Sherlock Review: “The Sign of Three” (Season 3, Episode 2)

sherlock0302 02 Sherlock Review: The Sign of Three (Season 3, Episode 2)

Most of this week’s episode of Sherlock takes place during the events of Watson’s wedding, of which Sherlock is the best man. Knowing this iteration of Sherlock as we do – borderline sociopathic, probably registering on the autism scale, unfeeling, uncaring – the very idea of him as a best man is inherently comedic. This is played out to great effect throughout, as the central pull of the episode is Sherlock recounting some of his and Watson’s weirdest and funniest moments. This is more laughs than we’re used to from the show, and if you quickly scan Twitter, there’s a lot of people who are very unhappy about this. Very unhappy indeed. Why? Who knows. People on Twitter are unhappy about everything, it’s pointless even bringing it up here really. So why would I? Because one criticism I kept seeing over and over again stuck with me as a very good point: a lot of this episode seems perfectly engineered for GIF creation. There’s a lot of clear, close-up images of Sherlock’s face, a lot of reaction shots, a lot of weird visual moments.

There’s a scene quite close to the end of the episode, when everything has been solved – we’ll get to the crime shortly, don’t worry – and Sherlock is relaxing with one of the bridesmaids. In conversation with her, he reveals that he’s always secretly loved dancing. To demonstrate, he executes a little pirouette and poses momentarily. Instant GIF. Another scene, earlier on in the episode, involves Sherlock and Watson getting drunk (like I say, this is no normal Sherlock). As they get progressively woozier, they end up in a game of Celebrity, the celebrities being Madonna (Watson) and Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock). Cue lots of posturing, giggling, and Sherlock eventually investigating the carpet so closely that he falls asleep. Are you telling me that moment isn’t made solely for the purposes of propagation via Tumblr?

It’s no big deal, and I don’t mind a bit of fan service, but in a series consisting of three(!) 90 minute episodes, I don’t need a full half hour of exposition and a lengthy drunken scene. The first sniff of actual crime occurs exactly thirty minutes into the programme, almost like they had the mystery written then quickly needed to come up with something to fill an extended time slot. While I’m a big fan of the snippets of crimes Sherlock offerd in passing, with no more explanation than a brief descriptive name – The Elephant in the Room (a literal elephant in a literal room), The Hollow Client, The Poisoned Giant, and one involving a French decathlete and a mysterious matchbox – this episode featured loads, almost as many as there were different explanations for Sherlock’s faked suicide, when what the nation really wanted was an actual crime that Sherlock could maybe, if at all possible, solve. Then it arrived.

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sherlock0302 01 Sherlock Review: The Sign of Three (Season 3, Episode 2)

The main story that Sherlock decides to tell, and the one that he inadvertently ends up solving during the speech itself, is your typical locked-room murder scenario. A locked shower, with no way in our out, in which they found a soldier with a single stab wound to the abdomen. Watson was just next door, and Sherlock was casing the joint, but neither saw anyone escape; no sign of a weapon, or motive. As such it baffles both our heroes and remains, until Sherlock’s speech, unsolved. The turning point in the case comes slightly later on when Sherlock connects that murder with that of another case involving a women who thought she might have gone on a date with a ghost. After some investigation it transpires that the man has done this to a number of women, seemingly with the aim of getting at someone in particular. But whom? And how does this relate to the attempted murder of a young soldier in the shower? Well, the serial dater – called the Mayfly Man in the episode – is the man who attempted to murder the soldier, and he plans on murdering Watson’s old commanding officer for his part in the death of his brother.

Now, I’m not a medical man. Really, I’m not. Watson goes on to save the man’s life – oddly, we hear nothing of the victim ever again, a boon of the crime being told as a story in a speech, rather than in supposed real time. But the eventual reveal that the soldier was stabbed much earlier on in the day, as practice for a later murder, surviving by dint of the incredibly tight belt on his military uniform holding his body together like a giant pressure-bandage, didn’t seem plausible to me. Are those belts so tight that you wouldn’t feel a blade actually piercing your body? Really? I’d love to be able to defer to a medical expert right now, but unfortunately we don’t keep doctors on retainer. If anyone with medical training wants to get in contact to correct me about the finer medical points of a Sherlock reveal via the comments section of a leading pop culture website, then feel free, but I just don’t buy it. Not at all.

I did like the Major’s moment by himself in the locked room, and how appropriate it would be for him to die in the uniform, but again he just disappears once his scenes are over. It’s like the actual crime needs to be gotten out of the way, so the dancing and drunkenness can begin again. Just a little bit of further exposition with regards to the crime, or the victim, or the impact of the crime on the wedding, would have been nice. A quick chat with the murderer about his motives, who handily for Sherlock and Watson doesn’t argue with them – keep in mind they had no evidence at all – in the back room before going for the bride and groom’s first dance just didn’t do it for me.

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sherlock0302 03 Sherlock Review: The Sign of Three (Season 3, Episode 2)

I know I’m repeating myself, but I just can’t get past the fact that a lot of this episode just didn’t make sense. For one, out of all the crimes he could potentially have chosen, he just happened to pick the two that were, in fact, one. The idea that someone would scan the local obituraries then pose as the recently deceased to use their apartments to create alibis is definitely interesting, and deserved more than just being used as a handy set-up for a relatively unbelievable and medically dubious delayed action stabbing. Even the “meat knife” idea that Tom came up during Sherlock’s speech, roundly poopooed by the gathered audience, was more realistic. I could see that happening, and in fact I thought the solution might have been something similar to that.

What I’m saying is that this Sherlock was an odd one, all told. It was much more lighthearted than normal, playing more as a grim comedy than a detective series. The writing was as fantastic as ever and the idea that Sherlock would know that Mary was pregnant (the “sign of three” [Watson, Mary, and baby]) from observing her behaviour alone before Watson did – a trained doctor – was really funny, and the wedding scenes did look positively sumptuous; I just didn’t know whom Gatiss and Moffat were trying to please with this one. Given that the next episode is the season finale, I wonder what’s in store for us.

References to the novels:

  • Sherlock encounters Irene Adler while he’s thinking through the case.
  • “The Sign of Three” is also a reference to “The Sign of Four”, the second Sherlock Holmes novel.
  • The dwarf with a blowpipe features in “The Sign of Four” novel.
  • John Watson proposes to Mary in “The Sign of Four”, which the wedding references in this episode.

Random Robservations

  • I just don’t buy it. I just don’t. Sorry guys.

See you next week! If you spotted any references yourself, then feel free to post below!

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  • jtk

    I don’t think they insinutated that the murderer had killed all the men whose homes he was using — just that he looked at obituaries and made convenient use of houses that were likely to be empty for a bit.
    What I found hard to believe was how the Mayfly Man managed to identify and briefly date so many of Sholto’s employees, apparently in hopes of learning of some occasion where Sholto might be accesible in public in his uniform(?).

    • Brimstone Titan

      But Shulto was obsessed with security and had many death threats made against him as Sherlock pointed out. If you wanted to murder a reclusive, security obsessed man with military training, then it makes sense that the Mayfly needed access to women that could give him details about said man. And by Sherlock pointing out that the nurse, the security guard, and other women broke their confidentiality agreements with Shulto, the writers of Sherlock imply that THAT is what keeps them all quiet. None of them wants to admit negligence. So it’s a great piece of writing by the Sherlock writers.

      For me, the problem was with the two victims not feeling being stabbed by the Mayfly. The victims look at most as if they felt a tap on the shoulder. Are there blades so imperceptible that one wouldn’t realize they had been stabbed? Are military belts so tight that blood from an open wound wouldn’t seep into the fabric? Why wouldn’t the wound heal in that case? It’s the stabbing I’m having trouble with.

      On the plus side, so far I like John’s wife as a character. I didn’t think I would.