TV Review: Sherlock: The Sign of Three


S3, E2: ‘The Sign of Three’

Well, if you’re going to steal fanfiction, it may as well be halfway decent.

Grade: B-


Sherlock seems to have decided what sort of show it’s going to be, midway through its third season. It will be self-referential, meme and one-liner-driven and utterly unanchored from the need to construct or build on character development or its own narrative. Like fanfiction of itself, in fact. But – also like fanfiction – if you’re lucky, it will occasionally have charm. The Hounds of Baskerville was lazy, nasty dreck, as was The Empty Hearse. The Sign of Three doesn’t succeed any better as a story. However, it has the huge advantage of a Sherlock who doesn’t want to make me cut his throat with one of his own cheekbones. That’s something, isn’t it?

‘It’s the end of an era.’

John and Mary are getting married, and everyone’s worried about how Ickle Snowflake Sherlock’s going to take it. And since this episode is going with Sherlock Who Is Flummoxed By Humans, rather than Sociopath Sherlock, you can vaguely see why they would be concerned. Sherlock seems to be actually baffled at all these feelings roiling inside him. He takes approximately 1000000000000000000000000000 years to figure out that John is asking him to be his best man, and that in fact John is saying he is his best friend (so much for ‘What life? I’ve been away’, eh?). His speech at the wedding says that John has ‘saved’ him, and that he is an appalling human being redeemed only by the friendship of a man as wonderful as John. Sherlock’s dry delivery and surprise at the speech’s reception, of course, only serve to emphasise its emotion.

Which is all very nice, except that it’s completely unearned in light of the past few episodes. I’d buy Sherlock’s mourning the loss of his Season One bond with John. But I have actually watched Season Two and the premiere of this season, in which, may I remind you:

  1. Sherlock formed some sort of dubious attachment to a hooker with an orgasm ringtone and cut John out of his feelings
  2. Sherlock roofied John and never apologised
  3. Sherlock made out with Moriarty (basically) but also I guess died to save John’s life?
  4. Except we discover that in fact Sherlock lied about that. Not only did Sherlock lie, but basically everybody except Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade knew the truth before John did. And then Sherlock got himself and John into danger, and lied again about the actual danger they were in to get John to forgive him. And has also not apologised about that.

Yes, what a very special bond the two of you share. I can see why you’re so upset, Sherlock. I’d be upset too if my punching bag were about to wander away from me. Never mind that basically everyone you know is your punching bag, and that anyway John’s wife will happily hand him over for you to abuse anytime. Because she is so taken by you, you little scamp.

Anyway, in this fanfic alternate universe where John and Sherlock have a deep and unique attachment, Sherlock is worried about what’s going to change. He has cringe-inducing conversations with Mycroft in which his big brother crows that he told Sherlock not to ‘get involved’, and reminds him of ‘Redbeard’. But – because in this alternate universe, Sherlock is actually a decent guy – he makes little attempt to sabotage the wedding or make it substantially about himself. Instead we see him putting his Sherlock powers to good use, having interviews with people who might disrupt the wedding (or marriage) in some way and threatening/bribing them into good behaviour. He makes a sweet speech, organises a disastrous and pretty funny stag night, and solves a murder with only minimal grandstanding. Rather charmingly, he insists to another man that he is not allowed to die on John’s wedding day.

And I find myself smiling softly despite myself as the title of the episode gets dropped in a way that I should have been expecting, but somehow wasn’t. I thought The Sign of Three referred to the ersatz marriage between Sherlock, John and Mary. But Sherlock deduces that John and Mary have an addition to the family on the way. And just as I’m thinking ‘well, they’re really rocking this Sherlock Is The Child Of Divorce’ thing this episode, so another baby?’, Sherlock makes the joke for me and pushes Mummy and Daddy out onto the dance-floor. He looks on his work, sees that it is good, turns up his coat-collar and walks out into the night.

And again, it’s a nice enough standalone. I can buy it as a trite but harmless picture of the well-meaning curmudgeon forever isolated by his gifts and his social difficulties. But taken as part of a whole, I can only suspend disbelief so much. Ah well. For now, let us enjoy some well-rendered sentiment, even if we are unsure of its provenance.

Deerstalking: Holmes canon nods

  • The title is a riff on The Sign of The Four, the story introducing Mary Morstan. There’s a Major Sholto in the story as well. Also a dwarf with a blowpipe.
  • A Case of Identity has a client who oscillates on the pavement. The explanation in the story, as in the episode, is ‘always an affaire du coeur’.
  • Sherlock makes a last vow, as a reference to his Last Bow, I guess?

Highlights from Sherlock’s wedding speech

  • ‘The point is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and obnoxious arsehole that anyone could have the misfortune to meet’: Yep. Nothing to add here.
  • ‘John, I am a ridiculous man, redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship.’: This is a particularly irritating idea, that somehow John should accept some manifest destiny in which he acts as Sherlock’s Morality Pet (and doing a pretty lousy job, might I add). Or even that Sherlock need not ever grow or do anything to earn our esteem, because we like John and John likes Sherlock, therefore by the transitive property, we like Sherlock. Ta-da!
  • ‘John, you have endured war, and injury, and tragic loss – so sorry again about that last one’: Oh, I was wrong! Sherlock does apologise for the lying and faking dead, after all! One quick aside at a wedding speech! Oh, that’s fine then! All is forgiven.

Odds and sods

  • Oh God, that opening riff with Lestrade’s long-awaited bust, which he drops to race off to Sherlock’s side? And which turns out to be help with his Best Man speech? My forehead has permanent prints from the heel of my palm.
  • So who or what do you think ‘Redbeard’ is? Childhood pet? I guessed hamster. Maybe teddy bear. It’s that sort of episode.
  • I am in love with Sherlock as Janine’s wingman. In fact, their interaction may have singlehandedly saved this episode from a ‘D’ grade. How delightful to meet a woman not in thrall to Sherlock, and for Sherlock to so good-naturedly put his Mad Skillz to good use finding her a suitable boy.
  • Okay, I like Mary. I like her competence and intelligence. I like that she isn’t some jealous harpy intent on getting between John and Sherlock. But is anyone else a little uncomfortable at her Magical Sherlock Handling Powers? Or that beefing up her role cements the sidelining of John?
  • Speaking of the stag night, I cackled at the revelation that Sherlock and John’s Night On The Lash only lasted two hours. Also, I loved the look of supreme vacancy on Drunk Sherlock’s face as he beamed sozzledly at a client. Also his woozy Sherlock scan. I think I’d even have laughed at a Drunk Mind Palace sequence. Oh, I am weak.
  • Sherlock says that it took years for John to tell him his middle name. Years? In A Scandal in Belgravia John told Adler and Sherlock it was Hamish.
  • Irene Adler shows up, by the way. Naked and mute. Just the way you like your women, eh, Moffat?
  • Molly’s snappish to her Bargain Basement Sherlock Lookalike Boyfriend. I despise Molly Hooper.
  • ‘Vatican cameos!’ Sherlock calls out to John – a codeword he’s used before in A Scandal in Belgravia. I suppose memes are as close as we’re ever going to get to actual continuity or development.

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