Review: BBC Sherlock – His Last Vow

larsMany spoilers, please be aware

This is the third attempt at writing a blog about last night’s final episode of BBC Sherlock Series Three – His Last Vow. I just can’t decide what I really felt about it, hence the epic re-write as negatives and positives jostle for supremacy.

Let’s start with the positives. This was by far my favourite episode of the series and marked a triumphant return to the style and pace of the first two series which I loved so much. Here we have the team doing what I think they do best – making slick, fast-paced edge-of-your-seat TV drama which looks great, is superbly acted and blends together the personal/character development aspects with gripping action.

Lars Mikkelsen was simply magnificent as Magnussen/Milverton and acted everyone else off the screen – (yes that even includes you Mr Cumberbatch). He was fantastically creepy (that’s a compliment) but in a really controlled, understated way which was even more menacing as a result. It was completely convincing that Sherlock was repelled by him, just as he was in the canon. It was a really interesting re-boot of the original Conan Doyle story of an evil blackmailer and his victims. Here we really did have a thoroughly absorbing Milverton elevated to uber baddie status – The Napolean of Blackmail. Bravo!

Use of the canon in this episode was extremely well thought out and lovingly done. We didn’t just get name dropping and vague snippets of this-and-that. We had Wiggins, we had Watson going to a drug den to rescue a friend and finding Holmes there too (as in Man With Twisted Lip) but they made this fit their own story very well. We had Magnussen’s lair named Appledore and Holmes dating his PA to gain access, just as in the original when he courts Milverton’s maid to get inside Appledore Towers. But in this modern version, she’s far from just a victim and gets revenge by selling the story to the press. She is the delightful Janine from John and Mary’s wedding and gets some cracking lines which she delivers faultlessly. I think she’s a great character, full of sparkle and wit. I hope we see more of her in the future. We also get an empty house, an East Wind coming and too many other canon refs to mention.

But I’m sorry to say that I’ve still got negatives. I don’t want to have them but they just won’t go away. Sometimes I think it just went too far.

I can’t warm to Mary at all. I know other people have loved her and it’s all just a matter of opinion but I can’t. And I don’t think that’s because of any fault on Amanda Abbington’s part, it’s more an issue with the writing and directing of her character. Something I’ve learned from all the reviews, comments and reactions to Barefoot is that less is more. You do have to be careful not to make a character too extreme. And I think that’s exactly what they have done with Mary. She’s clever, a fantastic shot, an ex CIA agent turned rogue assassin who’s killed loads of people but still manages to be a loving wife and generally all round nice person. I knew she would have a hidden past and I knew that Magnussen would find it and blackmail her but I didn’t think it would be something so extreme.

There was a jolt in the narrative too, a strange time-shift when suddenly it’s Christmas Day and they are all round at Sherlock’s parents playing happy families. John and Mary haven’t spoken about the whole ‘Oh by the way I used to be an assassin and have killed loads of people’ thing, and then he decides its fine. That’s nice of him – personally if I found out Husband was ex CIA etc I’d march him straight home and argue it out there and then. I’d want to know everything like, ‘But you walk out the room when something nasty happens on Eastenders, how the hell did you manage to shoot people?’

I prefer Janine to Mary. She’s warmer, livelier and has that nice balance of being ordinary but extraordinary – like Molly Hooper.

I think the mind-palace thing is now completely over-used. Even Magnussen got in on the act.

Husband thinks there’s far too much Mycroft in the show and I see his point. In the canon, he doesn’t appear very often and he’s fat and lazy. Here we have him popping up all over the place in helicopters, on treadmills etc like some sort of James Bond. And yes, Husband did fall asleep again after about half-an-hour. Never a good sign, as demonstrated by his sudden sleepiness during Whitechapel and Ripper Street which have both now been axed.

And so it’s all over until Messrs Cumberbatch and Freeman can synchronize their diaries again. For me the series has been a bit of a curate’s egg but as Husband observed this morning: ‘Well at least it’s stopped you moaning about Elementary’. Thank God I married a Sherlockian, (and not an ex CIA agent turned assassin), who else would put up with all this?

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4 Responses to Review: BBC Sherlock – His Last Vow

  1. lissber says:

    I think this series is a huge change in comparison to the previous ones, which was called for, because people is expected to change after two years. I mean, Sherlock’s character would have necessarily evolved after two years alone on the run. He would value more his friends and personal relationships after facing dangers alone. John is also expected to change, in spite of the gay jokes, he had always been interested in having a long term relationship and after two years in pain after Sherlock’s “death” finding a suitable partner is to be expected. So, this said, I think the writers had a huge task in hands, how to show us the characters developments without losing their main features. Being fair, I think they did it ok, The series focused on their emotions and how would they cope with the changes caused by Sherlock’s absence. It seems to me John entered into his adulthood life, having traces of his former teenage life with Sherlock. Sherlock’ most emotional side was fuly awake, portraited by his love for John, his full understanding and acceptance of his friend’s needs and his willingness to do whatever is necessary to ensure John’s happiness.
    This said, I think many viewers were shocked, or at least were surprise, with the high emotional pace of the series (I am too) and by Sherlock’s somehow downgrade, I mean he is no longer one of a kind. Others have the same amazing abilities he has, either a mind palace or terrible observing skills. However, Sherlock still has the most amazing skills, he read Mary’s past and feelings and he managed to make it all work for John. I have mixed feelings about the plot twist, but this is still my favorite Sherlock and I’m curious to know how will John, Sherlock and Mary cope with a baby.

    • I completely agree that the characters would have matured by series three and they were right to show this. But it was the change in genre that I found most surprising and have struggled with. Generally speaking, I prefer emotional dramas and tend to chose them over crime drama, action, but seeing such a level of emotion in Sherlock Holmes and his comparative ease with it has been surprising. And you make a good point – he has become somewhat ‘downgraded’ by the fact that those around him have become more extraordinary. In the beginning you just had Sherlock and everyone else was pretty ordinary. Now you have John who has become stronger – the doctor and soldier saving lives etc, you have his wife who is a spy and assassin, Mycroft who ‘is’ the British Government, Mrs Hudson who once helped run a drugs cartel (‘oh I only did the typing’ best line in the whole episode). Sherlock is no longer the only unusual one. Even Wiggins shares his powers of deduction. Interesting to see where they go from here.

  2. Berberis says:

    Oh, Charlotte! I want SO MUCH to agree with everything you say and then I want to stamp my foot and go NO! NO! NO! how can you SAY that?!

    OK. Several choruses of ‘Dies Irae’ later, it’s 10.30pm and I’m exhausted (having not been able to get to sleep last night following this bloody programme) so I’m going to pick up on one thing you’ve said which has been ringng around my head since The Empty Hearse: Less is more.

    Having come to it later than most, I *adored* S1 and S2 (TBB and SIB less than the rest, to be honest), but I was left – 24 hours ago – not really knowing whether to feel giddily happy or desperately sad that S4 and S5 are being considered, especially as the writers are *already* talking about them as being ‘the best we’ve ever done’.

    I replied to your TEH post whilst bedridden with a crook back and that’s still on my hard drive. I’ve not written anything about TSoT, but godDAMN it where to start with HFV? Where?

    +ve – Utterly and brilliantly imagined. A truly, nauseatingly, horribly repulsive character. One scene in and *I* wanted to kill him.
    -ve – Um… everything (does that make sense?)

    +ve – Lovely that we see how much he loves his brother and that he really does care what happens to him.
    -ve – We don’t *need* to see this. We *know* this. I prefer Mycroft in the shadows.

    +ve – Just how much – for all that he despises it – just how deeply he loves John. And this is not me shipping it *at all* here. Greater love hath no man than he will lay down his life for his friends. Friend.
    -ve – He simply cannot be trusted.

    +ve – How much he reciprocates Sherlock’s love, even if he doesn’t fully understand it (and this is *not* because John is stupid, it’s because Sherlock’s love for him usually manifests itself in ways that most normal human beings would find… um, a little odd). His unconditional acceptance of Mary’s past. This level of genuine forgiveness is almost incomprehensible to most people. I can only assume that he and Mary have lived apart since she nearly killed Sherlock (it’s the only explanation that makes sense to me) and this would surely have been such a difficult decision, but he makes it *in her favour*.
    -ve – I find it SO difficult to say anything -ve about John but oh! Wait! His unconditional and incomprehensible acceptance of Mary’s past. And btw, yes, John, that IS a gun In your pocket. Flick me once, shame on you. Flick me twice, shame on me FOR NOT RIPPING YOUR LIZARD HEAD OFF.

    And I can’t continue this now. I know it’s a bit chaotic, but that’s how it left me. If you can bear it, more later.

    • Very happy to hear more! Hope you managed to get some sleep! I feel pretty chaotic about the whole series to be honest. I’m genuinely shocked that I didn’t love it, I sort of presumed that was a done deal. Yes it is lovely to see how much Sherlock and John love each other but we get it now, let’s see them getting back to what they do best – having adventures and solving puzzles. It’s a bit like any will-they-won’t-they drama, now that they have (as in become best of friends and developed/declared love for each other as friends) where do we go from here? But then I did enjoy those emotional scenes, the best man speech etc. And you are right about Mycroft, better to have him in the shadows but that scene with him in the helicopter looking at young Sherlock was simply stunning.

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