Unlike last week’s “The Empty Hearse,” I honestly had no idea what “The Sign of Three” would be about. From the title, I had assumed that the episode would be a modern take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four. However, any and all presumptions that I held were completely shattered after viewing it the whole way through. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t horrible or anything. It was good. Damn good, even. It was just so different that what I had come to expect from this series by now. In that regard I have to really give it off to the writers for delivering a hilarious, touching, and compelling episode that caught me completely off guard.
The first half hour of the episode does not even deal with any kind of real mystery. Instead, we are shown John Watson and his soon-to-be-wife Mary Morstan with their last-minute preparations for their wedding. Sherlock Holmes has solved hundreds of cases, brought the most dastardly criminals to justice, and fooled the world into thinking he was dead. However this time, he is given his most difficult task yet. Delivering the best man speech for Watson’s wedding! What follows is not the typical style that we’ve come to expect from this series, but rather a series of vignettes as Holmes chronicles some of his strangest cases with Watson. The highlight of this episode for me was seeing Sherlock’s total apathy for humanity and his hilarious lack of real social skills. As he states quite plainly, “What I’ve been trying to say is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and all-round obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet.” This is a man that’s one of the most intelligent ever, but it is because of his genius that he cannot lower himself to the level of “normal” people. He’s used to talking, but not anyone actually listening to him. This puts him in an extremely tight spot when he’s asked to deliver the best man speech in front of dozens of people. As I watched Benedict Cumberbatch giving perhaps his most varied and inspired performance in the entire series, I couldn’t help but compare how close Sherlock’s personality was to my own. Granted, I don’t consider myself to be a super-genius but I can closely relate to him with failing to connect with people.
Another strong point was seeing Sherlock attempting to come to terms with John’s marriage. We can clearly see that despite his cold exterior, Holmes is truly worried that he’ll lose his only companion. The flashback where Watson asks Sherlock to be his best man felt both touching, awkward and hilarious at the same time. He is completely surprised when Watson refers to him as his “best friend,” as he cannot imagine being best friends with anyone. During the speech magnificently delivered by Cumberbatch, he claims, “John, I am a ridiculous man, redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship.” As a self-described “high-functioning sociopath,” Holmes rarely lets emotion cloud his judgment and for the most part is incapable of interacting with people. He criticizes marriage for being “false” and “irrational” in the cruel world that we live in, yet I can no doubt detect slight hints of loneliness from him. Watson represents the only form of true humanity in his life, as otherwise he is little more than a cold and calculating machine.
The actual “mystery” stems from the aforementioned cases that Holmes regales to the guests as part of his speech. A few are only short excerpts from his more ridiculous cases with Watson, such as the quite literal “Elephant in the Room.” However, two major conundrums that have eluded Holmes are presented to us. The first is the baffling “Bloody Guardsman” case. A soldier seeks Holmes’ help after believing to be the victim of stalking. Before Sherlock can get into contact with him, the guardsman is found stabbed in a locked shower with the weapon having completely vanished. This is a true locked-room mystery that does not appear to have a clear answer. The other deals with the mysterious “Mayfly Man,” a mysterious man that appears to live for one day, going out with various women, only to disappear without a trace as if he never existed. As more information surfaces, it soon becomes clear that all these seemingly separate cases are indeed related.
The most hilarious scene in the entire episode was undoubtedly when Sherlock and Watson get completed wasted after only two hours of drinking. Remember that Cowboy Bebop episode where the entire gang gets high off of mushrooms? That’s what I view this to be the equivalent of. It’s completely off-hand, immature, and has practically nothing to do with the over-arching story itself. But it’s also provides the majority of laugh-out-loud moments that I’ve had viewing from the whole series. To see the world’s greatest detective reduced to a miserable drunk is nothing short of ludicrously droll. It’s also great to see how Sherlock “thinks” when he’s intoxicated, displaying bits of nonsensical text that replace his normally coherent mind palace. I’ve barely scratched the surface of how funny this episode is. I seriously recommend that you watch this episode to get what I mean. Talking about comedy is way different than actually experiencing it.
The cinematography and sound design were all top-notch as expected. Some may feel that this episode has a disjointed pace, but I really had no problems with it. Every line, joke, and piece of exposition is delivered perfectly, with nothing feeling wasted. Sure the story jumps around quite a bit, but I was with it the entire time. There are some truly beautiful camera shots here, especially with the wedding scenes. The score is effective in its use, and there’s even a dubstep (!) remix of the series’ main theme when Sherlock and Watson are going on their drunken stag night before the wedding.
This was no doubt the odd duck of the entire Sherlock canon. It completely changed how the show was normally done, but still remains as a clever, hilarious, and moving piece of fine television. Unlike the previous two series, character development seems to be center stage this time around as opposed to simply dealing with cases. While it’s great to see these people fleshed out even better than before, I’m itching to see a real compelling mystery. If anything, this is the calm before the storm as the previews for next week’s episode “His Last Vow” seem to transition the show into much darker territory. It’s going to be very thrilling indeed to see how everything ties together in what’s already the quickly approaching season finale. Two-thirds finished, Series 3 of Sherlock may be different, but it has still satisfied my demand to once again see the detective with the deerstalker. Let’s hope that the game is still on with the final episode.