'Sherlock' Series 3: Let's Talk "His Last Vow"

Sherlock and John sporting the expressions I had through most of this ep. (Photo: Courtesy of (C)Robert Viglasky/Hartswood Films for MASTERPIECE)

Previously, on Sherlock: John got married, though since most of the episode consisted of Sherlock and John affirming the epic and lifelong nature of their relationship, you might be surprised to find out it was to Mary. Sherlock gave the best Best Man Speech in the history of time, complete with soppiness, awkwardness, and an attempted murder. Everyone lectured Sherlock about how Marriage Changes Everything at every possibly opportunity, we all got sad, and now we’re a bit anxious about what the future will look like for our boys. Especially since Mary’s pregnant and Sherlock left the wedding reception early and alone, because he couldn’t figure out where or how he fit in at the party.

Sadly, as soon as it seems we’ve got Sherlock back again, it’s over. Yup, His Last Vow is the Series 3 finale and then we’re all back on hiatus again even though it feels dreadfully unfair. But, first we’ve got to get through this episode. And there’s an awful lot to talk about. Let’s get to it. 

(Guys, I think that this might be the most massive recap of anything yet. Thanks for bearing with me as I sort through all my emotions and cheers to those that get all the way to the end!)

Meet the New Villain. Meet Charles Augustus Magnussen – who is basically the same as Charles Augustus Milverton from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle canon – an extremely creepy dude who blackmails people. He hasn’t been much of an overarching factor this season – other than being the same guy who creepily watched Sherlock rescue John from the bonfire in The Empty Hearse on repeat, we haven’t heard much about him. Anyway, our episode opens with him being interrogated by some sort of government inquiry board led by the always amazing Lindsay Duncan. We learn that Magnussen, who runs a newspaper, has frequent meetings with the Prime Minister and seems to meddle with the government quite a bit and this particular board of whoever they are doesn’t approve. Magnussen goes home to his palatial and gorgeous library and looks up some dirt on Lindsey Duncan (whose name in the show is actually Lady Smallwood), who as it turns out has a husband that cheated on her once with an underage girl. (Also in a Plot Point That Will Be Relevant Later we learn that Smallwood wears Claire de la Lune perfume.) Magnussen, who claims to have letters and photographs documenting their scandalous relationship, blackmails Lady Smallwood with this information during an extremely uncomfortable scene which involves him actually licking her face. Welcome to the season finale! 

So, I Guess Marriage Changed Everything. Our episode opens with John waking up to PTSD-style nightmares again, much as he did in A Study in Pink, except this time Sherlock is in them. I guess marriage must be awesome. In case you were looking forward to watching the boys sort out how to navigate the new world of their friendship now that John is married, well, sorry, you’re pretty much out of luck. Despite protestations to the contrary from both of them and about 128974 repetitions of that Sarah McLachlan Toy Story song, it turns out that they haven’t seen each other for a month after John’s wedding. It’s unfortunate, not only from a plot sense, but also because this leaves (some of) us (i.e. me) feeling let down as viewers. The set-up of the last episode, particularly the ending, implied that this was an emotional beat that would get, if not further exploration, at least some closure, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the case at the moment. Ugh, whatever.

Anyway. Some random neighbor we’ve never seen before knocks on the Watsons’ door and John heads off to retrieve her son Isaac from a local drug den because apparently Isaac has fallen off the wagon again. John is all sorts of inappropriately excited at the opportunity to go bash some junkies’ kneecaps in with a tire iron because I guess he hasn’t had much to do in the past month. John even gets a slow mo-walk into the abandoned building, that’s how legit this is. Mary has tagged along because that’s what happens now, but she stays in the car rather than hang out in drug central. John barges in past the junkie who opens the door and ends up wrestling him to the ground and spraining his arm after said junkie pulls a knife on him. John’s clearly enjoying this kind of a lot. He finds Isaac and starts shuffling him out when one of the other junkies turns around and says hello to him. Of course it’s Sherlock. 

This is the Great Detective on Drugs. Sherlock, who is dressed like a hobo and seems high as a kite, shouts angrily at John for blowing his cover even though he’s the one that said hello in the first place. Whatever, funny! He claims that he was hanging out at the drug den doing a bunch of crack/heroin/whatever it was for a case. John’s furious and piles Sherlock and Isaac in the car, along with the random junkie whose arm John sprained. It’s a party! The group heads to Bart’s hospital because John is going to make Sherlock take a drug test immediately. Sherlock of course fails his drug test and gets slapped a few times by Molly, who is also furious. John says that if Sherlock felt that he was anywhere near doing this again, he could have called them. (Meanly, I’m sitting here thinking that maybe if they’d been bettr friends to begin with… Hashtag petty.) Sherlock again insists it’s all for a case, but John doesn’t seem to believe him. Sherlock figures out that John’s the one who attacked his hurt junkie friend – whose name, by the way, is Wiggins, yeah canon shout-out! – and we learn Wiggins has a knack for deductions as well, which is kind of adorable. Sherlock is pleased when he gets a text that his drug habit might make the papers, apparently this is part of his plan. 

But Really It’s For a Case! In the cab ride back to Baker Street Sherlock out of the blue asks if John knows who Magnussen is. He doesn’t get to tell him much more than that because Mycroft is waiting for them at the flat, as it turned out John’s phoned him, in order to continue on with our Sherlock-vention or whatever is happening. Mycroft’s also brought along Anderson and his random lady friend to search Sherlock’s flat for more drugs. In decorative news, we learn that Sherlock’s put John’s chair somewhere that isn’t the 221b living room, probably because we all couldn’t take any more of him staring mournfully at its emptiness. Anderson and Unidentified Lady Friend have yet to find any more drugs in the flat but Sherlock gets quiet anxious when Mycroft makes as if he’s going to go into his bedroom. Everyone assumes Sherlock’s hiding a bunch of drugs in there and Mycroft says he’s going to have to phone their parents and interrupt their line dancing trip to Oklahoma. Sidebar: I simply cannot accept a world in which Myrcroft and Sherlock are the offspring of people who line dance. It’s not okay. Sherlock again insists that it’s all for a case, looking sweaty and crazy while doing so. Mycroft asks what kind of case could be worth all this and Sherlock says it’s Magnussen. Mycroft’s extremely taken aback by this and instructs everyone in the room never to mention that they even heard Sherlock say that man’s name. Mycroft tells his brother that Magnussen is not his business and that Sherlock can consider the man under his protection. Further, Mycroft says that if Sherlock goes against Magnussen, he’ll be going against him (Mycroft) too. Sherlock doesn’t care and throws his brother out and gets kind of aggressively physical about it, because high. 

Sherlock suddenly realizes he has a meeting in three hours and heads off to take a bath and possibly some downers. John asks about Magnussen and this all being for a case again. Sherlock says it’s too dangerous for any sane person to want to be involved him and smiles, claiming that he’s trying to recruit John to help out. He warns John to stay out of his bedroom though, which John basically ignores. But as he moves to open the door, someone comes out. 

Surprise! Sherlock Has a Girlfriend! In the first of many SURPRISE PLOT TWISTS to spring out at us this episode, it turns out that Janine, Mary’s bridesmaid from last week, is Sherlock’s new girlfriend. Apparently she slept over at the 221b flat whilst Sherlock was out getting high at the Dirty Yet Surprisingly Well Lit Drug Den, and no, we don’t exactly know why she’d be there if he wasn’t, but let’s go with it. John is gobsmacked and can’t seem to get his brain around the idea of Sherlock having a girlfriend at all. In fact, he seems to have moved right on past his My Best Friend Did a Crap Load of Drugs Should I Be Worried About That stage and speeds straight on to the lands of Weirdly Jealous and Territorial when Janine tells him she’s moved the coffee in the kitchen and refers to Sherlock as “Sherl”.

John starts giving Sherlock the third degree about Janine once he’s out of the bathroom, but Sherlock just wants to talk about Magnussen. Sherlock waxes poetic about Magnussesn’s shark-like qualities and blackmail skills and says that he turns his stomach more than any other criminal he’s ever encountered. John just wants to talk about Janine, or really to repeat incredulously that Sherlock’s in a relationship a bunch of times and look confused. He tries to get Sherlock to give him more details but Sherlock responds with platitudes he read in some kind of self-help book. Janine leaves for work, telling John they should have him and Mary over for dinner sometime, and kissing Sherlock on the way out. John stares. Like literally his mouth is hanging open. It’s getting real awkward, y’all. 

Meet Magnussen. Sherlock tells John about Magnussen’s superposh house, where he keeps all his important blackmail material. The house is called Appledore – which is how you know it’s posh because it has a name – and apparently Magnussen keeps all his important blackmail artifacts in vaults underneath it.

The man himself arrives to see Sherlock – stopping long enough to “read” Mrs. Hudson with his weird terminator deduction style, and let us, the audience, know that she used to be an exotic dancer. Anyway, Magnussen’s bodyguards search Sherlock and John for weapons in their own flat and then Magnussen terminator deduces both of them, identifying their various pressure points – John is Sherlock’s (who apparently has a handful, including something called “Redbeard”), but interestingly Sherlock isn’t one of John’s. It turns out that Lady Smallwood has commissioned Sherlock to negotiate on her behalf about the whole situation about her being blackmailed with her husbands letters to an underage girl. She wants the letters back.

Magnussen’s deeply uninterested in this, and demonstrates such by using the 221b fireplace as a toilet and denigrating the general English populace whilst doing so. Rude.  Also, seriously gross. Let’s hope Mrs. Hudson doesn’t have to clean that. He flashes some letters in his suit jacket at Sherlock, says he’s keeping them, and rolls out. Meeting adjourned. John looks ready to commit murder, but Sherlock’s more interested in the fact that he had clearly had the letters with him. For some reason, Sherlock decides this means that Magnussen believes he’s a drug addict and not a threat and will therefore be willing to make a deal with him. Okaaaay. 

Time for Some Breaking and Entering. Sherlock decides that the perfect next step is to steal the Smallwood letters from Magnussen’s safe that night, since they know he’ll be out to dinner doing world domination style things. Sherlock’s already figured out how he and John will get inside Magnussen’s office – he’ll just propose to Janine. Yup, Janine as it so conveniently turns out, is Magnussen’s personal assistant and Sherlock has gone out and bought an actual ring for this purpose. Janine’s thrilled and says yes, because apparently the thing now is to get engaged to spend the rest of your life with someone you’ve known for a couple of months and boom, Sherlock’s got access to Magnussen’s office. John’s mouth is hanging open again, especially when Sherlock’s not at all fussed that he’s basically been faking this whole Janine relationship.

Sherlock is spared actually having to break off his new engagement immediately by the fact that Janine's unconscious on the ground up in Magnussen’s office. John stays to attend to her while Sherlock keeps looking around. He smells perfume near Magnussen’s desk and races off to the upstairs flat, thinking Lady Smallwood has come to kill him.  He finds Magnussen on the floor being held at gunpoint by a person clad in an all black leather assassin outfit. Seriously, have these people never heard of blending? Go to the stupid Gap, assassins! Sherlock arrives and tells Lady Smallwood to stop….only, the ninja assassin is not Lady Smallwood.

Surprise! Mary’s an Assassin!  TIME FOR A PLOT TWIST! The leather clad killer is in fact not Lady Smallwood, but John’s wife Mary. She turns the gun on Sherlock, who takes a minute to go through all the deductions and observations he’s had about her that he’s chosen to ignore this entire season, particularly one of his first ones, which was Liar. Mary wants to know if John’s with Sherlock. Sherlock says he’s downstairs and tells Mary that whatever Magnussen has on her, he can help. Mary says if Sherlock takes one more step, she’ll kill him. Sherlock doesn’t believe this, as for some reason he’s decided despite his judgment being totally wrong up to this point about this woman, it’s obviously in fine working order now. He says she won’t, takes a step toward her and Mary shoots him in the chest. Yeah, that just happened. Sherlock looks rather surprised to be shot, Mary says she’s sorry and turns the gun back on Magnussen. 

Sherlock Holmes and the Mind Palace of Doooom. At this point, Sherlock’s mind palace kicks in as his body starts shutting down. Molly, Anderson and Mycroft all appear to talk Sherlock through what’s going on, deciding to have him fall backward to try and staunch some of the blood loss. The music from the end of The Reichenbach Fall kicks in and we’re all kinds of tense and anxious at this point. Mycroft tells Sherlock to find a memory to help keep him calm to avoid going into shock, and we learn that Redbeard was Sherlock’s childhood dog. (It’s pretty adorable.). Sherlock then ends up trapped in a locked room with Moriarty in a straight jacket, which seems to be his personal metaphor for death and/or hell (he’s been running down a metaphorical staircase this whole while, to symbolize dying). Andrew Scott’s back, looking particularly crazy and wild, and Moriarty tells Sherlock that while he may have to feel pain he doesn’t have to fear it. Sherlock is groaning and flailing around in his mind palace as John finds his injured body. Magnussen, who is for some reason a.) Still there and b.) Not dead, tells John that Sherlock’s been shot. Seriously Mary is a crap assassin. 

Back in Sherlock’s mind palace, Moriarty goes back to encouraging Sherlock to just die already, sing songing a nursery rhyme and looking crazy. The ambulance has arrived to take him to hospital, but Sherlock’s slipping away. Sherlock actually flatlines at this point – yes, let’s just underline this, Sherlock is basically dead, thanks a lot Mary –and the doctors pull away from his body. Moriarty is still talking away in his mind palace, going on about how much he’ll love being dead, and how Mrs. Hudson and his parents and John will cry. Then he says he’s actually worried about John because he’s wife is awful and whoops, Sherlock’s letting him down because John Watson’s definitely in danger. Well, if we’ve learned nothing at all else this series, we know that Sherlock will do absolutely anything for John, including apparently restarting his own heart through sheer force of will and clawing his way step by step back up the metaphorical Staircase of Life as his heart monitor flips back on. Aww, Sherlock + John 4eva, y’all.  His eyes open. 

The Aftermath Montage. Mary arrives in the hospital to learn that Sherlock’s awake, sort of, and that his first word was her name. John’s all kinds of relieved. Magnussen looks up Mary’s files in his massive vault of blackmail material and apparently she did some rather naughty things.  Mary materializes at Sherlock’s bedside to threateningly tell him not to tell John what happened. Janine breaks up with Sherlock, tells him she’s sold their story to the tabloids and turns off his morphine drip. Rude. She says he shouldn’t have lied to her, because she knows what kind of man he is and they could’ve been friends. She says she’ll tell John and Mary he says hi, and Sherlock turns off his own morphine again so he can focus. He mind palaces about Mary for a bit, trying to figure out who she is, and then sneaks out of the hospital through the window. 

The Secret in Leinster Gardens. Everyone starts looking for Sherlock at his usual haunts. John and Lestrade speculate about who could have shot him and why Sherlock won’t tell anyone. John figures out Sherlock’s not talking about who shot him because he’s protecting someone, but he can’t figure out who Sherlock would bother protecting. He’s also curious about why Sherlock’s suddenly brought John’s chair back to the flat and why he seems to think John’s coming back. This is one of those moments where John’s brain has to literally leak out of his ears for this plot to work, because after this, after Reichenbach, after that speech in last week’s episode, after everything, the answer of who he’s protecting might as well be written in the sky it’s so obvious, but John doesn’t see it. Of course, it’s Mary who finds Sherlock’s location, and Wiggins is already there to give her a cell phone from him. 

Sherlock leads her to the empty houses in Leinster Gardens, a real London street in Bayswater that has two false facades, the actual houses having been demolished to make way for the underground. Sherlock lures Mary into the false house by projecting a photo of her at her wedding on the side of it, saying that the false façade rather reminds him of her. There’s a figure shrouded in shadows at the end of the hallway. Mary asks Sherlock what he wants. He tells her what he’s learned about Mary Morstan, including the grave of the real girl, who died as a child. Sherlock points out more hints that had been dropped this season about Mary’s secret, including her knowledge of a skip code, super retentive memories and lack of friends. Mary says Sherlock was very slow figuring out her secret. He asks how good a shot is she, really, and she asks how badly he wants to know in a sort of threatening way, taking the safety off the ridiculously large handgun she apparently carries around freely in her purse in a country that has rather restrictive gun laws. Whatever. Sherlock says if his body’s found in this building, it’s currently got her face projected on the front of it, so that could get awkward real quick.

Instead, because Mary has now officially crossed over into the “River Song” side of the Steven Moffat School for Female Characters, she throws a coin in the air and shoots a hole in it. Sigh. I get the distinct impression we’re supposed to think that’s really cool. Sherlock, who has appeared behind her, looks at it and says that it’s interesting she didn’t make a kill shot when she shot him then, just enough to hospitalize him. (Which, okay, honey, you did flatline, which seems like a kill shot to me, but I digress.)  Sherlock says he’ll take her case, and asks why she didn’t come to him in the first place. She says it’s because John can never find out that she lied, because it would destroy him and she’d lose him forever and that there is nothing in this world she wouldn’t do to prevent that happening. Whoops, though, that’s a bit late, because John’s actually sitting in the chair at the end of the hallway and has heard everything. Sherlock tells the two of them to talk and sort it out but do it fast.

Time for a Time Jump Because I Don’t Even Know. For some reason, we decide to flash the story several months ahead, to where we are suddenly spending Christmas out at the Holmes family house. Okay. Sure. Benedict Cumberbatch’s parents remain adorable, and Cumberbatch, his folks, and Gatiss all get to have some great Holmes family interaction scenes and my new favorite Wiggins is there too. Sherlock’s counting down to something and Mary’s in the den reading.  John comes in and they decide to have a talk for what is apparently the first time in several months. 

Back to Baker Street. We cut back to the showdown between John and Mary in Baker Street. John’s furious, Sherlock looks like he’s been hit by a truck, and Mary’s nervous. John wants to know if everyone’s he’s ever met is a psychopath and Sherlock would like some more morphine. John wants to know what he’s done to deserve Mary and Sherlock jumps in to play armchair psychologist, claiming that John’s choices have led to this moment, that he’s a man who can’t stand a quiet life, whose best friend solves crimes instead of getting high, whose landlady used to run a drug cartel. He says that John’s abnormally attracted to dangerous situations and people so it’s not surprising he’s fallen in love with someone like Mary who fits that pattern. This logic makes me want to throw things at the screen (I did actually the first time I watched this) but I’ll get to that rant later. Sherlock badgers John into sitting down with Mary as a client and the music gets super dramatic and tinkly here and I get the  impression the show would like me to be feeling sorry for Mary at this point, and I’m not entirely sure why.

Mary gives them a flash drive with all her dirty secrets on it, which apparently she just carries around in her purse, because why not. She says once John reads it he won’t love her anymore. Sherlock deduces she was an intelligence agent, is probably not British and is probably on the run from some dangerous person or other. He says Magnusses knows whatever her secret is, because Magnussen is Skynet, apparently. Mary says she’d go to prison for the rest of her life if the stuff Magnussen has on her got out, so clearly she was the nice kind of hired killer, okay. John can’t believe he couldn’t see she was an assassin. Mary says he did see it and married her anyway, because that’s what he likes. This whole scene is coming off as let’s all enjoy how stupid John is, which is frustrating, particularly during a season where we’ve gotten as little perspective on his character as we have in this one. I disapprove. 

Sherlock says he’s willing to help Mary because she saved his life and now I feel about as stupid as John’s being portrayed in this episode. Come again? Apparently Sherlock’s logic is that Mary saved his life by calling an ambulance to come save him after she shot him to death, basically. I’m not sure why Mary had to shoot Sherlock in the first place when she didn’t even bother to shoot Magnussen so seriously she is not an assassin I would hire. Apparently Sherlock’s logic-ed himself around to the idea that sentiment made Mary shoot him just enough to incapacitate him, and that she couldn’t shoot Magnussesn because John would then become a suspect. Literally, I can’t even with this. This is basically the same feeling I get when Moffat’s big twist in Doctor Who episodes is basically to have someone blame OMG TIME TRAVEL over and over as to why something is or is not possible, when the holes in that plan are perfectly clear and obvious but we’re just ignoring them because we want to and logic be damned. Only that’s easier to forgive in a show that’s also got aliens in it, so I don’t know where to put all this frustration I’m feeling right now. 

 Anyway, another ambulance then arrives to fetch Sherlock from 221b, as he as has apparently been busy internally bleeding from his Mary-inflicted lifesaving gunshot wound this whole time. That sound you hear is me pounding my head against my desk. 

John’s Made His Mind Up. Back at the Holmes family Christmas spectacular, John’s prepared a speech for Mary. He says that the problems of her past are her business, but the problems of her future are his privilege. So, even though he says he’s still angry with her it would appear that all has been forgiven. He also burns the flash drive with her history on it and says that he never read it anyway and that he knows everything he needs to know. Oh, okay, that’s cool. Mary starts crying and I feel like someone might need to provide me with a life-saving gunshot wound to even have a chance of understanding what’s happening here. Mary cries some more and the Watsons hug it out and banter.

Surprise! Appledore’s Not Real. Sherlock and Mycroft get caught smoking by their mother, which is just such seventy shades of adorable. Then, in true Christmas spirit, Sherlock drugs his whole family and Mary so that he can run off to see Magnussen with John, ostensibly to trade a laptop full of government secrets for whatever he has on Mary. The laptop also has a tracking device in it, so hopefully Magnussen can then get arrested for possessing stolen state secrets in his house after Sherlock secures the Mary documents. This is a deeply stupid plan. 

They arrive at Appledore where Magnussen is waiting for them on an insanely gorgeous white sofa, watching videos of John in the bonfire on repeat. (Creeper.) We learn what we already knew, that Magnusessen was responsible for John getting shoved into the kindling pile because he was looking for a pressure point on Sherlock. He says he never believed his “drug problem” at all so it was a bit difficult to figure out what would motivate him, but oh just look how he cares about John Watson. He then draws a complicated picture of his mastermind plan which is to control Mycroft, whose pressure point is Sherlock. Why do evil people always have to talk about their Evil Plans so much. He also takes the time to tell us just how awful Mary is and that she’s killed a ton of people, which should probably freak us out just a bit because how bad do you have to be for Magnussen to call you a bad person? John says he doesn’t need to see what she’s done, because John’s brain is missing. 

And of course, because Magnussen knows everything, he figures out the boys’ deeply stupid GPS tracker plan in five minutes and just laughs at them. He says there are no blackmail materials stored in Appledore because TIME FOR A PLOT TWIST the fabled vaults aren’t real. Yes, all those tracking shots of Magnussen traipsing all over his gorgeously appointed vaults were just a visual metaphor for his mind palace. Am I literally the only person that doesn’t have a mind palace at this point? I guess poor dumb John.  Sheesh, thank goodness at least the posh sofa is real. There’s an interesting thread running through this episode that I’m not sure what to do with – and that involves Sherlock being wrong. He’s wrong about Mary, he’s wrong about Magnussen multiple times – don’t forget the really awkward bit where he thinks Magnussen’s knowledge comes from the evil mastermind equivalent of Google Glass – and he’s hardly coming off as the smartest guy the room here. But, there’s not a lot done with it beyond that, and I have to admit I kind of don’t understand why. Is this new more emotional Sherlock comprised by feeling things? Is it just lazy writing? I don’t know.  

Surprise! Sherlock Just Shot a Guy in the Head! Mycroft’s helicopter of government enforcers is en route. Magnussen says that Sherlock and John will be exposed in his papers the next day for trying to sell state secrets and he’s looking forward to seeing them arrested. John barks at Sherlock to come up with a plan, but Sherlock just looks stunned. There’s an extra creepy scene where Magnussen forces John to allow him to flick him in the face repeatedly to teach him a lesson about leverage, telling him that if he doesn’t he’ll ruin Mary as payback. Sherlock’s in the background watching all this, looking increasingly upset. Mycroft’s helicopter team arrives and OH NO PLOT TWIST TIME Sherlock realizes that Magnussen is right, that there’s nothing he can do to stop Mary, John and Mycroft all getting blackmailed, and that Mary will never be safe will Magnussen’s alive. So he decides to take care of the problem by shooting him in the head. Yup, that happened. Sherlock Holmes just killed an unarmed dude in cold blood in front of a bunch of government witnesses. John’s shouting, the government cops are yelling at Sherlock to get down, Sherlock’s kneeling with his hands in the air. He tells John to tell Mary she’s safe now. 

The Game Remains On. Luckily, Sherlock’s not going to go to prison for murder since he’ll be far more useful working undercover for the government in Eastern Europe. Even if even Mycroft admits said undercover work will probably kill him inside of six months. There’s an awkward goodbye scene on the tarmac that Sherlock notes that he’ll probably never see John again and asks Mycroft to give him a minute to say farewell. Sadly, John acts like Sherlock’s popping down to the Tesco’s instead of possibly being sent to his death at the hands of foreign enemies and Sherlock tries to sell John on the merits of Sherlock as a name for a girl. Guess we had enough sap in the last episode, huh boys? Sherlock boards his plane to exile. His exile lasts all of five minutes though because at that precise moment, every TV in the country starts playing a weird video featuring an animated version of Moriarty that it looks like someone put together in the Meme Generator going “Did you miss me?”  The plane turns around because the Government and Mycroft decide Sherlock will be more useful battling whatever this Moriarty business might be than off crimefighting in some vicious communist regime. And that’s how Series 3 ends. No cliffhanger, really, unless you count the retread-y Moriarty business or the whole Mary is an actual killer how does that work plot. It’s a bit of a comedown after last time. 

The Mary Question. And now, we come to it. I’ve been mulling about how to talk about this since I saw this episode and to be honest, I still don’t know. The sudden “gotcha” switch about Mary – that everything we thought we knew about her character, that John knew about her – was a lie was a great moment for shock value, but is also sort of a big old mess, especially now that it appears the character’s not leaving the canvas anytime soon. We’re meant to believe that John’s just such a crazy adrenaline junkie that he’s fine raising a child with someone who’s lied to him, who’s previously killed a bunch of people for fun and profit, who shot his best friend and killed him and who never would have told him the truth unless forced to by trickery, and that’s just…what, cool? And I do tend to believe we have to accept that Mary wasn’t out white knighting around as a hitwoman for hire either. (Magnussen is gross but has no reason to be a liar, so his comments about her “wickedness” have merit.) All this is cool, because that’s “what John likes”? Since when? Surely, there’s a case to be made in this episode that John’s not doing so well without adventure and cases to solve, and we’ve always seen that the prospect of a quiet life chafed at him. However, that’s a distance roughly the size of the Atlantic Ocean away from where we end up, where the narrative seems to insist that John chose Mary because on some level he knew she was a dangerous and unstable person and he’s just really into that because, bored. Um, what?

There is, sadly, a specific moment when this episode does a complete turn for me, and that’s when Sherlock ushers John and Mary off to have a domestic at Baker Street. Suddenly, and despite multiple previous narrative indications that Sherlock considers Mary a threat to John, he now seems about five minutes away from writing internet fan fiction about them, cheerleading for their relationship to what can only be called a ridiculous degree. Sherlock, who literally willed himself back to life because Delusion! Moriarty told him John was in danger, who moved John’s chair back into 221b because he seems to have assumed his ex-flatmate would be moving back in, suddenly decides that Mary’s actually to be applauded for saving his life rather than shooting him to death, and that the fact that she called an ambulance after she shot him but before she threatened him again later somehow actually means she’s a nice person. This undoes all the tension built up during Sherlock’s “death” scene. Sherlock’s not struggling his way back to life to bust Mary and save his friend after all, but…to impart some marriage advice? Yawn. 

Sherlock and Mary then spend a bit badgering John about how he should probably just deal with it because he just loves psychotic people, which is especially hilarious when you think about how this season, if anything, has been about deconstructing the myth of Sherlock as a psycho-, socio-, any kind of -path, but whatever. I sincerely don’t know what to make of this, and I honestly can’t figure out why the narrative seems to want to have it both ways – John’s wife is a super-talented butt-kicking assassin, but also just a really nice lady that we all should like, too because she’s just…really like Sherlock in the end? The fact that John forgives her everything and doesn’t even bother to read the magical flash drive of horrifying personal information is just the icing on top of the cake of fail for me. After all that about how John just loves some dangerous people, he can’t even face what’s on the drive, seeming to choose instead to forge ahead with his “idea” of Mary rather than the actual woman. After all, she’s right, he doesn’t even know her name. And he apparently doesn’t care, because love. Or stupidity. Or something. 

And Sherlock is a Murderer Too. To top everything off, when Sherlock’s not busy running JohnandMaryForever.com at home, he’s also busy being a murderer. And perhaps an idiot, I’m not sure. Putting aside the fact that Sherlock completely missed that there was a rather talented trained killer in their midst for weeks, despite the fact that he deduced she was a liar in the season’s first episode, he also gets so outplayed by the season’s big bad that rather than outsmart him, he just shoots him in the head in cold blood. You can make the argument that, in some ways, this decision is another demonstration of Sherlock’s apparently boundless love for John, that he’s willing to kill a man, to go to jail or on a sure-death mission or whatever, to ensure that his best friend is able to live with the woman he wants, safely. It’s frustrating though, because ostensibly the idea of Sherlock Holmes is about brains trumping brawn, about being the cleverest man in the room, about solving problems and saving lives with your brain, not a gun. It’s a hard pill to swallow, for me and it’s something I desperately need to feel like we’ll see addressed in his character in the future, though I’m not hopeful on that point. My idea of Sherlock Holmes doesn’t kill people – no matter how vile they are – unless they’re a present and immediate threat. 

Oh, and the Moriarty Situation. So, what does Series 4 look like after this? Sherlock’s a murderer, John’s married to a murderer, they’re having a child, and Moriarty might be alive. Maybe. We don’t know. Hopefully, this Moriarty business is merely some kind of fake out by another villain (Moran?) using the original’s image, but after some of the weirdness that’s gone on this season, I think anything goes. If you think about it, we’ve only had nine episodes of Sherlock in total, so it feels incredibly lazy to come back to the idea of Moriarty – in any form – already. (Though, honestly, if he is alive, maybe Sherlock could just shoot him and take care of that problem, too. Bitter.) I remember reading some interviews with the Sherlock crew about how this cliffhanger would leave us even more frustrated than last year’s and I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. Sherlock’s exile lasted four minutes, Mary’s dark past is apparently a nonstarter and Moriarty might be back. Which is all well and good, but I doubt is going to spark the same frenzy during the hiatus.

Oh, I don’t know. I feel as though something in this episode was baited and switched away from me, but I can’t even put my finger on what it was. His Last Vow is a gorgeous piece of filmmaking. It’s beautifully shot and wonderfully acted and could basically be Cumberbatch’s Emmy reel by itself. But if I look at it too hard it feels like it slips away from me like candy floss. There are no consequences to anything that happens, and other than Sherlock’s continued emotional growth – which I think he might as well just go around literally wearing his heart on his sleeve at this point – no one changes. And again, like candy floss, this episode was fun to eat, but left me feeling a bit sick after.

I’m curious to know what you all thought. Hit the comments, please. My sanity needs some help. (And if any of you were curious about my soundtrack for writing this week after last week's Sarah McLachlan fest – it’s this song on repeat. Here’s hoping it’s true!)

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