Sherlock S03E02: "The Sign of Three"

Weddings, in general, are considered to be happy affairs. I mean, who doesn't like the idea of cake, dancing, and an open bar? Side note: If a wedding doesn't have an open bar, you should not attend. If your friends invite you to a wedding without an open bar, it means they're jerks and their marriage is going to fail. Anyway, depending on the company you keep, weddings can range in atmosphere from "drunken, college-esque rager" to "romantic, classy soiree." Obviously, John Watson and Mary Morstan are two lovely people and the only questionable acquaintance they have is Sherlock Holmes—a high-functioning sociopath—so their wedding probably should've fallen somewhere toward the chic, elegant end of the spectrum. But since this is Sherlock we're talking about, something was undoubtedly going to go wrong. And with Sherlock Holmes taking on the role of best man, we obviously had to adjust our expectations accordingly.

"The Sign of Three" was told almost entirely through a series of flashbacks as part of Sherlock's best man speech, which is an interesting storytelling device. To structure an entire episode—mystery and all—around flashbacks is pretty unique for Sherlock; honestly, reminded me of How I Met Your Mother in the way it flashed back and forth between previous events and the present time, to show several notable moments leading up to the wedding. And I dare say it worked out well. The only time it felt awkward was during the transitions between what was going on in Sherlock's head as he worked out the clues from the mayfly mystery and their relation to what was happening at the wedding. The way those scenes were edited was a bit jarring, but I believe it was done purposefully, so as to give viewers a glimpse of how Sherlock's brain works. Which, by the way, is not entirely pleasant.

The actual flashbacks were great, though, and they included Sherlock sharing gory crime scene photos with a young child, Sherlock threatening Mary's ex-boyfriend, and a particularly wonderful scene in which Mary played Sherlock and Watson against one another in order to get them back to work and out of the flat. They added to the humor of the episode, which was not only superb, but a little more abundant than it has been in the past. I don't want to say it was too cheeky, because it worked and nothing felt forced, but while Sherlock has always been very funny, "The Sign of Three" seemed to include more humor for the sake of humor, rather than just finding humor in a particular situation. I suppose that makes sense given the wedding setting; it was totally appropriate for the episode to feature less stabby-stab murder and more drinky-drink laughter. And I hope PBS uses that line in promotional materials later.

Anyway, because of the flashback format, "The Sign of Three" was essentially narrated by Sherlock as he attempted to explain, in his very Sherlock way, what being a best friend and best man to John Watson meant to him.  If you've ever had to give one of these speeches at a wedding, you know how difficult they can be. What you and your friend find funny is probably not all that funny—or even that interesting—to the majority of people in attendance. The challenge is to strike the perfect balance between humor and sincerity, and knowing Sherlock as we do, it was obvious from the start that his speech was probably going to be a whole bucket of awkward instead. Before it became clear that the flashbacks would continue throughout the episode and the case would play out through them, I wondered how the series would merge a happy occasion like a wedding with a serious mystery. And although I haven't yet read any reviews or comments from fans regarding this episode, I think it will turn out to be just as divisive as the middle episodes of Sherlock that came before it.

"The Blind Banker" and "The Hounds of Baskerville," to me, were fairly weak, but after a lot of rumination, I think "The Signs of Three" is actually one of my favorite episodes that Sherlock has ever done. It took Sherlock out of his comfort zone, thereby taking the viewers out of theirs. It took a fresh approach to storytelling, which doesn't happen too often in a series that only airs only three episodes per season. By using flashbacks to weave together the wedding with previous cases—which in turn were revealed to be connected to a real case set at the wedding—the episode used plot to continue building the relationship between Sherlock and Watson in a meaningful way. 

It was fun to see what jealousy looked like on Sherlock after he was told over and over again that people change once they're married, and as he realized he wasn't necessarily Watson's only friend. But their relationship is a deep one, and as Sherlock recalled cases that seemingly had no real significance to Watson's nuptials, it eventually became clear that he was attempting to highlight why they're such a good team. Although Sherlock solves the murders and gets the recognition and fame, Watson is the better man because he actually saves lives. It's not easy for someone like Sherlock to compliment others, or to admit that he doesn't know something, but he doesn't know how to save lives, and that's why he needs Watson around. And not just to save people like Watson's former commanding officer, but to save Sherlock himself. 

That was, essentially, the underlying theme of "The Sign of Three," as Sherlock pointed out how many times Watson had kept him alive. It was quite obvious that Sherlock wasn't just talking about the time Watson shot the cabbie in "A Study in Pink"; he was referring to all the little things John's done over the years to save Sherlock from becoming his own worst enemy. It was very touching to see Sherlock recognize this important facet of their relationship, because he's someone who doesn't often understand, or perhaps experience, human emotion the way most of us do (as we saw last week, when Sherlock couldn't comprehend why Watson wasn't immediately overjoyed to see him upon his "return from the dead").

Sherlock's speech itself was equal parts awkward, embarrassing, funny, heartwarming, and sincere, which means it was pretty damn great. And even though there were several moments where I clutched at my face and willed Sherlock to stop talking out of sheer embarrassment for his character, the sentiment was there. By the time we'd learned the truth about the attempted murder of Major Sholto and uncovered the identity of the suspect (the substitute wedding photographer who'd lost a family member in the mission Sholto led), I'd decided the speech was probably simultaneously one of the best and worst wedding speeches ever. I was constantly worried that it was unfolding in real time (meaning it was almost a 90-minute event), but in the end I think "The Sign of Three" was successful in its endeavor to highlight the importance of Sherlock and Watson's relationship while also cementing the fact that even though there will be other important people in Watson's life, Watson will not abandon his best friend.

And even though I was upset by the bomb's on/off switch in the "The Empty Hearse," I have nearly zero complaints about the case in "The Sign of Three," because it felt integrated and integral to the relationship stuff. While last week's premiere sacrificed case complexity in the name of bromance, "The Sign of Three" balanced the two quite well. HOWEVER: I said I have nearly zero complaints, which means there's at least one. And here it is: "The Empty Hearse" set up what appeared to be an overarching storyline, but then that storyline didn't factor at all into "The Sign of Three," and while I think that was wise (it would have made the episode feel overstuffed), it also means that next week's final episode has a lot to do. But let's cross that bridge when we come to it, because this was a very entertaining, funny, and heartfelt episode that shouldn't be marred by nitpicking. 


– I feel like I've never really noticed how small Martin Freeman is compared to  Benedict Cumberbatch... until this scene. While it's partly an optical illusion because Martin is sitting back further on the bench than Benedict, it still feels a bit like Martin forgot he was no longer filming The Hobbit. Also, I loved it when Watson called Sherlock a dickhead after realizing he'd gotten up and walked away.

– Over the course of the episode, Sherlock made many references to how he's a child, and I loved them all because they tied in with his speech, and that means he at least recognizes that Watson's been taking care of him all this time. 

– Mary's pregnant! Fun or not fun?

– My heart broke a bit for Sherlock as he realized at the end that he's alone now. Watson deserves to have his own life, and Mary is pretty great, but I just wanted to hug him as he walked away from the wedding alone.

– Lara Pulver's appearance surprised the hell out of me in the best way possible. I'd love to see Irene Adler return.

– Drunk Sherlock might be one of my favorite moments from the entire series to date, not only for the way he acted, but for what transpired before. Incapable of simply going out with Watson for his bachelor party and seeing where the night would take them, he'd planned everything out down to the smallest detail. 

– Mrs. Hudson has had quite the life, eh? I think I could have listened to her tell stories about her former husband for at least another 15 minutes.

– "If someone could move Mrs. Hudson's glass slightly out of reach..." 

– "I will solve your murder, but John will save your life."

– "What? I heard that silence."

– "I'm not John; I can tell when you're fibbing." 

– "Okay, I learned it on YouTube." Sherlock is the best when you realize he's exactly like the rest of us.

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 1/12/2014

Season 3 : Episode 3

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