John begins to chaff under the domesticity of married life. Sherlock is on the trail of master blackmailer and media mogul Charles Augustus Magnussen. Mary has a secret that endangers everyone’s lives, reputations, and England’s national security.
Charles Augustus Magnussen is apparently under investigation for his possible influence over the Prime Minister and the workings of the British government. As Magnussen looks at the counsel questioning him, information about them becomes available to him, including what their “pressure points” are. He is especially interested in the head of the counsel, Elizabeth Smallwood. Magnussen goes home and enters his vault of information and finds the information he needs to blackmail her. He visits her to tell her he knows about her husband’s correspondence with an underage girl some years back and that if she wants to avoid a scandal, she will do what he says. He holds her by the hand forcefully, smells her perfume (Claire de la Lune), and licks her face, then leaves. Later, she is about to leave the city when it occurs her to hire Sherlock Holmes to take Magnussen down.
John lies in bed with Mary and dreams of war and Sherlock. He awakes to a pounding on the door. When he answers, he finds that it’s his distraught neighbor, who he invites inside. Her son, Isaac, never came home the night before and she thinks he’s in a drug den somewhere. John gets the address of the drug den and he and Mary go to get him back. Mary waits in the car while John forces his way into the den and beats up the doorman to find out where Isaac is. When he finds him, he also finds Sherlock in the cot next to him. Isaac gets into the car with Mary while John yells at Sherlock for taking drugs. Sherlock tries to explain that he was undercover for a case, but John doesn’t believe him and takes him to Molly to be drug tested. The den’s doorman comes with them to get treatment for his sprained arm.
Molly tests him and finds that he had been taking drugs and slaps him across the face three times. John says that he could have called if he felt he was drifting toward drugs again, but Sherlock assures everyone it was all just for a case, then notes that John had started cycling to work recently. The doorman deduces that it’s the creases in John’s shirt that tells Sherlock this. Sherlock is impressed and asks his name, which turns out to be Billy Wiggins. Sherlock gets notified that news of his “drug habit” might have hit the papers, which was his plan all along.
Sherlock and John share a taxi to Baker Street where Mycroft his waiting to scold Sherlock for falling off the wagon and Anderson and his wife are searching the apartment for drugs. When Sherlock tells Mycroft that the drugs are for a case involving Magnussen, Mycroft’s attitude drastically changes from smugness to real concern. Mycroft assures the Andersons’ silence and makes them leave. Mycroft says Magnussen is off limits, but Sherlock thinks that Mycroft is just under his thumb. As Mycroft is leaving he says something that sets Sherlock off and he pins his arm behind his back and slams him against the wall. John intervenes by telling Mycroft not to say anything else and to leave very quickly.
Sherlock goes to shower and tells John to stay out of his bedroom. John, of course, goes to look anyway but is interrupted when Janine, the maid of honor, exits the bedroom wearing only one of Sherlock’s shirts. John is amazed that there is a woman in Sherlock’s bedroom, and even more amazed when Janine goes to see Sherlock in the shower. When Sherlock gets out of the shower he tries to tell John all about the case, Magnussen, and how terrible he is, but all John can think about is how Sherlock and Janine appear to be a couple. John is overwhelmed with the novelty of seeing Janine sit on Sherlock’s lap and kiss him goodbye. Sherlock is all business in between, eyes only for the case, but John just can’t get over it. Magnussen’s house, Appledore, is the repository of all the information he holds against everyone of importance in Britain.
Magnussen pays Sherlock an unexpected visit. Sherlock explains that he has been hired by Elizabeth Smallwood to intercede with Magnussen regarding her husband’s letters. Magnussen treats the apartment like it’s his own, claiming that it belongs to him. He never really seems to listen to anything Sherlock is saying, just evaluates him. Magnussen asks about the bathroom, but decides to use the fireplace instead and generally acts untouchable. He gives Sherlock a glimpse of the letters before he leaves, but says that he’s keeping them. Sherlock makes plans to meet John at Magnussen’s London office later that night.
Sherlock and John meet to break into Magnussen’s office. Janine works as Magnussen’s personal assistant and Sherlock gets her to let him past security by proposing to her. John is appalled that Sherlock has been using Janine. When they get to the office, they find Janine unconscious on the floor, having been knocked out. Security is also unconscious. John takes care of Janine while Sherlock searches the office. He smells Claire de la Lune. Sherlock finds that Magnussen is being held at gunpoint by a black clothed figure. Sherlock assumes that it’s Elizabeth Smallwood, but it turns out to be Mary Morstan Watson. Sherlock is stunned. Mary warns him that if he comes any closer, she’ll shoot him. He doesn’t believe her and begins walking toward her. She shoots him.
A whole sequence begins where in the three seconds between being shot and hitting the ground, Sherlock has to figure out how to survive the wound. Molly, Mycroft, Anderson, Moriarty, his childhood dog Redbeard, and others in his mind palace help him make the decisions he needs to make to survive. John finds Sherlock and calls an ambulance. They have trouble reviving him, but Sherlock makes the decision to come back to protect John from Magnussen. By the time Mary gets to the hospital to see John, Sherlock had already woken up. His first word was “Mary”, which John finds strange but not ominous.
Magnussen checks his files on Mary. Mary visits Sherlock and asks him not to tell John about her. When Sherlock wakes up, Janine is there to visit. She made all kinds of money by selling her story to the papers about her love affair with Sherlock. They call it even and leave it on neutral terms. John and Lestrade come to see Sherlock, but he’s left his hospital room and escaped through the window. Everyone tries to find him by searching his known hiding places but with no luck. John starts to have suspicions about Mary just as Sherlock calls him. Mary is the first one to find Sherlock. She is stopped along the way by Billy Wiggins, who is working for Sherlock. He hands her a cellphone on which Sherlock calls her. She enters a house where Sherlock sits in the shadows at the end of a hallway. Sherlock had discovered that Mary stole a dead woman’s identity and obviously has a dark past. She is a very good shot, so never meant to kill Sherlock when she shot him. Sherlock appears behind her, the figure in the shadows an apparent decoy. He asks why she didn’t come to him for help in the first place when Magnussen blackmailed her. She says that she couldn’t risk John finding out, because she was afraid she would lose him. Sherlock reveals the decoy in the shadows is actually John.
Flash forward to Christmas in the country. John, Sherlock, Mary, Billy, and Mycroft are all staying with the Holmes’ in hiding. Mycroft bemoans Christmas in general while he bickers with his mother. Sherlock generally ignores everyone. He checks his watch as he notes a mental countdown to something. In another room, Mary sits and reads by the fire. It is revealed that Sherlock’s mother is a genius mathematician and that Sherlock’s dad is the sane one in the family. John comes in and things are a little awkward. He asks for some alone time with Mary. Sherlock’s dad asks Sherlock if John and Mary are alright and Sherlock says they’ve had their ups and downs.
Back in the present, John, Mary, and Sherlock go back to Baker Street. John is livid that Mary lied to him. Sherlock tries to reason with him on Mary’s behalf, saying that he is the one who chose her, that he is obviously attracted to a certain type of person and a certain dangerous lifestyle. Sherlock makes John think of her like a client in order to get things done. They all take their places and Mary prepares to tell her story.
Flash forward to Christmas and John asks Mary how she’s doing. Mary says that he hasn’t talked to her in months and wonders why he’s choosing now to talk. He shows her a flash drive, indicating what he wants to talk about.
Back at Baker Street, Mary lays the same flash drive on the table. It has the letters A.G. RA on it, which are Mary’s real initials. Everything about who she was before is on the flash drive. She asks John not to read it in front of her. When he asks why, she says that when he finishes reading it, he won’t love her anymore and she doesn’t want to see that happen. Sherlock guesses that she used to be an intelligence agent who is now on the run from something and Magnussen found out her secret. What he has on her could send her to prison for the rest of her life. Sherlock says she’ll help her because she saved his life. Rather than killing both him and Magnussen and putting the suspicion on John, she shot Sherlock to buy time and knocked out Magnussen. She was also the first one to call the ambulance. If she hadn’t, the ambulance John called would have arrived too late to save his life. Just as Sherlock is finished explaining a paramedics team arrives to take Sherlock away, who called earlier in anticipation of complications due to internal bleeding. Sherlock tells John that Magnussen is the only thing that matters now and that they can trust Mary. Sherlock collapses.
Back at Christmas John tells Mary to come over to him so he can talk to her. He says he doesn’t need to know about her past, that he only cares about who she is now, and throws the flash drive into the fire. He also mentions that he’s still basically pissed off at her, but that he loves her anyway. Sherlock and Mycroft talk outside about the case. Mycroft thinks Magnussen is a necessary evil who is sometimes very useful, but Sherlock hates him because he preys on those who are different. They have a lovely brotherly moment when Mycroft admits the Sherlock’s death would break his heart. Inside, as John and Mary hug, Mary passes out. Sherlock bursts in and warns John not to drink Mary’s tea. Everyone in the house except Billy has been drugged unconscious. Sherlock takes Mycroft’s laptop, filled with government secrets, and he and John take a helicopter to Magnussen’s estate.
Flashback to a drugged up Sherlock meeting with Magnussen at a pub. Sherlock thinks that Magnussen’s glasses are like Google glasses and that all his secrets are stored on them. When he checks them out, though, they are just ordinary glasses. Sherlock makes a deal with Magnussen to see Appledore in exchange for Mycroft’s secrets.
At Magnussen’s estate, he’s watching a video of Sherlock saving John from the bonfire in the first episode. Magnussen was interested in Mycroft’s secrets all along, so he worked backwards from Mycroft to Sherlock to John to Mary in order to manipulate the pressure points. Sherlock will give Magnussen the password to Mycroft’s laptop in return for everything he has on Mary. Magnussen knows, of course, that the laptop has a GPS tracker, that Mycroft is on his way to retrieve his computer, and that his vaults of information will be searched. However, Magnussen reveals to Sherlock that there aren’t any vaults, that all the information is kept in his mind palace, and that there’s no proof that he has illicit information about anyone. There’s nothing to implicate him. And he doesn’t need proof of his knowledge, because he owns newspapers that can just print it. Sherlock seems at a loss, his plan not going at all like he wanted.
Magnussen arrogantly antagonizes John as Sherlock stands by helplessly. He flicks John’s face for fun as he gloats about how he could pick up the phone and ruin the lives of everyone he loves. Mycroft finally comes along in a helicopter as an assault team swarms the estate. Since there’s no legal means of taking Magnussen down, Sherlock does the only thing he can do to protect John and Mary – he shoots and kills Magnussen.
Mycroft reasons with a council for Sherlock’s sentencing for the murder of Magnessen. He convinces them to send Sherlock on a mission to Eastern Europe, a mission that Mycroft is convinced will prove fatal to Sherlock in six months or so, which is still a better solution than putting him in a regular prison. On an airstrip, John and Mary say goodbye to Sherlock, who is on his way to start his mission. He tells Mary to take care of John, then asks for a moment alone with him to say goodbye. They can’t for the life of them think of anything to say to each other. Sherlock tells John his full name – William Sherlock Scott Holmes – in case they’re looking for baby names. John says that it’s probably a girl anyway. John says the game is over, but Sherlock says that the game is never over. The players might change, but that the east wind eventually takes them all. He explains that it’s a story that Mycroft would tell him as a child, that the east wind would come a pluck up the unworthy. Sherlock knows he’s going to his death. Sherlock says that there’s something he’s always wanted to tell John, and since it’s the last time he might ever see him he thinks now is the time. He says Sherlock is really a girl’s name. John laughs and says that there is no way they are naming the baby after him. They shake hands and Sherlock leaves on the plane.
Just as the end credits music starts to play, it is interrupted by Lestrade watching TV at a bar. The program is interrupted by a distorted voice saying “Did you miss me?” with an unseen graphic. The reaction from everyone who sees it is violent and frightened. It’s on all the channels in the country simultaneously. Mycroft is informed, who is also amazed, saying that it’s impossible. Just as Sherlock has left, Mycroft calls him to come back. Sherlock asks who needs him this time, and Mycroft says England needs him. On TV is a glitchy graphic of Moriarty with the words “Miss me?” on the screen. John tells Mary that he doesn’t know how Moriarty could be alive, but that they better bundle up because an east wind is coming. Sherlock’s plane lands back at the airstrip.
After the credits Moriarty looks directly at the screen and says, “Did you miss me?”
In a season of increasingly excellent episodes in a series that is one of the best on television today, this one really takes the cake. It has a finely tuned plot that not only keeps the audience guessing and subverts expectations, but keeps the emotional levels high. There’s ample room for amazing performances by the entire cast, while never losing sight of the complex mystery at hand. It feels fast paced, but it also gives important moments the time they need to play out. It seems to have everything without sacrificing the quality of any of its aspects. If this is the direction the series is going, than I am definitely looking forward to next season – and given the increasing popularity of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, who knows when that will be.
After the death of Moriarty, it was hard to imagine any main villain being able to match up to that deranged mania and humor that Andrew Scott brought to Moriarty. Magnussen is a different creature all together, but definitely leaves the skin crawling. He is as slimy and depraved as they come and Lars Mikkelsen plays him to perfection. The glazed eyes of the shark that Sherlock describes is an all too perfect simile for the expression in Magnussen’s eyes. He stalks around like he owns everything and everyone – which in his mind, he does – and takes great pains to display this ownership. The scene near the end where he just flicks John’s face for the fun of it is almost impossible to watch, it is so painful to witness. He really was a superb villain, both in writing and performance.
That being said, it’s been nice to see Andrew Scott make appearances as imaginary Moriarty this season, and it seems as if he may have faked his own death last season too. If all is as it seems (and with Moffat it never is), we’ll have Moriarty back next season as the main villain.
Performances by the cast were also the best ever this episode, and it certainly helps that they have incredible material with which to work. Amanda Abbington is a marvel as Mary Watson, and the twist that she is an ex-intelligence assassin (just John’s type, of course) is incredibly smart. Martin Freeman and his real life partner Abbington work beautifully as a couple and together did some of the most emotionally raw and heartbreaking acting in the entire series. Louise Brealey as Molly has always been an interesting character, but her scenes in this episode were exceptionally strong. She slaps Sherlock across the face with absolutely no compunction or restraint. She is his conscience just as much as John is, and she lets him know that he’s done wrong by himself and his friends. Interesting news about the breaking of Molly’s engagement to the Sherlock look-a-like Tom. Perhaps this means that Molly and Lestrade will get together next season.