In the last episode season 3 of Sherlock, The Last Vow, Magnussen seems to use a very circuitous approach to beating Mycroft, whom he regards as essentially the head of England.

Magnussen blackmails Mary Watson in order to pressure John Watson; John is a pressure point to Sherlock; Sherlock is a pressure point to Mycroft

My question is, if Magnussen already had "pages" worth of pressure points applicable to Sherlock (evidenced by the rapid scrolling visual on his glasses), did he have to include so many other people--or is it explicable merely with "arrogance"?

  • Having not seen it ... seems to me Magnussen is causing the most amount of pain possible. What would be the fun in just causing one or two people pain ... why not cause four people pain? Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 19:27
  • I'd say the first step is to find something he can blackmail Mycroft with. If he can find nothing, then he has to move on to Sherlock, Mycrofts pressure point. Does Sherlock have a secret he wouldn't want to have revealed? No? Then how about John? No? Then how about Mary? Bingo. - I guess it comes down to Magnussen not being able to find usable "dirt" on Mycroft, Sherlock or John, otherwise he could blackmail them directly.
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 22:35
  • 2
    I am wondering how pressuring the pressure point of a pressure point would work in practice. If Magnussen wanted Mycroft to do something, would he threaten Mycroft or Mary? Would Mycroft really be willing to trade state secrets for Mary's life? He didn't even care enough for her to attend her and John's wedding.
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 22:44
  • "evidenced by the rapid scrolling visual on his glasses" - You still think it were his glasses? ;-)
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 22:03
  • @NapoleonWilson Ah, the comment was merely to help the reader recall the scene (as in atticae's answer), while also helping not spoil anything.
    – hexparrot
    Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 23:43

3 Answers 3


By involving so many people Magnussen is able to build a chain of accountability.

If he were to manipulate a single person, they could (out of a sense of desperation or nobility) sacrifice themselves in order to foil him. By involving a series of people linked to each other, none will jeopardize the position of their own 'weak-point', creating a fail-safe against any action against him.

By creating such a chain, he is making the ramifications of Mycroft's/Sherlock's/Watson's/Mary's potential intransigence affect people beyond their immediate vicinity, and possibly beyond their comprehension, which is very intimidating.

It appears as though Magnussen gets some kind of satisfaction from creating these needlessly convoluted chains, as they are a demonstration of his power and the far reaching boundaries of his control. This is perhaps the arrogance you speak of.

  • 1
    I'm more and more inclined to explain it as arrogance, too. In this particular case, Magnussen didn't actually get to one-up Mycroft until after Mary had already been outed AND John had forgiven her. In other words, his play on Mary ended up fruitless--only Sherlock's obsession with trying to win led him to drug Mycroft, which he could have done with or without Mary/John invited to the Christmas party (except then he would've had to go to Appledore alone).
    – hexparrot
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 22:14
  • I don't think Magnussen built that "chain" deliberately, because it can potentially go on forever. Why not also include Mrs. Hudson, or mother and father Holmes? They will probably have friends they care about too, and those friends will have friends ...
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 22:38
  • He effectively did involve Mrs. Hudson, or it was at least inferred. He sized her up when passing her in the hall; "Former Exotic Dancer", his assessment displayed. There's no reason to believe he didn't have plans for her, they might simply have been undisclosed. I think he'd try and gain leverage over as many people as possible, that seems to be the nature of his character. Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 23:19
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    @JohnSmithOptional - John had two pressure points listed: Mary and his sister Harry. Magnussen could threaten both, but seemed content with Mary. - In the last series finale Moriarty threatened to kill Sherlock's "only three friends": John, Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade. But Magnussen uses only John. I guess because he thinks that's enough. - I'd say he threatens as many people as he needs, not as many as possible.
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 0:59
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    I'm accepting this answer because I agree it mostly boils down to needlessly convoluted chains. I'd actually posit that Mrs. Hudson would be a pressure point to John, with how he reacted in the Reichenbach Fall regarding Mrs. Hudson being hurt. In the end, Magnussen could just as well pressured John->Sherlock->Mycroft. John->Sherlock was already demonstrated in the bonfire incident and John->Mary seemed more sensible than Mary->John. All is explicable as Magnussens' hubris.
    – hexparrot
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 16:02

Magnussen has many pressure points on Sherlock, but few that have much leverage on him.

In fact Sherlock doesn't seem that concerned with his public image and is happy for drug taking and sex stories to appear in the press. This means that few of his foibles can be used to pressure him in any way (unlike revelations about a leading politician, for example).

But Magnussen knew from the bonfire incident in the previous episode just how far Sherlock would go on behalf of Watson (he may have had other evidence pointing to this fact and set up the bonfire incident as a definitive proof). So Sherlock's desire to protect Watson creates leverage. But what is the best way to gain leverage over Watson? His weak point is Mary. And Magnussen knows all about her already, so he can use that to get the results he wants.


My question is, if Magnussen already had "pages" worth of pressure points applicable to Sherlock (evidenced by the rapid scrolling visual on his glasses), did he have to include so many other people--or is it explicable merely with "arrogance"?

I don't think he had really had that many pressure points on Sherlock.

Lets revisit what Magnussen lists in his mind:

enter image description here

There are only six points being listed here (and infinitely scrolled, likely for effect, to indicate that there are more than usual):

  • Irene Adler (see File)
  • Jim Moriarty (see File)
  • Redbeard (see File)
  • Hounds of the Baskerville
  • Opium
  • John Watson

Irene Adler and Moriarty are (supposedly) dead, so unless he knows about them being alive, using them will be hard.

From Sherlock's mindpalace sequence we know that Redbeard was his dog as a kid. He got put down, so also not really a good leverage.

Magnussen says later that he did not buy the Opium/drug story from the start, so that is off as well.

I really don't know what the "Hounds of the Baskerville" pressure point is supposed to be.

So that leaves John Watson as the easiest and most likely way to blackmail Sherlock. As others have stated, he tested this earlier by getting Watson into danger and checking how far Sherlock would go for him.

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    "porn preference: normal"? - Now that is interesting. And I was disappointed when it turned out he never had sex with Janine. ;-)
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 22:10

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