Sherlock season finale recap: Death Becomes Him

A riveting finale that's full of surprises at last gives Sherlock fans everything they want in one episode.
Ep. 03 | Aired Feb 2, 2014

Here's a big room full of nothin' suckers!

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Watson is furious at Mary's betrayal. Sherlock explains she only shot to wound, but that doesn't help matters. It's a strong, uncharacteristically raw scene for this show as Sherlock explains that John sensed the danger in Mary and was drawn to it -- just like he's drawn to his friendship with Sherlock and chasing criminals. "Why is everything always my fault!" John yells. "She wasn't supposed to be like that!"

Also, got to call out this great joke. Sherlock demands Mrs. Hudson get him some morphine from her kitchen; she bewilderingly explains she doesn't have any. "What exactly is the point of you?!" he barks.

So then we jump ahead to Christmas with the Holmes family. Why not? It's free-wheeling Sherlock. We get a re-appearance by Sherlock's / Cumberbatch's parents and Sherlock and Mycroft taking a smoke break. Mycroft tells his brother he was considering him for a dangerous assignment but admits, "your loss would break my heart," which is by far the nicest thing he's ever said to anyone. "What the hell am I supposed to say to that?" Sherlock replies.

Inside, a very pregnant Mary reunites with John. She had given him a flash drive with all her sins on it. He reveals he never read it and that he's decided to forgive her. "The problems of your past are your business," he says. "The problems of your future are my privilege." Awwwww damn this show!

This would normally be the end of an episode of most shows, but we're not done. We learn Sherlock drugged the tea and now everybody at the party is passed out except John. Sherlock swipes his brother's laptop and they take off to Magnussen's Bond-villain estate to make a trade -- Mycroft's secrets for Mary's.

Once they arrive and find Magnussen sitting on a very expensive-looking couch, he guesses Sherlock's intention -- set up him for accepting stolen government secrets. Fulfilling the Bond-villain tradition, Magnussen monologues and reveals his secret. There's no vault of blackmail items, there's no Google Glass app, it's all his his mind -- his own memory palace -- where he keeps everybody's secrets. (I'm with Sherlock, however, this is not plausible since he would need hard proof to blackmail people to the extent that he does. Photos, documents, etc. Magnussen says he doesn't need evidence because he's a newspaper publisher, but you especially need it if you're a publisher, otherwise you'd get sued into oblivion. Anyway. That couch is awesome.)

They go outside and wait for the authorities and Magnussen declares his intention to ruin all of them. He spends time flicking John's face. "This is what I do to people. This is what I do to whole countries."

Sherlock does what he calculates as his only remaining option. He grabs John's gun -- which was not confiscated from him for some reason, despite making a show of Magnussen's guards searching Watson earlier in the episode. Sherlock shoots and kills Magnussen, fulfilling the "last vow" he made at John's wedding to always be there for him and his wife.

Sherlock is taken into custody. We then see Mycroft trying to figure out what to do with him, reassuring other government colleagues he's not being soft on his brother. "I'm not given to outbursts of brotherly compassion. You know what happened to the other one."

Whoa-whoa-whoa.

Other one? There ... is ... another ... That's interesting. There's a vague reference to another older Holmes brother in the canon, but it's slight. It couldn't be ... Moriarty, could it?

Speaking of which, Holmes' trip to go undercover as punishment is interrupted when a Joker-like Moriarty image pops up on UK television screens. "Did you miss me?" Yes. Yes, we did. But I hope the show's explanation for how he's coming back is better than one we got for Sherlock in "Empty Hearse."

And we're set up for season 4. This season was divisive, to be sure, but it's tough to argue with how consistently entertaining each episode was. In the first two seasons, we had relatively weak middle episodes bracketed by stronger openers and closers. This season had the show's humor and emotion cranked up throughout, though there were times I felt the show veered too far into sentimentality, especially for Holmes -- edging him toward humanity is a fine thing, but this season was a bit too much of a lovefest.

A question: Why does Sherlock get such lousy ratings in the U.S.? Sorry, the numbers are weak compared to just how excellent the show is -- just 2.9 million viewers last week compared to Downton's 8.8 million. I know, I know, there's a lot of illegal downloading, but those engaged in downloading tend to overestimate how much of an impact they have when chatting in the Internet echo chamber compared to the broader television audience. Look at HBO's Game of Thrones. It's the most downloaded TV show, yet is only downloaded about 5 million times per episode, while HBO's average cross-platform viewership of Thrones is around 14 million. So even factoring a reasonable percentage of downloading -- say it's 50 percent of the PBS viewership -- the numbers on Sherlock are still lower than you would think they would be. It's tempting to believe, in a self-congratulatory way, that Sherlock is simply "too smart" for most viewers, but I suspect the show is still finding its audience. As I noted in the "Empty Hearse" recap, it's a crime show for people who don't like crime shows. So it's targeting an audience outside the genre it actually occupies, which makes the show a tough sell (one of my editors has refused to watch Sherlock for this very reason, going, "He solves crimes, right?" then I say, "Yes, but..." and try to explain).

There's one more thing. I'm avoiding an examination of Sherlock breaking canon by Holmes pulling the trigger tonight. Instead I direct you to Jeff Jensen's essay on this very subject, where he talks about Sherlock and Man of Steel, and the risk of taking nonviolent heroes and turning them into murderers (yes, yes, I realize Sherlock isn't strictly nonviolent compared to, say a total pacifist, but he is compared to most man-of-action leads chasing bad guys).

Thanks for reading. Now the long wait begins again. Hopefully not as long as last time.

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