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In my review last week, I briefly mentioned that each season of Sherlock has an excellent episode, a pretty good episode, and a just ok episode. Now, considering the incredibly high quality of the series, even the “just ok” episode is still better constructed and more entertaining than the vast majority of other shows on television, but it does constitute a dip in the quality of the season. “The Sign of Three” is this season’s “just ok” episode.
Now, I suspect some people will disagree with me (although, once you see next week’s incredible finale, you might change your mind), but I’ll stand by my ranking of this episode as the weakest of season three. While “The Sign of Three” provides the most laughs of any episode of Sherlock I can recall (Benedict Cumberbatch truly is a marvel, and his interplay with Martin Freeman remains brilliant), it serves as a bit of a hodgepodge character piece combined with a necessary stepping stone on the way to the finale.
The setting for the episode is the wedding of John and Mary, which, unsurprisingly, presents a serious challenge for the self-proclaimed highly functional sociopathic best man Sherlock. For audience members that enjoy watching Sherlock struggle with being social and not alienating everyone around him, this episode was crafted with you in mind. And it is quite amusing to see Sherlock struggle with presenting his best man’s speech (and planning the bachelor party- consisting solely of Sherlock and Watson- down to the minute). But to me, the light mood took away from the emotional impact of Sherlock’s realization that he is, in fact, struggling with the idea that John has found someone else with whom he feels a complete connection.
Considering that this is Sherlock I’m talking about, I certainly wasn’t expecting any sort of huge emotional revelation. But, after proving that he can connect on an emotional level in last week’s “The Empty Hearse,” I had hoped for a bit more emotional umph than what we received. Naturally, Sherlock’s speech is excellent. And it offers a look into a few cases we never got the chance to see (cases that end up factoring into the threat to John’s military mentor). And, as usual, Cumberbatch delivers it brilliantly. But it all just feels a bit off to me, laying out the answers to the mystery without really spending time actually developing the mystery they are solving.
One of the hallmarks of the series is that you can sit at an episode’s- and even season’s- close and think back on what you have just seen and piece together each piece with wonder. With “The Sign of Three,” the mystery is not even articulated until the final half of the episode. The clues are explained to us as Sherlock notices them, rather than having them sprinkled throughout the episode for the audience to notice. It’s a rather indelicate handling of events that doesn’t usually occur in the series.
That being said, the episode still ultimately works, thanks in large part to the incredible work of this cast, and the constant charm of Cumberbatch. It’s easy to get swept up in the story as Sherlock puts together the pieces. And, since John clearly cares about Major Sholto, we care about him as well. In addition, Mary is once again awesome (her dual plan to get the boys to spend the day together was genius), and she continues to break the mold of past Steven Moffat-penned female characters by remaining engaging.
All-in-all, “The Sign of Three,” is an average episode of Sherlock, but it’s still a fun romp with a touch of mystery thrown in for good measure. With the season three finale on tap for next Sunday, directly in competition with the Super Bowl, I suspect many people will opt to watch the episode delayed. Having seen it, I would advise staying away from social media until you watch it. Having arguably the best episode in Sherlock’s three season history spoiled would be really awful. Just a head’s up.
— Oh Sherlock, so inept with women. But inept to such an incredibly hilarious effect.
— If it didn’t quite come across in the review, I really did enjoy watching Benedict Cumberbatch go through Sherlock’s speech. It was perfectly delivered- I was just disappointed at the lack of finesse in the writing and revealing of the mystery.
— With John and Mary set to have a baby, I know I can’t be the only one looking forward to seeing Sherlock babysitting.
— Still no evidence as to who last week’s ominous mystery man is. So there’s still a clear threat to Sherlock and John out there.