'Imagination will take you everywhere'
I am now officially a Sherlock Holmes convert. After watching my first ever Sherlock series I fully understand why there are so many screaming fans the world over (although I have not yet graduated to that level of hysteria). Because it is actually really quite good – particularly with the high-class acting, imaginative plots, laugh-out-loud funniness and seriously twisty twists – which is a rare gem these days that must be cherished. However the past two episodes have caused quite a stir amongst devoted Sherlockians, who claim that the programme was trying to attract new viewers by softening the dark material and adding in more humour than usual. Having only watched this series I couldn’t possibly comment, but I will say that the producers were certainly saving the biggest and best episode till last – like the last firework at a display which explodes and then bangs and then whizzes and then crackles, before one last, unexpected bang drenches the spectators in shimmering colour. What a way to end.
The final episode of series three opened with a panel of serious-looking MPs questioning a wealthy, powerful and manipulative newspaper mogul – notice any similarities? The only thing missing was a shaving-cream pie and a ferocious wife. The interviewee in question was Charles Augustus Magnussen (a brilliant Lars Mikkelsen), a man with piercing blue eyes and a sharp mind to match. With a memory to rival Sherlock himself, Magnussen has a vault of secrets about almost everyone, paired with a penchant for exploiting people’s pressure points, makes for a deadly combination (he also has a chronic sweating condition BTW). After blackmailing a female MP, Lady Smallwood, Magnussen then proceeds to lick her face (which made me feel physically sick), thus confirming just how much power and superiority he holds. The only person that could stand up to this highly intelligent sociopath is another highly intelligent sociopath. But where is the elusive Holmes?
Watson meanwhile seems to be enjoying the honeymoon period of married life. But he suddenly gets a call from a worried neighbour anxious about the whereabouts of her teenage son, like a true hero Watson leaps at the chance to help someone. Mary is reluctant – particularly as the destination in question is an abandoned building home to a drug den. After ‘spraining’ the druggy on the door, Watson finds the boy (high) and another unexpected guest (also high). Sherlock – or Shezzer, as he’s known by his drug buds – is pale and rather bedraggled looking after spending a month hanging with his new mates on a (supposedly) undercover case. Everyone is pretty angry and appalled at Sherlock’s behaviour – Molly gives him a few hard slaps – as no one believes him. The best bit is when Holmes reacts to Mycroft by pushing him against the wall and whispering “Don’t appall me when I’m high” – a warning I certainly wouldn’t challenge.
But the biggest surprise of all – something that shocks both Watson and the watching world – is hiding inside Sherlock’s bedroom. Janine. Sherlock has a girlfriend. And when he’s around her he actually acts quite normal and even a bit lovey-dovey (Sherl). Shock horror! Watson still can’t quite believe it while Sherlock is telling him about Magnussen’s ‘Appledore’ and then the great man himself enters the room with an entourage of bodyguards. After the wicked man explains about his safe of sensitive and dangerous secrets that have the potential to topple whole governments, he unzips his flies and pees in the fireplace. Nice. I couldn’t really take him seriously after that. He obviously likes to leave his mark.
“This case is far too dangerous for a sane man” says Sherlock to Watson, as they race out of his flat, knowing full well that Watson will be jumping at the bait (anything to escape the lull of married life) – that is precisely why Watson is perfect as Sherl’s sidekick – they understand each other. And so the happy twosome trot off to break into Magnussen’s flat. But where’s Mary in all of this?
When they reach the lift that will take them up to the highly secure flat, it all seems a tad impossible. But then Sherl is revealed as a bit of a cheat. As Janine’s soft lilt glides through the intercom we realise that his affection for her was purely a stunt to get to Magnussen through his personal assistant. Once again Sherlock is one step ahead of the game. Using human error to his advantage seems to be his forte. But when they finally reach his flat, a colossal revelation is waiting for them. Someone has already broken into the flat, knocked Janine out and got Magnussen at gun point. The culprit? A woman who wears Claire de Lune perfume. A scent Watson recognises. The woman turns around to reveal herself as Mary – there is then an audible gasp from the whole of Britain (as well as from Sherlock). How did Sherlock not see this coming? There were several clues, but he chose to ignore them because he trusted her, because Watson trusted her, because Sherlock trusts Watson. Amanda Abbington has played Mary in such a sweet-hearted, lovable way that no one – not even the great sleuth himself – dared question her. And now we the gullible viewer have found out that she is in fact a fraud. Not only that, she is also a former intelligence agent and assassin who has killed many people in her violent past. Oh dear, what a pickle. I did so love their threesome dynamic.
As if the viewer didn’t hate Mary enough, she then shoots Sherlock, almost killing him. And Sherlock being the clever boy that he is, manages to have an outer-body experience which tells him that he should fall on his back instead of his front to prevent the bullet from being dislodged. Cue much drama in three seconds before finally crashing to the floor. In his death-induced dreams Sherlock’s mind palace is a complex place. First there’s his brother tormenting him just like he has done since childhood and then there’s the terrifying Moriarty – chained in a dungeon – hauntingly luring Sherlock to death’s door, “You’ll love death, Sherlock. No one ever bothers you.” What a creep. But this disturbing yet mesmerising sequence really captures the opposing voices in Sherlock’s head – he’s a tormented soul with a conflicting personality – however the one thing he never lets get in the way of a case (his emotions) is ironically what saves him: his love for his best friend. Finally Sherlock climbs up the metaphorical staircase of life, spurned on by the fact that Watson is in mortal danger. He awakes to find a backlash of tabloid stories depicting him as ‘Shag-a-lot Holmes’. His reputation has gone decidedly down-hill – first the drug habit and now this.
Soon enough (with the help of his druggy friend) Sherlock has exposed Mary to her husband. Watson is livid. But Mary’s love for him is still plain to see, “I would lose him forever, and there is nothing in this world I would not do to stop that.” The heart-breaking fact is that Mary just wanted a fresh start; a new life with John and the opportunity to put the past behind her. But Magnussen knows her true identity – his plan all along was to use Mary to get to John to get to Sherlock to get to Mycroft and all the state secrets. He’s just hungry for more secrets so he can use them to manipulate powerful people.
Fast forward to Christmas time and it’s all happy families with the Cumberbatches. Mycroft even gushes about how Sherlock’s loss would “break me.” before admitting “must be the punch.” Indeed it is the punch. The whole household promptly falls into a drug-induced sleep – expertly concocted by Sherlock’s pal from the drug den. The reason? Sherlock has done a deal with the devil. He’s exchanging Mycroft’s state secrets for all the information Magnussen has on Mary. Simple enough. Except that Sherlock has made one hefty mistake. Appledore isn’t a physical vault of documents, or even a technological savvy pair of Google glasses (as I thought), it is simply Magnussen’s vast memory. So he can’t exchange information. He’s been tricked. My favourite line from the episode occurs in this scene; when Magnussen is asked by Sherlock how he can prove Mary’s past without any physical evidence, Magnussen snorts with laughter and replies, “I’m in news; I don’t have to know it, I just print it.”
For once Sherlock doesn’t have a plan. He’s been out-smarted at his own game. While Magnussen entertains himself by flicking Watson in the face, Mycroft is on his way via helicopter to unpick the damage his little brother has caused. That’s Christmas ruined then. The denouement was quite brutal, but Magnussen was asking for it. As he stood laughing on the steps of that ugly glasshouse, I was literally yelling at the T.V screen for Sherlock to just shoot him. Although many people say it is in the unflinching way that Sherlock killed a man in cold blood, which confirms how heartless he is, I beg to differ. Sherlock killed Magnussen (an abhorrent man anyway) to protect Mary, and therefore to protect John. Thus reinforcing how John Watson is Sherlock Holmes’ ultimate pressure point.
Before being sent away to certain death in Eastern Europe, Sherlock promises Watson that the “game is never over” – in doing so, Sherlock almost foresees the future. Four minutes later and Mycroft is already calling Sherlock up; England needs him to save the day once again. Moriarty, Sherlock’s arch-enemy, is back on everyone’s screens and Sherlock is the only one who can defeat him. Bring on series four: a chilling villain, a web of secrets and a baby. Steven Moffat I salute you.