Sherlock: “The Sign of Three,” the Clips Show

A still from "The Sign of Three," copyright of BBC.

A still from “The Sign of Three,” copyright of BBC.

For BBC’s Sherlock, the second episode of each series is always the filler episode. That doesn’t mean the content is unessential, but the stories usually are more laid-back and less engaging as the premiere and finale. And, based on the promo, it was clear “The Sign of Three” was going to be a comedy as opposed to the tense drama Sherlock usually delivers.

The episode was written by both Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the co-creators and head writers. The story revolves around John & Mary’s wedding day & the events leading up to it, with some cases sprinkled in between. Sherlock is John’s best man and he’s taking the role rather seriously. Apparently, he never knew John thought of him as a best friend. Sherlock’s best man speech is the most affectionate & sincere recognition of how much John’s friendship means to him. Not gonna lie, I did tear up a bit. For men who need life or death situations to burst about their feelings, this was a beautiful moment, especially since it was done publicly and great sensitivity.

However, the way the show build up to this moment was by showing how Sherlock cannot respond emotionally. In the flashback scene where John asks Sherlock to be his best man, Sherlock is unable to vocally process the information. He’s overwhelmed, to be sure, but the moment is overdone with Benedict Cumberbatch simply blinking his eyes and the long shots of silence of the two men in the kitchen. Sherlock comes across as robotic, and it probably wouldn’t feel so unnecessary if Gatiss and Moffat actually worked within a spectrum of how Sherlock would respond in certain situations.

I suppose that’s my issue with this series so far, the inconsistency with Sherlock’s character. “The Empty Hearse” portrayed a more humble Sherlock Holmes, aware of loneliness and his limitations. He wasn’t parading around London like he once arrogantly had, and he showed how much he cared about others through his actions and words. The Sherlock in “The Sign of Three,” however, went back to him being unable to interact with other human beings (to the point of infantilizing him, note that last scene with John and Mary). The show keeps referring to him as a high-functioning sociopath, as if it’s just a wonderful little character quirk. There’s a lack of responsibility in representing Sherlock as such, and by not labeling Sherlock as a man with a developmental disorder, it allows the writers to twist his personality and capabilities in any way they wish. Thus, the inconsistencies and far-fetch behavior of a grown man who apparently is just a mad genius, nothing more.

Since this was a light-hearted episode, there were many modern alternate universe scenarios to cover. Mostly in the form of flashbacks (like a clip show), we saw:

  1. Sherlock with a child, and his “ha, ha, ha” babysitting techniques
  2. Sherlock helping Janine find a guy to hook up with
  3. Mary being the emotional bridge for Sherlock & John’s friendship
  4. Sherlock in a Guardsman’s hat, as if he can just blend right in
  5. Sherlock dancing (though, I can believe this. I just didn’t like the scene where he said he did, and then his awful twirl to prove it)
  6. Random weird cases
  7. Sherlock & John drunk
  8. Sherlock & John drunk on a case (super unprofessional, and they didn’t even get somewhat sober by the end of it)
  9. Sherlock giving that super long best man speech
  10. Sherlock uncomfortable with every mention of sex
  11. John & Mary *spoilers!* are expecting

In the end, it was a fun and entertaining episode. There were sweet bit, funny bits, and then bits that were meant to be funny but I couldn’t laugh because I knew I was supposed to. The last twenty minutes were the best, with Sherlock in his mind palace and accidentally solving two mysteries at once during his speech. In fact, the mind palace scene was my favorite part. Watching Sherlock process information is something the show does beautifully, but often chooses instead to have Sherlock simply rattle off facts as if two-second looks are enough to observe and analyze. The mind palace showcased Mycroft as Sherlock’s voice of guidance, his mentor and only relationship that mattered prior to meeting John Watson. Mycroft forces Sherlock to think and focus, to put coincidences together and understand the information presented. The mind palace also gives us a glimpse in how Sherlock preserved the memory of the Woman, “God knows where she is….” The flashback and new footage of Irene Adler is exciting, she’s still in his mind, but there! he’s back on the case!

The conclusion of “The Sign of Three” has Sherlock walking out of the reception alone and into the night. After all of the reassurances that nothing will change after the wedding, that he is surrounded by people who love him, Sherlock still cannot see how he will fit in.


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