how Milverton impresses me”. In “His Last Vow” Sherlock says “Magnussen is like a shark. … Have you ever been to the shark tank at the London Aquarium, John, stood up close to the glass, those floating flat faces, those dead eyes, that’s what he is”.
In the canon story, Holmes describes Milverton as “the worst man in London”, saying “I’ve had to do with fifty murderers in my career, but the worst of them never gave me the repulsion which I have for this fellow”. In “His Last Vow” Sherlock says “I’ve dealt with murderers, psychopaths, terrorists, serial killers … none of them can turn my stomach like Charles Augustus Magnussen.”
In “Charles Augustus Milverton” Holmes describes Milverton as the “king of all the blackmailers” and in “The Final Problem” Holmes describes Moriarty as the “Napoleon of crime”. Steven Moffat cleverly conflates the two by having Sherlock describe Magnussen as the “Napoleon of blackmail”.
Charles Augustus Magnussen in Sherlock, played by Lars Mikkelsen, is a chilling villain, who strikes terror into your heart because he is completely ruthless. You know he will stop at nothing to get his own way. He is not mad like Moriarty, but he is rational, cold and calculating, and he knows the “pressure points”, the weaknesses, of everyone, and he will use that to his advantage. It turns out he has a mind palace, and a memory, to rival that of Sherlock which makes him even harder to beat. Overall, a very formidable villain, especially because the information he holds, and his wealth, power and influence, mean that he is not only tolerated, but actively courted, by the Establishment.
In my previous reviews, I have noted that every episode of Sherlock is packed with canonical references for Sherlockians to seek out and find. As before, I am going to cite just a few examples, choosing the ones that gave me the most pleasure.
The sequence where a distressed neighbour calls on John and Mary asking for their help with a relative who is a drug addict, and John goes to the drug den to find the addict and bring him home, is almost a direct lift from the opening of “The Man with the Twisted Lip”. In the canon story “The Man with the Twisted Lip”, Kate Whitney, the wife of Isa Whitney, comes to Dr Watson seeking help, and in “His Last Vow” Kate Whitney, the mother of Isaac Whitney, comes to John seeking help. In the canon story, and in “His Last Vow”, Dr Watson/John goes to the drug den and finds not just Isa/Isaac but also Holmes/Sherlock. In both the canon story and in “His Last Vow” Holmes/Sherlock is at the drug den working undercover on a case.
In the canon stories, Holmes did use both cocaine and morphine to alleviate boredom. Dr Watson disapproved strongly of Holmes’s drug use, trying to rid Holmes of his addiction, “Why should you, for a mere passing pleasure, risk the loss of those great powers with which you have been endowed?” he asks. In “His Last Vow”, Molly takes on this role, hitting Sherlock no less than three times when he tests positive for drugs and rebuking him with “How dare you throw away the beautiful gifts you were born with”. To be fair to Sherlock, he is genuinely on a case!
In the canon stories, Holmes relies on the Baker Street Irregulars, a group of street urchins, led by Wiggins, to be his eyes and ears around London, rooting out and supplying him with information. In Sherlock, the Baker Street Irregulars are replaced by the Homeless Network who perform the same function. In “His Last Vow” we meet Bill Wiggins, a homeless drug addict, whom we first encounter at the drug den guarding the door. Sherlock recruits him as a helper on account of his “nice observational skills”.
“His Last Vow” draws heavily on the canon story “Charles Augustus Milverton”. In canon, Charles Augustus Milverton’s address is Appledore Towers, Hampstead, and in “His Last Vow” Charles Augustus Magnussen’s house is called Appledore. Milverton stored all his secret documents in a safe in his house and, according to Sherlock, Magnussen stores all his documents in hard copy in vaults underneath his house (computers can be hacked). Sherlock describes Appledore as “the greatest repository of sensitive and dangerous information anywhere in the world, the Alexandrian library of secrets and scandals”.
In both stories, “Charles Augustus Milverton” and “His Last Vow”, Holmes and Watson/Sherlock and John break into Milverton/Magnussen’s house to steal back certain documents to free people from the threat of blackmail. In canon, Holmes courts Milverton’s housemaid, disguised as a plumber, to learn her master’s movements and to obtain a plan of the house, and he goes so far as to be engaged to marry her. In “His Last Vow”, Sherlock dates Janine, Magnussen’s PA, to know Magnussen’s schedule and goes so far as to tell her he is going to propose so that she buzzes him up to Magnussen’s office. Watson in canon and John in Sherlock are both equally disapproving of Sherlock’s ruse.
Having sold her “kiss-and-tell” story to numerous tabloids, Janine has made a lot of money with which she is going to buy a cottage on the Sussex Downs complete with beehives. In canon, Holmes retires to live the life of a hermit in a small farm upon the South Downs, spending his time bee-keeping and writing a book – “Practical Handbook of Bee Culture.”
Mary’s initials, written on the computer drive that contains her personal history, are A.G.R.A. The canon story “The Sign of the Four”, in which Mary Morstan comes to Holmes as a client, reveals her father’s personal history. In canon, Mary Morstan’s father served in India, at Agra, and that was where he acquired his share of the Agra treasure, part of which is Mary’s birthright.
The closing scene, with Sherlock and John saying farewell, with Sherlock fully expecting that he will never see John again, is taken from the canon story “His Last Bow”. War is imminent, Holmes has asked Watson to help him by acting as a chauffeur when he captures a German who has been gathering intelligence and passing it to the Germans. Holmes asks Watson to “Stand with me here upon the terrace, for it may be the last quiet talk that we shall ever have”. Holmes points to the sea and says, “There’s an east wind coming, Watson”. This scene where Holmes and Watson bid farewell, and this key phrase, are both replicated in “His Last Vow”.
The Return of Jim Moriarty?
At the end of the episode, as Sherlock leaves on a plane for exile in Eastern Europe and potential death, he is recalled to save England because there is a message from Jim Moriarty playing on every screen in the country simultaneously, “Did you miss me?”. This was definitely a case of saving the best till last … Jim Moriarty is back!
Jim’s apparent return has divided critics and audiences. I will lay my cards on the table – I was delighted to see Jim back. It was like a late Christmas present, all the more precious because it was so unexpected.
Looking at Sherlock series 3 overall, what I have enjoyed about this series is the focus on character development, the Holmes family history, and the lighter touches (comedy). But the series has been missing something.
What it has been missing is an adversary who is a real match for Sherlock. Who represents pure undiluted evil but is also great fun. That missing piece in the Sherlock jigsaw is Jim Moriarty. I was pleased as punch to see him back. An added bonus is that Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Andrew Scott (Jim) have a real on-screen chemistry and they play off eachother really well. Any scene featuring Sherlock and Jim is electric and often steals the show!
The mystery to be solved is not how Jim survived blowing his own brains out but is this really the return of Jim Moriarty? In canon, James Moriarty had a brother with the same name, and it is perfectly possible that the video message could have been recorded before Jim’s death and that one of his minions is behind Jim’s apparent return. Or it just might be the real Jim Moriarty back from the dead. Who knows?!