Studying Sherlock: “His Last Vow”

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If I could sum up my experience with Sherlock in a few words, I’d probably say that what overall, the aspect I love most about this series is how it has impressed me. With quite a few series regarded to be “the best of TV”, Broadchurch perhaps being the most notable, I’ve sat through with a straight face and without really being into what I’m seeing on screen. As I have said before, I can be ridiculously fussy at times. With Sherlock, I’ve not felt like that at all. Whether it’s the stunning plots, the character development, or even the performances, I am constantly dazzled by the quality of this series. I watch each episode with my eyes glued to the screen, my feet and hands shaking in excitement, open mouthed in shock and/or awe. Sherlock feels more than your average TV show to me, this seems like a masterpiece in filmmaking and visual media.

His Last Vow continues this trend. While I won’t say that it was my favourite of the show so far, it still continued to throw me, surprise me, and remind me why I have fallen in love with this series. It’s a stunningly acted, written, scored episode, and it’s probably the best directed episode of the show so far. His Last Vow is a perfect example of why this show is regarded by many to be one of the finest TV shows of all time. It’s excellent in every manner, and I love it.

Of course, if I’m going to make a hyperbolic statement like that, I have to be prepared to back it up. As I established in my last review, I believe Sherlock has three main strengths: it’s character work, it’s clever plots, and it’s comedy. His Last Vow, like the other episodes, reflects this in its script. Comedy is not used as much here, this script is more of a thriller than a lighthearted affair like The Sign of Three was, but it’s good when it’s used, and the quirky relationship between each of the main characters is still highly amusing. This script focuses more on the character and the plot, and both are brilliantly executed.

Let’s start with the character work. This episode probably contains the cleverest and most interesting work so far, with Sherlock and John both receiving some great development. The stakes are high here, both get pushed really far, and it’s really exciting to watch. Let’s start with Sherlock. Sherlock is portrayed here as his eccentric and bizarre self, as he has been for the previous eight episodes, however, here he is shown pushed to his limits, and we see how far he is willing to go to solve a case. Drug addiction, sex, it’s really intriguing how he uses people, and also how others, such as Janine (who I really enjoyed) use him. The high functioning sociopath really gets it’s full use here, and Sherlock is taken in an interesting, but brilliant, direction. What I also loved was the Mind Palace sequence. His determination to survive, to take control of the situation, and to beat it. This was helped by the stunning performances by everyone involved, as well as Nick Hurran’s beautiful direction, but I just love the idea. The idea that Sherlock Holmes stores all the information he’s ever acquired in his head is marvellous. The whole scene was probably the best in the episode, how it gave us more of Sherlock’s backstory and how far he was pushed. Brilliantly written, and wonderfully performed by Cumberbatch.

John also gets some great work. His stuff is very meta. John is, of course, the eyes of the viewer, the everyday man who represents the majority of the audience. John is arguably the main character of the entire series, while the series is called Sherlock, it’s John who is the catalyst in the direction of the plot and events. The idea that John has an addiction to the abnormal, like the audience does, is wonderful.

Of course, I can’t mention development in His Last Vow without mentioning Mary. I’ve always quite liked Mary. She was likeable, Amanda Abbington was full of energy, and she was fun to have around. However, I would say she was a little bit bland. That’s not really a criticism, I liked having her around, but I couldn’t have imagined much being done with her. So, you can probably imagine my facial expression when Mary was revealed to be a highly trained assassin, and how the events of the last few series, as well as throwaway lines, have built one of the most detailed characters Moffat and Co have created. This is one of those moments I have to stand up from my chair and applaud the production team. What I do find interesting, though, and what I do like, is how Mary isn’t a villain. She’s morally complex, yes, but there is good in her heart. All scenes with her, following the Great reveal, were stellar. Abbington and Cumberbatch had fantastic chemistry, and I’m looking forward to seeing how her character develops in the next few episodes. She has a lot of potential, and I can’t wait to see how she changes and evolves.

His Last Vow probably features the darkest and most intimidating plot thus far. How one man can know the pressure point of anybody is a terrifying concept, and it is used to great effect throughout the episode. The reveal that Mangussen tried to burn Watson is a satisfying one in terms of character, and I love the idea that he also has a mind palace. It’s threatening, and it’s petrifying, with Lars Mikkelsen giving a stunning performance throughout. He’s a chilling villain.

Speaking of villains, yes. Yes, I did miss you, Moriarty. That was a fantastic reveal as well.

Production wise, stunning. Nick Hurran is the perfect fit for this show, providing the best direction to date. The cinematography is gorgeous, as is the music, and the pacing is brilliant too. This probably wasn’t as conventionally enjoyable as some of the others, but it was a fantastic experience. A stunning script, one of Moffat’s best to date.

Overall: Beautiful on all regards, Sherlock continues to prove why it’s one of the best shows on TV. Fantastic work.

10/10

Episode Ranking
1. The Reichenbach Fall
2. The Sign of Three
3. A Study in Pink
4. His Last Vow
5. The Great Game
6. A Scandal in Belgravia
7. The Hounds of Baskerville
8. The Blind Banker
9. The Empty Hearse

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