The third season of BBC’s Sherlock series went as quickly as it had come and with just as much, if not more, of a bang. Put quite simply and succinctly, the show is perfect in each and every single way possible.
“His Last Vow” takes its slightly altered name from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle book His Last Bow. As has been the case with all preceding episodes, the plot is a mish-mash of several of Doyle’s stories; one such other title is The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. In fact, it is the story of Mr. Milverton which provides an antagonist for this episode to cast as its revelatory villain, Charles Augustus Magnussen; it’s only fitting that the character’s name be changed just so, isn’t it? After all, that’s been the show’s formula, ever since it began adapting the classic stories to modern times. Anyway, I digress.
In Magnussen, a man we’ve so far only tangentially met in “The Empty Hearse” and “The Sign of Three“, we’re given a villain wholly unlike any Sherlock and Watson have come up against in the past; a man even more similar to Sherlock himself than Moriarty ever was, but without being worthy of even an ounce of the respect Sherlock paid Moriarty’s intelligence. Magnussen is on the order of a calculated evil that barely registers on the spectrum of humanity, and that is where the most similarly to our dear Sherlock lies: Magnussen is every bit as inhumanly brilliant as Holmes, but his compass is ever pointing south; he is the antithesis of Sherlock Holmes.
Speaking of Sherlock’s inhumanity, as I’ve opined with both previous episodes, this season has gone to great lengths to humanize the world’s greatest consulting detective. After exhibiting the altogether superhuman feat of resurrection, Sherlock was certainly in need of some corporeal grounding. The first two episodes did progress that narrative so well–what with the expression of genuine emotion and thought–that “His Last Vow” has absolutely no trouble swooping in to co-opt that forward momentum and hijack it for nefarious means. In “His Last Vow”, not only are Sherlock’s newfound levels of humanity further exposed, but they’re also manipulated beautifully by a plot with twists and turns that thrash you around so wildly as to threaten whiplash.
You never truly know where you stand with Sherlock (the series, I mean). Things are almost never what they seem, and the next proverbial corner could deliver you to damnation or ecstasy; there are always moments of unknown and unexpected, and that’s basically life. In its own way, and not to deify the show too much, Sherlock does quite well to capture life; an extraordinary life, to be sure, but life. It’s the life of Sherlock Holmes, a man with immense ability and circumstance, but a man nonetheless; a man in possession of masterful intellect and yet a man with that which every man always carries with him: weakness. As it’s said, “to err is human”, and never is that more evident than when those flying so close to perfection fall prey to the melting wings of our human condition.
We don’t just watch the incredible just to see them fail, though, do we? Of course not. Although our humanity is a brick wall upon which we are forever destined to serve and volley, and even with as well as this series does communicate man’s foibles, Sherlock Holmes is still just a prism through which our best selves are to be projected. In that capacity, the world will always need superheroes, even if they are forever destined to only live out a romanticized version of life on page and screen. That’s where Sherlock resides, and that’s where we will find him next year, or in two years, or whenever this show’s superteam of creators can find the time to give us even just one more glimpse of perfection.