Sherlock S3 Ep2: The Sign of Three

The best man from hell?

Sherlock tackles his most nerve-racking assignment yet – making the best man’s speech at John and Mary’s wedding – and in so doing both prevents a murder and closes two unsolved cases.

‘Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do’

Don’t they make a lovely couple? (Image: BBC)

Watson persuades Sherlock to be the best man at his wedding, where he is delighted by the appearance of his reclusive former commanding officer, Major James Sholto. However, Sholto has been targeted by wedding photographer Jonathan Small, the brother of an army rookie killed under his command.

In his speech, Sherlock eulogises John by recounting past cases. This includes two unsolved mysteries: an attempted locked room murder (The Bloody Guardsman) and an identity-stealing womaniser (The Mayfly Man). Holmes realises these formed part of Small’s preparations to stab Sholto with a blow that only becomes fatal once his belt is removed.

Sherlock and John save Sholto while Lestrade apprehends Small. Two mysteries solved, one life saved.

The Yoko factor

Sherlock’s best man speech is initially awkward but ultimately poignant – from his own self-description (“the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and all-round obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet”) to his heartfelt praise for John (“the bravest and kindest and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing”).

Nonetheless the most touching moment is when Sherlock slips away silently at the end, realising his best friend will no longer be permanently at his side. Mary’s presence in John’s life spells an end for the duo’s partnership, just as Yoko Ono is commonly blamed for triggering the break-up of The Beatles.

The Sign of Three

Throughout the day, Sherlock observes Mary’s increased appetite, changing taste and sickness, beating John to the diagnosis that she is pregnant – the sign of a soon-to-be family of three.

The episode is tenuously connected to the Conan Doyle novel The Sign of Four, borrowing some characters and minor plot points but otherwise this is a completely different story.

Other good stuff

  • Wasn’t it great to see Irene Adler, even if it was only a gratuitous blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo? It suggests we’ll see her again, probably next series.
  • Did anyone else think Sherlock was playing a real-life version of children’s game Guess Who? with all the Mayfly Man’s ladies? No? Just me?
  • John torpedoing Sherlock’s carefully concocted plan to navigate the stag night – beer poured into measuring cylinders 443.7 millilitres at a time – resulting in Sherlock’s drunken deductions.
  • “You are not a puzzle solver. You never have been. You’re a drama queen.” Spot on.
  • In addition to recognising skip codes, Mary has a remarkable memory, instantly recalling Sholto’s room number.

A slow burner

Like cooking a Christmas roast, this episode requires patience. The central mystery takes a long time to cook and, for its opening hour, has more than a whiff of turkey about it. However, the end result is a pleasant enough filler episode – diverting, but run-of-the-mill by Sherlock’s standards – more stuffing than turkey.

But the story is unlikely to top many fans’ favourite episode lists. For me, it took too long to pull the threads together, rendering the narrative shapeless until the closing 20 minutes. Fans upset by a perceived increase in ‘soapy’ and humorous elements at the expense of plot in the opener will have more ammunition here.

What next?

It seems that the fun of the opening stories is intended to offset a dark, intense finale involving the mysterious Charles Augustus Magnussen.

Like the first two series, you feel we’re not going to finish on an upbeat, happy ending.

The third and final episode of Sherlock is on BBC1 next Sunday at 8:30pm.

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6 Comments on Sherlock S3 Ep2: The Sign of Three

  1. I have to question the wisdom of the decision to have 2 soapy episodes in a row, particularly when the series is only 3 episodes long, and series of Sherlock don’t come around that often! I appreciate that some like them but it’s very frustrating for those who don’t, to have been waiting so long to only see one “proper” episode before what will no doubt be another long wait. Still looking forward to next week though!

    • I know what you mean. The balance of these two episodes feels a bit wrong. But it clearly points to the final episode being incredibly dark, right? It’s just a shame we only get three stories every other year. If it was three a year – or even 5-6 every other year – that’d be wonderful. And then we could have a tie-in magazine … 😉

  2. I agree that when you only have 3 a year, the first two have been too frothy but I was carried along with some of the set pieces, especially the tremendous drunken case investigation. It is too soapy but I fear this is because those fiends Moffat and Gatiss plan to kill off the lovely Mary we’ve all fallen in love with. I hope I’m wrong. BTW, my review is in the usual place!

    • Without getting spoilery, I think anyone who understands the way series TV works will realise that two deliberately light episodes is a guarantee of extreme darkness for the finale. Although I’ve yet to see anyone who’s exactly nailed the ending yet …

      Even though I personally didn’t think this episode was particularly strong, there was still much to love: drunken deductions, real-life Guess Who, The Woman’s fleeting return, measuring cylinders and the beautifully obvious-and-yet-not major clue within the episode for the finale – all great stuff that made me smile despite the episode’s flaws. So-so Sherlock still knocks the spots off 95% of everything else that’s on TV.

  3. Jed Bartlet // January 8, 2014 at 8:54 am // Reply

    No better than last week. If this episode was a curate’s egg, it’s one where you needed to dig through the first three-quarters to find the edible part. They’ve changed the show, and they’ve changed Sherlock the character; neither for the better, in my view.

    • It seems to be a constant that people who didn’t love episode 1 also disliked episode 2. Be interesting to see what your reaction is to the finale.

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