philosophy, TV, Watch

Sherlock S3 Ep3, With Spoilers

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.

9 thoughts on “Sherlock S3 Ep3, With Spoilers”

  1. Haha. I watched it yesterday, and I’m sitting here, reading this, going “yup, uh-huh, yup, yup, yes, uh-huh, yup…” Totally agree, on every last count (except that last paragraph, but more on that in a minute). When you asked your question “What is murder”, I immediately thought of Poirot and “Curtain” – and bang, you do too.

    So, yeah. Loved the Christmas dinner scene (BTW, did you know that Mr & Mrs Holmes are actually Mr & Mrs Cumberbatch? Seriously, they’re Benedict’s parents. How great is that? Martin’s wife and Benedict’s parents. No wonder they all play so well together.). I liked the fact that this show went back to the spirit of the earlier seasons, with more mystery and Sherlock having to be brainy. Magnussen is awful – although, I think I still find Moriarty worse, more creepy. Ugh, nightmarish, both of them. And yes, the idea of Magnussen being able to remember all that stuff is a big stretch. I thought he would end up having some kind of microchip implant or something. LOL to the unbelievability of Conan Doyle’s stories, too. On Mary, totally agree that it was disappointing, and that the ending is still good, for all the reasons you say. It seems that script writers for these sorts of shows just cannot pull off writing an ordinary woman, do they? And yes, Martin Freeman plays the most wonderful Everyman ever. He already blew Arthur Dent in Hitchhiker’s Guide out of the water; and of course that’s what makes him so absolutely perfect as Bilbo.

    And yes to the issue of “murder”. I don’t think what Sherlock did was murder. Would it have been murder to assassinate Hitler? I don’t think so. Or rather, yes, it would have been, but justified and necessary murder – as was this. Although, there is one very clear conclusion in this story: Sherlock needs to stop meddling. If he hadn’t gone into Magnussen’s office and interrupted Mary, she’d have done the job of offing the guy right at the beginning of the story, Sherlock never would have got shot, they would have never had to go through all that drama and trauma.

    On your last paragraph, no, there isn’t at third Holmes brother in Conan Doyle’s canon. And I actually didn’t hear that line as “the other one”, but “the other time”, or at least that’s how I understood it (it whizzed by rather quickly). So I thought it meant Sherlock did something some other time that was a biggie. But yes, I agree that the “return” of Moriarty is a blind – somebody’s using his face to scare people. Unless he’s got a twin brother – but naaah. I guess we’ll have to see.

    1. The whole issue of what constitutes murder is a really fascinating one to me. Especially when you look at it, as Agatha Christie does, more in what the act does to the murderer rather than the murdered. Murdering Hitler? Definitely would have been good for overall humanity. But what about the person who committed the murder? What does that act do to them? As with Poirot, what happens when you deliberately choose to “play God,” what does that do to you?

      Which is why I think Sherlock’s different manner of functioning is important. He already plays God and, as you said, meddles in far too many affairs that are none of his business. This just took it one step further, but didn’t necessarily twist him inside the way it would someone like John, and pervert him.

      I’ve been doing some Googling, and like rockinlibrarian says below, the notion of a third Holmes brother is not part of canon, but one of the oldest notions of fandom. So they might be using the idea, or Mycroft’s comment might have just been a sly nod to fandom. They do a lot of that!

  2. I read that the 3rd Holmes Brother theory is a very old (like, original stories timeperiod) fan theory, because the Holmeses seemed to come from landed gentry, but neither Sherlock or Mycroft lived out on the estate managing it, so there must have been an oldest brother who actually did that full-time. And the people who came up with this theory named him Shenniford, because that had been Sherlock’s original name? That part of the theory didn’t make sense to me!

    Last week when I tweeted you saying that I was curious what you’d make of some of the plot twists, Mary and the Murder (new band name) were at the top of my list. I knew you’d be disappointed in Mary’s un-ordinariness, but I also hoped you’d still like her, as I still like her! I really appreciated that it wasn’t like she was pulling one over on John, she was just trying to start her life over– she wasn’t playing a part, she really does love him, etc. And oh, his perfect line– the one he’d “rehearsed”– about the problems of her past were her business, the problems of her future he was honored to share or whatever it was– SO GORGEOUS. Relatedly, every time non-Martin-Fanatics gush about how amazing he was in this, I start to preen and say, “told ya so.” :D Anyway, but your analysis on the shooting– and no, I think he DOES consider it “murder,” he just also considers it justified– was more insightful than I could have ever hoped for. I kind of want you to copy and paste it into every internet conversation about this episode because I don’t think anybody, pro con or indifferent to the twist, seems to understand it as well as you do!

    1. I’ve been surprised, now that I’ve read some more reviews, at how many people are outraged over Sherlock’s actions, saying that Magnussen wasn’t that bad, wasn’t as bad as Moriarty, and that is was completely out-of-character for Sherlock to shoot him, that it was done just for shock value by the writers. To me, it seemed to make perfect sense, and even something Conan Doyle’s Holmes would have done – but then, I’ve read a ton of Agatha Christie where she debates the nature of murder and murderers, and my best friend and I used to have hypothetical debates about this sort of thing all the time (yeah, we were weird teenagers). So it seemed really obvious, and actually really well done to me. (And Magnussen seems like a horrible villain to me, someone who tortures people for his own gain and amusement, who really HAS set himself up as a god over everyone else. Moriarty is twisted and evil and vicious, but at least he invests himself in his actions, yes? But then, I’m of the school of thought that, like Sherlock, believes blackmail is one of the most horrible, cruel crimes possible, and all blackmailers are worse than scum. What can I say, I’m an old-fashioned gal.)

      Martin, Benedict, and Amanda were all mind-blowingly good in this episode. But I have no problem stating that Martin was unquestionably the best of all three, and the whole thing would have fallen apart were it not for his believability.

      1. I found the “murder” actually quite satisfying – because that is the absolutely only way Magnussen could be stopped. It’s totally logical that someone had to pull the trigger. And Sherlock is nothing if not logical.

        Yes, murder is a question of definition. Is capital punishment murder? Is the killing of soldiers in war murder? John is experienced in the latter. (So, actually, I don’t think pulling the trigger would have twisted him out of shape, either; he can kill in defense of others, but he wouldn’t do so to stop a torturer from tormenting *him*). It comes down to the question whether or not you believe that there ever is a justification for killing.

        Actually, when I think of it, it’s a little disappointing that the solution to this story isn’t Sherlock’s deductive powers, but brute force. He is outmaneuvred by Magnussen, tricked, defeated really – and he can only solve it with a bullet. But then, he is able to solve it that way because Magnussen doesn’t understand him – he doesn’t expect that. You’re right, Sherlock’s personality is the key to this, and that is what Magnussen underestimates.

        Is there actually a precendence for Magnussen in the Conan Doyle stories? I was under the impression that Moriarty was the ultimate antagonist, matched with Holmes point for point in brains and brilliance – almost the same person, except one evil, the other good – and once he was gone he was gone; after Reichenbach there wasn’t another one like him.

        1. According to Wikipedia, there’s a Holmes story featuring a Charles Augustus Milverton, a blackmailer who disgusts Holmes beyond all others. While Holmes and Watson are at his house to steal papers, one of Milverton’s blackmail victims enters and shoots him. Watson instinctively wants to stop her, but Holmes holds him back to allow the shooting to proceed, and then he later refuses to help the police find the murderer. So yeah, definitely precedence, though Milverton was never meant to be as brilliant of an antagonist as Moriarty. (Personally, I think using Moriarty so soon was a mistake – they can’t keep topping (or resurrecting) him, but all other antagonists really do pale in comparison.)

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