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sherlock, mylock

Coincidence, the universe is rarely so lazy: An analysis of the machinations and motivations in 3x03

Posted on 2015.12.26 at 18:37
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Sherlock Meta: An analysis of the machinations and motivations of Mycroft, Magnussen, Sherlock and Lady Smallwood during His Last Vow.

“Coincidence, the universe is rarely so lazy.”

The line seems jarring at first, the notion that a scientist and logical creature like Sherlock would subscribe to this idea. When humans naturally look for patterns, and correlation does not equate to causation; mathematically there must be coincidences. Then comes the realisation, this isn’t the ordinary world with ordinary people they’re speaking of. They’re talking about Mycroft’s world, where nothing is a coincidence, people are highly powerful players and everything happens because someone has machinated it to be so. (This is also somewhat true of Sherlock’s world, where dealing with murderers, every detail/action must be suspect).

First a list of apparent ‘coincidences’ during the episode:
·         Sherlock and Mary both attempt to get to Magnussen through Janine and then end up breaking in on the same night
·         Magnussen was going after Sherlock (to go after Mycroft) and Sherlock simultaneously got a case involving going after Magnussen
·         Lady Smallwood was heading the Magnussen inquiry and hired Sherlock to deal with him and after Sherlock ends up shooting Magnussen she’s the one who has to give the go ahead for what happens to him

So, accepting the premise that none of the happenings in His Last Vow were by coincidence, whose machinations were they? There’s no way of knowing for sure but to get a clearer idea the motivations and machinations of each character need to be considered separately. 

Mycroft was afraid at the mention of Magnussen. Sherlock states that he’s under Magnussen’s thumb, but clearly he’s not already if Magnussen is going through so much effort to get him there. It’s odd for Sherlock to be wrong, was he lying for John’s benefit? Or was he misreading due to not expecting an emotional motivation from Mycroft (i.e. Mycroft being protective of Sherlock/ not wanting Sherlock in danger). Mycroft probably deduced early on that Magnussen was trying to get to him. So what was Mycroft’s motivation during this episode?

His main motivation is to protect Sherlock, another main motivation is to protect his role/country/government.


He mentions that his end game is to gain power over Mycroft, as Mycroft is the most powerful person in the country and having power over him will make Magnussen the most powerful person in the country. His plan is to use Mary to get to John to get to Sherlock to get to Mycroft. This seems like sound reasoning. But what was Magnussen’s actual plan for the events in His last vow, this is a little cloudier. For one, Sherlock’s protectiveness for Mary isn’t necessarily going to translate to the same as Mycroft’s protectiveness for John. What exactly is Magnussen hoping to hold over Mycroft’s head? Because frankly if it’s ‘I’ll reveal this information about this person who shot your brother recently’ I’m struggling to see it working. It clearly wasn’t to get that computer as he already knew about the GPS.

Was it to get Sherlock on trial for treason? I don’t think it would be too much trouble for Mycroft to get Sherlock out of that, I mean ASiB and HotB show he could. Even if Mycroft couldn’t get Sherlock off, how would Magnussen be in any better position to do so? Testimony? Then he would only be incriminating himself. Mycroft isn’t going to give away state secrets or be coerced into questionable actions easily. If Magnussen really wants control over Mycroft he has to have something directly on Sherlock, the hold gets weaker with every additional person. It seems like there’s something bigger going on that’s being missed. 
Maybe the plan orients around Sherlock being the only one with access to Mycroft’s secrets. Are these secrets Magnussen wants to use to hold over Mycroft? (It’s likely other people also have access but Mycroft can probably have them killed/ displaced to somewhere far away, if they try anything.)

Lady Smallwood:

Her key goal initially seems to be to protect her husband. But she still chooses to enlist Sherlock’s services; this is a dangerous manoeuvre as Magnussen will see it as an attack. If protecting her husband was the only, and most important, issue in play, the safest thing would be to just do as Magnussen says with regards to the inquiry. The fact that she refuses to shows the import she places on her integrity and position. Her husband is clearly massively important to her but this only conveys all the more how important her job is to her also. The only way to protect both is to take Magnussen down, which is what she requires Sherlock for. 

She’s motivated to protect her husband because she loves him (I assume). She’s motivated to protect her job because of many possibilities, (this is only speculation from what has been seen and given her reactions to Magnussen’s blackmail) probably in part all of them, she likes her job, likes the power and influence, likes being able to affect genuine change, likes being able to weed out corruption. She’s motivated to take Magnussen down to protect her husband and her job but also to protect everyone else, to beat back this challenge against her power (there’s not only disgust of what he’s done to her but at the corruption, that no one can take him, that he’s so corrupt and so powerful), to protect herself from his control, to take down this monstrosity (as she possibly sees it as her job to do so, remember inquiry). But what motivates her to go to Sherlock specifically?

Everything hinges on who she chooses to take Magnussen down, it could be disastrous, she could lose everything. Does she genuinely think Sherlock’s the only one capable of taking Magnussen down? Or perhaps the only one both capable of and willing to. It makes sense when going after a blackmailer to choose someone who was willing to burn down his own reputation to take down Moriarty, clearly uncaring of any information revealed and also with the integrity needed to go up against someone like Magnussen. She probably also knows more about him because she knows and works with Mycroft. And thus deems him trustworthy.


Sherlock’s motivations are intriguing to consider, at first his motivation to take Magnussen down is for a case and because he dislikes how Magnussen takes advantage of people who are different, he feels Magnussen is someone who should be taken down. The curious thing about this is there’s someone else who did the same thing, Irene Adler. Both Adler and Magnussen use secrets, Adler for protection, Magnussen for blackmail, but both of them also used Sherlock to get to Mycroft. He saved her life and ended Magnussen’s. 

Sherlock’s motivations later on were also to take Magnussen down to protect John and Mary, and maybe in a smaller way Mycroft too. I think Sherlock is less inclined to feel a need to protect Mycroft, he can pretend he doesn’t care because he knows Mycroft has the power and ability to take care of himself. The action with the laptop speaks to that, he trusts that Mycroft will notice and take action. 

Why did Sherlock choose to shoot Magnussen?

Magnussen isn’t going to reveal Mary’s information, not yet. He has kept it secret all this while and he hasn’t gotten what he wanted. So for now, Mary and John are safe. Sherlock has the power to keep them safe. And Magnussen knows Sherlock is willing to do anything to keep them safe. And okay, so this time he showed up with a computer with GPS tracker. But next time? Sherlock has realised that he has to choose between protecting John and Mary and protecting Mycroft, and he makes the third choice: he shoots Magnussen. 

So taking these analyses into account, let’s discuss those bullet points.

Sherlock and Mary both attempt to get to Magnussen through Janine and then end up breaking in on the same night

Sherlock didn’t know Mary would be there, he was definitely surprised. Mary definitely didn’t know Sherlock would be there, otherwise her plan wouldn’t have derailed so spectacularly (it could be argued that Mary had meant for everything which happened to happen, but given who she is and her protectiveness over her and John’s relationship it makes more sense that she was simply there to kill Magnussen). It may be possible it was merely a coincidence (as that was the main time that Magnussen wouldn’t be there) if this season’s mantra didn’t seem to in itself warn against them.

We know that Magnussen’s motivation is to gain control of Mycroft, though as mentioned before the dubiousness of happenings in this episode make it unclear how exactly he plans to achieve said control. Maybe the whole break-in scenario has something to do with it.

Let’s consider Janine’s role, she’s smart and has been Magnussen’s PA for a while, long enough for him to trust her. Other people must have previously used her to get to her boss and possibly she knew that’s what both Mary and Sherlock were doing. Magnussen clearly has something he holds over Janine to keep her trustworthy (this is how he controls people also there’s reference to flicking Janine’s eye in the same way when he’s flicking John’s). Possibly she machinated this so there would be fall out for all involved. But she wouldn’t take this risk with what Magnussen holds over her (or she would’ve already). It’s more likely she told Magnussen. And it’s much more likely that this was Magnussen’s machination. He knows Mary is dangerous and will at some point try to kill him. He knows he needs to show Sherlock who she really is before she can be used against him. This rather effectively kills two birds with one stone.

Magnussen also needs to demonstrate to Mycroft that he needs to have an interest in John and Mary’s welfare, by showing how much danger Sherlock will put himself in for them and thereby making it necessary for Mycroft to protect them too. And thus, he was in the office when he wasn’t supposed to be, because the entire saga with Sherlock and Mary ending up at his workplace on the same day was an orchestration by Magnussen himself.

Magnussen was going after Sherlock (to go after Mycroft) and Sherlock simultaneously got a case involving going after Magnussen

For the case to get to Sherlock while Magnussen was going after him is possibly very convenient for everyone, but who has the most to gain and was most likely to make it happen?

Mycroft knows Lady Smallwood and thus has the capability of being responsible for this, he could’ve suggested the course of action to her or known enough about her to predict that this would be the action she would take if he put her on that inquiry and this happened. If Mycroft knew Magnussen was going after Sherlock, it’s possible he did this to bring Sherlock into the loop, so that Sherlock would be going after Magnussen in return. This could be Mycroft trying to protect Sherlock by ensuring he’s aware of the situation. But this seems unlikely. It seems more likely that Mycroft wasn’t lying in the episode and was genuinely horrified by the idea of Sherlock going against Magnussen because of how dangerous it was. If he needed to tell Sherlock of the risk it would’ve been done in a more discrete fashion.

It’s also possible Sherlock knew Magnussen was coming after him, ala bonfire incident, and was thus fighting back. But it doesn’t seem like Sherlock would’ve had any control over the actions that brought the case to his door.

It’s possible Magnussen machinated it this way to bring Sherlock into the fray, so he’d be in a better position to go after him. If he knew enough about Lady Smallwood he would know she wouldn’t capitulate and would likely seek help, but there’s no way for him to know for sure she’d go to Sherlock.

Given that Lady Smallwood is the one who actually went to Sherlock with the case; it seems most likely that it was her machination. As mentioned earlier, who she chooses to take the case is of utmost importance, with the possibility of complete disaster. It’s possible that working in the same sphere as Mycroft and Magnussen, she knew that Magnussen was going after Mycroft. Perhaps knowing this, she was hoping choosing Sherlock to take the case would take the spotlight off her and her husband and more on Sherlock and Mycroft. It’s also possible she did so to make a move against Mycroft herself, in a way using Magnussen’s attack as a foil for her own.

Lady Smallwood was heading the Magnussen inquiry and hired Sherlock to deal with him and after Sherlock ends up shooting Magnussen she’s the one who has to give the go ahead for what happens to him

Lady Smallwood’s involvement at the end is intriguing. It’s possible she’s helping Sherlock out of guilt for drawing him into this, putting herself in that position to try to assuage some of the damage that was done after he took her case. However she likely knows it wasn’t due to her that he came to Magnussen’s attention and also her husband died as a result of the whole thing. Or perhaps Mycroft organised for her to be in that position, knowing that given the whole situation she would be easy to convince to do as he wanted.

It’s likely that’s all there is to it. But given her position of power and being the one choosing to involve Sherlock in the case, it’s possible it’s all about an undercurrent at play between Mycroft and Lady Smallwood. Along the thought-track that perhaps Sherlock would go down trying to take Magnussen down and maybe take Mycroft with him. And if not, she’s at least gotten rid of Magnussen. It’s possible, knowing Mycroft was focused on Magnussen’s move, that this was Lady Smallwood taking the opportunity to make her own move against Mycroft.

There’s no way to know for certain who was responsible for the machinations taking place in His Last Vow. But it looks like both Magnussen and Lady Smallwood probably had a much bigger role in events than it initially seems.

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