Sherlock: His Last Vow
June 7, 2014 4:52 PM - Season 3, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Stolen letters lead Sherlock into conflict with Charles Augustus Magnussen, "the Napoleon of blackmail" who knows the personal weakness of every person of importance in the Western world.

Airdate: January 12, 2014
posted by zarq (30 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
[making popcorn, putting on protective helmet, sitting back to enjoy the melee]
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:03 PM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

[licks FelliniBlank's helmet and pees in his popcorn]
posted by homunculus at 7:47 PM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

See, I knew all hell was going to break loose in here. Thank god I Scotchgarded® myself.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:00 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's funny, when I first saw this it was an incredibly polarizing episode, so I expected somebody to want to start it off that way, too. I left it feeling like this was not enough mystery to make up for the first few episodes, but very good drama. I am still madly in love with Mary. But I had not one but several friends who basically swore off the show after this and going on at length about how Moffat is terrible at women, and I... just still don't really get it, but clearly it tends to raise strong feelings.

Things I particularly liked:
Not shying away from Sherlock's drug use, finally.
Behavior in this very much in line with my firm stance on Sherlock's asexuality.
Mary managing to survive this far without ending up in a fridge.
The ending.

I'm still worried about Mary's future, but the fact that she's survived all three episodes suggests maybe this will actually go well.
posted by Sequence at 9:08 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rubs hands together gleefully and sits up beside FelliniBlank on the couch...
posted by Iteki at 11:50 PM on June 7, 2014

This was my favourite episode of S3. Probably because Watson got to carry a bunch of weapons and beat someone up. I like that side of Watson.

Bonus: Sherlock's parents, now with added Mycroft interaction. I loved this line (and its delivery), "‘Mycroft’ is the name you gave me; if you could possibly struggle all the way to the end."

Refraining from comments about the ending even though spoilers are allowed in thread...I kinda want to see certain people from the ep2 thread show up very happy/with their minds blown first.
posted by pianissimo at 12:31 AM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sherlock/Benedict's parents are adorable. I'm sure some killjoy will be along soon to call him "inconsiderate," but just think about how much more pleasant holidays would be if you could drug your entire family (or, alternatively, yourself) into unconsciousness for most of the proceedings. Sherlock, did I ever tell you you're my hero?
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:11 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fun fact: the actors playing Sherlock's parents are called Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton and they're married in real life. They have a son together who also happens to be a moderately famous actor called Benedict Cumberbatch.
posted by peteyjlawson at 4:16 AM on June 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

This was my fave of this season.

Good twists, ingenious deductions, and a Holmes family Christmas that felt right.

Clearly it was written as a Christmas episode, shame they didn't get to schedule it that way.
posted by philipy at 10:37 AM on June 8, 2014

To me, they're clearly setting Mary up to be a villain in the next few episodes. She's been awfully abusive to John, isolating him from and then shooting his best friend!, and obviously lying to him and conducting their entire relationship under false pretenses. They go to some pains to make it clear that Mary isn't just ex-CIA, she's mercenary ("freelance") and did things that would put her in jail for the rest of her life, in her own words. I wouldn't be surprised if she turned out to be one of Moriarty's assassins; the "Empty House" story from canon that inspired the empty house bit in this episode is about Sherlock confronting Sebastian Moran, Moriarty's right hand assassin. She seems pretty upset to learn that Moriarty may still be alive. We also (conspicuously) never learned how she met John in the first place, which seems relevant.

My biggest problem with this episode was the pacing in the second half. Everything just falls apart after Sherlock & John confront Mary at 221B. They jump around too much between Christmas and the confrontation scenes, which is likely intentional in order to leave a bunch of plot holes that they can use to introduce another Amazing Twist!! next season.

Plotwise, I think we're being shown a lot of smoke and mirrors in this episode, in classic Moffat style. This whole season has repeatedly underscored the unreliable narration of the show; we were only shown fleeting clues that Mary was a threat (the word "liar", the way she recognized the skip code, the horns that appear over her head when she manipulates John and Sherlock in TSo3), and the viewer is still left uncertain as to what even really happened at Reichenbach. Repeatedly throughout this season, they've presented a false narrative only to pull the rug out from under it, and I think that's exactly what they're doing throughout most of this episode and they're going to pull the rug out in the next episode.

Basically, the majority of the things we think happened in this episode could be easily subverted because they've held so much back. We still have no idea who "Mary" is, since John burnt the USB stick; we also don't know whether he (or Sherlock or Mycroft) actually looked at it first. We still don't know how (or even if) Moriarty is actually still alive. We still don't know how Reichenbach actually happened. We still don't know if John actually forgives Mary, if Mycroft knows more about Mary's history, if Mary actually meant to kill Sherlock, if Sherlock actually believes she meant to save him, I could go on and on. There's a whole separate set of unknowns about the baby, which I don't even want to touch; suffice it to say that there are no babies in Canon.

Still so many great bits in this episode though. Sherlock's fake relationship with Janine (and John's arguably-jealous reaction) was a highlight. I also really enjoyed Shezza and Wiggins. Lars Mikkelsen was great too - made me wish for a Sherlock/Hannibal crossover! For that matter, I'd pay money just to see Bryan Fuller and Mark Gatiss in the same room.
posted by dialetheia at 3:30 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I never thought the Charles Augustus plotline would make it into the series, let alone with my secret theory on who the real shooter was. I especially never thought they would actually GO with that.

Did not even think of Mary being a Moran stand-in but I am now firmly behind such a thing.
posted by RainyJay at 5:27 PM on June 8, 2014

My first thought on seeing this episode was "Mary is Moran", which was, okay, not so bad. I hate to be That Person, but my second thought, after a bit of consideration of the first, was, "Mary is River Song" and right there, both Sherlock and Nu Who went screaming over the shark for me.

I understand that there was a deliberate choice to focus on the personal relationship side of Sherlock at the expense of the mystery plots, and I loved a lot of the bits, particularly those mentioned by dialetheia, but I felt like I'd eaten cotton candy at the end: tasted great, went down badly, no content.
posted by immlass at 9:14 PM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sherlock does spend a very long time deciding which direction to fall onto in this episode. I think it works initially, but begins to get a bit dull when he is sitting in the padded cell with Moriarty.

The villain is fun in this, but his plan doesn't make a huuuge deal of sense. Also, pro-tip to Sherlock: if a villian claims not to record any of his evil stuff, and that he will not be caught by the police, you might want to point out that that video he was watching of Watson being put into a bonfire was... you know.. pretty criminal.

The final choice of Sherlock to kill him was interesting, in that he actually can't solve the problem. This is disappointing from the point of view of wanting clever solutions to tricky problems, but does underline how important Sherlock things Watson it. Unfortunately the show undercuts this by having Sherlock immediately brought back to the UK. If the show just forgets about this decision that will be a shame.

I find the upthread Mary speculation really interesting. That hadn't occured to me at all. She's a good character, so I hope she doesn't get messed up...
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:07 AM on June 9, 2014

I've barely seen any Doctor Who, but another friend of mine made the River Song comparison... to Irene Adler. I think now I'm glad I haven't gotten into Who, because in the absence of that I found Irene a bit problematic but love Mary to death.
posted by Sequence at 4:50 PM on June 9, 2014

another friend of mine made the River Song comparison... to Irene Adler.

I wouldn't have made that comparison, but I can see the commonalities. For me the problem with Sherlock wasn't just that Moffat repeated themes (though some people would say that it's just that he can't write women); it's more that in combination with other creative decisions Moffat made during this series, like the decision to have Sherlock unable to solve the Milverton problem and reduced to just whacking Milverton, or the decision to just not explain how Sherlock survived the fall at the end of S2 (and a lot of similar shortcut/lazy writing in S7b of Nu Who that isn't relevant for Sherlock purposes), it really comes off that the writing team is burned out and can't be bothered to actually put the clever in their clever writing.

I liked Sherlock and I like Who--I'm hoping I still will and that Capaldi will bring some freshness to it--but it's clear to me that Moffat is creatively at the end of his in S3 of Sherlock and really needs a rest if he wants to come back and write S4 at anything approaching the quality of S1 or S2 (which had their own problems, but which I enjoyed a lot more than S3, and which I might go back and watch again--unlike S3, which I can't imagine rewatching).
posted by immlass at 5:06 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't understand why reinterpretations of Holmes always go straight to Moriarty and then stay there. Conan Doyle kept Moriarty very much in the shadows and used him very little. Moffat shot that wad so early it seems like he's got no ideas left. What I like best about Sherlock is the way it can remix the original stories with current culture and come out with something that seems authentic to the original characters and mysteries. This whole season seemed like it was taking the characters from the first two seasons and extrapolating, without reference to Conan Doyle at all, except in some of the mysteries, which were so pushed to the background that it no longer seemed like a detective show at all anymore. The third episode here at least tried, but bringing Moriarty back is absolutely the least surprising thing they could possibly do, and they play it like a masterstroke of plot-twists? Guh.
posted by rikschell at 1:21 PM on June 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

After this season, I honestly believe they're working up to having John and Sherlock become romantically involved in some way. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to bring it up here, but I think it's worth it. They evoked entirely too many romantic tropes this season for it to be a coincidence. If John was female, I don't think anybody would doubt that it was inevitable for even a second. I mean, what else was Sherlock going to confess to John before the plane took off? He'd already made his platonic feelings exquisitely clear in his 4-hour speech, what else could there possibly be to say, something he'd meant to say "from the start"?

Does anyone else get that sense? Nobody else has mentioned the queer reading of the show yet in the Mefi threads, and I get the sense that there's a Serious Person stigma around it, like only 13-year-old girls see the show that way, but I think it really could be where they're going with this season.

Is that part of what people mean when they criticize the "fan service" this season?

(As for whether it's realistic or not, consider how much Moffat would love a) the history-making Big Event, and b) the OMG ULTIMATE TWIST aspect of such a development)
posted by dialetheia at 2:03 PM on June 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Mild book spoiler if anyone cares about spoilers in this context (I hope referencing a century-old story is OK!):

(also with respect to e.g. John's recent marriage and alleged baby, I should state that I'm taking for granted that they will not be around in the long term because Mary and baby are not present for long in canon and John moves back in with Sherlock shortly afterwards.)
posted by dialetheia at 2:12 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is that part of what people mean when they criticize the "fan service" this season?

I think it is. The queer reading doesn't bother me and I might be more interested if that's where it goes, for all that I know I've read those fics and I probably enjoyed them more than what was actually filmed. It's not the only thing people mean--I've also seen a lot of references to the way they showed a lot of the different theories about how Sherlock survived--but the slash-baiting is part of it.
posted by immlass at 3:35 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not just the queer reading that feels fan-servicey, it's the tone of how it plays out, which has a levity out of keeping with the general tone of the show and the existing character dynamics. Eg. the Griefstache and embarrassed shaving thereof. Too much of it seemed like the outcome of a midnight conversation that started "Haha, wouldn't it be awesome if..."

That actually makes me think it's not where they'll ever go with it. While that could be extremely interesting, they've spent too much time putting the idea up on a flagpole for everyone to laugh at how ridiculous it is.
posted by Andrhia at 5:29 PM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Re: Watson and Sherlock getting together, the show has spent so much time obsessing over that and denying it that its beginning to come across as a little homophobic to be honest. I don't think Sherlock works (at least this one) as a sexual entity. The idea of him having a romantic relationship with Watson doesn't work for me simply because I don't think Sherlock would ever be terribly interested.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:02 AM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I went back and rewatched this episode and Sign of Three today, and while I'm not sure where they're going in the long run and I can't say much about John's side of things, I think the text is already there for a reading of this season where Sherlock realizes he has feelings for John but that now it's too late. I really think they did everything short of having Sherlock declare his love for John by the end (which he almost does on the tarmac in their goodbye scene anyway!).

The central (tortured!) metaphor of the wedding episode is that Sherlock realized he was in love too late: the victims were stabbed when they were in uniform and their uptightness kept them from noticing, and once they stopped working and realized what had happened, it was too late and they bled out. It's such a stupid bizarre murder scheme (meat dagger? belt skewer? Moffat, please), it makes no sense except as a metaphor. There are tons of little touches through the wedding episode to indicate that Sherlock is freaking out about losing John - he doesn't take a case for weeks leading up to the wedding! - but instead of spelling them all out, I'll just say that I thought Benedict Cumberbatch was intentionally playing Sherlock as being (for Sherlock) very, very emotional about losing John, and that I have trouble coming up with a heteronormative reading that can justify the extremely hurt facial expressions he uses throughout this episode for his best bro getting married. I won't even mention the stag night scene because it's just too obvious. If only Mrs. Hudson had turned away that client!

There's a bunch of stuff in the final episode too (relapsing right after the wedding in particular*, or how Mary shoots him in the chest while wearing her wedding dress when he opens the "John" door in his mind palace, or how he comes back to life to save John), but the most convincing element is the part at the very end where they have their Casablanca goodbye. What is the heteronormative reading of what Sherlock always meant to tell John but never did? He said everything short of "I love you" in his ridiculously discursive best man's speech, including saying he and Mary love John most in all this world and making a vow to John and his family. What could there possibly be left to say that he would need privacy to tell John? Mycroft's face when Sherlock says he wants a moment with John is impossible for me to interpret as anything but "oh god, you're finally going to tell him" - he's super taken aback, which seems odd if he thinks Sherlock is just going to say what super great friends they are. What did Sherlock mean to say to John, and if it isn't romantic, why do they frame it just like a romantic movie? And even if it's just about the "Sherlock is a girl's name" joke, that joke is itself a callback to John's jealousy of Irene, so ... yeah.

I agree that they played the gay jokes off really poorly in the first season especially, but I think they actually set up the idea of John and Sherlock as a viable option in Scandal in Belgravia and haven't been super-shitty about it since. They had Irene, the Queer Person Who Is The Authority About Sex, call out John's obvious jealousy and tell John that he and Sherlock are already a couple. It isn't played for laughs at all in that scene, and John never denies it again in Season 2 after his talk with Irene. By showing John's jealousy of Irene ("Hamish, if you're looking for baby names"), they used Irene to highlight John and Sherlock's relationship. Molly as a foil for John is another good example - his "it wasn't working for me" re: the mustache exactly mirrors her lipstick comment in the first episode, and they're both engaged and supposedly "moved on" when Sherlock returns. Anyway, while I suspected them of queerbaiting with this stuff last season, after watching Season 3 I think they might actually follow through because I don't see the point of doing all this if this isn't the story they intend to tell.

Re: Sherlock as sexual person, whatever his sexuality may be, they do go out of their way to give us some small indication of his sexual appetite in this episode - when Magnusson reads his creepy mind-files, Sherlock's porn preference reads as "Normal", where Lady Smallwood's reads "None". It's a lot to read into a small detail, but they're the ones that decided to include it as text AND make it clear that "none" was an option.
(Besides, how is it plausible that Sherlock's would be normal? His google history could probably get him imprisoned for life)

*also canon, and from one of the saddest lines:
“The division seems rather unfair," [John] remarked. "You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray what remains for you?"
"For me," said Sherlock Holmes, "there still remains the cocaine-bottle."
posted by dialetheia at 2:26 AM on June 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Those are some interesting points dialetheia, I shall have to rewatch with an eye for that reading. I would be genuinely suprised if they went in that direction: Moffats writing, historically, has contained little effort to introduce gay characters (other than a throw away joke here and there) although I suppose he did introduce the pansexual Jack Harkness in the Doctor Dances.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:37 AM on June 11, 2014

Cannon Fodder: "Moffats writing, historically, has contained little effort to introduce gay characters (other than a throw away joke here and there) although I suppose he did introduce the pansexual Jack Harkness in the Doctor Dances."

In addition to Jack in Doctor Who, there's Jenny and Vastra. Canton (Mark Sheppard) in "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon". And the thin, fat gay married Anglican marines in "A Good Man Goes to War." (Although that last couple could conceivably be considered a throw away joke.)
posted by zarq at 7:13 AM on June 11, 2014

Re: Sherlock as sexual person, whatever his sexuality may be, they do go out of their way to give us some small indication of his sexual appetite in this episode - when Magnusson reads his creepy mind-files, Sherlock's porn preference reads as "Normal", where Lady Smallwood's reads "None". It's a lot to read into a small detail, but they're the ones that decided to include it as text AND make it clear that "none" was an option.
(Besides, how is it plausible that Sherlock's would be normal? His google history could probably get him imprisoned for life)

This is just a niggly thing, but that does not actually indicate a personal desire to act on such things with another person. Although to me, the fact that it reads as "normal" suggests some kind of manipulation on Sherlock's part, or else god knows what "research" would have been lumped in with it. He knows someone's accumulating information, it stands to reason he would be attempting to feed that as much ordinary as possible.

I do think there's plenty of feelings there, mind, I just don't think they're necessarily that sort of feelings.
posted by Sequence at 3:49 PM on June 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anybody else feel a bit let down/suspicious that the criminal mastermind's big plan was "I'll anger tons of powerful people and if I get killed, the problem goes away and there are no repercussions"?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:02 AM on June 18, 2014

I don't think Moriarity is really back. Maybe a consortium of his former agents/clients, working together under his name.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:11 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anybody else feel a bit let down/suspicious that the criminal mastermind's big plan was "I'll anger tons of powerful people and if I get killed, the problem goes away and there are no repercussions"?

100% yes, assuming you mean the way that Magnusson doesn't have proof of anything, so killing him is an instant and perfect solution to his blackmail. It's awful writing and leaves a plot hole so big you could drive a train through it. I'm not sure when blackmailers figured out you had to have proof of a thing or the blackmailee could just go ahead and murder you, but I can't imagine that's a recent innovation.

To be overly generous, they tried to lampshade the no-proof issue by throwing in a token line about how you don't need proof when you run the printing presses. I think they were aiming for some vague Rupert Murdoch comparison with Magnusson - they probably thought they were doing some clever media-determines-reality commentary.

However, that completely fails to address your extremely salient point that a blackmailer without proof is just a murder target. It's ludicrous to think that Sherlock would be the first victim to get the bright idea to just shoot the guy, which is why no powerful blackmailer would ever work this way - they wouldn't survive the week.
posted by dialetheia at 6:39 PM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, it's such a weird thing that I almost suspect it's a lie? I mean, the guy -- the ruthless guy that has everybody by the short hairs including super genius Mycroft and dangerous assassins -- didn't have a dead man switch of any kind? While he's telling them his secret about his mind palace, you'd think he would say "and of course if I disappear or die, there are envelopes ready to go in the mail" or whatever... even if it wasn't true you'd think he would say that.

So.... is this really just a boneheaded plot hole, or was Magnusson just somehow bait, to get Holmes to be filmed killing someone? Is it just coincidence that the "I'm back" Moriarty message is broadcast within a short time after this all happens?

(Or maybe it really is just a boneheaded thing, or an in-character mistake? "We've set up Magnusson's hubris and low opinion of Brits earlier, so maybe he doesn't think he needs to worry"?)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:08 AM on June 19, 2014

I could buy it being a lie, especially as, as I mentioned upthread, the dude has a video of a criminal act he engaged in. I'm fairly certain it won't be addressed, unfortunately, as the suicide of the previous season left lots of open questions which were never closed (one major one: how the actual fuck did Moriarty manage to create a full fictional career for himself as an actor? Did he just spend most of his day between engaging in a criminal conspiracy acting?)
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:07 AM on June 19, 2014

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