This episode of "Sherlock" has you wondering why the British Empire doesn't rise up again and take control of the world? Is it the press? Or is the press an evil imperialistic tool of today's world? And we get to see John's wife, Mary, as a woman as formidable as the original Irene Adler. Still, I found the episode "His Last Vow" a bit disappointing. "Sherlock" airs tonight (Sunday, 2 February 2014) on PBS Masterpiece Theatre and will be available VoD from 3 February 2014 on the PBS website as well as its YouTube channel.
Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), in this incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, appeared in the first episode ("A Scandal in Belgravia") during Series 2 and she was eventually rescued by Sherlock (an unfortunate pattern also seen in the Robert Downey Jr. series) and doesn't find true love with an American lawyer named Norton. In both, Adler isn't acting on her own, but is an agent or freelancer under Moriarty.
Mary wasn't properly vetted out by Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbath) or, apparently Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), because Sherlock was supposedly dead when John (Martin Freeman) becomes romantically involved. In "The Empty Hearse," the episode that begins Series Three, John proposes to Mary (Amanda Abbington) and dealt with the return of Sherlock.
"The Sign of Three" has John and Mary getting married while both working with Sherlock in solving and preventing a murder (of Major James Sholto who is played by Alistair Petrie). Sholto was John's former commander.
It was during "The Empty Hearse" that Sherlock saves John from a new villain and Sherlock and Mary have made moves against this villain during "The Sign of Three."
"His Last Vow" brings this villain to center stage: Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) who is a newspaper own and blackmailer. Marriage has taken John away from Sherlock, but the episode begins with John "rescuing" Sherlock from a drug den. Sherlock has, he insists, not gone back to drugs, but gone undercover. His target is Mangnussen, but although Mycroft is aware of Magnussen's work, he's doesn't encourage Sherlock.
John also learns that Sherlock is now in a cozy relationship with one of Mary's bridesmaids, Janine (Yasmine Akram). She calls him, Sherl and his brother Myc. You can already tell things aren't going to go well here. Others might be rooting for Molly (Louise Brealey) who is, as of this episode, no longer engaged to her ersatz Sherlock (Ed Birch).
Magnussen supposedly has letters and documents that he uses to blackmail all the important people in the West. Someone needs a reality check because not all the important people are in the West and some of them can't be controlled by the villainy of a Western publication. Basically the blogosphere is somewhat ignored as well as Drudge and his reports. Instead the implication is that a robber baron type is controlling people because of what he knows and what he can publish. Sounds like this conceit comes from the recent Rupert Murdoch News International phone-hacking scandal.
In the UK, the British newspapers have been involved in hacking into private phone lines by intercepting calls and voicemails. The newspapers under News International such as the British tabloid News of the World, had intercepted voicemail and phone calls of the British Royal Family but what really turned public opinion against the news media agency was hacking into the phone messages of a missing schoolgirl (the 13-year-old Milly Dowler), who was later found murdered in March of 2002. The scandal was originally investigated in 2005 with renewed investigations from 2009 to 2011.
The Australian-born Rupert Murdoch has a global media empire in Australia, American and Great Britain. The scandal forced Murdoch to resign as director of the News International. Murdoch, however, has been married three times and has six children.
The foreign-born Magnussen (Mikkelsen is Danish) seems to be a loner, living in a glass palace (Swinhay House in Gloucestershire which is really owned by Sir David McMurtry). We learn that Magnussen was the person behind John Watson's nearly unfortunate Guy Fawkes' Day incident when he almost expired like a Salem witch. Magnussen looks for people's "pressure points."
For Sherlock, it is his only friend, John. For John, it is Mary. For Mycroft, it is Sherlock. By getting information on Mary, Magnussen can get to Mycroft. The solution as to where the documents are stored (Sherlock surmises they must be in Magnussen's Appledore glass palace) and how Magnussen dies are a bit disappointing.
The original Arthur Conan Doyle short story, "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton," Magnussen died at the hands of a woman. There's a humorous interlude between Inspector Lestrade and Holmes. In the TV series, Magnussen almost dies at the hand of a woman, who instead makes a carefully calculated shot that both saves Holmes and prevents John from being accused of murder.
The name of the woman isn't revealed in the Doyle story, and the real name of the thwarted assassin is also not revealed although we are left with a clue: AGRA or A.G. RA. For fans of the original stories, that reminds one of the Treasure of Agra. Will that come out in Series Four?
Overall, I think this episode when too far and was too big and too convoluted. Mikkelson is fine as our enemy, but he doesn't outsmart Sherlock and even Mycroft. He's a better, more intelligent villain than this series' version of Moriarty. The mind castle segment was less annoying than the previous one, but one wonders if Gatiss wasn't a writer, if Mycroft would be to prominently involved in Sherlock and if Sherlock wouldn't then be a better and more complex character. This episode does venture into a bit of the Holmes family life and apparently it it the mother who is the intellectual.
There's a false ending, but also a cliff hanger which makes you wonder if anyone really dies in this universe or is it just more smoke and mirrors of the movies (or is it going to conclude as all a dream in someone's drug-addled mind)?