Home > TV and anime > Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 2. The Sign of Three (2014)

Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 2. The Sign of Three (2014)

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Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 2. The Sign of Three (2014) is full of potential significance. If we take the first episode in the season as confirming Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) intentionally betrayed the friendship he had with John Watson (Martin Freeman), then this episode must be seen as an attempt to repair the damage. Agreeing to act as the best man at the wedding is both sides going above and beyond the call of duty. Like Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs), I can’t imagine anyone less appropriate to take the best man role. That Watson should ask him has two implications. First it shows some degree of exclusivity in the relationship they share. You would think, after a life spent in the army and then in civilian life, Watson would have made one or two friends. Yet that seems not to be the case. I remind myself he was going through counselling in the first season which suggests a difficulty in making and keeping friends. Trading on this relationship with Sherlock is therefore a cruel and unusual punishment for all involved. That Holmes agrees ought to suggest he also feels he should do something about the loneliness and isolation he experiences — but that would never happen.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington

Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington

The deductive interlude with Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) and the hat in the last episode was really a parable about loneliness. On that occasion, Holmes presumed to offer advice to Mycroft about the need for the latter to take some action to remedy the absence of social contacts. One interpretation of his decision to act as best man would perhaps be that he’s also evaluating the need to reconstitute the friendship with Watson and not completely alienate everyone else. No matter how maladroit he is, failing to relate to people around him eventually becomes a barrier to getting paid work through networking and word-of-mouth recommendation. Yet Mycroft is adamant in his advice that Sherlock should never get involved with other people. Indeed, this episode sees Mycroft repaying his brother’s advice, asserting that friendship makes Sherlock vulnerable, i.e. opens him to the risk of emotional pain when colleagues desert him to get married. This does leave us wondering what, if anything will happen on the Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) front. We’ve seen Sherlock give her a sample of what life with him would be like and we then have the rather curious physical similarity between her boyfriend and Sherlock. It’s obvious she still has feelings for Sherlock, but is currently expressing them through this replicant. Perhaps both in this series and all the other screen and literary incarnations, Holmes is forever doomed to be on his own — a kind of victim of his own genius — particularly when he shows his frustration at having no current puzzles to occupy his mind.

Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves and Louise Brealey

Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves and Louise Brealey

So we start off with Lestrade (Rupert Graves) deeply frustrated that the bank robbing Waters family yet again avoided conviction — this proves simply a time-wasting device to show the potential for Sherlock to produce chaos inadvertently. Having agreed to act as best man and as a high-functioning sociopath, Sherlock takes it on himself to police the people around Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington), seeking to filter out those who may still have dreams of a relationship with her or otherwise be a threat. This does not include Major Sholto (Alistair Petrie). Unlike Mycroft who refuses to take the part of the spectre at the feast, preferring solitary running on a machine in his country house, Sholto appears at the wedding with interesting consequences. The best man speech is, of course, embarrassingly hilarious. Yet the whole exercise is mandated because Watson asserted that Sherlock is his best friend. He wanted just two people to be beside him at the wedding feast (no matter what the cost). The pub crawl only lasting two hours should have sounded a warning bell. The nurse with the ghost client is an interesting diversion because it nicely continues the loneliness theme. The five women dated by the invisible man are romanced and left alone. Fortunately, no matter how lonely Major Sholto my be, he’s far too much the gentleman. He would never commit suicide at John’s wedding. So that leaves Holmes standing alone with the chance to be the first to go home after admitting to John and Mary that they have had significant experience in parenting through having to deal with his apparent childishness.

All of which leaves me somewhat frustrated. I think there’s a very good episode buried in there somewhere but, probably because it has to last 90 (or so) minutes, Sherlock: The Sign of Three is overextended and ends up being too knowingly clever for its own good.

For reviews of the earlier episodes, see:
Sherlock. Season 1, Episode 1. A Study in Pink (2010)
Sherlock. Season 1, Episode 2. The Blind Banker (2010)
Sherlock: Season 1, Episode 3. The Great Game (2010)
Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 1. A Scandal in Belgravia (2012)
Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 2. The Hounds of Baskerville (2012)
Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 3. The Reichenbach Fall (2012)
Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 1. The Empty Hearse (2014)
Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 3. His Last Vow (2014)

  1. Marion
    January 29, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Mmm, I can’t say I agree with your assessment of John–I think he has many friends. But most of us have a much smaller circle of close friends, let alone of people outside the family circle that we can say we love. That that friend is Sherlock does say something interesting, but love is often based on service; we tend to love the people we serve, and while Sherlock served John’s need for excitement, John served as Sherlock’s audience but also as Sherlock’s missing social connection with the world and I think he knew it.

    That aside, there was something that seriously bugged me about the whole very entertaining episode. Simply this; it was impossible.

    As a writer, I understand that at certain times a level of improbable coincidence has to be allowed in so that a plot may work according to the dramatic rules of our fiction. But in an episode where “Mycroft” dismisses coincidence (“The universe is seldom that lazy.”), Sherlock and John are put on not one but two apparently unrelated cases that allow them to solve Major Sholto’s attempted murder. It was very cute, very clever, and very lazy.

    Loved Sherlock’s interaction with the Maid of Honor.

    • January 29, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Yes, you’re right. I hadn’t considered the question of service. This is mirrored in the relationships between John and Sherlock and John and Sholto. Both are relatively unlovable, but he’s fiercely loyal to both. Both men are also prepared to respond to John’s wedding and come out of their shells by attending.

      When you referred to impossibility, I thought you meant the death by clothing. I worried about whether a victim really would fail to notice a potentially fatal stab. I was prepared to forgive the idea because I thought it a particularly ingenious way of solving a locked shower mystery. I also thought the “visualisation” of the crowd of women dating ghosts to be impossible through multiple internet interactions but, again, it was an interesting metaphor.

      The maid of honour added to the ache of loneliness. He was himself and so lost the chance of a social interaction. Although it went on too long, the wedding celebration was full of sadness, humour arising from his gaucheness, and moments of surprising sentimentality — playing his violin for the first waltz was rather beautiful.

  2. Marion
    January 29, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Agreed. The whole wedding portion of the episode was excellently done. The writers are excellent at character (most of the time), and here they really shown. I was especially impressed with how much depth they managed to put into Major Sholto with the few scenes they had to work with.

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