Why did Mary not shoot Magnussen when she had plenty of time after shooting Sherlock to destroy Magnussen?
I explain why Sherlock's explanation is unsatisfactory and what was going on behind the scenes between Mary and Magnussen, because what we see through Sherlock's eyes during His Last Vow is less than half the story.
Why did Mary shoot Sherlock?
I explain why the position of the bullet wound shows us that Mary really did try to give Sherlock the best chance of survival. The reason Sherlock had a cardiac arrest was due to unforeseeable circumstances on Mary's part
I also analyse Charles Augustus Magnussen because he is much more than just a cartoon-bad guy, he is a prime example of a true psychopath.
Smoke and Mirrors - How Magnussen Controlled Mary
Many people have argued that Mary should have shot Magnussen instead of Sherlock because that was clearly what she had intended to do in the first place. However I do not believe that Mary was really there to kill Magnussen. I’m sure she intended to do so at some point in the future but to this particular day she was on a fact finding mission.
It is important to remember that until the very end of the episode no one knew that Magnussen had all the information inside his head. Everyone, including Sherlock, assumed that he had vaults full of sensitive information hidden somewhere. There is no reason to believe that Mary thought any differently and the problem with killing Magnussen outright is that Mary could not know whether the information about her would be safe in the hands of the people he left behind. If Moriarty had an extensive criminal network, it is also logical to assume that Magnussen has people working for him who know about the vault and how to access it. Therefore the knowledge about Mary does not die with Magnussen, at best she would simply be delaying the inevitable.
Now we know that there is already an openly antagonistic relationship between Mary and Magnussen – he clearly sent a veil threat in the form of a greeting card at Mary’s wedding, but even before that, Mary had been deliberately trying to get closer to Magnussen by befriending Janine.
Magnussen is not stupid enough to believe that he is untouchable. As any good blackmailer knows if you squeeze too hard, your prey may just turn back to bite you. I believe that Magnussen made preparations for every eventuality he could foresee and one of these was Mary’s attempted assassination. He knew exactly who he was dealing with when he started threatening her and he also knew exactly what she would do in retaliation. Magnussen made her believe that if he died, information about her would not just reach John but also all the enemies she had made in her previous life and by extension John would also become a target for their wrath. Given that everyone is still working off the assumption that Magnussen has all the physical evidence stashed somewhere that other people can access, Magnussen would have played this to his direct advantage and worked hard to keep up the charade.
Mary did not survive this long as an assassin by underestimating the people she sets out to kill. She knows that Magnussen has manipulated the situation in such a way that killing him would only make the situation worse not better. However she also knows that Magnussen isn’t going to destroy her completely because she is important in his ultimate scheme to control Mycroft Holmes. I fail to believe that Mary hasn’t extensively researched Sherlock enough to know about Mycroft Holmes and what he really does for a living. Unfortunately Magnussen’s plan may protect her from immediate destruction from her foes but it also puts her into the path of Mycroft Holmes, which is just as bad if not worse.
Magnussen and Mary have no way of knowing exactly how Mycroft will respond to Magnussen’s attempt at using Sherlock as a pressure point. Mycroft didn't reach the pinnacle of power by caving to every person who threatens his brother. The most logical thing for Mycroft to do in a situation like this would be to cut off the chain of pressure points at the source and that source just happens to be Mary.
Therefore it is in Mary’s best interests to prevent Magnussen from using her as indirect pressure point against Mycroft. The only way to do this is to neutralise Magnussen’s hold over her without jeopardizing her future with John. Thus for Mary killing Magnussen outright would have been a very dangerous and foolish thing to do right now.
So why did she break into his office and point a gun to his head?
Reading Behind the Gun
Many people believe that Mary had worked to get close to Magnussen for a long time and thus all the effort had to culminate in Mary killing Magnussen.
However if we really look closely at the scene, we can see that whilst Sherlock had to lie and bribe his way into Magnussen’s office, Mary clearly got in there with stealth and brute force. Whilst Sherlock’s trick was a onetime only special, Mary has the skills to repeat her feat at any time she chooses. All she really needs to do was gain enough information on Magnussen’s movements and that isn’t hard for a seasoned assassin of her calibre. I believe she befriended Janine purely for information and ended up inviting her to be a bridesmaid because Mary really didn’t have anyone else. Janine was never as important to Mary as she was to Sherlock.
Thus Mary’s intrusion into Magnussen wasn’t something she could never repeat again. She didn’t need to kill him right there and then, she had the power to break in on him wherever he went. Magnussen of course knows this but it is something he absolutely revels in
Side Note - Anatomy of a Shark
Magnussen has psychopathic personality disorder and psychopaths always need a “fixation” to motivate themselves and gain biochemical gratification because they cannot get gratification from being altruistic or having meaningful personal relationships, which are the two greatest sources of gratification for normal people. Magnussen’s fixation is all about holding power over others. He doesn’t like power in the abstract context; he likes to wield it in a very personal way. He gains biochemical ratification from humiliating and controlling people through the same pathway that a heroin addicts gains gratification from taking drugs. For psychopaths their fixations can quickly develop biochemical addiction patterns. This may be why Magnussen has never stopped acquiring new victims, even after amassing huge wealth and power to the point he no longer needs to blackmail more people.
By putting Mary in a position whereby she simply cannot afford to kill him, Magnussen is wielding very personal power over one of the world’s most dangerous assassins and it thrills him. Even though blackmailing Mary had an important position in the greater scheme of things for Magnussen, he clearly enjoyed it in its own right.
I liken Magnussen’s relationship to Mary to a man who buys a cobra for a pet. He enjoys controlling, owning and manipulating a very dangerous animal. He believes that he is smarter than the snake and that he understands the reptile completely so he will always outmanoeuvre it, but that belief does not make him immune to fear when the snake suddenly strikes back.
Mary did strike back and she used Magnussen’s fear to her advantage. The seasoned blackmailer evidently hadn't anticipated that Mary would actually be bold or stupid enough to break into his office and attempt to kill him even though she had the ability to do so at any time. He was surprised when she turned up and we can hear the fear in his voice, because even though you think you understand your opponent you can never be completely sure.
Mary never planned to kill Magnussen but she bought the gun to terrify her opponent. She needed to know from him what his exact plans were regarding her information should she ever kill him and the quickest way to get that information is to make Magnussen believe that she was going to kill him.
Psychopaths might be devoid of empathy or conscience but they are just as vulnerable to fear as any other person. When a gun is pointed at your head, and you start to doubt every assumption you have ever made about your opponent, you would fall back to your last resort. Magnussen would never have given details what information he had on Mary, where it was kept or who would have access to it once he died, without a very violent form of "persuasion". This was his hold on Mary.
However when faced with the choice of saying nothing and dying immediately, or using the information to at least make Mary think twice about killing him, Magnussen would choose the latter because he is still human.
So Mary gets what she wants, though she doesn’t know that the entire charade is likely nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Magnussen may have someone on hand to retrieve the file on Mary but more likely, he doesn’t have it in his possession at all. He probably just looked at it once and memorised all the details so that it would seem like he had access to the file at all times.
Sherlock didn’t witness the conversation between them, so he would not have known what was going on and when he steps into the room it throws Mary’s carefully laid plans into disarray.
The Lesser of Two Evils - How We Know Mary Never Intended to Kill Sherlock
As I said before Mary couldn’t afford to kill Magnussen. She would mostly have killed anyone else walking through the door but she couldn’t afford to kill Sherlock either because she doesn't want to traumatize John. No matter what people may think about Mary's character, it is very clear that she loves John.
So the first thing she needs to find out is whether Sherlock will have a chance to tell John about what he saw before she can use her trademark method of "persuasion" on him. Through Mary's interactions with Magnussen we can see that Mary has no qualms about using the threat of violence and actual violence to get her way. This is unsurprising given the kind of world she inhabited as an assassin. A strong initial display of violence is very useful "negotiation" tool in Mary's line of work. It is also her default method of gaining the upper hand in any "negotiation". It is logical that Mary would resort to her default mode of operation when confronted with Sherlock's unexpected arrival. The behaviour is ingrained into her through years of training and experience. It takes a huge amount of willpower to overcome such innate responses, particularly under stress and fear.
Mary was never going to actually talk with Sherlock, even if she had much more time to reach her decision. It is not in her character to allow herself to be completely at the mercy of anyone else. Mary did not survive this long as an assassin by trusting the good will of other people. Besides she doesn't know Sherlock well enough to accurately predict if he is open to negotiation or will reliably stick to an agreement.
When Sherlock tells her that John is downstairs Mary realises immediately at she only has one choice: to incapacitate Sherlock now.
She’s not close enough to bludgeon him or drug him (I am sure that she carries equipment for both methods). The only thing that will reach Sherlock is a bullet from her gun, so Mary has to shoot Sherlock. However she can’t shoot him somewhere relatively safe like in a limb because that would not incapacitate him enough to prevent him to talking to John, nor would it hold John up long enough for her to make a clean escape.
Besides she wants him to fear her. Mary has clearly learnt the best way of making people do what you want is to threaten their lives in various violent ways. She is an assassin not a philosopher - her methods may be ruthless but she is clearly a woman who believes the ends justifies the means and makes no exceptions. If shooting Sherlock is the best way to "protect" John then that is what she will do without hesitation.
However the most important thing to remember is the Mary never intended to kill Sherlock and we can see this because she did two very emotionally revealing things.
Firstly Mary chose to shoot Sherlock in the least damaging place to give him the best chance of survival. We must remember that if she had wanted to, Mary could have easily killed him outright by aiming for his heart, but she didn't. An assassin of Mary's calibre would know exactly where the heart was and she wasn't going to miss it from that distance. Instead she deliberately shot him to the right not the left of the midline and lower down from where the heart is.
From the position of the bullet we can see that Mary deliberately avoided both the heart and the lungs (so Sherlock wouldn't get a fatal tension pneumothorax).
The bullet hole is around 1-2cm right of the midline and 2-3cm below the nipple line. The nipple line corresponds with the 5th intercostal space. Thus the bullet wound is most likely in the 6th intercostal space or it went through the 7th rib. These land marks are important because it shows us that the bullet wound is in Sherlock's liver and not his lung.
Mary was aiming for Sherlock's liver. This may sound like a terrible place to be shot but liver bullet wounds actually have a much better survival rate compared to any other organ. In a study of 153 bullet wounds to the liver, the mortality rate was only 8%, compared to a mortality rate of around 20-40% for an thoracic bullet wound.
The liver is the safest place to shoot someone within the abdomen, if you consider the alternatives.
The spleen is an even more vascular organ than the liver, which means it would bleed more and the bleeding is harder to stop. The bleeding can create pressure on the spleen and cut off more of its blood supply. It is unsurprising that in many cases of trauma to the spleen, the entire organ has to be removed. Whereas trauma to the liver usually does not result in removal of a part of the liver and even if it did, you can live perfectly well with less than half your liver.
If Mary had chosen to shoot Sherlock in the gut or stomach - he would have acute peritonitis and infection from the leaked faecal content on top of the blood loss from the bullet wound.
So why did Sherlock have a cardiac arrest?
Mary was an assassin, in her line of work human anatomy is useful but her knowledge would be confined to "kill points" such as the heart, the aorta and the head. She knew where the abdominal aorta was (just slightly left of the midline) and she made sure to avoid it but she would not have studied the course of the great veins at all because when would she have to aim for a vein?
The inferior vena cava is the largest vein in the body and it runs right behind the liver about 2.5cm right of the midline. Its primary function is to carry blood back to the heart from the body. Mary had the misfortune of rupturing Sherlock's inferior vena cava, not because she intended to but out of ignorance of its presence.
Mary knew there was always a chance that Sherlock could die when she shot him but she made every effort to minimise that risk and factors outside of her control went together to cause Sherlock's have a cardiac arrest.
Besides, Mary called an ambulance for Sherlock as almost as soon as she shot him to give him the best chance of getting to hospital before loosing too much blood.
Mary wasn't completely apathetic to Sherlock's survival and simply decided to shoot Sherlock in a completely random spot. Her actions were specifically calculated to give Sherlock the best chance possible to survive. She wanted him alive, not dead.
A Deception on Both Sides
Now that we understand Mary’s motivations, it is not surprising that she didn’t just turn around and shoot Magnussen after shooting Sherlock. Mary had what she wanted and Sherlock’s appearance actually gave her a better exit than she had planned for. Magnussen now knows that John Watson is downstairs and could come up at any time. It is not surprising to him that after Mary shoots Sherlock, she decides to flee as fast as possible instead of finishing him off. He would never find out that Mary didn’t intend to kill him on that night.
Magnussen still needs Mary alive regardless of her attempt on his life and he needs her in a place where he can exert his pressure upon her. She will be less useful to him if he approaches the police because it would draw attention to her and potentially alert her previous enemies to her whereabouts. This would lessen his hold upon her, why would she behave if she had very little left to loose? What would Magnussen have left to threaten John with?
Thus Magnussen keeps the “assassination” attempt to himself, as Mary has calculated. They go back to circling each other in a hostile standoff and Sherlock is left incapacitated for the moment until Mary has time to deal with him.
To be continued in: When Mary Shot Sherlock – a Medical Analysis.