Sherlock: His Last Vow spoiler-free review

Review Louisa Mellor 9 Jan 2014 - 07:15

His Last Vow is every bit as good a finale as Sherlock’s ever had. Here’s our spoiler-free review…

3.3 His Last Vow

There’s something a bit smug about writing a spoiler-free review. It’s as if we’ve opened our Christmas presents early while everyone else’s are still wrapped up tantalisingly beneath the tree.

The envy runs both ways; you wish you’d seen it, and we wish we still had the joy of it all to come. Moreover, we wish we could really talk about it, because God knows, when it’s over, there’s going to be a lot to say.

For now though, it’s enough to write that His Last Vow is as good a finale as Sherlock’s ever had. Clever, surprising, stylish and emotional, it’s the Sherlock we fell in love with in 2010, but richer (and I don’t just mean the increased budget).

Rich in that we know the characters much more thoroughly than we did before this series, so they’re much more capable of surprising us. When they’re in peril (and His Last Vow sees them rarely out of it), it means more than it ever did.

It’s fair to say that, though they stand alone as feature-length adventures, The Empty Hearse and The Sign Of Three were the ideal pathway to His Last Vow, which balances their playfulness with darkness and keenly felt jeopardy. There are laughs of course, but nothing like the gag-a-minute stand-up routine of episode two.

The story is case-based from the off, blending character and relationship work in with the action. And there’s plenty of that. Break-ins, gunshots, helicopter flights… it’s a packed, visually exciting ninety minutes. Director Nick Hurran (The Day Of The Doctor) doesn’t just visit Sherlock’s Mind Palace, but gives us the deluxe tour.

Steven Moffat's script is characteristically clever stuff, weaving in and updating whole story elements, not just names and nods, from Conan Doyle. Moffat balances emotion with intrigue and rare moments of leavening humour in His Last Vow, building effectively upon the previous episodes' character work while keeping the case and the villain centre stage.

A great deal of praise has to be placed at the feet of Lars Mikkelsen, who plays the episode’s Bond-style baddie with cruel precision. Charles Augustus Magnussen is a true grotesque and well worth waiting for. It’s hard to imagine his peculiar brand of bullying psychopathy winning many Moriarty-style ‘love to hate him’ fans. He doesn’t play whimsical games, this villain, but exerts his ownership and control with reptilian intimidation. Prepare to meet a nasty, nasty piece of work.

The rest of the performances too, are as reliably strong as ever. Cumberbatch and Freeman remain where they started with the characters three years ago – at the top of their game. After three episodes, Amanda Abbington has proved herself a tremendous addition to the cast, and Louise Brealey deserves special mention for a couple of scenes in which she, well, you’ll see.

A few, lone voices have been saying this past fortnight that the Sherlock of old has gone away never to return. His Last Vow will prove them wrong. Coming back stronger is what Sherlock Holmes does. You know his methods, he’s known to be indestructible.

His Last Vow airs on BBC One on Sunday the 12th of January at 8.30pm.

Sherlock series 3 comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD on Monday the 20th of January and is available to pre-order at the BBC shop, here.

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SPOILERS down below.


They were saying something about Sherlock having acquired a girlfriend in this episode over at the Guardian.

I rather hope this refers to the canonical bamboozling of Magnussen's maid rather than any actual romance, because that will well and truly kill the show for me., is it Sunday yet?

I had niggling problems with The Empty Hearse (all pretty much regarding "the solution"), but The Sign of Three was sublime from start to finish.

There's usually a significantly lesser episode in the run (The Blind Banker, The Hounds of Baskerville both feeling stretched to 90 minutes) so, If this delivers, this will be Sherlock's most consistently great series, no question.

Just started watching this from the beginning last Sunday (already finished watching Hounds of Baskerville last night!), truly entertaining and most definitely Cumberbatch's finest screen role!

aaaarghhh the waiting is interminable!!!! gaah can't wait!!

I am loving this season not because of anything else but because it was a departure from the sombre and dark episodes past. even other drama shows comes out with comedic episodes every now and then. CSI did, Supernatural, quiet a number of times. I see nothing wrong with it even enjoyed them tremendously. The character development and the constantly evolving relationships of these much loved characters in Sherlock warms me up and made me love them more. The writers are aces, they are amazing.

Episode 3 I cant wait to see you!

Spot on Sam. Spot on.

Really didnt like Hound. I thought it was the weakest adaptation theyve done. Very disappointed with it as its probably the best story (at least for me anyway).

OMG! After last week's somewhat lacklustre (but still good fun) episode my Sherlockian enthusiasm had waned a bit but now I'm back and fully anxious for the finale. Bits of Conan Doyle's stories mixed in and Lars Mikkelsen. I very strongly suspect this will become my favourite episode.

"A few, lone voices have been saying this past fortnight that the Sherlock of old has gone away never to return. His Last Vow will prove them wrong. Coming back stronger is what Sherlock Holmes does. You know his methods, he’s known to be indestructible."

THANK GOD! Or rather Steven Moffat. I was rather disappointed so far.

Magnussen sounds exactly like the villain I was expecting - and hoping - Moriarty to be

I thought it was quite alringht. Yes they changed bits of the plot but overall it was still pretty much the same story and it worked very well in the modern day setting. If you want completely faithful Conan Doyle adaptations I suggest you watch the Granada television series starring the great Jeremy Brett. It's really good, I love Sherlock but it is a more liberal adaptation of the classic adventures that still adheres to the spirit of the Conan Doyle stories imo.

People have complained about these last two episodes being of low quality, but I'm of the opinion that The Blind Banker remains the worst Sherlock episode to date.

What was wrong with it? I thought it was a rather good adaptation of The Sign of Four and a solid mystery in it's own right.

Cannae wait!

Series 3 has been the best by far, can't wait to see how it ends! :-)

A spoiler free tease...damn you den of geek...damn it Sunday yet?

I thought it was as good as the rest in this Sherlock adaptation.
Hound is also my favourite story and definitely worked in the modern day, genetic research setting.

Oh No. Steven Moffat.

Oh my gosh, this sounds amazing! I can't wait!!!

The Empty Hearse was a very, very poor piece of writing on its own terms, and an ignorant, puerile betrayal of the Sherlock ethos.

Watch the episode again and note the belaboured tropes and over expositional writing…it is such lazy, fill the gaps authorship.
So much of the framing of the dialogue and the dialogue itself is mere weak echoing of superior scripting.

Then we have to suffer through Sherlock being turned into just another 'by the numbers' episode of Coupling, or Three Pints or Friends!!

Sherlock's world, his milieu, as established by Doyle, and carried on in this tv version, derives a great deal of its power from him being alien, askance, otherwordly and outside of the normal, humdrum nonsense of flawed human beings and REMAINING outside and above.

What is the point of writing scenes that belabour the juxtaposition of Sherlock's oddness with the norms in such a long winded and repetitive manner?

We already know as an audience his outsider status. Sherlock should not be brought down to the level of broad, gutter behaviour. This episode with its puerile, pathetic drinking scenes and its tiresome 'oh look at the oddball' sitcom garbage is a failure of heart and spine to carry out the truly miraculous and one can only hope that, their indulgences dealt with, the writers, like many twits after big drinking nights, will return to work soberly and re-engage with the job at hand, and bring us something truly luminous…not some low wattage vague glow.

I've heard that there's going to be something after the credits so we should all keep watching and not turn over or switch of the tv?

This is what happens when you let Moffat do the writing. Really hope this lives up to the billing.

"Louise Brealey deserves special mention for a couple of scenes in which she, well, you’ll see" I'm guessing either Molly finally gets together with Sherlock or dies

I've felt that these last two have been the weakest installments to date, but I'm not convinced they so thoroughly betray or insult the characters as you suggest. A lot of the sequences in the last episode I felt were fairly accurate to the Sherlock we've seen so far, actually almost allowing himself to humanise thanks to the input of his first ever friend. (As for remaining outside and above, that's something that certainly shouldn't be the case for a television series; the character should evolve, develop. He's already a genius and incredibly talented at most things; the only thing he can evolve in is his social skills). Mind, I didn't think the last episode did a very good job of giving ANY of those scenes the proper context they required.

I am hopeful for this final episode, though.

I sort of agree. I would like episodes with more humour in at times. I think you remember the first two series wrong, many are making it out to be very dark when it was actually quite fun and happy a lot. But yeah, I agree with you on more comedy, but not a whole episode on one. Waiting two years for three episodes starves us. I would like episodes with amazing plots and funny character development to be pushed back to second place. Series three is brilliant, but I definitely much preferred the way one and two works. The only 'dark' episode in my opinion is The Reichenbach Fall to a degree. I think I would prefer to explore the darkness for once. I want to be heart broken so badly.

Aye, I'd have liked to know how he did it.mi wouldn't have minded not knowing, but I hate that Moffat went all out telling us we'd missed something very important and crucial but then not giving an explanation anyway. If there isn't an explanation, don't tell people there is. That's wrong. But who knows, maybe we'll get an explanation in His Last Vow? I kinda doubt that though.

That was a pretty weak one, but I never felt as disengaged with that (or The Hounds of Baskerville) as I did with The Sign of Three. I understand people enjoying it, but there was no drama until the last 15 minutes (and it then ended 5 minutes later), and I felt like I could stop watching at any moment without missing anything important or particularly entertaining. The Empty Hearse was mostly enjoyable, although with some major plot holes. Fortunately it moved at a decent enough pace that I didn't notice the issues until it was nearly over.

The Blind Banker was a very early episode, they were still learning the game. At least the premiere was a second attempt (have you seen the original pilot? Not great.), but the second had a different director and a different writer, still trying to catch up to the first episode. Plus it's about Cumberbatch's weakest performance; compared to the dry but still excitable character he presents in 1 and 3, he gives a very underwhelming performance.

Sherlock is free to evolve if he's just another sitcom character. But he's not.
He the unearthly child; the prism of dreams; the eternal mystery.

If we make him like everyone else (stupid drinking, silly trivial behaviour) then he falls from that ethereal place with a thump…and I think it is wrong, ethically wrong to take such characters and turn them into slightly more oddball versions of ordinary humans.

We have Coupling. We have Friends. Leave the eerie, strange ones in their own rareified atmosphere.

Are people incapable of relating to a character who doesn't act human? Really?
I can get 'human' anwhere. Please don't turn my true outsiders into mere obnoxious wankers sitting in bars.

I respectfully disagree with your entire premise. Characters should change, should grow. People have related to him, otherwise they wouldn't care, but now he needs to move forward to justify all the crap he's been through. That's how drama WORKS. Otherwise you get something like House where the characters never develop at all, and they just make the same mistakes week in and week out for 8 years.

I hope we find out if the 'Cam' theories are correct!

my least favorite episode is Hound of the Baskervilles... I really didn't like their take on the story or how the plot unfolded.

Not that anyone will remember my humble little comment after the Sign of Three but I said that although it had seemed to go in a different direction I trusted the writers enough that I believed it was all leading up to something and from this review I believe that more than ever. Personally I haven't once been disappointed and I expect Sunday to be a total thriller but then to be completely at sea at the end when there is another 2 years to wait! Looking forward to this but dreading it too as it's one of the extremely few things on TV I love.

Sounds good I really liked the sign of three and how it focused more on the characters and had some really funny scenes

He's not 'your' outsider. You don't own the character, not even a tiny bit. Persuade a major TV network to let you make your own show, or watch what those who have managed to achieve that have created, or don't - just don't imagine they writers owe you anything at all.

The Brett version wasn't completely faithful. The characters were played by actors a good decade too old

I read in another (also spoiler-free, no worries) review that she actually has this totally BAMF moment

Hopefully I definitely prefer that option to my theories

I hope not a I love Molly the only way I could tolerate sherlock having a romantic relationship would be with Irene Adler

Surely, its a preview???

Talking about "over expositional writing"...

Den of Geek in great review shocker. Have they ever not liked anything?

Says review in the title.

You mean what was wrong with The Sign of Three? I had no problem with it.

I personally didn't mind it, but I would agree that it was fairly weak compared to other episodes. It was certainly the weakest of series two.

It seems, with the last two episodes, that they tried to focus more on the characters' relationships and less on the cases. I'm okay with that, but I can see why people are dissatisfied. That said, I don't think the show should continue as such in series four and five, and the episodes would work much more effectively in the context of a more standard TV series format, where there are enough episodes to really justify ones that really explore the characters' relationships.

What I didn't like about the blind baker was that it was written a lot more like a generic crime serial. That and there were a fair few elements that just shouldn't have been there. The presence of the detective who replaced Lestrade made no sense, as we'd only seen Lestrade in one episode, and then we never heard of the new guy again. I'm not sure what Thompson was trying to do with him, because he was so similar to Anderson and Sgt. Donovan, that he just felt redundant.

I've not seen the original pilot. Where is it available to watch?

I agree that an episode entirely devoted to character rather than story (as with last week's, and to a lesser extent the first of the run) is more suited to a typical drama format, where they have several episodes at a time to try different tones for each episode and go at different paces. As it was, it was a big chunk of the season's runtime, and (for me at least) it was too much without a substantial dramatic thread running through it. I also think this week's episode bore out some of the lost time, as Magnusson had barely had a chance to prove a threat, with a single scene closing out episode one and nothing last week.

I assume that the not-Lestrade cop was purely because Rupert Graves was otherwise booked; if not, then it was truly a dumb decision not to have him there. If they'd wanted to expand Holmes' professional circle, they really cocked it up.

The original pilot is on the first season DVD (the second disc I believe), and while there's a lot of the first episode in it (and while some things are better; for example, they cut to the chase with the obvious assumption that it's a cabbie rather than stringing it out) in general it plays like a very generic crime drama, nothing nearly so special as the final first episode. It's worth watching for the fascination of it... but it's not worth rewatching ;)

you always bring me the most interesting thing

If only Sherlock Holmes was real, he could solve the baffling puzzle as to why Sherlock is so inexplicably highly regarded. I've just about managed to enjoy Sherlock as I ignore its tenuous links to Conan-Doyle's work and think of it as a kitchen sink drama, but I ended this one wondering what the hell it was I just watched. For people who claim to "love" Sherlock Holmes, Moffatt and Gatiss do not seem to be aware of the fact that Sherlock Holmes is about solving crimes that no-one else can solve. Without that, Moffatt/Gatiss's Sherlock is just a pretty unpleasant person blundering around making grand statements about nothing or "I am a sociopath!" as he is so fond of shouting out. That's right, Sherlock doesn't "connect" with real people - except Watson of course, who he loves. Not really a proper sociopath then.
Personally, I think Moffatt and Gatiss aren't clever enough to think up any decent crimes, that's why they've got to concentrate on the dreadful melodrama, unworthy of a soap opera. I rather liked Mary Morstan's character (for a change a rare decent female character in a Moffatt script), but of course in a soap you can't have any nice, happy, well-adjusted people. So they made her a mass murderering assassin. And I still don't really get why Mary shot Sherlock (apparently so accurately it wouldn't kill him?) instead of the guy who was blackmailing her. There was an explanation I think, but like so much else in Sherlock, it was stupid. The smugness and ego of the writers literally jumps off the screen. Oh wouldn't be funny if dizzy old Mrs Hudson turned out to be a member of huge drugs cartel! Hilarious! I bet Conan Doyle wishes he'd thought of that! For two writers who claim to love Sherlock Holmes, they sure spend a lot of time subverting it.
For me, this programme is lifted only by the great performance of Benedict Cumberbatch. Martin Freeman isn't a particularly great actor, but he does have a good camaraderie with BC. But I am seriously confused as to why anyone would think Sherlock bears any resemblance to Sherlock Holmes. It's nothing like it. it doesn't have the warmth, the cleverness, or anything of the original characters and stories.
I will stress this is my personal opinion, so please don't troll me below with the usual "you're just a hater, you hate anything new" comments. If you like Sherlock, please just tell me what it is you like - I genuinely want to know.

You might want to put this in the comments for the SPOILER filled review!?

No I mean The Blind Banker. Bear with me please: The Blind Banker is a loose adaptation of the novel The Sign of Four with bits thrown in from the short story The Adventure of the Dancing Men. The Sign of Three has a title based on the novel The Sign of Four but besides a passing reference it has nothing in common with the same novel. It's a sort of Jonathan Creek light story that didn't really work for me.

Yep - just seen that! Can't remove as posted as guest. Apologies everyone - don't read it!

Yeah, Magnusson's appearance felt relatively sudden. I suppose with Moriarty we had a couple of references in A Study in Pink and The Blind Banker, and then a whole episode leading up to his reveal, whereas with Magnusson, we saw his eyes once and then met him straight away in His Last Vow.

I'll definitely have a look at the pilot. Thanks.

I've not read The Sign of Four, so I can't really compare it, but there are a few things that bug me about it (that said, it's still excellent television).

I wrote in a reply above, "What I didn't like about The Blind Banker was that it was written a lot more like a generic crime serial. That and there were a fair few elements that just shouldn't have been there. The presence of the detective who replaced Lestrade made no sense, as we'd only seen Lestrade in one episode, and then we never heard of the new guy again. I'm not sure what Thompson was trying to do with him, because he was so similar to Anderson and Sgt. Donovan, that he just felt redundant."

Aside from this, I just felt more disconnected from it. I'm not sure why, but I simply find it less engaging than the others.

I see your point and I agree. However it;s really down to a matter of tastes. First off and I'm not trying to nitpick here but this is actually a bit of useful lingo to know if you want to have clear conversations about tv shows. What you're refering to is a crime procedural. A serial is a show where one episode leads directly into the next. Like for instance The Wire or Broadchurch. Sherlock is not that. Every episode is a relatively contained story. So there's that.

Second i wholeheartedly agree that The Blind Banker was more of a crime procedural than some other episodes but officially and in my opinion at it's core Sherlock is still a crime procedural. I for one love a good crime procedural as long as it takes 90 minutes or more to tell it's story. But if that's not your thing I can see why an episode like The Blind Banker or The Hounds of Baskerville would appeal less to you.

Thanks for the tip.

There were a few other reasons why I found it less engaging, but as I said, I don't actually dislike any of the series. It's just that Sherlock has a very distinctive style, which I found the episode was lacking to an extent. That said, the last few episodes have been quite different and I thought they were very good. As you said, it's a matter of taste.

They were saying something about Sherlock having acquired a girlfriend in this episode over at the Guardian.

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