Blackmail is the New Black? Sherlock‘s “His Last Vow”

Sherlock. John. Mary. You guys.

Can we all hug now? It’s hug time. At least, once I’ve caught my breath.

Spoilers for “His Last Vow.”

What… what do I do with all this emotion, I don’t even…. (Cry mostly? Laugh hysterically? Shriek until my neighbors call the cops with complaints of a loose baby owl?)

So John hasn’t seen Sherlock in a month and is itching for a chance to do something useful and a bit unsafe. Up pops a neighbor whose son is doing lots of drugs, and John decides to be all heroic and nab him from a drug den. After being an incredible badass, he finds the kid and whoops—there you are Sherlock! The Watsons take him for drug test, which he fails spetacularly. But everything’s okay; it’s for a case.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Magnusson


Well, everything’s not okay because the guy Sherlock is planning to go up against is Charles Augustus Magnusson, master blackmailer and head of a very prominent media empire. The guy crossed the wrong woman, and she came to Sherlock for help after Magnusson threatened to destroy her husband’s name and licked her face to taste her perfume. Ew. I’m trying to think of an even quicker way to make someone instantly repulsive to an audience, but I’m pretty sure that’s about as good as it gets. Sherlock explains that he’s getting high again to make it look like he is off his game, to give Magnusson a “pressure point” that he thinks he can manipulate him by.

John would care about that, but he’s too busy being mesmerized by the fact that Sherlock has a girlfriend—Janine! From the wedding! Guess that guy she hooked up with after the reception didn’t pan out. They seem to be having lots of sex and are planning to have dinner with John and Mary, which John cannot wrap his head around. This is the face he makes when they start kissing in front of him:

Sherlock, His Last Vow, John

Awkward Watson. AWKWATSON.

Poor John. So Sherlock meets Magnusson, who proceeds to make a big show of dominance by peeing in the Baker Street fireplace. He just keeps getting grosser, I don’t know what to do. He tells Sherlock that he’s not going to give him the letters that his client wants and strolls out. Sherlock wants to get more intel, so he drags John to Magnusson’s place of work with the intent of breaking into his private office. In order to do that, he proposes to Janine, who turns out to be Magnusson’s PA. Janine is out cold when they get there, and while John is tending to her, Sherlock walks in to find Magnusson at the wrong end of a silenced hand gun.

Mary is the one about to pull the trigger.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Mary

She’s in full black ops gear, and shoots Sherlock in the chest, leaving Magnusson alive. The detective manages to pull through using some impressive Mind Palace-ing and at first Sherlock keeps Mary’s secret. But John’s brighter than he looks and he and Sherlock arrange to catch Mary in her lie together; her name is one that she took from someone long dead to start a new life after being an assassin. John is (understandably) furious. Sherlock tries to calm his friend, intent on protecting Mary regardless of the whole shooting… thing. John lets Mary plead her case, but takes some time coming around. Come Christmas, John apologizes to his wife, and tells her that he doesn’t need to know who she was before—he wants to spend his future with her. Hooray! Watsons! Trust! Incoming babies!

Sherlock, His Last Vow, John

Sherlock drugs the whole family (his included) for a dose of holiday cheer and commandeers John and his gun and Mycroft’s laptop with a little game in mind; he wants into Magnusson’s vault, the place where he keeps his dirt on everyone, so he can erase the blackmail on Mary. The plot is admittedly more complex than that, and Magnusson is one step ahead; the drugs never fooled him because he has always known that Sherlock’s pressure point was John. (Yes, he did bury John under that bonfire to prove it.) He knows that Sherlock only brought him Mycroft’s secrets because it was the perfect way to get government agents into his home where they could find his vault and arrest him for having so much illegal information.

Problem is, there is no vault. Not a physical one at least—like Sherlock, Charles Augustus Magnusson has a Mind Palace of his own. With that on the table, it’s Sherlock and John who are now in danger because they look like they’re selling state secrets to him. The weasel makes this point to John by flicking him in the face repeatedly: while he has information on Mary, John has to let him do whatever he wants, same as everyone else under his fist. It is the most discomfitting scene on the series to date.

Mycroft arrives with helicopters, but Sherlock has other plans. To keep Mary safe, he murders Magnusson with John’s gun—he fulfills the vow he made to them both on their wedding.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Magnusson, John

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Magnusson, John

Sherlock, His Last Vow, John

But there’s that ‘Sherlock straight up killed a dude’ problem, so Mycroft strikes a government deal and lands Sherlock a covert job in Eastern Europe—that will get him killed in six months. Better than life in prison and another smear job following his trial? Sherlock says his final goodbye to John Watson, but just as he’s away on a private jet to Certain DeathLandia, someone crops up on every screen in the United Kingdom.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Moriarty

Oh hey there, handsome. We did miss you.

There was so much to wrap your brain around this episode, and some of the nonlinear intercuts didn’t play very well. Should you care? Well, if you’re an old school kind of Holmes fan, dissecting these things piece by piece is what you live for, so… no, you don’t care so much. I really didn’t. Though I found myself sort of glad that Magnusson was quickly dispatched because while he was a chilling villain, he was too odious to demand revisiting. Which fits in nicely with his canon counterpart who was also quickly dispatched. Because he’s a horrible person with zero redeeming anything.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Magnusson


And what about Moriarty’s resurrection? Is he actually coming back? I confess, part of me really wanted him to stay dead because no one on TV ever does, and finding his peace in death was such a fascinating journey for a villain, but… oh, who am I kidding, I am so happy to see that crazy-eyed face again. If he really is back, that means that both of their faked suicides were really just another round of The Game he’s playing with Sherlock, and I cannot wait to find out what Round 3 is all about. (FYI, Moffat and Gatiss claim to have planned out the basic arcs for the next two seasons. Holding my breath for another two years starts now…)

Mary isn’t dead! Neither is tiny (YES, it’s a girl) Watson! And Mary’s an assassin who worked for the CIA, and that means that next season will be all about John and Sherlock running around solving crimes with the help of John’s amazing wife who can probably kill people with her thumbs. Good. One of the most fascinating aspects of this episode was watching how both John and Sherlock related to her; it perhaps shouldn’t be quite so shocking to realize (though it is) that Sherlock doesn’t just respect Mary—he genuinely seems to love her. Loves her because she’s clever and deadly and cares for John just as much as he does. Watching his face as John proceeds to tear into her is painful; he’s hurt to see both of them hurting each other.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, John, Mary, mrs. Hudson

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Mary, John

And John… I hold Martin Freeman solely responsible for all of my tears in this episode. The things that John says to Mary upon the reveal of her identity are mean and unfair, and that’s good because that’s how real human beings react to lies from the people they love. His emotions in this episode are just so damned real and raw. Poor John Watson needing it spelled out, really this time—needing to understand that he does attract a certain kind of person and to own up to the parts of himself that draw them in. (Do I need to point out that John seems to be having a resurgence of dreams related to his post-traumatic stress disorder because he hasn’t seen Sherlock in a month?) John learning to be okay with the sort of life he keeps eking out despite his everyman protests. Sherlock has already come to accept this, now it’s finally his turn.

This season has been a season about acknowledging family. About loving the people who matter to you despite their faults and shortcomings. What Sherlock seems to be saying to us now is: Look at this odd group of odd people. Look how well they complement one another. It doesn’t matter how strange they are because they can be strange together. And that goes for all of them, Molly and Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson and even Mycroft included. (And maybe Bill now, too? Nothing says “we love you” like a sprained arm from John Watson.) This is the reason why Magnusson must be put down—as Sherlock says “He attacks people who are different.” That lack of respect for difference makes him deplorable in every sense.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Mycroft

Of course, how they’re going to dismiss Sherlock’s murder charges on account of Moriarty’s return is… dubious at best, but I’m guessing that’s a handwave excuse in the making. Anything to get the consulting detective and criminal back in the ring together.

And now for the sundry—so much sundry:

  • Pegged pretty quickly that Sherlock was faking that affair with Janine because it was so very off of him, but also because it’s a canon nod to the Charles Augustus Milverton tale, where Holmes gets engaged to Milverton’s housemaid in order to glean more information on the man. I would also like to point out that if Irene Adler and Jim Moriarty are correct, and Sherlock was indeed a virgin up until this point, he seems to have lost said virginity for a case. Which is exactly the only way I would have expected that to happen. It was mentioned in the comments that it seems as though Sherlock and Janine never did in fact have sex, due to her line “we could have, just once.” In which case, the hell is she doing hiding in his room dressed in his shirt? (Obviously planning on seducing him when he got back.) Was there lots of naked cuddling going on? He dragged her into the bathroom while he’s showering, so what—she’s just sitting on the toilet reading a magazine and watching him bathe? (I was with the repost of insults for Janine after she took a fair pop at him, until he tacked ‘whore’ on the end because, really? When writing a script, please just always delete that word. We need to be over it now.)

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Janine

  • How long have I been waiting for John Watson to just take someone apart with that medical flair. BAMF. It’s a sprain. Deal with it.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, John, Bill

  • Mrs. Hudson the exotic dancer (who smokes lots of weed). I need more information, I need to know how exotic—I NEED TO KNOW IF YOU WERE POLEDANCING, MRS. HUDSON.
  • Slap him again, Molly! Just keep doing it until he finally says something not awful. Poor Tom; we knew it wouldn’t last. But at least she’s telling Sherlock exactly what an ass he is now. All his defensive sniping just made him look sadder next to her fury, and he likely knew it, too.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Molly

  • Redbeard is a puppy! My fiancee called this one way ahead of time—she insisted that Redbeard had to be a pet that Sherlock lost in some tragic way, hence Mycroft bringing him up at the Watson’s wedding. But for that to be what Sherlock recalls when he needs to calm himself? *wince*

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Redbeard

  • So many canon references, too many to count, so I’ll give some highlights: reference to Mary being “The Empty House,” which is actually the story Sherlock came back to life in, Mary nearly killing Magnusson (in canon he’s killed by a woman he tries to blackmail), Bill Wiggins who is the head of the Baker Street Irregulars, Mary’s real name initials are a nod to “The Sign of Four,” and the place where Janine buys her cottage is meant to be Sherlock’s retirement home; in canon he retires to a cottage in Sussex Downs where he keeps bees. (Pity Janine’s getting rid of them.)

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Moriarty

  • All the people in Sherlock’s brain fulfill certain functions: Mycroft is the sharpest part of his mind yet again, Molly is the part keeping him alive (along with Anderson, interestingly), Moriarty is the straitjacketed bit that is tied heavily to pain and madness. But it is John again, always John who brings him back to life. Ugh, my heart.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, John

  • Mycroft finally admits that he’d be heartbroken if anything happened to his “stupid” little brother. Yeah, we always knew there was a (damaged) heart buried under there, you great big liar. Anyone who makes “caring is not an advantage” his motto must have something he’s terrified to lose.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Mycroft

  • THEY GET THEIR BRAINS FROM THEIR MOM. Their mathematician mom. This. Forever this.

Sherlock, His Last Vow, Mrs. Holmes, Mycroft, Bill

  • What was with that weird after-credits clue? Anyone?
  • Two things: Mycroft makes mention of “the other brother,” and how he may have done something awful to him. This is likely a nod to the fan theory that there must have been a third Holmes brother who would have inherited their family estate in the canon. The fans named this brother Sherringford, which was one of Doyle’s early potential names for Sherlock. In addition, Mycroft talks of a colleague who discussed using people as “blunt instruments,” which is a reference to M in Casino Royale right before he mentions that other brother. So… James Bond and Sherlock exist in the same universe? Then my favorite headcanon is coming true (I’ve been insisting on this since Skyfall came out), and I’m calling it now: Q is Sherringford Holmes. Tell me I’m wrong. I’ll fight you.

Sherringford, Mycroft, Sherlock



And that’s it for… probably another two years. I’m going to have a mental breakdown over that in a couple days, probably. Just you wait.

Emmet Asher-Perrin thinks this season was almost the death of her. She hopes that all the TV shows currently coming off of hiatus can give her a break from all these EMOTIONS. (She’s lying.) You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


Back to the top of the page


This post is closed for comments.

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.