The actor formerly known as Troels, playing the part of creepy Charles Augustus Magnusson.
I didn't want to leave my last review of Sherlock hanging, when, as I suspected, the last episode provided much more satisfaction than the previous two. Did it absolve the earlier two? Perhaps. But I'm convinced if I'd never seen the earlier seasons and only tuned in on New Year's Day to watch this season as a "virgin viewer," I'd never have made it to episode 3, "His Last Vow."
Here's the thing: I'm a very picky tv viewer. Most series I never bother watching, and those I do, I tend to turn off after the first episode. They don't seem worth my time. I can always tell a show is losing my interest: I pick up my iPad and start scanning blogs, scrolling through Twitter, even reading Facebook, while watching. Let's face it, if surfing the internet is more entertaining than whatever's on the tube, you probably shouldn't bother.
This happened with Downton Abbey. I watched the first three seasons, but at the end of season three I didn't even bother watching the final episode. And with Borgen, which started out as a promising Danish series, but never had quite the punch that The Killing had. Likewise The Bridge, another Scandinavian offering whose characters didn't intrigue me enough to keep watching. (I had a completely different experience with Ripper Street, which originally didn't thrill me but when I sat down and watched the entire first season, I was hooked. Sadly BBC cancelled it, perhaps hearing of my interest.)
But this is a review of Sherlock, not an examination of my viewing tastes. Interestingly, this episode featured Danish villain Lars Mikkelsen, last seen (by me) in The Killing. Mikkelsen plays Charles Augustus Magnusson, described by The Independent's Ellen Jones as "a viscerally repugnant cross between Hannibal Lecter and Rupert Murdoch." He was far creepier, far more malevolent, than in The Killing. In fact, I had a hard time buying his villain act, perhaps because I still thought of him as Troels. I even wondered, "why is he speaking English?" Also, "when is he going to change his shirt?"
From the beginning, it was apparent this episode was far better written than the other two. The scene with Watson in the drug den had the quick-witted dialogue we've come to expect from Sherlock. The comment about the sprain—I wanted to applaud, but then I'd have missed the next punchline. I really found myself straining to catch every word in this episode, whereas in the last two I kept eyeing the clock, wondering when this drivel would end.
There was also plenty of eye candy on view: The deserted houses of Leinster Gardens, which everyone knows about but were still a surprise; the ultra modern Swinhay House, aka Appledore; the surprisingly homey (or "homely") home of the elder Holmes. (Sorry; unintentional tongue twisting there. And speaking of tongues...eww!) The drug den, where a new character is introduced (from one of the original Sherlock Holmes stories) is appropriately seedy, contrasting nicely with the oppulent surroundings in the preceding scene.
And then there were those cheekbones, both Cumberbatch's and Mikkelsen's. (See below for my surprising observation.) Combined, they threatened to shred the television screen, but fortunately, Redbeard came along and gave us some relief from all that prominent facial structure. (I won't tell you who Redbeard is; some delightful surprises should be just that.)
The comments at The Guardian's review were much kinder this week than last, as was the rapid response on Twitter. Most people loved the episode, although several complained about the ending. After thinking about it longer, I agree: the ending was too easy, too pat for a man of Sherlock's talents. There were more clever ways to finish off Magnussen. I'm surprised the writer (Steven Moffat) didn't explore them. In fact, I was convinced Magnusson wasn't really dead, but there turned out to be a different surprise ending in store.
The mushy sentimentality that ruined the last episode was kept to a minimum here. At the end when it looked as if another love scene between Sherlock and Watson might be imminent, there was instead a much more believable admission from both characters. But I noticed an odd thing: whereas I've never been a "Benedict Cumberbatch is a hottie!" fangirl, I did think he just looked a lot better this episode. His Sherlock was tougher, cooler, the capable hero we've missed from the last two episodes. Maybe because he didn't have to deliver the silly lines, or force himself to act through the slapstick restaurant scene from episode one, but his acting seemed stronger. He was once again the commanding character from the first two seasons, the man you couldn't take your eyes off of.
Which leads me to conclude that despite the whiz bang stylistics of shows like Sherlock and Dr Who (whose fans have been complaining about similar deviations of character), a viewing experience really boils down to character. Is there a character you root for? A character you're intrigued by? A character who's larger than life, yet human enough to relate to? A character you're sure will triumph in the end, due to his or her own toughness/cleverness/powers of deduction.
This is why the last scene failed so many viewers: Sherlock failed to pull the rabbit out of his hat, and resorted to petty crime rather than ingenious triumph. He was bested by Magnusson, in the end, in a scene that was eerily similar to the final episode of The Killing.
Yet despite this, I can't complain. Instead, I'll go watch it again, just in case I missed any bits of clever dialogue. Also, I think it might be possible that I am a Benedict Cumberbatch fangirl, after all.