Monday, 6 January 2014

Review: Sherlock, The Sign of Three

"There are", said Holmes, drying his hands in the court lavatories, "two types of fan. People who love the show because it's a clever, well-written and excellently acted series with ingenious plots and smart references to the original texts - Type A."

"What's Type B?" asks the hashtagger in a deerstalker.

"People who just want to see all the characters have sex."

When Sherlock returned after a two-year gap with The Empty Hearse, I resisted the temptation to write a review. Really, there wasn't much point. From the brilliant introduction clearly designed just to screw with Twitter to the wall-clawing audience surrogate that was Anderson, it was an episode that presented no reasonable point of attack. Like Sherlock planning his 13 roof-top scenarios, every possible criticism had been predicted and answered within the show itself. Oh, it was too self-referential, too self-absorbed, too focused on baiting the internet fanbase to provide a decent plot, but it didn't matter because the individual moments were funny enough to carry it, and, honestly, after two years they could have just released a slide-show of Cumberbatch pulling silly faces and it would have been enough. Sherlock, I thought, was still better than everything else on TV, no matter how bad it gets.

Sadly, this is not true for the second episode, The Sign of Three. There's the odd funny moment - some of them very funny ("high functioning sociopath, with your number") - but there's not enough to cover the fact that this is a horribly awkward, dreadfully plotted, terribly written episode. Taking fan-fiction suggestions and turning them into a script worked for Hearse when it was being done in jest, but here the show has taken on too much and treated it too seriously. If anything, it's an excellent reminder of why we have professional writers. Look at it logically. Elements like incompetent Sherlock, spandex Mycroft and drunk Watson are all amusing and/or moving because they are deviations from the norm - there's nothing inherently funny about any of them (if Watson were drunk all the time he'd be another tragic victim of Gulf War syndrome). However, if you have enough deviations then the norm itself changes, and your internet-assembled episodes don't have the difference they need to be effective. Sherlock's terrible speech went from funny to awkward to unbearably awkward to boring within about five minutes, and then carried on for another thirty-five. When he finally came to 'the feels' too much had been said that was unforgivable - most of it uncomfortable silence - and no matter how much the 'best and bravest' line would be repeated it had simply come too late to be interesting. For the first time ever I was wishing for an episode of Sherlock to end.

In the introductory letter to Busman's Honeymoon, in which the famous sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey finally weds Harriet Vane, Dorothy L. Sayers wrote:
It has been said, by myself and others, that a love-interest is only an intrusion upon a detective story. But to the characters involved, the detective-interest might well seem an infuriating intrusion upon their love-story [...] If there is but a ha'porth of detection to an intolerable deal of saccharine, let the occasion be the excuse.
My objection to this episode is not of this type. I do not ask that all human interest be removed to make room for detection. In fact, Hearse would probably have been improved by removing the lamentably weak and uninteresting mystery all together and focusing purely on the relationships. Rather, I want to see the overall quality maintained. Somehow the first two series managed to focus on excellent mysteries while still leaving plenty of room for character development. The third series appears to be attempting to reverse the formula, and if it had succeeded I would be applauding. Sadly, however, it has only succeeded in both trivialising the plot and reducing the character interaction to the crude, ugly strokes of a tenth-season sitcom.

Maybe I'm just biased. I'm getting married in a few months, and I can't help feeling that if my best man spent the entire speech talking about himself I'd be pretty pissed off, no matter how nice the concluding sentence. Ultimately, Sherlock's embarrassing performance at the wedding mirrors the embarrassing performance of the episode: unpleasant, self-absorbed and self-satisfied, requiring more excuses (the second episode has always been bad; it's meant to be awkward) than can ever be given.


Sherlock, Season 3 Episode 2, The Sign of Three is currently available on BBC Iplayer.


  • Yes, I noticed Mary's reaction to CAM, I'm not blind. Hopefully we'll see things pick up for the series finale. Wondering if the downgraded 'casual acquaintance' is important à la Gay Jim.
  • Cumberbatch is still as terrible at faking the violin as he was in Belgravia.
    • Also that dance wasn't sweet, it was terrible.
  • The invisible dagger solution was actually pretty clever; shame it wasn't given more prominence.
  • Midget with a blowtorch was a nice Rachel-esque touch.

1 comment:

  1. So, now that a few months have passed, are you married yet? If so, congratulations!