Sherlock Series 3 Episode 2 Review: The Sign of Three

Sherlock S 3 E 2

Somebody’s getting married.

Sherlock has gotten its second episode in less than a week and it’s almost already finished its third series run. It’s sad and frustrating to realise how such a great show is always only with us for so long, but The Sign of Three is an episode all about fleeting moments and commitment and the next step.

Written by all three Sherlock scribes this time around, The Sign of Three is Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Stephen Thompson’s collaboration on yet another key Sherlock Holmes event: The wedding of John Watson (Martin Freeman) and Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington).

Framed around the best man speech told by Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch), The Sign of Three is an episode full of cutaway gags and vignettes that tell humourous stories Sherlock and Watson have had together, along with a couple interesting mysteries.

It’s a fun episode, full of visual jokes and playing of the usual Sherlock formula, but it is also one that doesn’t lose sight of its detective roots. There is a lot of set up and pay off in the episode, with every detail coming together in ways you don’t expect – some details even forgotten by the audience – showcasing a particularly well structured plot.

When it gets around to it. The second episode of Series 3 isn’t particularly as exciting as the premiere, lacking style and with a lower amount of visual flair that we’ve come to love with Sherlock. The real problem is that you actually feel the length of the episode this time around. Usually the 90 minutes go by in a flash, but the disjointedness of the stories and the lack of real direction until the third half makes it feel like one long framing device that isn’t particularly effective in telling a solid story. 

Holmes’ best man speech however is still particularly effective, that said, one perfectly in line with his character and the polar opposite dynamic with Watson. Character-wise The Sign of Three is actually where it shines. We see the Sherlock/Watson/Mary dynamic, and we see how this new relationship and marriage affects Sherlock and Watson’s professional and personal relationship. Sherlock has to deal with a lot of feelings he doesn’t generally welcome, and he deals with them in ways only he can in this universe.

Of course, Sherlock’s mind never takes an off day, so we still get a fair few brilliant scenes of deduction and sleuthing. Not to mention the presentation of one of the few mysteries that even stumped him in this episode. It’s always nice to present the Sherlock formula that’s been working so well, but it’s even better when turned on its head.

But it still feels a bit off as a whole. Some lines completely miss the mark, some characters are underused or portrayed a little differently, there isn’t as much grace to the editing and cinematography, and one particular scene full of transitions just felt like a parody of the Sherlock blueprint.

Director Colm McCarthy brought some great performances out of Sherlock, but the script seems to be a bit of too many chefs spoiling the broth. With Moffat, Gatiss, and Thompson all together, it felt as though all of their styles battled for supremacy in the teleplay and no-one really won.

It’s a hodge-podge of styles that work well for the smaller pieces of the puzzle, but the entire image is like Paris at night underwater upside down. 

Certainly the weakest middle child of this series, I’m sure, much like The Hounds of Baskerville last series. It’s still a brilliant 90 minutes of television by today’s standards, but it’s lacking that polish this time around. 

But it definitely continues its usual setup of the overarching pay-off/no doubt cliffhanger next episode, which I certainly can’t wait for. Bring on His Last Vow.

The Sign of Three aired on BBC One on 5th January 2014. It’s also available on BBC iPlayer, and it stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. The teleplay is written by Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Stephen Thompson, and it is directed by Colm McCarthy.

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