Next Sherlock Sunday: His Last Vow by Stephen Moffat

Sherlock1-610x350 And Moffat saves the day at the end. I’ll never watch those first two garbage episodes again, but this one definitely will be replayed more than once, if only to see the structure behind the insanity. Plus, outstanding antagonist, terrific reversals, and really good gotchas, completely set up within the story including a coda for which I was about to throw something at my screen when it suddenly turned amazing. For all my quarrels with Moffat as a show runner, the man can write like nobody else.

61 thoughts on “Next Sherlock Sunday: His Last Vow by Stephen Moffat

  1. Love the Danish actor who played the villain. I’d just been watching him in a completely different role in ‘Borgen’. Those eyes!

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      1. If you get a chance to watch the clip from Sesame Street that features Benedict Cumberbatch, you should watch it. It actually makes a reference to that coda.

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        1. It does? I saw it, but I missed the reference. (This is the one where he’s doing apples and oranges, right?) Oh, wait, maybe I’m getting it confused with Hiddleston and the Cookie Monster. All those British cheekbones start to look alike.

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  2. When watching a Moffat written arc, I hold of disliking the things that seem “random” because the man is the master of Checkov’s Gun. Also, master of the tie-in. The headless nun line from The Sign of Three? That was one of the first cases Sherlock casually mentioned to John in season 2. Moffat does that to you.

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  3. Yeah this was the only episode I really liked this season. As the end grew near, I kept saying to my TV, “Okay, there’s no physical evidence. Shoot him. Shoot him in the head. Shoot him now.” LOL. Ah blackmailers. As a different version of Sherlock Holmes said recently on Elementary, “I have a particular disdain for blackmailers. They are, in some respects, more despicable to me than even murderers.”

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    1. I’ve always felt the despicability of blackmailers was in the context. And after all, if you haven’t done anything wrong, they can’t blackmail you. But yeah, this guy was horrible and got what he deserved.

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      1. In the elementary ep the slimeball was blackmailing the family of girls he’d drugged and raped. “Pay me or else I’ll put the videos online, traumatize your daughters and even drive them to suicide.” It was vile.

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      2. Additionally, if you’re willing to stand up, own, and face the music for whatever you’ve done, a blackmailer has no hold over you. I loathe blackmail and blackmailers, but I usually find a story wherein the antagonist is a blackmailer VERY hard to embrace, because the protagonists (or else whomever the protagonist is trying to help) is usually someone whose goal is NOT to own his/her own deeds… and this is a story goal that usually leaves me very, very cold.

        I agree it was okay here, though. Because–exactly as in the original Conan Doyle story–the focus stayed on how repellant and prolific the blackmailer was, rather than on how we should pity a particular victim for being unwilling to stand up for his/her own deeds.

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        1. That’s a good point about focusing on the antagonist rather than his victims. They did a brilliant job of making him so repulsive in his interactions with other people that you’d want to shoot him even if he wasn’t a blackmailer.

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    2. Me, too. I was yelling “Just shoot him! Shoot him now!” It wasn’t just that he was a blackmailer, it was his deep skill and enjoyment at humiliating people. He was a bad, bad man.

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  4. Whereas I was shocked at the shooting, and questioned its morality. It threw me out, and made me doubt Sherlock (the character) in yet another way. The villain was a blackmailer, not a murderer. And even murderers should have a proper trial, not be executed out of hand. (Or at all, of course, in Britain.) It made the story comic-book and unconvincing.

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    1. You know, it may be an American thing. I was thinking, “Just shoot the bastard,” too. And I don’t own a gun and am a huge proponent of gun control, but there didn’t seem to be another way. Also, I figure when a villain says, “You can’t shoot me,” that’s an invitation.

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      1. I don’t think it’s an American thing. That guy really needed shooting. And even in the original stories, Holmes regularly reminds Watson to bring his gun along on risky cases. He does that in the short story on which this one is based too. When the woman being blackmailed whips out her own gun in that story, Holmes physically restrains Watson so that Watson can’t stop her from shooting the villain. So even the original Sherlock does occasionally favor the “American solution.”

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        1. This reminds me of a true case in Texas where a defendant was acquitted because the guy he’d killed “just needed killing.” (Sometime in the last 20 years, but I can’t remember the case–my oldest son and I discussed it when he was still in college, in Criminal Justice.) Seems the bad guy had gone on a rape/pillage spree, and everyone knew it was him, and I think he even admitted it out of court, but the admissible evidence was too sketchy to convict and everyone knew that he had CSI’d the crime scenes to the point where he couldn’t be pinned down. I don’t think there was any doubt he was going to do it again, and one of the fathers of the victims killed him, broad daylight, first chance he got, and his defense was, basically, that the man “just needed killing.”

          I think the horrific thing about this particular blackmailer is that he went after the innocent ones as well–using someone they loved (and didn’t want to see destroyed or shamed) as leverage. I, too, thought Mycroft was going to shoot him, but he didn’t have the information that Sherlock had, so it made sense that Sherlock would kill him. It was interesting that he would sacrifice himself for John and Mary, but also, I think he just couldn’t stand that there was someone outside of his reach, who would always be outside of his reach because of the leverage he had over so many people.

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          1. I think he would have been less loathsome if he hadn’t been so loathsome; that is, if he had calmly and quietly blackmailed bad people it would have been one thing, but he was a sadist; licking that woman’s face at the beginning was brilliant characterization and really made you want him dead on the spot. He’s even more loathsome that Moriarty, who at least has a spring in his psychopathic step. Always reminds me of The Joker.

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      2. I think the “just shoot him” reaction is because Mycroft has made it clear to Sherlock that The Powers That Be will never allow the blackmailer to be arrested, let alone tried or convicted. In the early stages of this story, justice was taken off the table as a possible story resolution.

        Which was among the many problems I had with this plot–there’s a powerful blackmailer with dirty material on lots of government officials, which he regularly uses to his own advantage… and Mycroft and TPTBs are perfectly okay with that? When did Mycroft become as dumb as a bag of rocks? I missed that transition.

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        1. I figured he had something on them that was so explosive they had to leave him alone. Either that or he did leverage for them, blackmailed people they needed squelched.

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          1. But IMO, if one or both of your theories is true, it should be in the story we’re told, rather than in the explanations we tell ourself to fill in the story holes. If Mycroft’s got a GOOD reason for actively blockading the investigation, arrest, or conviction of a high-level blackmailer, then the reason needs to be revealed during the story. If we’re left to assume that the explanation for Mycroft’s behavior must be that he has a good reason… the storyteller is leaving a key aspect of the storytelling up to us, and I hate writers who make the reader/audience do the work because they’re not willing to.

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          2. You’re right, it has to be on the page. I’ll have to watch again to see if Mycroft said anything anywhere in the episode. I have to watch it again anyway to do the post next week. But I think you’re right on that, too, and I was extrapolating.

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          3. I vaguely remember Mycroft saying he was occasionally useful and didn’t go after people high enough they needed to eliminate him.

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      3. I kept thinking of Angel’s kill of Hamilton. “What one word in that sentence should you not have said?”

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        1. “I kept thinking of Angel’s kill of Hamilton. “What one word in that sentence should you not have said?””

          Ah! That was a great moment. And, yes, I guess Sherlock’s solution here was similar. The protagonist crosses the line you think he won’t cross, because it’s the way to solve this problem.

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          1. They’re both in pretty desperate straits, too, and it appears to be the only way.

            Do you watch The Blacklist? It’s a great show, in part because the protagonist is amoral with boundaries. He doesn’t interfere in things that are not his business, but if he considers what someone is doing his business, he’s ruthless, as in shoot people in cold blood ruthless. And worse. The first time it happened, my jaw hit the floor because this guy is THE PROTAGONIST. Protagonists don’t just shoot people. But now that I know he’s capable of that, it opens up whole new worlds as I watch because anything can happen. It kind of opened up Sherlock for me like that.

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    2. That’s what I thought, too. Maybe I’m just ruined for this season because of the previous episodes and too crabby about it to give anybody any credit, but I thought shooting the bad guy was a cheap way out of the problem (plus, too American a solution).

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  5. Unlike you, I actually DID enjoy The Sign of Three – I know, I’m a Philistine. Or just a sucker for Benedict Cumberbatch and no longer able to watch him with any sort of critical eye. But dramatically, this was a much better episode. What a truly despicable villain. Icky and unnerving in such unexpected ways.

    My husband is a huge fan of the originals and takes great delight in comparing each episode of Sherlock to them. This one was based on a short story called The Adventure of Charles Milverton (I think the name was). We agreed it’s actually better than that original story. In the original, the woman being blackmailed comes in and kills Milverton. Sherlock and Watson then sneak out of the house and run away. Not terribly heroic of them at all. I much preferred Sherlock attempting to make a selfless sacrifice for his friend.

    And I do love Mary more and more and more.

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  6. I agree–this one saved the season for me. I actually let out a huge sigh of relief about halfway through when it was clear it wasn’t going to suck.

    I actually thought Mycroft was going to do the shooting, the way he kept saying “Move away from him.” I was so sure of it, I was stunned when Sherlock did it. And then when they flew Sherlock off, I was kind of let down…until THEN THEY DID IT.

    Whew.

    And I loved the way they handled the Mary/John issue. Love them both.

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    1. My only real gripe about the handling of the Mary/John issue was that there’s a baby involved. I think John accepting Mary and who and what she is would have been so much richer if it was clear he was doing it for the two of them, not because there was a future child. Other than that, loved his little memorized speech to her, and her reactions.

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  7. This episode made me (somewhat) forgive them for the first two because Chekhov’s Gun. As DH and I watched it, seeing all sorts of stuff pop up from the first two episodes actually started becoming fun, even as I was caught up in the current case.

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  8. I will admit it’s nice working with proper villains again, but… yeah. I don’t love the Mary twist. I understand why they went there, but I loved the idea of Mary as a random happenstance of life.

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  9. Point of trivia/interest: The opening of this story is a virtually exact replica of the opening of the Conan Doyle story “The Man With the Twisted Lip.” Watson, while married to Mary, is rousted out of bed by family friend, wife of an opium addict, whose husband is missing. Watson goes off to an opium den the man is known to frequent, and in the process of extracting the fellow from this seedy, dangerous place, he’s recognized by Holmes, who’s undercover there as one of the addicts, while on a case.

    The Sherlock TV story shifts there and switches entirely and now very, very loosely over to a separate Doyle story, whose title I’ve just forgotten, in which Holmes pursues a blackmailer named Charles Milverton. (One similarity with the TV plot is that Holmes courts a member of Milverton’s staff to gain access to Milverton.)

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    1. Oh. Well that explains the weird open. They did tie back by using the addict son again and saying that Sherlock was there trying to become a target of blackmail, but it did seem disjointed.

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      1. I was puzzled about where the references to Sherlock as a “drug addict” came from–he, Mycroft, and John all refer to an existing, real (not invented for the case) drug problem. Doyle’s Holmes had a cocaine habit, of course, but this was the first mention of Sherlock having a drug problem that I can recall, yet it’s treated in this episode as an established fact of his character, which I found confusing.

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        1. They foreshadowed that with the Belgravia episode, after Irene died the first time, Mycroft called Baker Street and had them look for drugs. It’s why he gave Sherlock the cigarette, the lesser of the two evils. I think that was the only mention, but I’m not sure.

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          1. There’s also another instance in Ep 1.1, A Study In Pink, where LeStrade has Sherlock’s flat searched for drugs. But no justification or background was given in either instance, so I figured LeStrade was just using his power to really, really annoy Sherlock and Mycroft was being non-sensically melodramatic.

            So I think this was more sloppy writing. If they want to establish their protagonist as a drug addict, they should write it. The audience should haven’t to backfill it in our heads on the basis of it suddenly being treated in the final episode of the third season as an established fact (when it never was established) that Sherlock’s a drug addict.

            Sloppy writing makes me CRANKY! (Well, yes, lots of things make me cranky. But sloppy writing is high on the list!)

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          2. Do you think they were relying on the audience knowing that the original Holmes did coke? If so, that was dumb, but I wonder if that’s it because I think that may be the reason I didn’t blink at that; I knew it from the original stories.

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          3. “Do you think they were relying on the audience knowing that the original Holmes did coke?”

            Could be. If so, it would be (more) sloppy writing, since it leaves viewers totally in the dark if they’re not familiar with traditional Holmes, while also making a viewer like me, who knows the stories, wondering what ELSE I’m supposed to transpose in my head for the writers who didn’t put it on the page. (And while transposing, I’d still be confused, since Doyle didn’t portray Holmes as an addict. Doyle did portray addicts and the tragedy of drug addiction in some of the stories, but Holmes’ cocaine use is always portrayed as a risky bad habit, not as addiction.)

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        2. They set it up in “Study in Pink,” when Lestrade is going over the apartment after finding the suitcase there, and say it’s a drug search. Watson says that’s ridiculous, and Holmes gives him a look that clearly says it’s not. Then he tells Lestrade “I’m clean.”

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          1. As you say, clearly it’s -not- a drug bust, it’s an effort to hassle Sherlock for holding back info. So “Sherlock as drug addict” is not established in this episode. Rather, “Lestrade prepared to turn the screws when Sherlock withholds evidence” is established.

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          2. I think the dis-connect is between “addict” and “user.” Since “user” and so easily become “addict,” the fact that it was known that he used set up the fiction that he’d become an addict in the last one.
            Of course, I could just be defending all of this because I loved Molly slapping the hell out of him.

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          3. Oh, wait, Misread your comment. You mean he gave John a look saying it’s not ridiculous? I read that as giving John yet another look that says you’re naive and slow, of course it’s not a drug bust, it’s an excuse to fit me up if I don’t cooperate.

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          4. Right, what I got out of that scene in “Pink” was “Sherlock used to do drugs and there might still be some lying around the flat for the cops to find.” And that was without any exposure to the original stories. So between that scene and John and Mrs. Hudson checking for drugs in “Belgravia,” I felt it was set up sufficiently. It was clearly some time ago, so it didn’t bother me they didn’t bring it up a lot and talk about it (it’s not like Sherlock is big on sharing).

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          5. Especially since after that look John looks shocked and says “YOU?”, as in I can’t believe this guy did drugs.

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    2. Additional point of trivia (and what may or may not be a Chekovian gun): The woman in Milverton’s office staff whom Sherlock uses, the one who later sells her story to the tabloids and uses the money to buy a nice cottage in Sussex? She mentions that the place has bee hives, and Sherlock makes a comment. Well, in the Doyle stories, Holmes quits detecting, leaves London, and goes to live in a country cottage where he keeps bees.

      Doyle wanted to quit writing Holmes and tried various things–killing him at Reichenbach, sending him into retirement as a rural beekeeper (?!?), etc., to get out of doing more stories. But there was so much demand for Holmes, Doyle wound up doing more stories, anyhow. So there are a small number of stories during which Holmes is a beekeeper living in a country cottage.

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          1. If we’re going to ‘ship Sherlock, which I”m against, Jeannine comes third after Irene and Molly. And for an a-sexual hero, Sherlock sure does have a lot of potential love interests.

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  10. Not that they showed it or anything, but…..could it be that Mycroft set up Sherlock to kill Mr. BigBad as a way to kill off someone who had become a liability, yet had enough dirt on Mycroft’s higher-ups that they would not give him permission to take him out?

    It would explain the Moriarty/Lazerus act at the end (Mycroft arranging to have this aired as a way to get something of a reprieve for Sherlock and yet keep him better under this thumb).

    Probably giving Mycroft too much credit here, I know….

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    1. At this point, Mycroft is basically Machiavelli so anything is possible.
      The point I don’t get is if they now know that all the proof is in Moran’s head (is it Moran?), then putting a bullet in that head takes care of the problem, and I don’t believe for a minute that Mycroft doesn’t arrange deaths. Although they may not have known.
      But Moran would have known. Maybe there’s file somewhere to be opened in the event of his death?
      As Laura pointed out, all of this is irrelevant because they didn’t put it on the page. I don’t think you have to spell out everything in a story, but I agree with Laura that leaving people going, “Yes, but . . .” is sloppy storytelling,

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      1. Magnussen (I probably spelled it wrong, Milverton is so much easier). I assume that no one knew it was all in his head; Sherlock certainly didn’t know until they got there. I doubt he felt the need to share that until he wanted to gloat about how Sherlock’s plan was about to backfire.

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  11. Ok, I know, it’s crazy, but this is the episode (for the most part) that I liked the least. It had the most things that drove me nutts in it.

    LOVE – a) That Mary lived – if they had killed her off, I’d have been sincerely pissed off. I liked her a lot, right away. b) Ex-CIA, super spy, assassine, SUPER TWIST! I LOVE her character even more now! I got a chance to watch the extras on my discs this week. Abbagail said she didn’t know about Mary until she got the script for the 3rd episode. She said if she had known at the beginning, she probably would’ve played some things quite differently – which apparently Moffit & Gattis didn’t want. Mary was the best part and the best revelation of this episode and the entire season.

    I loved that John didn’t look at the thumbdrive and chose to accept her – it is as I would expect his character to be and they kept that contract with a big, red bow.

    I liked that Sherlock was willing to do anything – right down to kill- to protect John, Mary, and the baby as he had vowed.

    Things I hated and that didn’t make sense or work for me:
    1. Too much inconsistency with all the info that Magnussen had and how he kept it.
    If everyone knew it was in the house – bomb it and be done with it – simple, effective, logical! Since they didn’t do that- It couldn’t have all been in his head – he did have the letters, and he did have actual video of John in the fire.
    Just because Magnussen didn’t have google glasses – doesn’t mean he didn’t have an eye or brain, or other implant – which would still make more sense than just a mind palace only.

    2. Magnussen really seemed like a 2-dimensional – paper front character at best. In fact, for the most part I think Sherlock’s opinion of him gave him the most weight, but he only shared some basic reasons for why he didn’t like Magnussen. He really wasn’t well developed and then when they finally did start developing him a bit Sherlock blew his head off – totally lame – biggish build up for a complete throw-away character. Arrrgh!!!!!

    3. John kept coming across as dumb and they kept pointing it out – John isn’t dumb and it was getting a bit brow-beating and annoying.

    4. Sherlock having a complete relationship with the maid of honor – just to get access to Mangnussen – I guess if Sherlock wanted to go amoral and evil – that shows how easily he could, but I think it was out of character – almost blowing it out of the water for me – He’s shown much more “people consciousness” and moral goodness with John – this was so a-moral it seemed beyond him and what John would even accept of him…. Plus for Sherlock and his character, there probably would have been better, easier, more logical means of gaining access to Magnussen than the whole boyfriend/fiance ruse. I think it would have been more difficult for him to be and maintain that relationship than to just break in. And honestly – for as much of a control and information control freak as Magnussen was – do you honestly think or believe for a minute that he didn’t know his assistant and Sherlock were together or that Magnussen or his assistant might not have been more behind it and aware of it than Sherlock? A several character nut cracker/character breaker for me. (Although I did get a kick out of her turning it on it’s ear – if she was aggrieved- and getting her 15 min of fame and $$$ for it and them being “even” about the whole mess of it. Strange, but fun.)

    5. Not sure what to think about the whole Mycroft seeing Sherlock as a beloved/in need little brother. I’m sure Mycroft cares about Sherlock in his way, but they went out of their way to show it almost inappropriately, at strange spots…. And after the big torture scene in the first episode. Just didn’t quite work/fit.

    Big finale – Moriarty is back?! I was actually both a bit pissed and indifferent about it. Really – we’re going to do this? Then I had this cool thought – what if Moriarty was some sort of ghost in the Magnussen machine – part of both, totally real, but cyber? Oooooh hard to kill what isn’t truly a live person, so much more to the depths of both Magnussen and Moriarty as characters and their reach – even more so if they aren’t “alive”. Hummmmm – they’ve got some things to really work on.

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