What the hell just happened? The show had been so comfortable reveling in its characters and discovering new depth to them, but they decide to go all in on plot this week, and it’s not a very good one. The conclusion of this episode is that there is no tangible end game to the story, there is literally nothing to it. Magnussen is a creepy character, and an interesting one, played effectively by Lars Mikkelsen (yes, he is related to Mads), but they so halfheartedly try to make him a ‘big bad’ that he feels neutered of any real threat.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned the reveal that Mary is actually some ex-spy type who wants to get Magnussen as much as Sherlock does. The fact that they play her up as a villain for a moment betrays so much of the good faith they’ve built up for the character and while they redeem her and Watson’s relationship in the end it’s very problematic that I didn’t buy either of these paths for the character.
The plotting to explain all of the twists and reveals have never felt as labored for the show as the lengthy backtracking that worked so well for “The Sign of Three” felt almost unbearable this week. The show walked a fine line when it came to its structure this year and it might have finally collapsed in on itself here. The show has tons of exposition, a given with a character like Holmes, but it has never been as boring or forced as it is in His Last Vow.
There were many interesting avenues the show could have ran with early on, Sherlock’s dependency history or getting deeper into Holmes’ undercover work, and instead they dive head first into a stretched thin plot. Character moments are glossed over, interesting developments are all a ruse and never has the character of Holmes felt this inconsistent in the series. Something changed in Sherlock this season and that didn’t really bother me till this episode. He is capable of anything, where before he was limited by his social retardation and while I am happy to see him grow out of that phase I couldn’t get on board with the new lengths they took him in this episode. They clearly state Sherlock is ex-MI6 in this episode, opening him up to be a Bond-esque spy of intrigue based on that agency’s pop-culture legacy, but I hope they don’t continue on this possible path of being a borderline super hero. I want Holmes to grow, but in a realistic way from the grounding of this character the show has established.
I did ultimately like where the show got to with its conclusion, Sherlock having to execute his foe as the only means of beating him, but Magnussen’s is such a non-factor that there is no impact. Making matters even worse is the fact that his banishment from John, the greatest punishment that could be handed to Sherlock, is completely forgiven at the ending appearance of, possibly, Moriarty. Really, we are going there, again? The final couple minutes of this episode were borderline appalling as the show seemed to shrug its shoulders and say, “Fuck it, let’s just go back to the well and create a world with zero stakes whatsoever.”
Severely disappointed by His Last Vow, Series 3 was riding so high before delivering my least favorite episode in the show’s history. Everything that was making the show great took a backseat to nonsense and the note that the Series ended on does not leave me excited, in the slightest, for Series 4. Of course I will be back, but I hope the show re-grasps the limits of its characters and stops feeling the need to make everything so shocking and more.