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Monday, 13 January 2014

Sherlock: "His Last Vow" (Part 1)

Previously: "The Sign of Three"

My mind is blown. WHAT WAS GOING ON HERE. WHAT.

My initial reaction to this episode was to vomit ectoplasm at the ceiling, but since I am A Lady, I forced myself to look at the situation in a calm and rational manner. First of all, would I still think this episode was a hilarious seafood gumbo of nonsense if it had been written by someone other than Steven Moffat? Am I biased, as a result of his track record as a renowned misogynist and writer of nonsense television? Would His Last Vow survive a blind taste test? So, looking back on it, I asked myself: would this episode still be a warped tangle of plot-noodles if I thought it had been written by Mark Gatiss, Steve Thompson, or J.K. Rowling?

Well, yes. Yes it would.
This season's big finale hinged on one of the show's most embarrassingly overused concepts, the Mind Palace. The sonic screwdriver of BBC Sherlock. One Mind Palace aficionado was enough, but two stretches credulity to the limit. Plus, having Magnusson admit that his records are all stored in his head is just plain bad writing. Not only is it kind of implausible (seriously, not even Sherlock has that level of detail in his Mind Palace), but it's also tantamount to inviting someone to shoot you in the head. If not Sherlock, then certainly John, who Magnusson would surely know is a gun owner. Unless Moffat was deliberately going for a Bond villainesque "I've brought you here so I may as well tell you my evil plan!" scene. In which case... that pretty much negates Sherlock Holmes' power as a hero who relies on deductive reasoning to defeat his enemies. The denouement was the villain literally explaining his Achilles Heel, and then Sherlock murdering him to get rid of the problem. Not very impressive, when you think about it.

I wish I could say I was surprised that this episode received generally positive reviews (the Guardian called it "perfect," and the Telegraph thought it was the best episode so far) but for some reason, British TV reviewers always seem fall over themselves to applaud Steven Moffat's writing. This is highly frustrating because it makes it seem as if his best writing (Blink; The Girl in the Fireplace) is only slightly better than his worst (ie, the last year or so of Doctor Who), which completely devalues the quality his better work. It's just plain ridiculous to claim that His Last Vow was better than every other episode of Sherlock to date, when in fact, it was really just more dramatic. This kind of blindly devoted attitude reminds me of Aaron Sorkin fans who manage to persuade themselves that The Newsroom is incredible, just because they liked The West Wing.

Last night I had a conversation with one of my friends who thought this episode was even worse than I did -- in fact, that was one of the worst episodes of big-budget TV she'd ever seen. I pointed out that while His Last Vow was nonsensical and often straight-up bad, I did still find it entertaining. I still enjoy Sherlock's flashy excitement, and its ridiculousness, and the sheer high-octane pleasure of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman play off each other. Also, I'm not enormously invested in the show's future, so it doesn't really bother me that the characterisation was kind of inconsistent this season, or that the finale was a hot mess of OTT plot twists and frustrating sexist undertones.
What does bother me is the idea that this episode might be hailed as an example of good TV writing, when it mostly relied on flashiness and sudden, implausible revelations to dazzle its audience rather than engaging them with a coherent, well-developed plot. Mary's an assassin! There's a third Holmes brother! Moriarty's alive! Magnusson's files are all in his MIND PALACE! Sherlock just drugged everyone! Sherlock's going to jail! No he isn't! He's got a girlfriend! No he doesn't! -- On and on until you're caught between laughter and shock, your critical faculties obliterated by Sherlock running around his mind palace with a puppy, and everyone's "pressure points" being helpfully displayed onscreen. The only aspect of the episode that remained consistent throughout was Lars Mikkelsen as Charles Augustus Magnusson: a gorgeously repulsive performance.

Continued in Part 2: Female Characters

1 comment:

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