How does Sherlock do it? How does this show keep topping itself? How does this series keep racketing up your emotions and increasing the stakes?
Sunday's "His Last Vow" was a thrilling 90-minute ride that flung fans from laughter to terror to heartache and back again. The episode represented a return to form after the season's previous two episodes veered from the show's format -- hilariously and movingly veered, but veered.
There was plenty of backlash on the EW board about my analytical take on last week's rom-com episode, though interestingly the comment boards on the UK sites were more divided, with a Guardian critic noting that "there were a few hundred comments saying the show had lost its way – it was too knowing, too comedic and had strayed too far from the formula." Whether you found the previous two weeks entertaining examples of storytelling eclecticism or tangential and off-target, I suspect all fans will agree tonight's closer was on balance a winner.
We finally got to know Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), a character who always seems to be called by his full name. The publishing mogul was certainly a scatological and tactile fellow, wasn't he? Peeing in the fireplace, licking a blackmail victim's face, flicking Watson's eye. Urbane, sterile and gross all at the same time. "The whole world is wet to my touch," he says, oozing ooziness.
Early in the episode we get re-introduced to John Watson -- nightmares (or dreams?) of his time in Afghanistan and lunging at the opportunity to stroll into a dangerous heroin den. "I'm a doctor, I know how to sprain people," he says to one junkie who attempts to attack him. "[I'm] just used to a better class of criminal."
There he finds schlubby=sweatpants Sherlock, doing "undercover" work. Despite being high (or because of it) he deftly shows off some parkour moves on the way out of the building. John takes him to get tested by Molly, who slaps his sharp cheekbones three times for toxifying his beautiful mind with drugs. "Sorry your engagement's over and I'm fairly grateful for a lack of a ring," he says -- did you see that? Classic Sherlock, stuffing a wait-a-second reveal and a funny quip into the same throwaway line that flies by in an instant.
Another gem was in the car on the ride home, where Sherlock realizes others were dropped off along the trip while he was spacing out. "People were talking, none of them me, I must have filtered ... I can filter out a lot of witless blather. I have Mrs. Hudson on semi-permanent mute."
Back at 221B Baker, Mycroft is pissed at Sherlock for lapsing back into his old habits. We've never really understood this clearly before that he is, in fact, a drug addict. Sherlock insists he was only there for a case, but even later it's not entirely clear that was his only reason -- it certainly wasn't an effective ploy against Magnussen.
Sherlock also manhandles his brother and says a great line, one that's sure to be seen on T-shirts at music festivals: "Don't appall me when I'm high."
NEXT: What happens when Sherlock gets shot