Sherlock: The Last Vow

A First: A Guilty Displeasure

Magnussen's data on Sherlock

Magnussen’s data on Sherlock

My vow after watching this horrendous Sherlock episode on PBS is not to watch again unless three highly esteemed friends insist writers Moffatt and Gatiss have regained their sanity and writing ability. The season 3 finale “The Last Vow” was a hokey train wreck.

The real crime seems that these writers have been kidnapped or possessed by zombies of some sort. You know how Sherlock’s able to delete irrelevant information from his brain. How I wish I could delete the experience of watching “The Last Vow.” It kept me up last night and was the first thing in my head when I woke.

This episode involved Sherlock in pursuit of uber-blackmailer, Charles Augustus Magnussen after the government official whose face he licked (talk about creepy to watch) enlists Sherlock’s help.

What follows is a mishmash of slick graphics and preposterous scenes that made my head spin. While many parts of the story were culled from Arthur Conan Doyle‘s original stories, it’s as if someone took pages of the stories, put them in a food processor, removed any sensible bits, stirred the remaining mess up, spit in the bowl and served it up to the viewers. I watched with my aunt and we kept saying, “How is it possible that this has gotten worse?” And the true sign of a terrible show: I kept looking at the clock to see how much longer we had to watch.

Ever the optimist, I thought the show would redeem itself at some point, but alas, it never did.

last bow

My observations:

  • Sherlock’s a mastermind who can read people with incredible precision, yet he didn’t see that Mary was a spy and assassin when he met her. Are we supposed to believe that?
  • Though Mary Marston is connected with uber-villain Magnussen and shoots Sherlock, we’re supposed to buy that John staying married to her is a good thing. She has completely presented a false identity and we have no idea who she is and John’s not certifiable for wanting to stay with her? Isn’t not wanting to know who she really is the height of objectifying a woman? Since John gets so frustrated with Sherlock’s lack of empathy, wouldn’t Mary whose empathy is questionable at best and put on at worst, make her a terrible wife for John?Sherlock doesn’t have the logic to see this? Divorce is legal and acceptable in England.  In this case, i.e. fraud, annulment is in order. John can try to get custody of the child, which he’d get if Mary is in jail, where she belongs. Viewers realize that what’s deep down matters in a person and deep down, Mary is not trustworthy. She will kill when it suits her. How’s that for ethics?
  • I could do without the face licking, thank you very much. Could all screenwriters make a note of that?
  • A pun is not a good source for a theme. In the last episode, Sherlock vowed to help John and Mary stay together. In this episode, that vow doesn’t make sense and more importantly isn’t the noble thing to do.
  • Why wouldn’t Mary going to jail be more satisfying?
  • How long can someone who’s been shot walk around town solving crimes?
  • Moffat’s been taken to task for poor treatment of female characters. This episode shows that in spades. Molly, a character I really like, is given some big actions, but because they have little impact or take place briefly in Sherlock’s drug induced imaginings don’t give the character her due. The end of her engagement is brushed off with a quip. We learn Sherlock’s mother is a math genius, but she packed that up and views it as nothing. Mary’s a sociopath and Mrs. Hudson is a pothead. Really?
  • Why didn’t this woman who would have had to push her way to the top of a male dominated field, stand up to Magnussen?
  • There’s a reason cutting from scene to scene in a manic fashion is not listed in Aristotle’s Poetics. It does not result in good storytelling. Cheap flashy cuts just make viewers head’s spin.
  • Though I missed Moriarty, bringing him back through implausible means wasn’t want I wanted. I can live with the loss and as AV Club reviewer Genevieve Valentine points out, when there are just three episodes, we don’t need an overarching villain. Remember there’s something called evil in the world and that more than suffices.
  • It’s implausible that John has some highly tuned sociopath detector that sensed that Mary was a sociopath so he was drawn to her. There’s nothing in earlier seasons that showed the Everyman character was that far gone. What  does that say about everyone?
  • Packing multiple pieces of Doyle’s stories into one episode just doesn’t work. There’s no need to.


  1. Did the British audience take to this?
  2. Has or should Moffat issue an apology for this disgraceful writing?
  3. Did anyone else feel they needed a shower or some sort of medical attention after suffering through this?

tree of life

Avoid this film at all costs. Again, avoid this film at all costs.

Where to begin? How about with some adjectives? Esoteric, narcissistic, limited, painful, dull, inane, impressionistic, arcane, wasteful, provincial, miserable, . . .

I was duped into seeing Tree of Life since Roger Ebert gave it four stars. Other critics praised it too. (Are they on drugs?) Moreover, I feel so guilty for bringing a friend to this. Luckily, we’re old friends and she knows me well enough to forgive this error.

As Ebert mentions there’s a resemblance to 2001 Space Odyssey. That should have been my tip off. I didn’t enjoy that film, which I saw when I was about 7. Yet 2001 has some memorable moments and lines that have fit into our culture:

Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

[HAL’s shutdown]
HAL: I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.
Dave Bowman: Yes, I’d like to hear it, HAL. Sing it for me.
HAL: It’s called “Daisy.”
[sings while slowing down]
HAL: Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half crazy all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.

Okay, back to the dreaded Tree of Life. It’s an impressionistic mess that begins with a quotation from the Book of Job. Then I believe we saw images that present a woman who looks about 30 who learns of the death of her 19-year-old son. We see family members react in impressionistic disconnected mini-scenes showing grief.

I kept waiting ever so patiently for a story to form. It never did. Since there’s no narrative, I’m not quite certain if I’m getting the order right.

At some point in the beginning we see a Sean Penn as a weathered architect dealing with grief and general nihilism. We see cool screen-saver type images of the universe’s creation. We jump from colored gases and a few planets (not earth though) existing to one species of dinosaurs ambling about a lush river area.

Well, as we all know nothing of much consequence happened between the dinosaurs and the 1950s and the birth I assume of this director, so let’s jump to that point in history. Obviously, this film is a confused attempt to make sense of his little troubles.

Fleeting images, all with little or no context, of a day at the beach, an argument, a meal, a game, an unfortunate encounter with a clown and what have you pass by.

At one point my friend whispered that she thought the writer/director had ADHD. I wholeheartedly agreed.

After enduring more scenes, I resigned myself to the fact that no narrative would ever come. No matter how much I wished it would. I was so bored that while I took in the parade of images, I tried to figure out what would drive a man to make this kind of film. My current theory is ADHD and autism. There’s no way a person who’s normally situated in society can come up with this dreck. One has to be living in a kind of bubble that makes it impossible to really interact with others.

Throughout the whole thing there’s never anything that I’d call a real conversation. People talk at each other in a way that is so unreal. It’s as if Martians made a documentary about life in middle America in the 1950s and got everything wrong.

There was not one scene in this film that was essential. An editor could randomly take out a whole half hour at any point and you’d have a better movie since the only way to make this film better is to make it shorter.

Get this:

An Italian cinema showed the film for a week with the first two reels switched. Even though the film starts with production logos, no one in the theater noticed and thought it was all part of Terrence Malick’s “crazy editing style”. Source:

A friend recently wrote to me about a book he read and said, “It’s really not a book, but rather a collection of snippets, the notes one takes to prepare to write a book.” Tree of Life fits that description. No coherence at all despite the common understanding that humans create coherence as easily as they eat or walk. If we had a scene with cavemen one of the most profound post-dinosaur achievements would be the story.

The nihilistic theology was just pathetic. After watching the film for about an hour, I really didn’t care that the teenager had died. I did think we’d eventually hear how he died, but we don’t and it really doesn’t matter. People die every day. Why not this kid? I never cared about any of these characters as I felt so aware that I was watching a film. It’s like you’re studying a life form under a microscope.

From some of the patches of this crazy quilt we know that the family prays and goes to church. We don’t know much about what they believe or if they totally misunderstand the faith. The film is kind of about why bad things happen to good people. It’s a pitiful, lazy 2 hour 18 minute attempt to deal with that while playing with cinematography. From what I can discern, according to writer/director Terrence Malick, the purpose of life is to go to heaven, a crowded beach where people meander aimlessly about in dresses and business suits. Wait, maybe the purpose is to dream about the beach. There’s no place to sit. The main thing is to wear uncomfortable clothes there. The big joy in this heaven is getting to smile at someone we recognize. (I’ve had more “blissful” commutes to work when I’ve happened upon an acquaintance on the train. At least then, I’m allowed to chat. On Malick’s heaven everyone keeps roving.)

Only people who lived in the U.S. in 1950s are this heaven. Bizarre? What religion is that exclusive?

It’s as if the only scripture available to Malick were scraps of the Old Testament, completely out of order.

(What was interesting was that I was listening to a pastor on the radio taking questions as I drove to my friend’s house. A caller brought up the question of pain and the pastor acknowledged the difficulty of understanding why bad things happen to good people. He went on to explain that Christians see that God’s Son was perfect and he took on an agonizing death for us. His sacrifice and pain was far worse, and less deserved than ours. Moreover, Christians don’t believe in a dull afterlife. And Christians do try to view this question in light of Christ’s life and other Biblical events.

These characters are supposed to be Christian, and I know solid theology isn’t available everywhere, but really. Is this the extent of the director’s understanding? He couldn’t try more? It doesn’t appear that he tried to find any smart Christians and listen to what they might know. Just slothful. Pick up C.S. Lewis and research a little. That’s the least one could do.)

I assume the boy died in a war. That’s hard for a family to take, but it’s not a surprise that he’d die. He’s in a war. So why would you think, “Why my son?” That’s what happens in war. It’s no mystery.

I wasn’t quite sure which boy died or who Sean Penn was playing. It seems he was the older brother that we see as a kid of 3 and later as a preteen. I have no idea why we only see the characters during these years. Certainly other years were more important. I wasn’t sure that the older brother wasn’t the one who died.

I noted an error. The father traveled to China for his mysterious gray flannel suit business. I don’t think so since in the 1950s when China was in the midst of turmoil and the U.S. was rounding up Reds, Americans couldn’t visit China! Nope, not till after Nixon went in the 70s. More evidence that the writer was out of it and lazy. Check your facts, Terrence.

By the way, Brad Pitt plays a confused, angry father. You’ve seen this type a thousand times. Don’t expect any nominations for any awards for that performance. God knows why he took this role. I pity anyone who had to spend time on this heavy, lethargic, meandering film.

It’s really as if a film school professor told his first year students to make something ethereal using a Midwestern family of 5 in the 1950s. Everyone did whatever they wanted. No one crafted a story. The professor then took the scenes edited them in a random order and interspersed his own scenes about the universe and a dinosaur film that he had from a film he never finished.

This is certainly not a film for anyone outside the U.S. or perhaps the little town of Texas, where it’s set. The title Tree of Life, just does not fit with the director’s provincial outlook.

I’m sure the budget for this movie could have been spent on a couple better films that could be more profitable.