Sherlock review – Episode 2 Series 3: ‘The Sign of Three’

Sherlock-season-3 episode twoThe Sign of Three started as the last episode finished: badly. The first third of the episode was awful and the second third poor, but the last part returned to the exciting, fast paced and intelligent drama that made Sherlock so good in the first place. The show seems to have lost its way during the two year break between series two and three, and I’d like to take a look at what’s gone wrong.

The episode spun around John’s wedding to Mary Morstan, climaxing with the reveal that two recent cases Sherlock had been working on were linked to a plan to kill John’s former army commander during the reception. Sherlock solved the case before disappearing into the night, leaving John and his new wife with the knowledge that a third Watson would soon be on the way.

Too much of the episode was given over to broad comedy. Sherlock is not a sitcom; it’s a drama with comedy elements. The show works best when it builds jokes into the dialogue, humanising the characters and providing some relief from the often scary drama. This episode though started like a jokey sitcom about the awkward but loveable Sherlock.

At one point, Sherlock interrogated the wedding party, which is something I could see him doing, completely unaware of how inappropriate it would seem, but the scene crossed a line into ridiculous camp. ‘Do you have anything to say in your defence,’ he asked Mary’s ex-boyfriend. That’s the type of punchline a sitcom character – The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper maybe – would say, with a laugh-track over the top.

The Sherlock of this series is too different from the character in previous series; jokey and playful, not aloof or arrogant enough. At one point, Mary manipulated Sherlock into taking a case in order to assuage his wedding nerves. So Sherlock is now someone who can be fooled by an ordinary person? She even gives a thumbs up to both John and Sherlock at the same time, without the latter noticing. This is the same guy who is so perceptive he can tell that someone is having an affair by the state of their clothes alone.

It’s okay – indeed necessary – for a character to change over time, but some of these changes are occurring too fast, without proper motivation, or are contradictory to Sherlock’s core attributes i.e. his incredible intelligence.

A lot of this episode focused on Sherlock’s idiosyncrasies and people’s reaction to them, such as a strange series of flashbacks showing characters appalled at the idea of Sherlock giving a best man speech. I think the Sherlock writers have fallen in love with their character a little too much. Or maybe they are playing to the gallery. The Guardian’s TV critic Mark Lawson wrote a great article about the show, arguing that it risks becoming skewed towards an audience of obsessive fans who are in love with Sherlock and his quirks. It’s becoming professional fanfiction, bordering on self-parody.

sherlock-series3-episode twoIt’s not a coincidence that the episode improved once it started focusing on plot: the cases Sherlock and John investigated. The scene with Sherlock surrounded by the women from one case, trying to work out the connection between them all – making mistakes along the way – was a return to what this show used to be about: Sherlock’s intelligence, smart screenwriting and innovative directing, production and editing. This second act still wandered into bad comedy territory – Sherlock and John’s drunken adventures went on way too long – but it was certainly better than the first.

Things really kicked in though once Sherlock realised mid-speech that his recent cases were linked to the wedding. This was the show in its element: Sherlock smarter than everyone else, pacing the room, trying to connect all the pieces and work out which wedding guest was the intended victim and which was the murderer.

Sherlock is best when it is doing this, because in amongst all the excitement and drama there is still room for jokes and character insight. As Sherlock struggled to work out how to stop the major being killed, John pointed out that Sherlock should be able to solve the case now there was pressure on him to do so. ‘You are not a puzzle solver – you never have been; you’re a drama queen,’ he shouted. Later Sherlock stopped the major from killing himself by alluding to their similar status in John’s life: ‘Not at John’s wedding,’ he said. ‘We wouldn’t, would we? You and me. We wouldn’t do that to John Watson.’

This is character insight and development done right; grounded in drama and teased out through plot. This is what Sherlock used to do.

Of course, the concluding act wasn’t perfect. Some of it pushed credibility – could you really stab someone through their body without them noticing? But I’m willing to suspend disbelief in certain situations, as long as you don’t, oh I don’t know, have an emotionally charged, fake suicide cliffhanger ending and then drag it out over two years and then fail to offer up an explanation. It’d be tough to suspend disbelief in such a completely hypothetical situation as that.

It’s a shame that so much of the episode was boring, comic nonsense. There were hints here and there though that Sherlock is still Sherlock. It wasn’t just the final act – the scene with Sherlock interrogating the jilted lovers, the phone call between Sherlock and Mycroft, and much of the dialogue throughout, were all fantastic. If the show had a proper eight episode series, then an episode like this would be forgivable. As it is, we now have just one episode left to rescue the season, and it’s going to have to be utterly outstanding to make up for the two disappointing ones we’ve had so far.

Random notes:

  • The entire opening part with the bank robbers was just a stupid, predictable joke about Sherlock’s selfishness, a joke we’ve seen a good few times before in this show.
  • The flaws this series have mainly been in the writing; the directing, editing and music have been as fun as ever. I particularly liked the three jump cuts as Sherlock stepped off the top wedding table during his speech, leaving his awkwardness behind and entering his comfort zone of scrutinising a room full of people.
  • I like having an hour and a half to luxuriate in Sherlock but these last two episodes could have been easily cut to a single hour.
  • A comment on The Guardian’s recap pointed out that an Empress of Austria was killed in a similar way to the soldier in this episode, with the tightness of her corset keeping her alive after being stabbed with a sharpened needle.
  • I enjoyed the final scenes; Sherlock’s loneliness at the party and him walking into the darkness with the muffled sounds of the wedding in the background.
  • ‘Do you remember red beard?’ Mycroft said to Sherlock mysteriously. My guess is Red Beard is a childhood pet, and that something went horribly wrong with it.
  • I liked the photographer murderer, because it allowed him to be shown throughout the episode without arousing suspicion. The camera shots themselves – the camera’s/murderer’s point of view – were a nice touch. That said…
  • …is a wedding where the world’s greatest detective is best man the most sensible place to kill someone? The show suggested that this was the only location the major could be found at and killed, but we know the murderer dated the major’s house staff and thus knew where he lived. Couldn’t he have snuck in at night and killed him?
  • ‘So why don’t we see him anymore?’ ‘Who?’ ‘Your previous commander.’ ‘Previous commander?’ ‘I meant -ex.’ ‘Previous suggests I currently have a commander.’ ‘Which you don’t.’ ‘Which I don’t.’
  • That Mark Lawson piece I linked to above is worth reading. It compares Sherlock with the new Doctor Who, and some of the comments underneath make great points.

Sherlock Reviews: Episode One, Episode Three

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27 thoughts on “Sherlock review – Episode 2 Series 3: ‘The Sign of Three’

    • This our claptrapped “rubbish review” friend was not Sir Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes with all the precocious nuance that would give rise–along with Mr. Poe’s offerings–to some spiritual literary and analytic model toward Freud’s coming. There was not much hinting at the glory of the literary and analytic masterpieces in this Sherlock 3 Hollywood-styled writing while there was most certainly hope to achieve at some modern level during the first two seasons, such was the spark that we saw then in this series; alas, we have once again become lost in lives of rubbed mediocrity. Review?

  1. Sorry you didn’t like the episode. We all have our tastes, but I can’t help feeling you really missed out on some of the fun by rejecting character growth under the accusation of inconsistency. Sherlock and John aren’t the same people from before The Fall, and weddings are the time when even the British are allowed a little sentiment. The writing was masterful in the way that the crime and mystery sort of sneak up on Sherlock. He’s dedicated himself to John’s happy day, yet villains lurk around every corner (and behind many a camera). The outcome is that the mystery begins before we notice. Indeed, we’re dealing with the Bloody Guardsman right at the beginning of the second act, and it builds steadily from there.

    The reference to Redbeard the Pirate refers back to Mycroft’s mention that Sherlock wanted to be a pirate when he was a child (thus his comment about how he’s not a child any longer). Part of Redbeard’s tale deals with how he fought alongside his brothers, who died off. It would seem to be a warning to Sherlock that brothers-in-arms fall, and one is left alone.

    There are so many other references and layers in this episode, such as when a drunk Sherlock doesn’t recognize himself through John’s view, and in fact confuses himself with John. Indeed, when a client shows up, it is John who points to the real Sherlock Holmes, whom he has literally labeled. This reflects not only the confusion Sherlock feels about himself and his feelings for his only friend, but also that John Watson is our blogger, our narrator, and the character through whom we know Sherlock at all.

    Another thing on great display was the smart/stupid aspects of Sherlock’s deductive abilities. He can solve crimes with a wave of his hand, but he has no idea why the guests at the wedding cry at his self-effacing (for him, simply “honest”) description of himself and his confusion at being John’s best friend.

    And so it goes, on and on. Combining character insight with a rip-snorting mystery that seamlessly melds three (or more) different story lines. Was this episode like the others? No, and hooray for that! Yes, we’re only up to eight episodes, but how wonderful that they have all been so very different. Audiences who want the same thing over and over again certainly have enough other TV shows to choose from.

    • You make some good points. I don’t think anyone’s asking for the same thing over and over again though, we just want change to be realistic and gradual and to not totally throw out the formula that worked so well for previous series.

      I don’t think this episode was completely awful – I did see hints of quality, some of which you have pointed out – but this series has been a major step down from previous episodes. I enjoy reading the counterarguments though, so thanks for the comment.

      • Well, I enjoyed your POV as well, or I wouldn’t have left a comment. I think what I would find most unbelievable is that Sherlock and John would be the same people we saw before The Fall. And the substantial character changes aren’t limited to them. Molly is less in Sherlock’s thrall. Mycroft is more obviously isolated (and yes, maybe lonely). Lestrade is able to acknowledge how much Sherlock means as a friend. And Anderson’s gone ’round the twist. The only stable character is Mrs. Hudson, which makes its own sense.

        There is no question that the third series/season is different from the first and second. I just like the differences very much. I can see how others don’t. What I don’t agree with is that the show is now “less” than it was. The high quality of the multi-layed writing, the fabulous acting, the stylized directing, the great music — these are unchanged. They’re just accomplishing different things.

        But for those who want the angst and suspense of the previous series, I do think we’re going to get that in the last (ninth) episode. In fact, I wonder if all this emotional growth and vulnerability aren’t going to make it harder for our heroes than ever when the evil hits the fan.

    • “And so it goes, on and on”; not only is your writing and therefore your thinking of the vacant philosophical level nearly reminiscent of apologists, you’re most likely a self-stylized mole for the producers or ought to be; your uninformed presumptive writing veils your positive critique for what it is, a wholly biased review based on minutiae and misinformation: this is how Julia “sorry that you didn’t like [my] episode” sees it and how you should think on it all; the queen has her tastes, and she is not amused with yours.

      Furthermore, you veil your comebacks with passive aggressive niceties the likes that have not been read/seen since Tricky Dick (Richard Milhouse Nixon); so yes, your writing is accomplished to the degree of devilish demagoguery such as was Tricky DIck’s, said with some little jest. No matter, your treatise will never past muster among those discerning and wanting for better–much better, although your writing suggested some level of persuasive (me thinks you be slightly witchy–not at all inherently evil; rather, kudos) efforts from pedantic thought.

      Moreover, the matter that gets to us mightily is when you suggest that we may (thank you Queen Julia) go elsewhere should we not enjoy this “TV show” as you so colloquially put it to us. Putting it to us, let us then draw the pearl-handled dagger from our sides, please especially since we’re not at the level of getting on in the fashion of your Court. Wishing you majestically well.

      • What an extraordinary response! I love it! I think from now on I will have all my friends call me Queen Julia Nixon, Witch of the Wastes.

        Oh, on second thought, that’s a little long. I should probably just stick with the traditional “Cumberbitch.”

  2. You’ve put into words exactly what I’ve been thinking (and tried writing myself but much less effectively). While I appreciate that everyone has different views I’ve found it so frustrating that everyone else seemed to find it hilarious and one of the best episodes yet. I particularly agree with your point about it becoming ‘skewed towards an audience of obsessive fans’ – the scenes with the Sherlock fan-club in the first episode were obvious recognition of that fanbase but this whole season feels like it’s catered towards them.
    When I say that people argue that I’m not open to new ideas and change; I am totally open to change, and the last third proved that they can do both a proper crime plot and this new emotional development at the same time. I’m just not into ruining the whole essence of what Sherlock is to me.

    • Couldn’t agree more. It is frustrating and I hate watching the BBC torment such an incredible character into something he is not supposed to be.

  3. “Too much of the episode was given over to broad comedy. Sherlock is not a sitcom; it’s a drama with comedy elements. The show works best when it builds jokes into the dialogue, humanising the characters and providing some relief from the often scary drama. This episode though started like a jokey sitcom about the awkward but loveable Sherlock.”

    Sitcom was exactly the impression I got from this as well. If there were more than three episodes per series it wouldn’t bother me so much, but the majority of this series seems to be dedicated to Sherlock & John binding time with crime-solving taking a backseat.

  4. Thank you! My husband and I both agreed that the episode was “too cutesy” and after the one last week– we felt that it is time for the show to get back to what made it great in series 1 & 2: the darkness, intensity, and the quirks of Sherlock interspersed– not the focus on his quirks or the focus on humor.

  5. “At one point, Mary manipulated Sherlock into taking a case in order to assuage his wedding nerves. So Sherlock is now someone who can be fooled by an ordinary person? She even gives a thumbs up to both John and Sherlock at the same time, without the latter noticing”

    Well, you’ve entirely missed that gag apparently, which was rather clever: Sherlock didn’t miss anything, he was manipulating Watson via Mary, while Watson thought he was manipulating Holmes via Mary. Watch it again.

    In general, it’s fairly apparent, to my mind at any rate, that you haven’t watched the episode with any acuity. For my part, your review amounts to: I want Sherlock “action” scenes, character development is for fanboys, therefore, rubbish.

    • I want character development but I want it to emerge naturally amongst action and drama. I tried to make that clear in the review. As for the Mary bit, as I read it, Sherlock thought he was manipulating John, John thought he was manipulating Sherlock, but Mary was actually manipulating both, hence the double thumbs up.

  6. I was so disappointed with both season 3 episodes. I feel like the writers are trying too hard to play to their fans, and the artistic quality of the show has suffered tremendously for it.

  7. I think the new season was written for the fans of the show. That’s why we see so much of Sherlocks personal life. I really liked it because the cases were included very well. And accually everyone of the fanbase waited to see all this and I think they stay in the first place for the producers. So no rubbish, just depends on the taste of show the individual person likes. I enjoyed every moment because of the way the producer made it very exciting, funny and interessting at the same time by the variation of scene methods and acting class. This is the modern Sherlock how 21 century people might think of him.

  8. Absolutely couldn’t agree more with this review – I’m shocked that so many people are rating Sherlock a show 4/5 if not the full 5. It completely ignores and contradicts Sherlock’s temperament that is so blatantly shown in the novels – Conan Doyle would be spinning in his grave if he saw his famous detective acting ‘cute’ in a tv series. It’s not like him at all to act the way he does, the review is right, best moments in the show are when he ignores the people around him, dives into his own world and goes from clue to clue until the eventual discovery; that’s what Sherlock does.
    It has been turned far too much into a comedy series where it focuses more on the individual characters rather than the stories. Series one was indeed the best, they’ve come a long way away from what they had there. I wish they had stopped at series one at the rate this show is going now.
    It’s awful, no one watches Sherlock Holmes for the mysteries; they watch it because they love the character and that is all – but that shouldn’t be the only reason. Sherlock Holmes is not necessarily meant to be a likeable character, just likeable in the way he approaches and accomplishes things. That’s what makes him realistic. He’s not perfect.

  9. Agree 100% with the review, Sherlock episode 2 was nothing but pure filler throughout and the link with Sheldon out of big bang and a laughter track was spot on, series 3 has been a monumental disappointment so far in my opinion.

  10. Agreed. It was boring and kept moving to the absurd. However, I do so like the leaps of logic that Sherlock makes. Unlike other detective programs you, the viewer, get to see all the facts or at least have Sherlock spout them at you. Although, it was patently obvious that the colonel was the target as soon as Sherlock reached the conclusion that someone was planning a murder at John’s wedding.

  11. Thanks for the comments, I read them all and enjoy them all, even the ones that are just two word insults (looking at you ‘dasfdsaf,’ if that is your real name and I suspect it isn’t you fucking rascal). It’s good to hear that so many people had a similar reaction, and I get a kick out of reading the counter-arguments too. I’ll put up a review of the last episode, and hope to see you all there. Feel free to keep discussing this episode below. Cheers!

  12. Agree with the review and this ties in with my feelings with Dr Who that the episodes are so self-referential that the characters have become rather too smug and the stories lacking in any real peril. What jars with me now is the sheer conspicuousness of writers trying too hard to demonstrate cleverness and set up in-jokes. It’s a shame because the first series, I thought, was innovative and gripping. This has turned into comedy and I find I no longer look forward to watching.

  13. Agree with the review – this series is self indulgent and lacking the
    sophistication of the first. Tiresome in the extreme and a waste of talent.

  14. Couldn’t agree more with this review – I absolutely hated episode 2 (and in fact I felt the entire series 3 was pretty much a disaster). The inconsistencies were in fact jarring, and many of the supporting cast such as Lestrade, Anderson, etc., appeared to be embarrassed to have landed in a romantic comedy rather than a detective series which is what it was supposed to be. And what’s with poor mrs Hudson and all the makeup?

  15. I have only just watched the episode and couldn’t quite get to grips with what I was watching. That is why I have looked on the net to see what others thought of this and lo and behold I find a review that summed it up perfectly. While watching, I said to my partner how like Sheldon, from The Big Bang Theory, Sherlock had become now. Also how similar it all felt to the last series of Dr Who. Not surprising given who was involved I suppose. I will watch episode three with fingers crossed that it will return to a crime drama driven by Sherlock Holmes intelligence and a devilish adversary. Here’s Hoping.

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