(Some Spoilers Below)
The Sign of Three is not a traditional Sherlock episode. There’s no crazy, malicious villain to take down, the tone is lighthearted, and the mystery solving takes a backseat to characterization. And yet, despite catching me off-guard, I loved every second of it. It hit almost all the right notes for me, and I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off my face for even a minute.
This is an episode for the fans who have been through the thick and thin with these characters, and rather than focusing on a typical murder or crime, The Sign of Three takes place almost entirely at the wedding of John Watson and Mary Morstan.
Of course, this is Sherlock we’re talking about here, so not everything goes according to plan, but for the most part this is an episode dedicated only to the celebration of these characters and their relationships. It not only reminds us why we fell in love with them in the first place, but characterizes them in a very special way that you really have to experience to fully appreciate.
Once again, however, the plot is not necessarily the focus of this episode, a trend that we see continued from last week’s episode The Empty Hearse, but with slightly better results. The Sign of Three is all about the characters, and everything else is put on the back-burner to give them the room needed to truly shine. Which works for the most part, but sometimes backfires a little.
John and Mary’s wedding was just as classic and beautiful as you’d expect it to be, and I really liked seeing them get their happy day, especially after all the trying events leading up to it. Watson was as lovable as ever, of course, but The Sign of Three really proved that Mary is both a valuable and welcome addition to the cast. Which I’m sure is a relief to a lot of us.
Her chemistry with Watson is superb, which is only made better once you realize that the actress behind her, Amanda Abbington, is the actual wife of Martin Freeman. They’re relationship and quirky banter is understandably natural, and provides a nice, entertaining contrast to the repertoire often shared between Sherlock and Watson.
However, as important as John and Mary’s wedding was, this was still Sherlock’s show, and he delivered one of his best performances to date. Benedict Cumberbatch was at the top of his game, as he usually is, and I loved seeing him get the chance to explore Sherlock’s character more than we’re used to, especially when it came to his fantastic best man speech.
What makes this episode so special is that it really forces Sherlock out of his comfort zone. His reaction to the entire wedding is superb, and characterizes him in some truly memorable ways, and seeing him attempt to accept that his best friend is, in a manner of speaking, moving on is perfectly poignant and heartfelt.
But what stole the show for me was Sherlock’s wonderfully uncomfortable best man speech, which both develops and pokes fun at his character at the exact same time. He’s rude and even a little offensive, but it’s all done tastefully as he intelligently balances it out with a heavy dose of sincerity that reminds us just how deeply he cares for his friends.
I also think having Sherlock recount a handful of his and Watson’s previous escapades was a wonderfully clever way to incorporate a mystery into the actual wedding, and while none of the crimes were all that layered, they were fun in their own right. However, they did cause a few problems with the pacing.
For instance, the constant jumping around between the past and the present did get a little jarring and I felt like it caused the story to tangle itself up towards the end. While it didn’t diminish much of my personal enjoyment, I can see why it would for others, especially since it could’ve been avoided if the pacing had been more evened out.
It almost feels like Sherlock is broadening its gaze as a series, and if these past two episodes have shown us anything, it’s that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are just as interested in a show about the character of Sherlock Holmes as they are about the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It’s a change of pace I know won’t please everyone, but I’m personally happy to see them doing something unique with the franchise.
The little touches, like Sherlock’s disbelief at being told he was Watson’s best man, seeing Irene invade Sherlock’s thoughts, the soon-to-be infamous ‘bachelor party,’ Sherlock playing the violin for the John and Mary’s final dance, and even Sherlock’s subtle flirting with Janine the bridesmaid were all endlessly entertaining and I was having far too much fun to complain about the erratic plot.
However, I do wish the conclusion had been more satisfying. After almost ninety-minutes of supposed build-up, the actual mystery at the wedding was tied up far too quickly and felt somewhat tacked on. Perhaps this is another side-effect of the whacky pacing or fragmented plot structure, but the big ‘reveal’ at the end didn’t have enough development behind it to give it the needed weight to feel important.
The Sign of Three is not flawless, nor does it succeed at everything it strives to do. However, it’s so much fun I couldn’t stop smiling even once. It characterizes our favorite characters in some new, refreshingly unique ways and delivers some of my favorite moments for the series, most important being Sherlock’s perfectly personalized best man speech.
It’s sure to frustrate some fans with its somewhat skewed pacing and plot design, but it hit a lot of the right emotional notes for me and left me mostly satisfied at the end even if the final twist didn’t. If you can take it for what it is, then there is a lot to love about The Sign of the Three, you just have to sit back and let yourself be entertained.