Spoilers disclaimer: This review contains NO MAJOR SPOILERS, but contains all the information and more that can be deduced from the Series 3 Launch Trailer, The Sign of Three trailer, Sherlock 3×1 and press releases about the episode. If you want to be completely in the dark about The Sign of Three, please do not read this review.
“Let’s play a game. Let’s play Murder.”
Marriage changes everything.
It’s fair to say that the newest Sherlock tale, The Sign of Three, had a bumpy start. The first problem was that it came off as less polished than previous stories. There were the same lame one-liners we saw in The Empty Hearse and I even spotted one dodgy effect – in the costume department of all places – that became a first failure, albeit minor, of Sherlock’s special effects team.
Second problem. As with its predecessor, some of the deductions were beginning to wear a little implausible.
Thirdly, it relied too heavily on previous knowledge. Right from the get-go there are references to Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes, and previous knowledge of the relationship between Inspector Lestrade and Sherlock is essential to fully appreciate the reasons for the characters’ actions.
When I say “characters’ actions”, though, what I really mean is character-driven comedy, which carried through from previous episode The Empty Hearse. Too much of the long exposition was dominated by comedy, and the show fell into Steven Moffat’s Coupling-esque style flashbacks. We even got flashbacks within flashbacks, in true Moffat – or Inception, it’s hard to tell – style. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because the story excels in making its way through a complex and potentially overwhelming set of cases and intertwining stories – and does so with ease.
Because, after the first twenty or thirty minutes, it was revealed. Underneath the wilted outer leaves lay a sweet smelling rose, which was clearly lovingly crafted by its writers. Previous series have seen a “one writer per episode” rule, with the three geniuses of storytelling, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson writing the series on a rotor basis. This episode was credited to all three writers. Does it show?
The Sign of Three is one for the fans, but there is plenty for newcomers to the show. We see a new, more relaxed side to Sherlock’s personality, but still one worth its well-respected-by-fans status. There’s a drunk Sherlock, variations on the Sherlock theme including a dubstep version and a version that can only be described as “suitable for porn”, and, of course, Sherlock’s best man speech at John’s wedding, which is the center of the plot.
In The Sign of Three I had the most laughs out of all the Sherlock episodes so far. It is at times eerie, confusing (in a good way), and suspenseful. The resolve is unexpected but satisfying, and undoubtedly pays homage to one of Conan Doyle’s stories which I admit is one I haven’t read. The episode cleverly side-steps the problem of short stories not fitting the 90-minute format through its extensive use of flash-backs, and surprisingly they only jar a little.
The real story starts literally but also figuratively half-way through the best man speech, and all the irrelevant facts became relevant. We keep getting brought back to the speech, which eventually ties everything up together in a nice, deductive bow. By this I don’t mean it is interrupted. No, it is far better than that.
But for now, the answer you’re all waiting for – Yes, Sherlock’s best man speech is absolutely, sternly, hilariously but touchingly brilliant, and it’s no wonder it took three writers to write.
Despite the dodgy costume I noticed, much of the episode delivered Sherlock’s usual award-deserving goods, innovatively and stylishly. There was a Matrix-style time-freeze and split screen like I’ve never seen used before. You really can’t talk highly enough of the Sherlock post-production team, who time after time deliver better-than-cinema editing, and are constantly improving on their own work too. The colour grading on The Sign of Three is what stood out for me, with even more vibrant but appropriate colours than the last two series.
The climax is one of the best of the series so far, with a new fantastical idea described best as a virtual conference. There is a sad moment for Sherlock at the end, in which he returns to his usual self, lending to a darker side that will no doubt be explored in the last episode of Series 3, His Last Vow.
Could this be the best ever episode of Sherlock? Time will tell, but for now, all we can do is suspect it is so. Marriage changes everything, or so Watson is continuously told. But there’s one thing it doesn’t change: Sherlock.
And let’s hope nothing ever does.