Review: Sherlock: The Sign of Three

January 9, 2014
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The thing to remember about the classic Sherlock Holmes tales penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is that from time to time a story pops up which is, plainly and simply, a bit of fun. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle springs to mind as one of the funnier outings of the erstwhile super sleuth.

I feel pretty certain that nobody at the time accused Doyle of being complacent or self-indulgent. In fact, such tales were welcome; people enjoyed them. Holmes fans were of course more famously outraged when Doyle got as serious as he could and decided to kill his creation off.

So it’s odd then that criticisms of self-indulgence and complacency should be leveled at The Sign of Three, the second episode in the current, third series of Sherlock on BBC television, which revolves around the wedding of Sherlock’s friend and fellow crime-solver, Dr. John Watson. Multiple, seemingly unrelated crimes AND a wedding? Come on, people, this is one to lap up.

Sometimes, fans and the inhabitants of the blogosphere seriously need to relax. Apparently, the episode just wasn’t serious enough for them. It wasn’t Holmesian enough, whatever that means (I assume, for the moaners, it wasn’t dour enough – which, as I intimated above, is a gross misconception anyway). Fine, so this wasn’t a grim episode, dripping in darkness… that doesn’t mean it was devoid of narrative complexity. In fact, there was a lot to weave in here. Not only that, almost everything that happens is cleverly woven into the best man’s speech that Sherlock has to give at the wedding reception.

The Sign of Three… a marriage of many elements

Okay, so perhaps, again, this episode focused more on character than crime, but so what? Remember, these seasons only contain three episodes each, albeit movie-length 90-minute episodes, but still, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for characterization. So it’s good to have the odd episode or two concentrate along those lines. Personally, I want to know more about Sherlock’s personality. It’s a key factor of the show’s success, how he tries to navigate normal human customs.

In The Sign of Three, not only do we get the pleasure of watching Sherlock engage with wedding guests and even help plan a wedding  – the institution of which, during his speech, he utterly dismisses – we also have the rather moving aspect of watching Holmes’ realization that he, of all people, actually has a friend. Not only that, it turns out he is also the best friend of another human being. These are revelations to him that he can hardly process to begin with. Plus, there’s the beauty of watching Holmes pay homage to Watson with one hand while basically painting him a dullard with the other – true, classic Holmes, by the way, all you naysayers out there.

Holmes looking comfortable in a social situation…

As if that wasn’t enough, we get to see something new, which is Holmes getting drunk as the third law of thermodynamics gets in the way of his carefully laid out plan to remain sober – the third law in this case being Watson spiking the beers with spirits when Holmes isn’t looking. If the moaners have anything to say about that, then they should all remember that the original Holmes was a cocaine addict and that, though we may have never seen him fully under the influence, as it were, it’s not a huge leap of the imagination to think of him gabbling away about what he does like his modern counterpart as he lies drunk at the bottom of stairs with Watson at the end of their stag night.

Watching Holmes and Watson stagger around a crime scene was beautiful to behold and the episode as a whole was full of great little character gems – including more stuff about Holmes’ complex relationship with his brother and a brief reminder that last week we met his parents and that they were a long way off from what anyone might have envisaged as the progenitors of manic genius.

For me, The Sign of Three was a winner, a proper crowd-pleaser (well, except for the grumps in the crowd obviously). If anything, the thing that upsets me the most is knowing that next week is already the final episode of the season, which means yet another interminable wait for the next. Now THAT makes me angry.

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