Agh, this review is so late!  I had so many thoughts, I didn’t know how to get them all typed.  At least I beat the American premiere.

If you’re interested, check out my reviews of “The Empty Hearse” and “The Sign of Three.” As always, if you missed any dialogue, I strongly recommend the incredibly detailed episode transcripts by Ariane DeVere.

This episode drew heavily from two Doyle stories, one of which was “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.”  In the story, Milverton is a nasty blackmailer whom Holmes despises and calls “the worst man in London”; Doyle based his character after Charles Augustus Howell, a famous blackmailer.  Sherlock says he’s put away criminals of all sorts, but “None of them can turn my stomach like Charles Augustus Magnussen,” a character that some have suggested is based upon famous news magnate Robert Murdoch.  Both villains use their initials as a signature: in the story, Milverton signs his calling card CAM.  In the episode, Magnusen signs the wedding telegram CAM, his license plate is 1CAM, and his news company is CAM Global News.  Holmes compares Milverton to a snake at the London zoo; Sherlock compares Magnussen to a shark at the aquarium.  Holmes takes a case on behalf of Lady Brackwell to obtain some damaging letters in Milverton’s possession, and to get access to Milverton’s household, he becomes engaged to Milverton’s housemaid.  Sherlock takes a case on behalf of Lady Blackwood and becomes engaged to Magnussen’s personal assistant. Holmes breaks into Milverton’s house (called AppledoreTowers in both the story and the episode) to steal the letters, and while he and Watson are inside, another woman enters and shoots Milverton.  Holmes doesn’t intervene because he feels Milverton deserved it (one of many examples in which Holmes has a rather vigilante sense of justice).  In the episode, Sherlock and John break into Magnussen’s office and interrupt Mary on the verge of shooting Magnussen.  In the end, Sherlock takes justice into his own hands to kill Magnussen.  The description of AppledoreTowers in the story (including a tiled veranda lined with windows and two doors) matches up nicely with the climactic scene of the episode.  Other nods to the story in the episode include the dialogue between Mary and John that paraphrases the dialogue between Holmes and Watson: “You are not coming.”  “Then you are not going.”

The second story from which this episode primarily draws is, of course, “His Last Bow.”  In it, Holmes returns from retirement to help the Crown on the eve of World War I.  He infiltrates a spy ring, using the alias Altamont (which was Doyle’s father’s middle name.)  The story begins with the German spies discussing the peculiarities of the British, saying that they’re soft and overly civilized…to a point, similar to Magnussen’s criticism of the British in the episode.  Holmes breaks the spy ring and returns to his retirement keeping bees on Sussex Downs.  In the episode, Janine mentions retiring to a cottage in Sussex Downs where she needs to get rid of some bee hives.  In “His Last Vow” we learn that Mrs. Hudson’s first name is Martha, which is a nice nod to Holmes’ housekeeper in the Doyle story.  At the end of the story, Holmes remarks, “There’s an east wind coming, Watson,” referring to the cataclysm about to descend upon the world in the form of war.  “There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet.  It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast.  But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”  We get both a positive and a negative interpretation of the east wind in the episode (more on that at the end).

There were so many other Doyle references in this episode, I hardly know where to begin listing them.  Mary’s USB drive has the initials AGRA on it, a reference to The Sign of Four, which dealt with treasure from Agra, India.  Finding Sherlock in the drug house was a reference to “The Man with the Twisted Lip” in which Watson unexpectedly discovers his disguised friend in an opium den while in search of  a man named Isaac Whitney (the kid in the episode has the same name).  The character of Billy Wiggins in the episode is a combination of two Doyle characters: Holmes’ page Billy from a handful of stories, and Wiggins, the leader of Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars in a couple novels.

Various characters mention Sherlock’s boltholes, a nice nod to countless stories in which Holmes refers to numerous boltholes he has stashed around London.  I suspect the names of the boltholes in the episode are references to Doyle stories (Parliament Hill, Camden Lock, Dagmar Court, blind greenhouse in Kew Gardens, leaning tomb in Hampstead Cemetery, and Lenister Gardens).  This may all be a bit of a stretch, but…I did discover that all of the locations mentioned are within 15 minutes of the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street, with the exception of Kew Gardens, which is apparently where Moffat lives (more like 20 minutes away).  Hampstead is the location of Appledore in Doyle’s story.  The blind greenhouse may also be a reference to the Milverton story, since Holmes and Watson break into Milverton’s house by way of his greenhouse.  Not quite a Doyle reference, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless:  When everyone is speculating about where Sherlock could be hiding, Mrs. Hudson suggests, “behind the clock face of Big Ben.”  The Great Mouse Detective, based heavily on Sherlock Holmes, features a dramatic showdown between the hero and the villain behind the face of Big Ben.

Mycroft’s ominous mention of a third Holmes (“You know what happened to the other one.”) is a reference to Sherrinford Holmes, possibly the older brother of Sherlock and Mycroft.  Sherrinford was Sherlock’s name in original drafts of the Holmes stories, but William S. Baring-Gould later posited that Sherrinford was actually a third Holmes brother.  Holmes does mention that his family were country squires, which meant that the eldest brother would inherit the estate and would be required to stay and manage it.  Neither Mycroft nor Sherlock live on an estate, so somebody must have inherited.  Additionally, Mycroft is a civil servant, a common occupation for younger sons at the time of Doyle’s stories.

On to the characters!

Oh, Magnussen.  This show certainly knows how to create a villain.  Magnussen is one of the most unsettling creatures in television.  When Magnussen says he has a condition, Lady Blackwood replies, “It’s disgusting,” and I think she’s talking more about the thing in front of her than about sweaty palms.  “This is ownership,” Magnussen says, and that’s what all of his revolting little displays are about.  He owns his victims, and he can do what he likes with them; he enjoys flaunting his power.  In a bit of foreshadowing my roommate was very smart to pick up on, Magnussen says, “I have an excellent memory,” giving us the hint that the vaults are all in his mind.  His assessment of each individual in the episode is displayed like an entry in a database, as opposed to Sherlock’s swirling, sometimes random deductions.  In retrospect, the visuals we saw of Magnussen in his “vaults”—searching through an old-fashioned rolodex, accessing file cabinets, flipping through actual slides—make sense once we know the answer: these storage methods don’t make much sense in the digital age, but they make for great ways to visualize the mental storage of information.  His sifting of pressure points and determination of whether a person was “unimportant” or not was revealing.  John is dismissed as “unimportant”; his pressure points are Mary Morstan and Harry Watson (sister).  Sherlock’s record says he was deceased 2011-2013, and his pressure points are John Watson, Irene Adler, Redbeard, Hound of the Baskervilles, Opium, and Jim Moriarty (morphine is added later). No mention of Mycroft (or his parents) in Magnussen’s original assessment.  One thing puzzled me about Magnussen (well, probably more than that, but you know).  The actor who plays him is Danish, and he uses his own accent for the episode, but he pronounces the word “country” just once with a distinct northern English accent. (“Mycroft Holmes is the most powerful man in the country.”)  He doesn’t say the word that way earlier in the episode.  I couldn’t tell if he was mimicking something or what.

If John is having flashbacks after just a month without solving crimes, one wonders what he did for two whole years while Sherlock was “dead.”  The scene where he gleefully busts into a drug den and snarks at Billy was almost despicably enjoyable and had some lovely dialogue. “There is nothing the matter with me!  …Imagine I said that without shouting.”  “I’m a doctor, I know how to sprain people.”  Moffat plagiarizes himself on occasion.  The line, “I’m looking for a friend.  A very specific friend, I’m not just browsing,” reminded me very much of a similar line from Doctor Who.  I liked how none of the druggies were stereotypical: Billy is quite the observational genius, and Isaac Whitney was adorably polite, addressing the couple as Dr. and Mrs. Watson and saying please and thank you.  And, as this episode so clearly illustrated, John has formed a bit of a habit himself.  Billy complains that some guy hit him.  John says, “Yeah, probably just an addict in need of a fix.”  Sherlock: “Yes.  I think in a way it was.”  Later, Sherlock tells John that the Magnussen case is “too big and dangerous for any sane individual to get involved in.”  “You trying to put me off?” John asks.  “God, no.  Trying to recruit you.”  The scene was a lovely callback to the way Sherlock lured John in during the first season.  And Martin Freeman’s face (particularly his reactions to Jeanine, “Shezza,” and “Sherl”) continues to be a source of great joy to us all.

Molly has come a long way from the downtrodden, meek little mouse of season 1.  She smacks the daylights out of Sherlock and scolds him soundly: “How dare you throw away the beautiful gifts you were born with?  And how dare you betray the love of your friends?  Say you’re sorry.”  Just as well her engagement is over, since he was obviously a poor stand-in for Sherlock.  (Psst, go ask Lestrade out, I’m serious!)  Once again, she was the only one Sherlock trusted in this episode; he hid out at her place instead of at any of his known boltholes.  She’s the mental voice that knocks some sense into him as he’s dying.  (Though Anderson was also present, which I found interesting.  By the by, I noticed Anderson’s wedding ring is gone this season.  When did that happen?)

Mycroft is still flirting with the line between terrifying and sweet, which shouldn’t be a line that’s hard to miss, but somehow is in this episode.  We see Sherlock through his eyes (still and always a child), but we also see that Mycroft really is far less nice than his brother.  Magnussen, apparently, is under his protection—probably because of Magnussen’s access to the prime minister, as was mentioned at the beginning of the episode.  Mycroft doesn’t throw away tools that might be useful one day, however repulsive they may be.  Interesting, though, the power dynamics in this episode.  He chases Anderson and his friend out of 221B, saying “Don’t reply—just look frightened and scuttle.”  He intones, “I hope I won’t have to threaten you as well” to John, and Sherlock outright laughs at him.  “Well, I think we’d both find that embarrassing,” John says blithely. A few moments later, when Sherlock is being the dangerous one (“Don’t appall me when I’m high”), John tells Mycroft, “Don’t speak, just leave,” a dismissal paralleling Mycroft’s earlier one.  When Mycroft is listing off boltholes, we get a glimpse of his computer screen, which says “Ugly Duckling” up at the top as he tracks a target.  Not Sherlock, though, as the screen seems to be of Poland.  A reference to Moriarty, perhaps?  And yet, for all of his wheels within wheels, when he imagines his brother as a child or says “your loss would break my heart” to Sherlock (even if it was under the influence of drugs), it’s hard not to like him a bit.  The glimpse at Holmes family life was hilarious, and the conversation between the brothers outside was filled with Hobbit references.  Mycroft says Magnussen was “a necessary evil, not a dragon for you to slay.”  “A dragon-slayer.  Is that what you think of me?” asks Sherlock.  “No.  It’s what you think of yourself,” Mycroft says.  He refuses to send his brother to Serbia, knowing he’ll be killed…and knowing that he has utility in England.  Sherlock asks, “Utility, how do I have utility?”  “Here there be dragons,” says Mycroft.  Even though Mycroft is not listed as a pressure point for Sherlock, Sherlock is a pressure point for Mycroft, and it’s this relationship that sets off Magnussen’s chain of manipulation: get to Mycroft (the most powerful man in England) through Sherlock, get to Sherlock through John, get to John through Mary.  Complicated!  As John says, “I don’t understand.”  Magnussen: “You should have that on a t-shirt.”  John, later: “I still don’t understand.”  Magnussen: “And there’s the back of the t-shirt.”

Even though this episode was in part about Sherlock “dying,” he’s not the focus of the episode so much as John and Mary’s relationship is.  Which is not to say there wasn’t tons of great character development for him, because there was.  Although Sherlock is a jerk to string Janine along, and he pretends he sees nothing wrong with it, he knows he’s doing wrong.  He doesn’t want Mycroft or (more tellingly) John to see Jeanine at his flat.  He does seem to have a connection with her, as we see most clearly after they both know the truth about each other.  And he does care about her a bit; when Sherlock finds the knocked-out security guard in Magnussen’s office, John starts to get up from Janine’s side to tend to him.  “White supremacist by the tattoo, so who cares?” says Sherlock, looking at the man on the floor;  “Stick with Janine.”  We learn that Redbeard was Sherlock’s dog as a child, one he became extremely attached to and then lost (probably setting the pattern for Sherlock’s lack of attachment in adulthood).  “They’re putting me down too, now,” Sherlock tells the dog in his head.  “It’s no fun, is it?”  We get all sorts of interesting information during his death scene—including a particularly fascinating look at Sherlock’s internal Moriarty.  Moriarty always said that he and Sherlock were the same, and they are: one is working on the side of the law, one is not.  One could have oh-so-easily turned into the other.  Sherlock keeps his visceral side well-caged…and yet, that’s the part that ultimately says the magic words to get him to live.  Sherlock doesn’t react when Moriarty says that if Sherlock dies, “Mrs. Hudson will cry; and Mummy and Daddy will cry, and The Woman will cry, and John will cry buckets and buckets.  It’s him that I worry about the most.  That wife!”  But then…”You’re letting him down, Sherlock. John Watson is definitely in danger.”  Sherlock’s eyes fly open: he made a vow.

The real crux of the episode is the bizarre and intriguing relationship between John and Mary.  When Sherlock walks in on the scene with Mary and Magnussen, Magnussen says, “What would your husband think?  Your lovely husband, upright, honorable…so English.  What would he say to you now?  You’re doing this to protect him from the truth, but is this protection he would want?”  At the time, we (and Sherlock) think he is talking to Lady Blackwood about her husband, but in retrospect this tells us so much about Mary and John.  She really does love John, and she’ll do whatever she has to do to keep from losing him.  They really are perfect for each other; if either person were with anyone else, they’d be bored to tears.  She asks Mr. Holmes, “You’re the sane one, aren’t you?” meaning the sane one in his marriage to a genius.  “Aren’t you?” he asks her in return, and she doesn’t answer.  She’s at least as crazy as John, and she’s dangerous and terribly intelligent—very similar to a certain consulting detective we all know.  Sherlock tells John that he’s “abnormally attracted to dangerous situations and people…you chose her,” which is true–just like he chose Sherlock.  Sherlock and Mary even think alike.  Sherlock tells her, “I knew you’d talk to the people no one else would bother with…You’re always clever, Mary, I was relying on that.”  Mary is the first to figure out that Sherlock got them all out to the Holmes house for a specific reason, but she passes out before she can tell John what it is.

But if Sherlock recognizes that John chose Mary specifically FOR these reasons, how much did he know about her, and when?  Seems like he should’ve deduced more about her background.  “Liar” doesn’t begin to cover it.  Did he know, and he simply chose not to tell John until it became imperative?  Either way, Sherlock would be wise not to underestimate Mary Watson; she didn’t kill him, but she cut it very, very close.  Too close, in my opinion, for him to credit her with saving his life.  He died.  Whether she intended that or not is a matter for debate.  And yet, he protects her, even encourages John to go back to her.  “But why would he care?” John muses, wondering why Sherlock doesn’t reveal his shooter.  “He’s Sherlock.  Who would he bother protecting?”  Only the ones he has vowed to protect.  He does draw the line at lying to John for Mary.  The “dummy,” John in a turned-up collar and mussed hair, was simultaneously a nice reference to Doyle’s “The Empty House” and a bit of a dramatic gift from Sherlock to John, whether or not either one of them realized it.

The climactic scene is also, still, all about John and Mary.  Sherlock’s gift to them is killing Magnussen, and he tells John, “Give my love to Mary.  Tell her she’s safe now.”  He does what he swore to do, thinking that he’ll die for it. Throughout the episode, many shots are reflections in mirrors, in glass windows, tabletops, Magnussen’s glasses, etc.  The mirror behind Sherlock in 221B during that confrontation with Magnussen neatly parallels the mirror behind him when he’s shot.  Everything has been distorted; everything is a reflection, not quite clear.  But the cinematography after Magnussen is killed is straightforward, lots of wide angles, clear space, and bright lighting.  If, as I theorize, this is meant to reflect Sherlock’s state of mind throughout the episode, then he is at peace with his decision at the end, possibly even at peace with dying.  He’ll be in Serbia for six months, he tells John, referring to the suicide mission Mycroft mentioned earlier.  “Then what?” asks John.  “Who knows?” Sherlock replies, which is true…who knows what’s after death?  Sherlock knows John Watson is out of danger and will be happy.  Mary says, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep him in trouble.”  “That’s my girl,” Sherlock answers.  Everyone is resigned to their respective fates…

And then Moriarty comes back.  The game is still on, and in a lovely parallel to “His Last Bow,” Sherlock is called back into service of queen and country.  The east wind, according to Mycroft, is a “terrifying force that lays waste to all in its path.  It seeks out the unworthy and plucks them from the earth.”  But John interprets the story in a new light.  If Moriarty truly is back, “he’d better wrap up warm.  There’s an east wind coming,” John Watson says, watching Sherlock’s plane come back home.

And that’s all till Christmas, folks!  I tend to think that Moriarty’s return really is Moriarty, though I haven’t a clue how.  While the recordings played everywhere could be faked by someone trying to capitalize on Moriarty’s reputation, the scene at the very end of the credits isn’t animated.  Looks like the real deal to me.  Let the crazy theories begin.

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