After so long a wait, we’re already here.
Following the unique preceding episodes, Sherlock takes another distinct tonal turn with the finale of Series Three. This time, we’re heading into far more mature territory in terms of the characterization and plotting, Steven Moffat’s script taking the viewer on a relentless rollercoaster of emotion and jaw dropping, unexpected twists.
Make no mistake, this is arguably the darkest episode in the series’ history, going to places it has never trodden before. It is emotionally devastating in ways completely different from The Reichenbach Fall, while retaining a vein of tight, fierce humour that relies explicitly upon character based incident and wordplay that is also markedly different from the comedy that appears in The Sign of Three, for example.
Paramount to the harder edge that defines His Last Vow is Charles Augustus Magnussen, magnificently played by Lars Mikklesen. Magnussen is a repellent, icy foe, a man so assured of his personal power over others it gives him the justification to behave how he likes. Completely different from Andrew Scott’s volatile yet insanely endearing Jim Moriarty, this is a luridly predatory, genuinely skin crawling and frightening villain, someone who can stand toe to toe with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and yet, shockingly, dominate the room.
Without any specifics, the deployment of this striking new antagonist induces a case - from the very start of the episode - that causes the leading characters to be placed into situations that we have never seen them. Some we have potentially been anticipating for a long time, others come out of nowhere. This is not what some have cited as the ‘fan service’ that has appeared in The Empty Hearse and The Sign of Three, more a logical follow-through from previously established events and a fulfillment of some possibly long held suspicions that coalesce into some dramatic final closing scenes.
That said, His Last Vow continues the trend of this third run of episodes in defying the expectations of an audience, a grand adventure that raises the series to striking new heights. Steven Moffat’s script is magnificently Canon-laden, reverential asides and cunning deviations running throughout in full effect, and it also features plenty of further expansion and development. As some of the events in The Sign of Three may have signposted, these are now very much Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ versions of these beloved characters, true yet not slavish to the originals written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the character based aspects of the narrative here flow from developments that we have already seen.
Visually, this is another stunning episode, the use of location in particular giving it a scale that eclipses the previous two installments. Nick Hurran has been handed a gift of a screenplay and certainly doesn’t squander it, turning established rules on their head at times and extrapolating others to new places. The Art of Deduction, in particular, undergoes a striking and extended renovation within the visual context of one showpiece, uniquely dramatic sequence. David Arnold and Michael Price’s score somehow keeps getting larger and more expansive. It’s impossible to wonder how much higher and - dare we say it - operatic the pair could take the themes they have developed across the three series of Sherlock from here, but by now familiarity with the motifs they have created is not a problem but an utter boon, not reliance but distinctive calling cards that heighten the emotional response to what you are seeing.
Yes, as we’ve already said, His Lost Vow is an emotional experience. To say anymore of the how’s and why’s that that is the case would be churlish and wrong. Like The Empty Hearse, this is an experience that should be Experienced, unsullied with prior knowledge or spoilers of what is coming. Though there is one thing we will say, to ensure your viewing of this barnstorming finale to the third series of Sherlock is complete.
When the end credits start, do not turn off your television or change the channel. Watch to the very close.
And that is the only Clue we will give you.