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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