In the last episode "The last Vow" of the third season of Moffat's TV show, Sherlock and Watson broke into Magnussen's mansion to steal the proofs about Mary's past. But it turns out that Magnussen has no secret safe where he keeps evidences to pressure people and Sherlock finally decides to suppress the threat by killing him.

But, why Sherlock did not accuse him of defamation? In real life, press has a lot of power, and even a weakly supported claim can hurt a lot. Suspicions of murders get more room in newspapers than their rehabilitation when it is found out that they were wrongly charged. But, we are talking about Sherlock. He has a strong enough reputation and does not really care about people's opinion, so he could stand a mediatic fight against Magnussen. Especially since noone would believe that the innocent-looking Mary was a former professional killer if the media tycoon has nothing to support his claim.

In my opinion, this was a poor way to conclude the season. In particular, it makes Magnussen looks a stronger opponent than Moriarty. Steven Moffat is a reputed scriptwriter. What am I missing here?

  • 1
    Yet the problem is, that Mary actually was what Magnussen would tell about her and any investigation in the wake of such a mediatic fight would drag that to light somehow, no matter if Magnussen had those evidence or not. This is explained in this related question (if not even a duplicate) and its excellent answer, I think.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jun 10, 2014 at 14:35
  • @NapoleonWilson: I read some question about Magnussen before asking but not that one. I don't think Mary would be that an easy target for Magnussen. But in a mediatic war, Magnussen could have transformed the English political/celebrities world into a real chaos. And, if Sherlock probably would not care, Mycroft may want to avoid such situation. By the way, is there a reason you wrote names in italic?
    – Taladris
    Jun 10, 2014 at 14:56
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    @Taladin "is there a reason you wrote names in italic?" - No, that's just my personal preference. It's not some actual rule, though. And it seems starsplusplus provides a much better reason especially for Mary anyway.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jun 10, 2014 at 15:04
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    Though not necessarily a stronger opponent, just a different one, requiring different measures. But in fact Sherlock himself claimed him to be the "most dangerous man they ever faced", if I remember correctly. He seems a bit like a replacement Moriarty anyway, especially with Sherlock calling him the "Napoleon of Blackmailing" or something similar, reminiscent of James Moriarty's nickname as the "Napoleon of Crime" in the original stories.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jun 10, 2014 at 15:09
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    By revealing that he uses a memory palace Magnussen actually gave Sherlock a way to blackmail him. - Sherlock could have threatened to reveal that Magnussen doesn't keep any physical evidence. If the blackmailed people knew that all the evidence is just in Magnussen's head, some of them would probably try to do what Sherlock did at the end: simply kill Magnussen. No Magnussen, no evidence.
    – Oliver_C
    Jun 10, 2014 at 19:57

2 Answers 2


Magnussen was threatening to make life hell for John and Mary. You talk about defamation as if he was planning to do this by publishing stories about her. He wasn't.

MAGNUSSEN: It works like this, John. I know who Mary hurt and killed. I know where to find people who hate her.
MAGNUSSEN: I know where they live; I know their phone numbers. All in my Mind Palace – all of it. I could phone them right now and tear your whole life down – and I will... unless you let me flick your face.

Neither of them would have let him do that, so they would have acquiesced to his blackmail. Sherlock saw a whole future of this for John and Mary and took the only action he believed would stop that.

Speaking more generally, the other blackmail victims were succumbing to his demands precisely because they wanted to keep their secrets secret. If it gets published, there will be a scandal, whether it can be proved for definite or not. It's that scandal that they're afraid of, so suing for defamation of character isn't an adequate defence because in their eyes if the defamation happens they've already lost. Magnussen knows this, which is why he makes all his comments about 'I'm the press, I don't need to prove things' etc. Besides which, what makes you think suing him will get anywhere? You saw what happened in the inquiry at the start of the episode...

  • This makes completely sense! To answer your last paragraph, Mary and John are not the kind of persons that are afraid of scandals. I think your first argument more convincing (for their case). I guessed that John and Mary could have disappeared and change identity in case of big trouble. But Magnussen alive, there is no definitively safe place to avoid his revenge.
    – Taladris
    Jun 10, 2014 at 15:05
  • Yes, only the first one was meant to apply to John and Mary. The final paragraph was talking about the other blackmail victims. I'll make that clearer. Jun 10, 2014 at 19:50

I have a take on this different from the other posts.

  1. Although there is no doubt Sherlock would do anything for Watson, at least in Moffat's interpretation, the real target of Magnussen's blackmail over John was Sherlock himself...that was (IMHO) the whole point of burying John in the bonfire...to see if he could play Sherlock like a puppet forcing him to rescue John. So if Magnussen could indirectly hold the strings over Sherlock, then (taking in the whole Mycroft/Sherlock relationship) all of Britain's security is at stake.

  2. What always hit me with that episode was that when Sherlock discovered that Magnussen really did have a mind palace, and not some digital glasses communicating with a digital safe at his mansion, then he realized that Magnussen's mental powers were equivalent to his own. Again...an unstoppable threat to England...not just to John and Mary.

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