Monday, January 13, 2014

In Which I Review Sherlock (3x3)

Do you ever get through watching an episode of TV and wonder what the heck you just saw? When I watch the shows I review, I have a pretty set pattern. I watch, take about a full page of notes on plot and observations, leave it overnight to settle in my brain and then write the review. With this season finale of Sherlock, "His Final Vow," I figured I'd have to see the episode a few times before I felt comfortable enough to type a review but I never expected to be completely flabbergasted at the end of the first viewing. I sat in shock for 90 minuets and the only note I took on the initial watch was, "Steven Moffat is an evil SOB who literally hates all of mankind." When it was over, I instantly re-watched knowing that I probably missed a thousand and one things in my effort to just keep up with the fast paced, mind bendy, timey wimey, unbelievably GOOD episode of Sherlock. Like all season finale episodes of Sherlock, this one took several turns, had gasp worthy moments, had me both screaming in anger and frustration, laughing with mirth, and sobbing with joy and sadness, both. That's the mark of good writing, folks. When you can feel ALL the things, the writers have done their job. This final episode of the third season puts Sherlock's final vow he made at the Watson's wedding to the test. How far will Sherlock go to ensure John and Mary's happiness and safety? What would he sacrifice for them? The answer is easy and you already know it: everything. 

Meet Charles Augusts Magnussen--newspaper magnet, billionaire, and our evil genius for season three. In the original Doyle work, he went by Milverton but was just as manipulative and intelligent. Magnussen deals in knowledge. He is an expert blackmailer, capable of getting individuals and countries alike to bend to his will simply because he knows the weakness of every important person in the western world. He calls these weaknesses "pressure points" and he has them all locked in his Appledore vaults. The vaults, believed to reside under his house, are a veritable Alexandrian library of knowledge. Files upon files of secrets that Magnussen can trot out any time he wants to get what he desires. It's not easy to NOT compare Magnussen to Moriarty, the latter being our villain for the first two seasons of Sherlock and probably the most recognizable villain in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Moriarty, consultant criminal, got off on the intricate planning and crime work. He loved being bad for the sake of being bad. A true sociopath he cared very little about the people he hurt or the lives he wrecked. But his own weakness was that he was drawn to Sherlock as his equal. With Moriarty and Sherlock, it was a game of chess between two equally skilled opponents. Both knew that they might lose the game because the opponent was a worthy advisory. And it created a sense of respect between them. Moriarty was, I think, a little bit in love with Sherlock and Sherlock admired Moriarty's ability to turn off all feelings and just be a cold, calculating and a down right nasty bastard. Magnussen is different. Moriarty loved chaos for the sake of chaos but never got his hands dirty. Magnussen is right in the thick of things but at the same time you can't touch him. Magnussen doesn't need to create chaos to stave off boredom. He just needs people to think that he can.
Magnussen doesn't need a vast network, he just needs his Appledore files. He loves knowing that he can topple your whole world with the right publication in one of his many newspapers. And when it comes to Sherlock, it's not a chess game because Magnussen believes Sherlock to be totally inferior. Sherlock won't win against Magnussen because Magnussen simply doesn't consider him a threat. Sherlock is a pest, someone buzzing around trying to be self-important but, to Magnussen's delight, Sherlock has many pressure points from the small--Red Beard--to the greatest one of them all--John Watson. For example, when Magnussen shows up at Sherlock's flat (calling it HIS new office), Magnussen toys with Sherlock while Sherlock is trying to maintain the upper hand and remain rational, something that is hard to do when Magnussen decides to take a piss in Sherlock's fireplace while John and Sherlock are almost too shocked to respond. While I prefer the over the top theatrics of Moriarty and the raw chemistry Sherlock and Moriarty have, Magnussen turned my stomach, much like Sherlock's. He won't ruin your life, he'll just threaten to and you'll bend because what he has on you is that devastating.

So to set up a few things for the episode: Lady Smallwood, a member of the British government has hired Sherlock to help her deal with Magnussen, who is blackmailing Smallwood with letters (which Magnussen apparently carries on his person) about her husband and an illicit love affair with a 15 year old.  Sherlock knows that in order to make him more appealing to Magnussen, he will need a pressure point. And because Sherlock is sometimes very stupid (for being a genius) he turns to his drug habit. In the original stories, Sherlock Holmes has a very serious drug problem, though due to time of publication Watson's disapproval comes off more cautionary rather than down right anti-drug . However, our series has yet to really deal with this aspect. It has been alluded to several times in the first two seasons, but Sherlock, we are given to understand, is clean and free of his coke habit. It has been about a month since the Watson wedding and John and Sherlock haven't seen each other in that time. Life moves on. John is living in the suburbs with Mary, going to work, and living a totally normal existence. Which galls John Watson, though he's loathe to admit it. So when danger comes knocking--in the form of a next door neighbor worried about her drug addict son who didn't come home--the good Dr. Watson jumps in his car to go to a drug den and rescue the boy. While there, he fights a drug addict and generally acts very reckless, getting right in the face of drugged out stoners with knives. All of this ties into John's psychology, which we'll talk about in a bit, but the really important part is who else John finds in the drug den: a very high, very drugged out, very hobo-looking Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock insists that he is high because it is part of his case and he is undercover, but John thinks there are some lines Sherlock can't cross and drugs are one of them.

Sherlock high is quite alarming. It's not something we've seen before and something I never want to see again. He's even more condescending and frankly violent, grabbing Mycroft and shoving him up against a door frame. Sherlock is acting like Sherlock but a heightened version of him. He is doing things that Sherlock PRE-John would have done, not the Sherlock who has grown emotionally over the course of the past few years because of John. While he claims it's all for a case, it's hard to watch. Especially when Jeanine (Mary's maid of honor) comes trotting out of Sherlock's bedroom in nothing but a dress shirt. Like John, I was slightly appalled, confused, horrified, and desperately trying to look anywhere but at the kissing smile-y couple. Sherlock shouldn't be kissing people! (Unless it's Molly, John or hell even Moriarty!) My first instinct was that Sherlock was faking a relationship with Jeanine in order to do couple things with Mary and John--an attempt to reinsert himself into the Watson's life the only way he knew how. It took watching the episode twice to really get the subtle ways Sherlock changes in the presence of Jeanine. When she's there in the flesh, he's sweet and tender and lovey-dovey. But the second she leaves, he's our Sherlock again, caring only about Magnussen and the game. Nothing is ever as it appears with Sherlock--perhaps one of the most enduring themes of the show as a whole. Everything is a facade with something swimming underneath.

The real story of Sherlock and Jeanine is cold, through frankly, not wholly out of character for Sherlock, but rather a low character point I didn't expect in season three. Jeanine is the personal assistant to Magnussen in his newspaper office. She is an access point to Magnussen, nothing more. Sherlock manages to convince her to let him into the office, through a surprise marriage proposal--much to John's horror who balks at his best friends depiction of using "human error" against the person in question. It's a little disturbing to be honest. How is this not like what Magnussen does to people, exploiting them for gain? Like John I was a little taken aback at how low Sherlock could go when it comes to getting into an office. Once they get into the office, though, they find Jeanine knocked out on the floor, bleeding from the head. Sherlock knows they aren't alone and leaves John with an unconscience Jeanine while he goes to investigate. Finding Magnussen's bedroom, he sees the newspaper man on his knees, with someone pressing a gun to his head. Sherlock thinks it must be Lady Smallwood, seeking revenge on Magnussen for upsetting her life. But then the person in black turns around and it's not Lady Smallwood. It's not Lady Smallwood at all.

It's Mary. And the look of absolute horror and shock on Sherlock's face is only matched by me screaming in surprise. Because Sherlock Holmes, the man who can deduce anything about anyone, can't see past the end of his nose when it comes to the people he loves. And god help him, he does love Mary. He cares for her because she is John's pressure point and he knows it. He knows that John loosing Mary would absolutely break his best friend and therefore if John cares about Mary then so will Sherlock. Sherlock never even considered that Mary could be a two timing agent. She dazzled all of us. In the first episode of this season, I remarked that there was something suspicious about Mary but didn't really give it much thought. In the second episode, I was so totally enamored of Mary and her desire to not break up JohnLock that any doubt I had about her was washed away. She was a member of the family now. She belonged with John and Sherlock and that's all there was to that. Again, that's the mark of good TV writing. That I could, in the span of one episode, forget the slight oddness that was Mary's original appearance (knowing skip code for instance) just because she made the two main characters so happy only to have it turned upside down in the very next episode is startling. And then it gets worse because Mary shoots Sherlock and all the feelings and emotions came crashing down.

What happens next is, as I wrote in my notes, a surreal exercise in Sherlockian deduction. It's important to remember a few things: first, Sherlock is probably one of the smartest people on the planet. His brain works lightening fast so that what is actually several minuets on screen is only less than a second in his brain. Second, Sherlock's mind palace (super important foreshadowing is super important) is a magical place that is inhabited by various people. In the time it takes Sherlock to fall because of the gunshot wound, his mind palace has gone into overdrive trying to analyze which way to fall and which memory he needs to conjure up to remain calm in the face of shock. He is assisted in this endeavor by Molly, Anderson, and Mycroft. There is one more, but I'm going to save that for a moment. It's a very bizarre sequence and the first time I watched it, I was very put off by the almost overly indulgent artsy nature of it. There are bright white lights, disjointed camera angles, and the trademark fast/slow of Sherlock. But I think it's important to remember that this is taking place inside Sherlock's mind, an organ scientists still don't fully understand. We do learn that Red Beard was Sherlock's dog as a little boy, a dog that had to be put down. The lowest level of Sherlock's mind palace is a padded cell. One guess who is in that cell.

Did you guess Moriarty? A very deranged, crazed Moriarty but Moriarty nevertheless. So why is "Moriarty" (remember: this is Sherlock's sub conscience) chained to a wall in Sherlock's mind? Well, Moriarty has always represented what Sherlock COULD be. Like I said above, Sherlock and Moriarty are more equally matched than Sherlock and Magnussen. The world's greatest detective and the world's greatest criminal, and as Moriarty said, "we're made for each other, Sherlock." Moriarty represents what Sherlock is capable of if he didn't have the world's greatest heart. Despite Sherlock's constant claim that he's a high functioning sociopath, it's sometimes really hard to see. Sherlock likes to think that his brain is his greatest asset, but it's heart. Ever since meeting John, it has been his heart. Remember what Mycroft said in the second season: "my brother has the mind of a philosopher or a scientist. Yet he elects to be a detective. What do you think that says about his heart?" That doesn't mean that Sherlock doesn't long to lock away all his feelings and be as cold as he wishes he could be, though. And that's what Moriarty is. If Sherlock could lock up his love for John and his own sense of heroism, he'd be Moriarty. Easily. That part of Sherlock's mind screams to Moriarty, "you never felt pain!" But Sherlock does. You really only need to watch Benedict Cumberbatch's performance this episode to see how much pain Sherlock can feel.
But it is this crazed portion of Sherlock's brain that reminds him why he simply isn't allowed to die from this gunshot: John. All "Moriarty" has to say is that John will cry buckets and buckets and that if Sherlock dies (again) John will be in danger and Sherlock, so ready to give up and die, fights his way back up out of his mind palace. He won't leave John again. On John's wedding day, Sherlock stood in front of everyone and declared that no matter what, he'd always be there for John and Mary. Dying...that's so two years ago.

So. Who the bloody hell is Mary Watson? Even though he has been shot, Sherlock breaks out of the hospital determined to find the truth. He arranges a meeting between Mary and himself in which we learn that Mary Morston was a still born baby who died some 30 years ago. Mary, who is no longer hiding that she is some sort of super solider, tells Sherlock that she'll do whatever needs to be done to ensure that she doesn't loose John. But Sherlock, ever one step ahead, has made sure that John is listening to the whole conversation. John now knows that his wife is not who she says and is as far from the sweet funny Mary as one could get. But is Mary a villain? Not really. She's a woman in trouble. Magnussen obviously has something on her, her own file of secrets stashed away. Magnussen could upset Mary's new life and that's why she went after him. Knowing that there is much to talk about, Sherlock, John and Mary go back to Baker Street.

There is some timey wimey stuff here (this IS a Moffat episode after all) but I want to take this in linear order. Back at Baker Street, John is enraged. As he has every right to be. John can't figure out what he did to deserve this--of all the women in the world, why did he fall in love with a psychopath who used to kill people for a living? Let's talk about John Watson for a moment. John is NOT and never has been the average man some adaptations make him out to be. He is not as smart or deductive as Sherlock, but he's not the everyman. John is an addict of a different sort. But it's not drugs. It's danger. John Watson needs, craves, demands a life of danger. This is something he tries very hard to deny. What John wants and what he needs do not align. He wants the life in the suburbs with a doctor's wife and to live as everyone else. But that's not what he needs. What he needs is the thrill of the chase, the blood pounding in his ears, the constant imminent threat of death. As Sherlock says, "you're a doctor who went off to war, a married man who couldn't live in the suburbs for more than month before you went into a drug house of junkies and a man with a best friend who solves crimes as an alternative to getting high. Even our landlady was part of a drug cartel!" So of course, subconsciously, John was looking for a woman who is the exact same, she's another kind of fix. As John begins to cry and whispers to Sherlock, "but she wasn't supposed to be like this. Why is she like that?" Sherlock's answer is simply: "because you chose her." Think about all the previous girlfriends John has had over the past two seasons: dull, dull and dull. He can't keep them, not because--as he pretends--Sherlock constantly gets in the way, but because John's desire and need to live that dangerous life with Sherlock gets in the way. He will always choose Sherlock and the game not only because he loves his best friend but because he loves living on the edge.
So what to do with Mary? As Sherlock points out, now that they are back in Baker Street, Mary is one thing: a client. She will be made to sit in the client chair and tell her story. And then, and only then, will Sherlock Holmes and John Watson decide if they want her or not. She has broken the family and now she's either in or she's out. Sherlock sits in his chair, John in his. A team despite the fact that John is livid with his best friend for not automatically taking his side. Mary has a flash drive with her whole life story on it but Sherlock's deductions are right. She's a former spy and despite having a very convincing British accent, she's not. She has worked at times for one nation and freelance, murdering for money. At some point she made one enemy too many and had to go on the run, landing in London and adopting the name of Mary Morston. The entire affair is interrupted by Sherlock bleeding internally but before he passes out, he insists to John that Magnussen is the only thing that matters and that they can trust Mary: she could have killed him in Magnussen's office but she chose not to.

Timey-wimey time. We jump ahead a few months to Christmas at the Holmes's household. John and Mary haven't spoken in months but she has been brought along for Christmas dinner. John arrives and wants to talk to Mary and after months of thinking it through, he only has one thing to say, you past is your past. But your future is ours. John won't read her flash drive and throws it into the fire. He loves her too much to let her go. It was a very tear jerky moment with Mary crying, "you don't even know my name!" and John answering, "is Mary Watson good enough for you?" This lovely moment is interrupted by Sherlock having drugged everyone with punch so that he and John can get away to see Magnussen. So long as Magnussen has a file on Mary in his Appledore vault, Mary and John will never be safe and happy. And Sherlock needs them to be safe and happy. Sherlock made a deal with Magnussen the last time they met: Sherlock will bring him Mycroft's laptop which hold the secrets of the British government IF Magnussen hands over everything he has on Mary in the Appledore vault.

I want to take pause here and talk a little about Sherlock and Mycroft because their relationship is just as important as Sherlock and John's if wholly different. It's easy to view the Holmes brothers as adversaries. It's how they are presented on the surface: two egomaniacal geniuses constantly trying to get the better of the other. But, this is Sherlock. Nothing is ever what it seems. Everything is a facade. I want to break this analysis into two parts: how Sherlock views Mycroft and then, in a bit, how Mycroft views Sherlock. For Sherlock, Mycroft is a rubbish older brother. He has never done anything that older brothers are supposed to do. Mycroft never protected him, never loved him, always taunted him and made fun of him, insisting that Mycroft was the smarter of the two. In Sherlock's eyes, he and Mycroft are family in name only and they care for each other very little. So when Mycroft is given to sentimentality--"your loss would break my heart"--Sherlock has no idea what to do with it because Mycroft has never shown any sort of brotherly love. To Sherlock, Mycroft views him as a little annoying kid who trails after his older brother. Oh Sherlock. You really are quite dense, you know that? Bear all this in mind when I return to the Holmes brothers.

John follows Sherlock to Magnussesn's--a gun in John's coat pocket just in case--prepared to go along with the deal Sherlock struck if it means he and Mary can live their lives. And then the big reveal--showing Sherlock the Appledore vault. Remember when I said to keep the mind palace in--well--mind? Guess what doesn't REALLY exist? The Appledore Vault. The prized vault full of everyone's darkest secrets is Magnussen's mind palace that he can access anytime he wants but no one else can. This whole venture has been nothing more than playing off people's pressure points. What does Magnussen want? He's a business man. He wants to sell papers and revel in the knowledge that he can control anyone. He has now successfully set up Sherlock and John as traitors to the state. Mycroft, the drugs in his tea having worn off, tracks down his laptop and goes after his brother realizing that Sherlock is about to sell state secrets--at least that is how it looks. It's all leverage. Magnussen wants to own them all. He used Mary to get to John which gets to Sherlock which gets to Mycroft. They are all part of his collection now. Instead of saving John and Mary, Sherlock has fallen into a trap that will take John away from Mary forever.

And this is where we must remember Sherlock's final vow at the wedding. No matter what it takes, he will always be there for John and Mary. No matter what he has to sacrifice, he will ensure that they get their happy ending. With Mycroft descending en masse to arrest John and Sherlock, Sherlock does the only thing he can: destroy the Appledore vaults. While Magnussen taunts the pair about Sherlocks' heroism, Sherlock grabs the gun from John's jacket and says maybe one of the best lines of the entire series: "Do you research! I'm not a hero. I'm a high functioning sociopath! MERRY CHRISTMAS!" and blows Magnussen's head off. And it will cost him everything but the true heroism is that sacrifice. Now that he has committed murder, Sherlock will be taken into custody and John will be free to go back to Mary. Sherlock has to protect them. Recall the very first episode of the series where Detective Sally Donovan tells John, "someday they'll be a body and it will be Sherlock Holmes standing over it. He gets off on this." This is the first time (and probably only time) Sherlock has committed murder but it wasn't in the name of boredom but of love. His unending love for John. Character development. It's a beautiful thing.

Mycroft, watching from a helicopter is just as lost as his brother. So how does Mycroft view Sherlock? Yes, as a child, but not in a condescending way. This is his baby brother and he loves him. Wholly and completely. What is Mycroft's pressure point? As Magnussen points out, "his junkie detective brother." Think about all the interactions we've seen from Mycroft over the years. The first time we meet him, it isn't in an adversarial role. Yes, it's odd and a little creepy but it's Mycroft trying to get John to spy on Sherlock because Mycroft is concerned for his brother. Anytime Sherlock is in danger, Mycroft drops his busy life and comes running. He even took a morning off under the pretense of discussing the terror alert only to be sucked into playing "Operation." When John got married, Mycroft seemed almost delighted that he would have his little brother back in his life again. The pretense Mycroft puts on about thinking himself superior to Sherlock and having little in the way of sentiment toward his baby brother is--you guessed it--a facade. And thus, when it comes time to punish Sherlock for his crimes, Mycroft ensures that his brother is not sent to jail but exiled out of London. It may hurt, but this is how he will protect his little brother.

And so now it's off to Eastern Europe for Sherlock with a job from MI-6, something that is predicted to kill him, but something I think Mycroft secretly believes Sherlock can survive. The goodbye between John and Sherlock isn't as emotional as fans would want it to be. There was no declaration of love for the two, no JohnLock hug. But JohnLock hugs are rare creatures that one only sees once in a blue moon. Instead, it's more lighthearted and jokey. John isn't alone anymore. Not this time. He has Mary and a child, and John will miss his best friend--of course he will--but Sherlock isn't leaving him devastated and alone like last time. And so Sherlock hops on a plane and flies off into the great blue yonder. The end. Show over. It was fun.

Oh wait. What's that? There is another scene?! Only four minutes into his exile and Sherlock Holmes is recalled to London because guess who is alive?? Yup. Moriarty. Let the game begin once more. It's on.

Please don't make me wait two years, BBC.

Miscellaneous Notes on His Final Vow

--Well this was a long one. But it was maybe one of the best hours of Sherlock I've seen. This whole season has been nothing but perfection. Normally in Sherlock, there is one episode that resonates with me less than the others. Not this season. Everything was pitch perfect. Awards for everyone--especially Martin Freeman. His portrayal of John Watson has been magnificent to watch.

--The look on Sherlock's face when he makes his decision to save John and kill Magnuseen (the image above) was just heartbreaking. It's a silent goodbye.

--Some quotes:
"Don't appall me, brother mine, when I'm high."
"Your loss would break my heart" (this one made me just cry and cry)
"Why would I bring a gun to your parents for Christmas dinner?" "So it's in your coat, then?" "Yes."
"Give Mary my love. Tell her she's safe."

--The face flicking scene was super awkward but I think it was supposed to be. In that moment, you're a lot like Sherlock who has to stand in the background watching your best friend be humiliated and know that there is nothing you can do about it.  I wonder how many takes that took.

--William Sherlock Scott Holmes. My god. Even his full name is sexy as hell. 

--Molly broke off her engagement to Tom. (yay!) And YAY for Molly being the one to literally try and slap sense into Sherlock about drugs.

--Random trivia but Sherlock's parents are played by Benedict Cumberbatch's real parents. And Mary is played by Martin Freeman's real life wife.

--According to rumors there will be two more seasons of Sherlock. Praise the lord.

--Is there another Holmes brother? Mycroft made a very passing reference to it. Betcha it comes up in S4 or S5. 

--How did Moriarty survive blowing his head off? Your guess is as good as mine.


  1. This episode, as you stated, took many turns. The Mary thing blew me away. I was shocked, but at least it seemed like the family would be put back together. I really have enjoyed them becoming a trio and it could only be made better by Irene coming back to make it a foursome; I just enjoy a flustered Sherlock.
    I am happy that Sherlock followed through with his first/last vow, but I'm less okay with the fact that he just murdered someone and is getting a full-pardon despite the fact that his victim was a complete and utter asshole. Why exactly does everyone immediately assume that A) Moriarty survived, and B) that Sherlock is the only one to combat him? Don't get me wrong, I loved to hate Moriarty and I like the battle of wits that they had, but it doesn't sit well with me. It seemed like a typical Moffat situation where he just upends everything and we are expected to be okay with it.
    As for Moriarty surviving, my first thought is that he paid someone to stand in as him for the final scene. Though I do find it to be very interesting that Moriarty comes back just in time to "save" Sherlock. Kind of like when Irene saved him at the end of the first season by calling with information. It gives me pause/hope that Irene may have just saved Sherlock's life once again.

    1. The Moriarty thing threw me more than the Mary thing.
      With regards to Moriarty surviving, I've been giving it some thought and I think he did shoot himself, and it was him (that scene was too epic for it not to be him), but he didn't shoot himself in the head. He shot himself on the side of his face. Like in Fight Club, the narrator puts a gun in his mouth and blows out the side of his face but he lives. Sherlock even admits that the suicide of Moriarty threw him, he didn't expect that. So Sherlock never even checked to see if Moriarty was really dead. It was a central theme of "the Richenback Fall"--perception and how change someone's perception under stress.
      I'd be interested to know if anyone went up to the roof and got Moriarty's body. Or if his network intervened.