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Sherlock Series 3, Episode 2: ‘The Sign Of Three’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction

Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 17:08 by Ali Plumb in Small Screen
Sherlock Series 3, Episode 2: ‘The Sign Of Three’ - Initial Spoiler-Filled Reaction

Like any good best man’s speech, The Sign Of Three is fun, loveable, messy, slow to start, booze-fuelled, sometimes funny, sometimes not funny, sometimes only funny if you were there (or read the book), full of incoherent anecdotes, but ultimately kinda satisfying and brings a tear to the eye (if you’re susceptible to squishy-cuddle stuff).

I enjoyed it, but the whole episode felt a little too busy. Where ‘The Empty Hearse’ danced a merry waltz on the line between smugness and self-confident silliness, its follow-up drunkenly hopscotches around the line before collapsing on the floor, smiling happily and bleeding from the belly.

You’ll accuse me of sniping here – and you should, because that’s what I’m doing – but I have a list of things that just didn’t work for me, starting with the opening ‘gag’. For the most part, I like Rupert Graves as DI Greg Lestrade, but his bank heist / desperate text skit was weak. You’ve been working with this beautifully-coated maniac for years now, Greg! When he texts you an emergency text, YOU CALL HIM BACK STRAIGHT AWAY. Failing that, you TEXT BACK. What do don’t do is bring in a helicopter and blow over his sheet music.

Other jokes you see from a mile away: the “Elephant In The Room” case (though I did not see the callback coming, to be fair), a lot of the two man stag-do (“The game is… something”), Mrs. Hudson’s super-sexy sex life from way back when, the brains in a bowl, the “meat dagger”, the love of dancing, the wordless reponse to Watson, Sherlock disappearing from the park bench… Even as someone who is a defender of the first episode, I couldn’t stand my ground on the comedy this time around.

Fortunately, there was the brilliance of Mary Morstan to alleviate the awkwardness, and if they don’t get Amanda Abbington to say “No bullshit, Sherlock!” the next time she deftly deals with the cluesome twosome’s tantrums, they are fools. And that Facebook-style thumbs-up, thumbs-down dress – or was it a blouse? – is excellent, perfectly complimenting her own double thumbs-up as well being cool in its own right.

Then there are the shows’ stylistic quirks, which seem to have gone into overdrive. In their defence, the slo-mo 360 degree photography spins come back into play during the final reveal, but the fast-forwards and sideways screenwipes (and now iPhone timers) are too in your face. You rattle through the wedding, only to get confuzzled by flashback followed by flashback followed by flashback-within-a-flashback. Side note: I thought the drunken textual analysis gags were genius. “Sitty thing” for a chair had me laughing big laughs. And Martin Freeman busting out a swanee whistle noise as he points at Sherlock? Get this man on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue immediately.

Where Sherlock was a confident, chuckle-filled charmer (in his own way) in the previous episode, now he’s into a bedwetting 12-year-old autistic robot from space, and it feels like the great detective of the first series has been turned into a soapy silly-billy. After the amuse-bouche of 'The Empty Hearse' – bear with me – I wanted a serious case as the main course this time, and though we do eventually get one, the hour-long journey there feels too character-led, too bromantic, too… much. Perhaps everyone involved has been drinking the critical Kool Aid a little too deeply, because as a big fan of the show, I felt a bit betrayed at times by what this episode, and this series, has become. For me, it should be about a case – or cases, though I always prefer fewer puzzles where possible – with character beats around it. Now the cart leads the horse, and I wonder whether I’m watching Sherlock: The Soap rather than Sherlock: The Modernised Take On The Famous Detective Serial.

Huge compliment alert: I loved the dubstep version of the theme tune. Huge embarrassment alert: the line “It’s Bainbridge, sir… he’s dead!” (Can “It’s [INSERT NAME HERE]… he’s dead!” be banned from all scripts from now on?) Huge reference observation alert (I think): Is Sherlock Derren-Brown-ing when he’s telling all the “I Dated A Ghost” women to sit down? I hope so.

Speaking of references, the cases that Sherlock alluded to need analysis. ‘The Hollow Client’ can be read here on Watson’s blog (where he mentions the best man’s speech), as can The Inexplicable Matchbox (which can’t be fully explained due to the Official Secrets Act, but involves Mrs. Hudson falling out of a helicopter and Sherlock dressing up as a clown – perhaps another Bond reference?). The Bloody Guardsman, meanwhile, is essentially Conan Doyle’s The Adventure Of The Crooked Man. Headless nun? That’s from the unaired pilot. The Poison Giant? Well, in Conan Doyle's The Sign Of Four, there is a dwarf with a blowpipe, who fires poisoned darts.

As for the main story, centring on the idea of a small stiletto-like blade held by a belt buckle, that worked for me, though I still can’t get my head around the connection between the ghost daters that brought everything together. Can Sherlock not understand that five people working for five different companies could themselves work for one person / place through those companies? Delayed unintentional 'suicide' is a great idea, and I enjoyed how everything eventually came together, but the hints seemed too strong as to what was going to happen around said great idea. For example, Major Sholto had to be the one in danger. “More death threats than you…” etc, etc. The revelation that the photographer was the one behind it all, again, could be seen thundering down the road from the other side of the mountain.

Then there’s the baby. I like the twist on the ‘Sign Of Four’ / ‘Sign Of Three’ thing, but with a little ‘un around, there’s only going to be more sodding suddy soap around Baker Street, it seems. And what became of the evil-looking Bondy villain from the end of the last episode? Is he connected to the new centre of the show, Mary? Hmm and hmm.

Despite all this, I should point out that Sherlock is one of those shows that naturally lends itself to nitpickery. On top of the two year gap, there are just three precious instalments, and it is about a very clever uncouth sleuth, so, alas, prats like me are bound to get the tweezers out and pull at some of the stray hairs. Still, I enjoyed this episode, and I look forward to seeing it again, but it wasn't quite as sharp as what we've come to expect. You’ve got one more bullet in the barrel, folks – let’s end on a (hopefully opium-fuelled) high.

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1 Demonica
Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 17:28
Absolutely spot on. I felt it was 'Sherlock does an EastEnders wedding' at times. Less of the touchy feely stuff, more solving mysteries please.

2 edd_powell
Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 17:34

I couldn't help thinking that this was "Sherlock goes on holiday" Christmas special episode like "Only Fools and Horses" used to do. Where was the suspense, intrigue and excitement...? Fingers crossed for the final episode.

3 Belmont101
Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 17:38
I think that the chef, gardener, private nurse, security guard and maid were all supposed to work for Major Sholto in his house out in some secret location but I could be wrong.
I enjoyed the episode but have a feeling that this softening of Sherlock and his love for Watson (and Mary) could lead to his undoing in the final episode as the new villain uses them against him in what could be a very dark turn.

4 heymish96
Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 17:40
I agree with the sentiment of the article, to much character stuff right ... very very little case.

Despite that though it was still enjoyable, the only thing i find irritating about this episode is that I'm missing out on a case. The cases have always been brilliant.

Having said that, this was still hugely enjoyable, but maybe not the Sherlock we know ... love ... expect and have been promised.

5 sexy_davey
Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 17:43
Though it pains me to say it, I agree wholeheartedly. Fingers crossed for the final, and hopefully not another million year wait

6 Aniviel
Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 18:46
I don't know about too many cooks spoiling the broth, Messrs Gatiss, Moffat and Thompson completely over-egged this episode.

7 JonGy
Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 19:25
Completely agree. Two years to write three stories yet this one felt like one of those lazy filler episodes they put into lengthy US seasons. Fun but didn't really do much to move things along; a bit daft and never any real sense of threat. I'm not bothered about them sticking to original Sherlock stories but a proper plot would be nice, rather than just a scenario; it's not a sitcom.
It's still better than many other shows but the standard of series 1 and 2 was so high that it was always going to be hard to live up to.

8 karathrace
Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 19:32
It's always wise to keep Moffat's words in mind:
"It is a show about a detective, not a detective show".
So, no, it's not a sitcom. It's huge, huge character development on Sherlock's part. Just imagine Season 1 Sherlock in the setting of that episode - it would have been completely different and without most of the comedy. Definitely not one of the best episodes (although you've got to keep in mind that Sherlock sets his own bar very high, so it's still a great episode), but it's still a lot of fun and enjoyable with lots of character development.

9 Kat_Rooster
Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 20:33
Couldn't put it better myself...
If it was a ten episode series I'd be absolutely ok with a "wedding special" but since it's only three precious gems once every two years or so... it seems like a waste of the brilliant Shelock time (ok, maybe too strong word for it, but you know what I mean)... we all like John and Sherlock goofing around (and I'm pretty sure they must have enjoyed the making of it greatly :) ), but I missed the suspense, the mystery and the thrill that keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time...
It's always hard for me to cope with changes... this one just might have been too big for me...
Nevertheless can't wait for the last part and hopefully more episodes to come (preferably sooner than later...).

10 XanMan
Posted on Monday January 6, 2014, 22:54
Excellent review. I enjoyed it immensely and can appreciate those bemoan the lack of a case in this and the first episode. However I feel the character development of Sherlock from Rainman-esque savant to someone capable (almost) of human emotions is critical for the long term appeal of the show. It can't always be case, deduction, case deduction ad nauseum. While appealing to Doyle fans the writers must consider the wider audience who've never read him. And it was nice to see BC get a chance to flash his smile at the end, not once but twice. There seems to be a very easy chemistry between the 3 of them...

11 hogwartswitch
Posted on Tuesday January 7, 2014, 02:57
I am definitely okay with it being "un-Sherlock". It's incredibly hard, I'm sure, to have any character development in a TV show with only 3 episodes per season and SO many things to address. The fact that this season is apparently 2/3 character development and slightly weaker on the mystery side? Perfectly okay with that. It's given us so many beautiful moments that we have waited *2 freaking years* for. And personally I think beautiful, well-thought characters will drive a show for many more seasons than just the same, old murder mysteries, day in, day out. As Moffat has said: this isn't a detective show, it's a show about a man who happens to be a detective.

Besides that, this episode was an absolute stunner as far as cinematography and directing goes. The effort that obviously went into some of the shots -- the time slice photography, the screen wipes during Sherlock and Mycroft's phone call -- I could watch this episode forever just for the visual effects alone. I also think that this is the type of program that is terribly hard to judge until you have the whole season -- be patient and let's see how the third season resolves itself. But as far as I'm concerned, I'm ready for Sherlock to be on forever.

12 hellboy22
Posted on Tuesday January 7, 2014, 07:57
I am in two minds about this episode, I could agree with others sentiments that there wasn't enough of a case and excitement that we've come to expect and that Sherlock was on the verge of being a bit silly but I've since realised that the episode has developed the characters and tgatbis needed if they're going to prolobg the series otherwise it'll become stale like House did in my opinion because it became too formulaic. Plus I wonder if by the end of season three if there hadn't been any character development would people have been complaining that it's all a bit samey?

13 DanTDavies
Posted on Wednesday January 8, 2014, 14:06
So bored that we gave up after 45 minutes. Won't bother with next week's.

14 RyanShanks
Posted on Friday January 10, 2014, 00:08
I can only agree with hogwartswitch (#11) wholeheartedly. I spent the entire episode with a grand stupid grin on my face, and was immensely thankful to Moffat & co for having the balls to deliver something entirely character driven for a change. The format and tone of the instalment was a breath of fresh air, and only preached loudly to the ambition and depth of Moffat & Gatiss' invention.

Criticising this episode for being 'not Sherlock' is much the same as blaming Newt & Hicks' absence for Alien 3 and its failings. I can safely assert there have been more great films without those two characters than bad. If all you can throw at Sherlock S3E2 is "it's not Sherlocky enough" then I would say not only are you missing the point, but also very wrong. It's a holiday inside Sherlock's head, for once allowing us some quality time with a wonderful character in less than desperate circumstances (again, for a change), while also providing some serious character development (yet again, for another change).

None of these points are inherently negative, yet it's none of them that many negative critics are even bothering to address. It's the 'for a change' part that seems to be the problem, and all I can call that is a crippling restriction on a show that is only starting to flex its wings.

15 darthmhall101
Posted on Wednesday January 15, 2014, 14:35
Terribly self indulgent episode, I fear Sherlock has crawled up his own a*se!

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