Wow. This episode … intense. I’m going to break it down into three parts: the overall episode, Mary, and the murder. Here goes.
Overall: It was a fantastic episode. Very Sherlock Holmes-ian in tone, with its twists and surprises and shocks. Intense, spell-binding, and breathtaking. I usually click over to Twitter once in a while when watching, just to share some immediate thoughts or feelings, or check Instagram on my phone during a slow bit, or at least allow my thoughts to skitter distractedly. I just don’t focus well on TV shows/movies (unlike books …). This time, however, I barely dragged my eyes away from the screen once, and there was no way I was going to get distracted. It was just so IMMENSE.
I love seeing Mr and Mrs Holmes, and the deepening of the relationship between Mycroft and Sherlock. This season has really fleshed out all the characters, taken them beyond caricatures to be much more real. I mean, not really real, as none of them are exactly the type of person you might meet in real life, but they’re at least believable. They aren’t stock characters meant to represent something, without having any life to them. They grow. (Molly walloping Sherlock over wasting his gifts with drugs! LOVE SO MUCH.)
Magnussen was perfectly slimy and creepy and appalling. I almost preferred Moriarty’s madness and obvious wickedness to Magnussen’s calm, controlled, deliberate evil. *shudders*
Seeing Sherlock’s mind palace was kind of awesome, especially the parallel between his mind palace and Magnussen’s mind vault. I like that as Sherlock becomes more human, we get to see more of how his mind works.
Side note – I find the likelihood of Magnussen being able to remember all that information ridiculous, honestly. It would be more believable to me if he held that info, but somebody else used it, or vice versa. But that his mind holds all that information, and yet he’s still able to plot and scheme and be diabolical … um, no. Then again, nothing about Conan Doyle’s world is actually believable, so I suppose Magnussen isn’t that much of a stretch.
I was unhappy with the Janine storyline, mostly because I’d really liked the dynamic between her and Sherlock in the Sign of Three, but I did appreciate that she called Sherlock on his terrible behavior, and tells him they could have been friends. Because they could have been, and it was a good reminder for him that not all people have to be used.
Mary: Argh. I admit, I was really disappointed about Mary. She’s still awesome, but not in the same way she was before. Before, she was awesome BECAUSE she was ordinary and yet still able to be unintimidated by Sherlock, supportive of John and Sherlock’s friendship, a worthy member of the team, etc. Now, she’s just awesome because hey, she’s a brilliant assassin! It’d be like coming to the end of Lord of the Rings and discovering that Sam is actually a supernatural being disguised as a humble gardnener sent by the gods (or the Eldar or Valar or whatever Tolkien’s god-types are – I got bogged down in the Silmarillion, okay?) to make sure Frodo achieves his quest. Imagine the letdown!
I think Moffat has a hard time with ordinary characters. One of the things I dislike about Doctor Who, from the end of Donna’s tenure through now, is that there are no ordinary companions. Donna, who was beautifully ordinary, turned out to be chosen and special after all, blah blah blah. Then we have Amy, who is special. Rory, who starts out ordinary but turns special. River, who is extra-super-special. Clara, who is special.
(Oh my goodness. I’m suddenly seeing a ridiculous parallel between Sherlock/John/Mary and the Doctor/Rory/Amy, and so help me, if John becomes an immortal Roman centurion next series, I am going to be SO MAD.)
John is, of course, ordinary, and I think much of that is due to Martin Freeman’s immense acting ability. Many other actors would either make him a buffoon or play up his physical abilities to make those almost superhuman, but not Martin. His John is perfect. And I so wanted Mary to be an extraordinary ordinary person, but I do still like her, even though she is now an extraordinary extraordinary person. I also feel kind of cheated in regard to Sign of Three, having loved it so much and now seeing it in a completely different light. And yet … another sign of a brilliant, sneaky, tricksy show, I guess.
As for John and Mary’s relationship – still love it. That she wasn’t playing John, ever. That Sherlock wouldn’t lie to John about her (I REALLY REALLY loved that). That John didn’t immediately forgive her, but that he came around in the end. That he admitted he was still angry, but willing to move forward. That she still wouldn’t let him pick the name for their daughter. That they’ve been shaken, but they’re still a team. It’s not a sappy “love conquers all” story, but neither is it “our trust has been broken everything is ruined TRAGEDY” story.
Murder: What is murder? No, seriously, this is the question I was pondering most by the end of this episode. We consider Sherlock’s action to be murder because Magnussen wasn’t actively threatening John and Mary’s lives with a tangible weapon. And yet …
The first thing I thought of was the Star Trek: TNG episode where Data is driven relentlessly by logic and reason to attempt murder when all else has failed, against a man who was technically helpless, yet had proven himself to be completely amoral and ready and willing to destroy others on a whim. Then I thought of Agatha Christie’s Curtain, where (*SPOILER! No, seriously, don’t read this next bit if you’ve never read Curtain*) Poirot murders an Iago-type, a man who takes twisted pleasure in driving others to murder, without ever actively involving himself. The law cannot touch him, yet he is responsible both for the deaths of many and the moral destruction of those he incites to murder (seriously, at one point he even convinces Hastings to murder his daughter’s supposedly unsuitable boyfriend) (it’s okay, though, Poirot drugs Hastings so he can’t follow through with his plan), and so Poirot kills him, and then commits suicide because he does not believe a man who takes the law into his own hands is safe anymore, and does not trust himself to not play God now that he has done it once. *Done with Curtain spoilers*
I read someone sum up Data’s decision as showing the difference between ethics and morality, and I think that’s a really brilliant way of putting it. Data was programmed with ethics, but he did not have the instinctive morality that (most) human do, and that’s a gaping wide chasm of difference. And that, I think is what it boils down to with Sherlock as well. Whereas John, in that situation, is frustrated and helpless, seething with hatred of Magnussen yet unable to do something about it because Magnussen has not actually, you know, pulled a gun or knife on them (despite the fact that Magnussen has explicitly threatened Mary with death), Sherlock looks at it detachedly and says “This man will destroy all the people I love (and let’s not forget he was after Mycroft ultimately) if he is not stopped, and I have exhausted all the other options for stopping him, therefore I must now kill him.” And he does.
I’m not saying he’s right. I’m saying that Sherlock doesn’t have the same basic programming most human being do. He has ethics, not morality. Logic, not instinct. Therefore in his mind, it was not murder. It was as legitimate an act of protection as John shooting the cabbie to save his, Sherlock’s, life back in Study in Pink.
I really must emphasize again I’m not saying he was right. But I think this makes for a far more compelling character development than just “Oh well, let’s be a murderer!” And I’m curious to see what the show does with this next series. (WHENEVER THAT HAPPENS)
My final thought from this episode: You guys all picked up on Mycroft’s casual reference to “the other one” when speaking of his brother, right? With the implication that this “other one” did something far worse than Sherlock, and was treated far worse in return? I think the supposed return of Moriarty is a blind, and that the third Holmes brother (I have not read all the books, so is that book canon?) is going to be the Big Bad in Series 4. And how cool would that be?
Whew. It’s probably a good thing there’s only three episodes a series for this show. I would have to start getting a lot more concise in my posts otherwise.