Honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to get to this. Well. Not that surprised. Grad school manages to suck up a massive amount of time.
Here’s the thing. I am a Sherlockian. Yes, I’m a card-carrying Whovian as well. And it was Doctor Who that first inspired me to finally start this blog. But I only got into Doctor Who because Sherlock was on hiatus. For two years. After a series of only three episodes. Which ended on a cliffhanger to end practically all cliffhangers.
In my desperation for good BBC telly, I turned to the Doctor. In retrospect, an excellent decision. But I am not here to write about Doctor Who. I am here to write about Sherlock. I am here to seek to process “His Last Vow”.
I think you should know that I cry very easily at films and TV shows. Heck. I’ve even cried at a grocery store commercial. So it’s fairly easy to make me cry. Sherlock, though, had never made me cry.
I don’t know why I didn’t cry during “The Reichenbach Fall”. I wanted to. When Sherlock fell. When John’s heart broke and mine did too. I wanted to cry. But I couldn’t. I don’t know why. I couldn’t breathe. I know that. My hands were pressed tight against my mouth as he fell. There was no air exchange happening in my lungs when John stood at Sherlock’s grave, told him he was the “most human human being”, asked him not to be dead. But no tears. I felt like rather a failure of a fangirl.
Because I’m me, I have analyzed this quite a lot. The best conclusion I can come to is the fact that somehow I knew that Sherlock survived. I’m not sure if it had been spoiled for me somehow or if I just knew because of the books. Perhaps it was because I was aware that series three had already been confirmed. But I did know. And I think that stopped the tears. Somehow knowing that Sherlock wasn’t really dead made me unable to cry with John. I don’t know why. And that last moment, when John walks away from Sherlock’s grave and the camera pans to reveal a very much alive Sherlock watching his friend, even though I knew it was coming, the relief and excitement was massive.
Then, if you follow British television at all, you know that a two year hiatus followed. Two years full of survival theories, a fandom desperate for any scrap of news, a tumblr replete with fangirls making up wild fanfic. Then finally series three aired.
I am not going to address episodes one and two here other than to say I so enjoyed the way that the first episode focused on the reuniting of two very dear friends and the way the second episode proved that Sherlock does have a heart. That best man speech was perfect. Witty, charming, abrasive, full of love. I also came to love Mary very quickly in the first two episodes. She fit right in and rather than dragging Sherlock and John down, she encouraged them and brought them closer together.
So in “His Last Vow”, I was as shocked as Sherlock was when Mary turned out to be an assassin, a cold-blooded killer with a past. And when she shot Sherlock, my hands flew to my face in utter disbelief and sadness.
I didn’t cry then. I just didn’t breathe. As Sherlock fought desperately to stay alive, my mind reeled. How could Mary do that? Who was she? And why did she shoot Sherlock?
The mind palace was brilliantly filmed. I loved that Molly showed up. Again, the one person he can count on. The one person he can trust. Earlier in the episode she slapped him out of anger, to shake him from his own selfish behavior. Now she slaps him to wake him up, to save him from death. Anderson shows up. An idiot. But this time the idiot has something clever to say. Then Mycroft is there. The brother who claims that caring is not an advantage but is inextricably linked to his younger sibling. The Holmes brothers. Two outcasts in a world of goldfish. And suddenly Sherlock is young again. A frightened little boy afraid he’s upset his parents. Again.
They tell him to fall. And he falls. If you listened to the music at this moment, it is the exact same music that plays when Sherlock falls off of the roof of St. Bart’s in Reichenbach. Except this time, there is no plan, no Lazarus option. Sherlock is falling to his death. He (and we by extension) are transported to his mind palace.
And his stalwarts, his Mycroft, his Molly, tell him to find something, anything that will keep him from going into shock. Control. Stay calm.
He searches for John. But finds Mary in her wedding dress and she shoots him again. Clearly he needs to go deeper. Then he sees Redbeard. His childhood dog. Little boy Sherlock. Did you notice the name? Redbeard. A pirate’s name. What might we deduce about his heart? I’ve no idea. But when he was young, he wanted to be a pirate.
I still wasn’t crying at this point. I was still too much in shock and I had no mind palace to keep me calm.
The mind palace filming was fantastic in my estimation. So often, that inner dialogue, especially for a character like Sherlock who is not given to outward displays of emotion, is difficult to portray. The camera angles, the harsh lighting, the music all served to make the mind palace a haunting picture of Sherlock’s emotional turmoil and his love for his friend that was strong enough to bring him back from death.
Interesting how this time, Moriarty saved him. He had locked Moriarty away in the dungeons of the mind palace and in this moment of acute and utter despair, it was his enemy that gave him the courage to continue on, to come back from death.
As the truth came out later in the episode and John found out from Mary’s own mouth about her history, that brought tears to my eyes. John’s heartbreak mirrored my own sadness over her betrayal. And the two conversations between husband and wife, the first when he confronts her, the second when he forgives her, were some of the most heart-wrenching moments. But that wasn’t the most emotional moment.
A passing comment by Mycroft at the Holmes’ homestead on Christmas, “MI 6. They want to place you back into Eastern Europe. An undercover assignment that will prove fatal to you in, I think, about six months,” sets up that moment. And I didn’t even see it coming. After Sherlock’s murder of Magnussen, a scene which would require its own post, he is being exiled. We don’t know where. John and Mary come to say goodbye.
At this point, my throat was beginning to constrict and my vision was beginning to get blurry. I was holding it together fairly well. I made it through “William Sherlock Scott Holmes. If you’re looking for baby names.” Until Sherlock told John where he was going. A job in Eastern Europe that would last about six months.
“And then what?” John asks. Sherlock shrugs. “Who knows.”
And that’s when I lost it. Because I knew. I knew that fatal job in Eastern Europe that would claim Sherlock’s life in six months. I knew that it didn’t matter that series four had already been commissioned. Six months was plenty of time for another series and Sherlock would still die at the end of it. Really die this time. Not like Reichenbach. Not like Mary’s carefully calculated bullet. Really and truly die. And John had no idea. And that’s why I cried. For real cried.
Because he is saying goodbye forever and he doesn’t even know it. He knows he’s saying goodbye. But we all know in the back of his mind, he thinks he’ll see his friend again. And we know he won’t.
Goodbyes are hard. Final goodbyes are even harder. And this goodbye ripped my heart out.
Of course, Steven Moffat being Steven Moffat, he can’t keep anyone dead for long so when Moriarty showed up again and Sherlock’s exile ended after precisely four minutes, my tears quickly dried. And instead I was left shaking my fist, not for the first time, at MOOOFFFAATTTT!!!!
Here’s hoping it’s not another two years before Sherlock graces our screens again.