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sherlock-series3‘His Last Vow’ 

‘The game is…er…something’ a drunken Sherlock mumbled in last week’s Comic Relief special and for a while it seemed he was right. Identifying the returning series’ elementary flaws, it looked like the detective was aware that for all the deft character development and fan pleasing pomp, it was all just thumping along without ever detecting trace of a plot. It’s a relief then that Steven Moffat’s final episode goes some way to recovering from the impressive shadow of The Reichenbach Fall, even if the crime scene hasn’t been completely mopped up.

Sherlock (Khaaaaaaan!) is pitted against a sinister newspaper magnate whose relevancy in the digital age drifts as close to Citizen Kane-esque libel as you can get. Lars Mikkelsen, as the insect-like Charles Augustus Magnessen, dominates the early scenes and finally electrifies a show that, for the past two weeks, has been sat around Rorke’s Drift waiting for the Zulus to arrive. His Bond villain-like power – brother Mads previously showed his poker face in Casino Royale  – makes him a prominent rival for the detective and his presence gives scenes a painful, if playful, sliminess. The throbbing score as he visits his Xanadu is an imposing European drill that unfortunately implies more menace than is really delivered.

Amanda Abbington also has a greater role to play in this episode, with the magnifying glass well and truly on her mysterious Mary Watson. I won’t spoil the reveal here for the ten or so people that haven’t seen it, but it does possess that same bad aftertaste that soured the other episodes. The proximity to her character is a suitable vehicle for the tremendous performances from her and husband Freeman, though it still feels like you didn’t need to wear a deerstalker to work it all out. Fans tweeting along professing their shock and disbelief seem to be under Moffat’s blackmail, ignorant to the series’ weakest notes.

Fortunately this time around, the Doctor Who baddie has persevered and while the reveal might fall flat, the fallout scenes are some of the show’s finest. For where Mary might have dropped out of the picture by the end of the story, she is an inherent part of it and the ominous choice of title serves to signify this series’ primary goal.

Whilst past series have been packed with intrigue, murder and propellant mystery, this series has been more muted (if you’ll forgive the hyperactive camera). Focussing on the characters and moving them on from the cataclysmic showdown with Moriarty was a brave move by the writers and it’s a shame that it just feels so inconsequential to watch. Sherlock on holiday with an overflowing inbox has become ever so slightly smug, possessing a wry, admirable cockiness but one that strayed far enough away from the original formula that it no longer feels rewarding to witness. Especially as the episode ends and a past villain seems to have found his way back from a few theatre projects, or death or something, and it then feels like everything we have endured in Series 3 will be reset at the start of Series 4. Did we miss him? Oh god yes. Do we need him? Probably not.

Like this review, it seems like the Sherlock team often write themselves into a corner and while they hypnotized their way out of it with some meta-tumbling in The Empty Hearse, in this episode they pack Sherlock off on the Casablanca-plane purely to tease those GIF-makers before suddenly undoing it all again. Perhaps next series we can thank the writers for the energetic holiday but hope that they remember their vows with one of television’s sharpest series and get themselves out of that godforsaken mind palace.

★★★★

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