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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

32 Comments

  1. Jarl
    January 27, 2015 @ 12:48 am

    Hey Phil, here's a thought experiment: Who do you support the extra-judicial killing of? Or, indeed, the expanded-judicial killing, if you prefer?

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  2. 5tephe
    January 27, 2015 @ 1:09 am

    Much though I wanted to, I couldn't love this one. While the direction and performances were, you're right, absolutely excellent, and I am personally 100% fine with the idea that Murdoch and people like him are a stain on our society that ought to be expunged – I don't think that's a point which is that profound. It's frankly self evident.

    And perhaps I'm too much of an old fashioned Sherlock Holmes fan to sanction the violence they did to his character. Sherlock realises that someone has a better mind palace than his, but that he uses it for personal gain by destroying the lives of others. Now – Sherlock has always (and in this incarnation) been a bit of a borderline character. Again – the idea that a genius hero is not that different to a genius villain isn't exactly revelatory, especially not in a Sherlock/Moriarty dominated story like this Moffat/Gatiss version.

    So what does Sherlock do? Shoot him in the head. The equivalent of taking his bat and his ball and going home. Boo hoo.

    Now, like I said, I'm fine with the Murdoch stand in getting shot in the head. But surely the more revelatory, and honest character moment would have been for him to realise that there is a reason he chooses to define himself as a hero. He actually does have a moral compass, and finds Magnussen's behaviour repugnant. He is NOT just like all the other geniuses, and so decides on a different way to defeat Magnussen.

    Instead, he just caves, and the only message left for us to take is the one where we realise that all heroes are, in fact, "just monsters who we like". That's exactly what they left us with.

    Not, in my book, a triumph. But then I said some time ago that this would be the episode where we differed in our opinion, Phil.

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  3. Kit Power
    January 27, 2015 @ 2:45 am

    I find the parallels between this reading and V for Vendetta absolutely fascinating.

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  4. Anglocat
    January 27, 2015 @ 3:08 am

    I loved the ep myself, although I expected John to do the shooting–not because of the husband-saves/avenges-wife trope, but because in ACD's writings, Watson often cuts through situatiions where Holmes's approach is too clever by half. Moffat has used that well, e.g., Study in Pink. So here we have an episode where Sherlock adopts a John-style solution, but does it himself tto spare John the sacrifice. His Last Vow–to honor his friendship with John, and protect him. The high-functioning sociopath self-description has never been more wrong. Ironically, this is Lestrade's prediction coming true–Sherlock is becoming a good man.

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  5. Sca Punk
    January 27, 2015 @ 3:49 am

    Ha, and I was half-hoping you wouldn't say anything about the narrative pace being slowed down so that I could chime in with it. Well, who cares, it's true. I was really tripped up by the pacing of Deep Breath at first, but it really makes more sense coming after His Last Vow. What's even remarkable about Moffat's new style is that he must have written it around The Time of the Doctor, which is, in my mind, the epitome of his old style in the way it skillfully and precisely controls the narrative velocity.

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  6. Daibhid C
    January 27, 2015 @ 6:03 am

    I thought this was great, although I remain unsure about the ending – my heroes just don't kill.

    Well. My heroes don't kill if they can possibly avoid it. As Dangerous Beans put it "Then you have to. But you still shouldn't." And what almost saved the ending for me is that Sherlock accepts that. He committed a terrible act and is prepared to be punished for it. (Although, in the event, he isn't. So I'm still not sure.)

    But while I remain unsure about the ending, I felt it was inevitable from the moment it turned out Magnussen had a mind palace. Because what's Holmes's plan in the original? Destroy the vault. What's his plan here? Destroy the vault. And when it turns out the vault is, in fact, Magnussen's mind, what does that plan become?

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  7. David Faggiani
    January 27, 2015 @ 6:23 am

    I think that 'His Last Vow' is huuuuuugely influenced by the David Fincher movie 'Seven'. Even down to the pregnant wife character (who is, as Philip says, worth emotional 'double-points' in that film) and the circling helicopters during the resolution. It was a remarkable stylistic and thematic resemblance on first viewing.

    I once read that there was an alternate, slightly less bleak ending to 'Seven', where Morgan Freeman's character 'resolves the situation' before an anguished Pitt can. I think that 'His Last Vow' practically functions as a remake of that alternate version of 'Seven'.

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  8. Sean Dillon
    January 27, 2015 @ 7:40 am

    I actually read ChildLock in that scene being a parallel to a previous scene in the episode where Mycroft looks at Sherlock as a child in the Mind Palace because Sherlock thinks Mycroft thinks Sherlock is a little child. In the end though, it's revealed that Mycroft views Sherlock as a baby brother in the "Big Brother Instinct" way rather than (or in addition to depending on your Point of View) "Stupid Little Brother".

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  9. Allyn Gibson
    January 27, 2015 @ 9:57 am

    I have never been convinced that anything after Mary shoots Sherlock happens anywhere except inside Sherlock's head and that Moffat was stealing from the second season finale of House (itself a "Sherlock Holmes in the modern day" series). And just as House's imagined scenario goes to ever-increasing absurdities there, Sherlock's goes off the rails here, from shooting Magnusson in the head to the shock reveal that Moriarty still lives.

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  10. thetvgenie
    January 27, 2015 @ 10:49 am

    You can see a lot of Moffat’s formula for Doctor Who Series Eight here, but, heck, Sherlock does it all so much better. Each of the shocks are perfectly timed, even the simple twist of Redbeard being Sherlock’s dog, which is perchance the most poignant scene of the entire series. And then there’s the real centre-point of the episode: the truth about Mary Watson. A truth that seems to epitomise the psychological perspective of Sherlock – that the person you fall in love with says everything about who you are. And, I daresay, the character who we all fell in love with says something about the show we’re watching. Sherlock knows what it is here, and it knows what it isn’t. It isn’t a show about ordinary people. It’s a show about psychopaths and addicts who do insane things to circumvent boredom. And the fact that Moffat is able to declare that and be praised for it at this point says how much we’ve all grown to love and trust Sherlock, and how it’s become far more than just television.

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  11. 5tephe
    January 27, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

    Oh yeah? How so Kit Power? I'm not so familiar with V, nor so attached to the character, but have been very much enjoying learning more about him through the War posts.

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  12. 5tephe
    January 27, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. Ombund
    January 27, 2015 @ 1:14 pm

    I have to say that on a first viewing I was slightly disappointed with this one. There wasn't anything wrong with it – far from it, it was truly thrilling and the performances were uniformly great – but after the formal acrobatics of the two previous episodes, His Last Vow just seemed rather conventional. We were back to having a big bad and watching Sherlock solve mysteries again. My reaction was definitely coloured by my not wanting the show to give in to those who'd been vociferously criticising the show online over the last week and a bit, and my feelings weren't helped by the general reaction from them of "finally, an actual proper episode of Sherlock" that duly followed.

    So it took a second viewing to see just how weird this apparently conventional episode is and to really appreciate what a bravura piece of writing it is. I still prefer The Sign of Three though, but now only just (and only because I view The Sign of Three as one of the single best TV episodes ever, up there with Two Cathedrals and, well, A Study in Pink).

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  14. Ombund
    January 27, 2015 @ 1:16 pm

    Separate to my comment above, what are people expecting from the Sherlock special that's currently filming? SPOILER ALERT I suppose, although only spoilers in the form of speculation based on set photos (and good luck avoiding them from now until Christmas): to me it's looking like it's going to be an out-of-continuity Victorian-era reimagining of the Moffat/Gatiss modern-day reimagining. Either that or an extremely elaborate dream sequence. The people who were moaning that series 3 was a bit too meta aren't going to know when they were well off.

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  15. TheSmilingStallionInn
    January 27, 2015 @ 5:33 pm

    I guess we'll find out at Christmas…

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  16. TheSmilingStallionInn
    January 27, 2015 @ 5:44 pm

    I looked around for that. The mustache…hehe.

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  17. BatmanAoD
    January 27, 2015 @ 9:58 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  18. BatmanAoD
    January 27, 2015 @ 10:56 pm

    Well, due to a variety of factors my original comment has been eaten by the etherwebs,so here's the short version: why is Magnussen even a dangerous opponent? I'm not disputing that he's vile; he simply doesn't seem that threatening, and Sherlock doesn't seem like the sort of character for whom the sort of "pressure points" Magnussen generally uses would actually be very effective. Even in the case of the opening blackmail scene, I don't understand why the affair couldn't just be preemptively publicly announced (with a positive spin) to effectively defang Magnussen. I also don't really understand how Magnussen's power could be so extensive that not a single police officer would be willing to simply arrest him for multiple counts of blackmail.

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  19. Alan
    January 27, 2015 @ 11:05 pm

    I thought this was great, although I remain unsure about the ending – my heroes just don't kill.

    In a fictional universe, I don't have a problem with heroes killing to prevent evil from triumphing, and I'm somewhat pleased that Moffatt seems to agree with me. I mentioned just a few weeks back that the best part of "Death In Heaven," IMO, was when Clara rather coldly noted what I've been saying since "Last of the Time Lords" — that the Tenth Doctor's desire to "redeem" the Master only served to make him complicit in the Master's future killings.

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  20. Alan
    January 27, 2015 @ 11:11 pm

    Personally, what I find most entertaining is that the villain, whose death the audience cheered, is a stand-in for Rupert Murdoch, who already has a place in history for being the only living person to be reimagined as a Bond villain (Elliot Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies). When Murdoch finally kicks it, I wonder how long the celebrations will last.

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  21. Jarl
    January 27, 2015 @ 11:49 pm

    I'd never heard of that. That's… oddly safe, I suppose, hence why they chose the more brutal variation for the ending.

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  22. Jarl
    January 27, 2015 @ 11:57 pm

    Sherlock's only real, valid pressure point, as Magnussen fatally discovers, is Watson. Magnussen's ploy required two facts which are ambiguous in their truth: That Sherlock could be controlled by controlling Watson (he does indeed care enough for Watson for Magnussen's plan to have worked, but he's unfettered by an overabundance of morality when it comes to extra-judicial slayings) and that Mycroft can be controlled by controlling Sherlock (I still don't feel like we actually know this for sure). That it worked so well for him up to this point is mostly down to this being fiction, because the number of people who see an assassination as being the ideal cure for blackmail is actually much higher in reality than it is in the Land of Fiction.

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  23. Jarl
    January 27, 2015 @ 11:58 pm

    Not only that, but Mycroft makes implicit mention of M in this very episode.

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  24. Anton B
    January 28, 2015 @ 12:37 am

    And confirmed, at least as a trope Moffat might consider, by Last Christmas

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  25. phuzz
    January 28, 2015 @ 3:00 am

    In real life or fiction?

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  26. Daibhid C
    January 28, 2015 @ 4:23 am

    Since the Master did, in fact, die in Last of the Time Lords, I'm not really sure how that works.

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  27. Nyq Only
    January 28, 2015 @ 8:37 am

    Why is he a dangerous opponent? Well, that takes us back to the Murdoch comparisons. Look at the phone tapping scandals. The Guardian was pursuing that story for years and while they did so they were pilloried by very senior politicians and the issues raised were poo-pooed by senior police officers. When the wall of protection finally started to unravel (and then only because of public revulsion over the revelations of murdered persons phone being hacked) the extent to which Murdoch's employees had effectively corrupted police officers and powerful politicians (to the extent that the Prime Minister and past Prime Ministers were directly embroiled).
    Sherlock's superpower is to identify the truth – he wins by revealing the truth. In the case of the Murdoch press phone tapping scandals the truth is revealed relatively early in the story – investigative journalists reveal that the News of the World was systematically hacking peoples phones and bribing police officers. To get from the revelation to something actually being done about it then involves years of people saying 'no, but really THAT is what they have been doing and that is bad thing' over and over.
    Even at the end of it Murdoch gets away scot free.

    Magnussen isn't Murdoch. He is a supervillain that borrows aspects of Murdoch. Sherlock could spend years deducing that X is being blackmailed by Magnussen in some subtle or not so subtle way. Getting people to take notice of that is the problem.

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  28. Daibhid C
    January 28, 2015 @ 11:07 am

    Given M's suggestion that Elliot Carver's death will be explained as falling off his yacht, I thought he was meant to be the other one.

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  29. David Anderson
    January 28, 2015 @ 11:19 am

    At the time I thought that Charles Augustus Milverton was a canny choice for arc villain and foil to Holmes who isn't Moriarty. Holmes doesn't overcome him by legitimate detective work in the original story either.
    The textual divergences between His Last Vow and Charles Augustus Milverton would be worth exploring. The reveal of Mary with a gun in Magnusson's apartment is the kind of reveal that in hindsight one feels one should have expected, knowing the original story and the way Moffat storytelling works.

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  30. David Anderson
    January 28, 2015 @ 11:20 am

    I assume Moffat's read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

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  31. BatmanAoD
    January 28, 2015 @ 3:32 pm

    Jarl, my original comment talked a bit about Watson as Sherlock's pressure point, actually. There are even more assumptions required than those you list; in particular, Mary at first seems to care primarily that her past not be revealed for the sake of her relationship with John, but once Sherlock forces them to confront each other, it would seem this should no longer be such an advantage for Magnussen.

    But even if the pressure via John works, the scene in which Magnussen repeatedly "sees" the same five or so pressure points, most of which are actually fairly trivial and unlikely to actually provide much leverage (for instance, drugs are still on the list, even though the episode basically opens with a demonstration of how little Sherlock cares about being known as an addict, and it's never clear how Magnussen's knowledge of Redbeard gives him any advantage), hopelessly ridiculous.

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  32. Alan
    January 29, 2015 @ 3:55 pm

    Only because of the unexpected intervention of a third party (Lucy Saxon) who killed the Master herself, thus freeing the Doctor from any moral obligation to do so as well as protecting him from the foreseeable consequences of his ludicrous plan to keep the Master under house arrest in the TARDIS, presumably for the rest of their lives.

    Reply

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