Spoiler disclaimer: This review does not contain spoilers, but contains as much information as can be deduced from press releases about the episode prior to its release, and a casual viewing of the trailer. You can read my spoiler-free reviews of the previous two episodes of Series 3, The Empty Hearse and The Sign of Three.
Anticipation can make prats of us all.
You see, last night, I had a dream about Sherlock’s final episode of Series 3, His Last Vow. It featured Lars Mikkelsen as Charles Augustus Magnussen, Sherlock’s new dubstep theme and, in hindsight, it didn’t make a lot of sense. But one thing stood out: It was edited so craftily that, at the time, I thought it was the real deal. I even remember having a notepad in my hands, ready to take notes for this review.
But my subconscious missed one important factor: Just how gripping it would be. For, when I really went to take notes on the episode, I forgot about my notepad entirely and ended up chewing my pen until it leaked.
And this was the worst part of watching Sherlock’s finale – having to pause it while I trashed the pen. The episode really turns the Conan Doyle stories on their head, introducing new, major but not unwelcomed plot points. There are lots of potential spoilers in His Last Vow, so I will keep it general.
The plot is apparently owed to the episode’s sole writing credit, Steven Moffat. It’s disappointing to see that he wasn’t accompanied by his two colleagues in crime, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson, for the writing of the finale. Perhaps if he had, the episode would have been of the same ilk as The Sign of Three.
But it doesn’t matter, because Stephen Moffat’s genius rubs off onto the episode very well indeed. Unfortunately it means that the characters’ banter is Moffaty and obvious – even juvenile at points. With the introduction of the new arch villain, it’s difficult to tell how much of this is characterisation and how much is pure stylistic misguidedness.
This characterisation is the weakest part of His Last Bow. Many of the characters are written specifically for the fans (as with the previous two episodes of Series 3), and Mikkelsen’s Magnussen – try saying that when you’re drunk – seems more human than Moriarty did, but is less convincing on the whole. Many of the characters are unidimensional, especially John in his opening scene, but this is redeemed somewhat in Act Two.
The second act is, in fact, genius. It is well balanced and, unlike The Sign of Three, is where most of the action happens. This time round, we get a full tour of Sherlock’s mind palace in an unlikely but extremely well realised scenario.
The unlikeliness of Sherlock’s final episode is one of its striking features. The logic is, at times, even more at fault than the rest of Series 3 – and that’s saying something. As with The Empty Hearse, critical points in the program are intercut with other critical points, making the episode’s climaxes – yes, plural – seem messy. The messiness also stems from the fact that the episode is set largely in 221/B Baker Street. Domestic episodes don’t feel as stand-alone as those set elsewhere, like The Sign of Three or The Hounds of Baskerville before it. Overall, though, these problems of logic, pacing and self-containment are few and far between, with most of His Last Vow’s plot and structure being fairly sound.
These minor faults don’t stop with the writing. The episode is simpler technically than its brothers and sisters. The editing is plainer and the music is more akin to what you might find in a Hollywood drama. This isn’t a good thing. Sherlock should pride itself on its innovation – its unusual editing, its effects, its oh-so-creamy depth of field.
While these aren’t missing from His Last Vow, they certainly aren’t a main feature, with the episode taking a more serious, single-minded tone. It just goes to show that the effects on Sherlock aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. One in particular doesn’t stand up to the wrath of the pause button, because of the nature of the effect more than anything. I suspect the writing is to blame for this one.
The writing ends the drama with another cheesy ploy at the end of the episode which, despite its overused technique, brings much welcomed news. You’ll know when you see it. Hint: Stay tuned until after the credits finish!
It may not stand up to its predecessor, The Sign of Three, but it is a worthy opponent that exceeds and excels in the face of The Empty Hearse. The fact of it is, Sherlock is a series way ahead of its rivals. Even its worst episodes are good, and its mediocre episodes – such as this – are still great monuments to the show’s charm.
And I thought my subconscious had done a good job.
Sherlock Series 3 will begin to air in Australia on January 19. If you can’t wait, you can pre-order the DVD from the U.K. which is released on January 20.
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