We Review Sherlock's "The Sign of Three"
“But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment.” And with this quip from the novel The Sign of the Four bouncing around in our mind palaces while being recreated and recontextualized by Benedict Cumberbatch, the second episode of the third season of Sherlock arrives at its subject: love. While mysterious SPOILERS are surely afoot, we’ve also got spoilers of the heart here. In the “The Sign of Three,” Sherlock Holmes faces his greatest adventure yet: being a best man!
“I need back up! Maximum back up!!! Baker Street!! NOW!!!” Boasting perhaps Lestrade’s coolest line utterance in the whole show, this episode opens with the police being foiled again and again by a nefarious crime ring who bear more than a little resemblance to Gotham City-style crooks ala’ The Dark Knight. (Which weirdly isn’t the only Batman connection in the new season of Sherlock, wait for specific Watson line it in episode 3!) But just as they’re about to nab the bad guys, Lestrade receives an urgent text from Sherlock, desperate for help. After calling in all possible back up, Lestrade arrives at 221b Baker Street to discover Sherlock is simply in need some help writing a best man toast for John Watson and the swarm of helicopters was not actually needed.
And so begins what can only be referred to as “the party episode” of Sherlock. Sure, there’s a mystery in this one, in fact, several, but the focal points of the episode are more concerned with if Sherlock is going to resist John’s new relationship with Mary, or is he going to make the detecting duo into a trio. While the episode bears little resemblance to the source material the title is referencing— the novel The Sign of the Four– it does include a few elements from that original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story which help to liven up a best man speech with several mysteries at once. How was a solider killed inside of a locker room when no one else entered? What’s the deal with John Watson’s old commanding officer, Major Sholto? And what about “the elephant in the room?” Framed nearly entirely as Sherlock’s best man toast, the episode is a dizzying feat of narrative craft. How can a bunch of anecdotes about past Sherlock and John cases all come together and create mortal danger at a wedding? Well, in all honesty, some of the mystery “solving” is a little anti-climactic since neither John, nor Sherlock, nor any character we’ve previously met are in any danger at all. It seems a lot of people want to kill Major Sholto, including the wedding photographer, and through several deductions, Sherlock figures it all out. The mystery itself smacks very much of the “cab driver” solution from the very first episode; “A Study in Pink.” In that one, a killer in plain site was the cabbie, here it was a photographer. The mystery made sense and was compelling to see solved, but, in the middle of a story about Sherlock, John and Mary, it wasn’t entirely believable.
Oh! But who cares! Because this episode gave us one of the best and uproarious drunk scenes in television history. For John Watson’s stag party, Sherlock supposedly is going to make sure they drink the exact right amount of booze to stay “buzzed” all night. The results are outrageous, and are made complete by the implementation of the one and only dub-step remix of David Arnold’s “Sherlock Theme.” Seriously, even if this episode was terrible (which it wasn’t at all) it would be worth it just for John and Sherlock’s night out on the town. And just like the beginning of the episode inverts your expectations as to what is going to happen, the ending of the episode is similarly unexpected. After playing his “Waltz for John and Mary” on the violin, Sherlock doesn’t go home with the maid of honor, he doesn’t make another scene, he simply flips his collar up and…leaves.
And though the episode leaves you feeling a little sad for Sherlock and a little happy for John and Mary’s impending baby (Sherlock deduced she was pregnant despite his lack of medical qualifications) it’s in the mixed feelings that “The Sign of Three” succeeds.
Because sometimes the greatest mystery in life is what to do when your friends get married and move on. Particularly if you claim not to believe in love to begin with. But if Sherlock Holmes truly doesn’t believe in love at all, then it’s very curious that he does mention the word in relation to John in this episode. There. It happened, everyone. Sherlock LOVES John.
What did you think of “The Sign of Three?”