Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review - Sherlock: His Last Vow" (SPOILERS!)

Warning: This review could potentially spoil the episode, so make sure you've seen His Last Vow before you continue

Series 3 has come and gone already. Yet again, we fans are left to play the seemingly eternal waiting game until the next season comes around. But, until then how do we occupy the time? Well, first and foremost I have a review to write. His Last Vow was the Series 3 finale, and it certainly did not disappoint. Would I consider it the finest episode of the show thus far - we'll find out.

Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is engaged on one of his most dangerous cases. Newspaper mogul, Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) is one of the most powerful men in all Europe, but he's also a notorious blackmailer. Abandoned by his brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), Sherlock will go to extreme lengths to bring this master blackmailer to book. The question is: how far will he go?

To Sherlockian aficionados, it is evident that this episode is based on Doyle's short story, Charles Augustus Milverton, a favourite of many readers despite having a length of a scant twelve pages and featuring little detective work on the part of the detective. As has become common with Steven Moffat's turns on Sherlock, the episode plays out as a modern-day adaptation, so the plot sticks with Doyle's original, without too many deviations. Moffat also managed to weave in a scene from The Man With the Twisted Lip as John Watson (Martin Freeman) infiltrates a drug den and gets a shock when he comes across an undercover Sherlock Holmes.

Moffat rightly described the episode as being the darkest in the series' history, and he did not lie. Whereas the first two episodes of Series 3 balanced the humour very well, His Last Bow was a straightforward drama with real belly-laughs few and far between. Moffat's script was excellent overall with a number of stand-out scenes. The sequence in which Sherlock is shot and conducts a conversation in his head to stay alive was not only the series' most surreal sequence, but possibly the show's finest scene overall. As I mentioned above, even though the script followed Arthur Conan Doyle's original, there were some deviations - the most notable being the whereabouts of Magnussen's 'vaults' containing the information he uses for blackmail. The revelation that the vaults were in all in his mind was genuinely surprising.

As usual, performances were excellent. Martin Freeman in particular walked away with top honours in this story, turning in his greatest turn as John Watson thus far. Similarly, Amanda Abbington did a fantastic job as Mary Watson, and we learn there was more to her character than first met the eye. Lars Mikkelson delivered chills as the villain, Magnussen, and he is easily the show's creepiest villain to date, even eclipsing Andrew Scott's Jim Moriarty.

Despite all the praise, His Last Vow is not perfect, my problems with the episode were however few and far between. Sherlock's drug use was referenced for the first time (a quick mention in A Study in Pink not withstanding) and it truly came out of nowhere. The script's attempts to make Magnussen the most repellent villain ever crossed the line when he 'urinated' in the fireplace of 221B. These quibbles aside, His Last Vow was excellent, surely the best episode of Series 3. I give the episode 4.5 stars out of 5.

But, don't think that I'm finished with Sherlock. Make sure you stop back to this blog after 2 February after all three episodes have aired in America when I will reflect on Series 3 and its relationship with the rest of the show (without fear of divulging 'too' much).

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