Monday, January 27, 2014

'Sherlock' - Season Three, Episode Two - 'The Sign of Three' - a review - no expectations.

I gave myself permission to watch The Sign of Three with no expectations going in.
Part of that was due to my disappointment in last weeks episode, and part of it was due to comments I had read on other blogs.
So I thought I would change my approach.

And I really enjoyed it and had a lot of fun watching it.
Going at it this way, did I find it without flaws? Heck no.
But I found myself being less critical of it.

I couldn't completely not Play the Game and take a totally non-scholarly approach, but I did relax and put the pen a little further away.

Most of the episode focuses on John and Mary's upcoming wedding and the preparations Holmes is required to make as Watson's best-man.
Totally unprepared for the sentiment and the chores involved with the roll, Holmes is mostly at his wits end.

To distract Holmes and to take his mind off the preparations for at least a little while, Mary and John try to get Sherlock involved in some cases.

They end up getting involved in two. One which ends up getting called "the Bloody Guardsman"  involves one of the Queen's Guards who believes he is being stalked.
The other, referred to as "The Mayfly Man", involves women who seem to being dating the same guy, who they all believe to be a ghost.

As the episode continues towards to the end, it becomes apparent to Holmes the two cases are connected to Watson's old commander Major Sholto.

Because I want to save the things I liked about the show for last, I will, . . . therefore, um, well, start with the things I didn't like

As with most of the episode's, I still don't like the show jumping from slap-stick to serious as much as it does. At times I actually felt like I was watching a Stan Laurel movie with the antics of the main character. It didn't bother me as much in this episode mainly because of the theme and the fact that the story was trying to get across to us Holmes' discomfort with being placed in a position requiring the expression of deep emotion.

Although I can appreciate a little (or sometimes a lot) of irreverence in a story, 'Sherlock' still goes a little over board in that area for me. I think part of 'Sherlock's' approach with that is the fact that they still haven't chosen to have Sherlock mature into his roll yet. And if that turns out to be the case, that will be fine. But if it is just a case of poking fun at Sherlockian traits that have become the accepted norm, I will still find fault with this area in the show. My Holmes is not caustically abrasive.
I like my Holmes well mannered and socially well behaved. But I also realize that is on me.

The wedding dinner went on a little long, but that was pretty minor.

OK, so that isn't so bad is it. Two things I still don't like about the show. And one minor one. Am I alone in that?

Now for the things I really (yes I used the word really) liked about this episode.

First, Benedict Cumberbatch did an awesome job of acting throughout the entire episode.
Although, like I said, I didn't always like what Holmes was up to, it wasn't because of any lack of talent on B.C's part.
I think he portrayed every aspect of emotion Holmes was dealing with throughout the entire episode.
The gambit of emotion ran for sincere joy to a let down with sadness and just about everything in between.
I really appreciated Benedict Cumberbatch's range in this episode.

Next, I thought the case was very well handled. Not being the brightest light on the shelf when it comes to solving mysteries, I really enjoyed how it all came together in the end. And how it flowed from John and Mary wanting to distract Holmes, to a case involving someone in John's life. The back and forth from wedding to court room grew on me as it went along.

I am liking Mary (Amanda Abbington) and the fact, unlike Mary in the RDJ movies, that she is liking Sherlock and his importance in John's life. She realizes they need each other and that she would be a fool to come between them.

I liked how the socially dysfunctional Holmes went about preparing the bachelor party and how it went bad.
And what was kind of surprising was that the writers/director did not play that as slapstick as they did many other things in the episode. Both characters looked like a couple of guys who are lightweights in the liquor department out on a bender. Did it go a little to far? Maybe. But not overly.

Now for the things I really, really (yes, two 'really's') liked.

Although we all felt the wedding toasts were going to go very, very wrong, it turned out to be the highlight for me.
While being very disjointed and meandering, it also proved to be the most poignant.

Here was the one time Holmes actually told Watson all the things we had wished he had said in the Canon.
This time Watson was, the kindest and greatest man he had ever known. Who of us has not wished Holmes expressed those sentiments more often. For once we truly see the inner Holmes and the progression from isolated thinking machine to an, almost, complete human being. Holmes, in Sherlock, really grew for me at this point. Whether it will last, we shall see. Will it slip again once Holmes and Mycroft are in a room together? Probably.  But I am going to enjoy it while I can.
It was a very well orchestrated scene.

One of my other favorite parts ended, unfortunately, rather sadly.
Throughout the wedding Sherlock has to interact with Mary's bridesmaid, Janine (played by Yasmine Akram). At first the relationship is rather cold with Holmes once again driving an emotional wedge between the two. But Janine doesn't just resignedly walk away, she forces the interaction to continue. And throughout the wedding dinner the relationship grows into an almost companionable friendship. Holmes goes from being very distant to opening up about things others do not know about him (dancing).
At the very end; the case is solved, the speech is over and Sherlock finally seems to be getting into the spirit of the occasion and actually wants to join in on the festivities. He turns to approach Janine, we get a moment when we see his resolve at his isolation dissolve, and for a moment we think he is going to enjoy the companionship of the opposite sex only to realize he has left it to late and that she has taken his suggestions and moved on. He has hurt himself.
We don't like to think of Sherlock as possibly being lonely. We want to think he is OK in his chosen isolation. But in this one fleeting moment, he wonders if it could be different. And it is gone. And he leaves, alone. But just for a little while he wanted to be different. That for me has been the strongest scene in any of the stories so far. The producers could have chosen to take that scene to far, but for once chose a little restraint.
A sad scene for sure. But a powerful one.

This show was about Sherlock's isolation and the effect his isolation has on himself and others.

I am glad I chose not to view this episode as purely a Canonical exercise, and went in to it with less Sherlockian expectation. Kind of the way we would with "Without a Clue".
And I ended up getting, Canonically more out of it than I thought I would.

Do I still have the same issues with the show, sure. But they are not as important. . .  at least for this week.

Because I know you are all waiting for it. . .

I give "Sign of Three"

because it really made me think.


  1. I agree. Another excellent review. Unlike "The Empty Hearse", which seemed to be more of a fanfic version of "Sherlock", "The Sign of Three", while still focusing on the Sherlock/John relationship, managed to integrate the mystery element much better with the personal element. One of the strengths of the first two series is the cinematic direction of the episodes, using the tools of camera movements, editing and on screen text to help tell the story. "Hearse" seemed to throw those tricks in because it could rather than advancing the telling of the story. "Sign" had a bit of that as well--I'm thinking particularly of Sherlock's phone conversation with Mycroft where the moving camera and screen wipes give a vertiginous effect that distracts from the substance of the conversation--but work well in Sherlock and John's drunken investigation of the "I dated a ghost" case.

    Framing the mystery elements as flashbacks during the wedding preparations again make the mystery elements the B-story, weakening the episode as a whole. We watch, or read, Sherlock Holmes to see him use his deductive prowess to explain the inexplicable, not to navigate his personal problems. Here I'll have to give the edge to "Elementary" in integrating the mystery and personal stories into a more seamless whole. Of course, with 22 to 24 episodes a season, they have more practice in getting the balance right.

    While the opening scene gives us the selfish and socially clueless Sherlock of "Hearse", his emotional growth through the episode works. A tour de force for Cumberbatch. On a personal note, I have to say that the husband with three faces case (obviously triplets) and Mary being pregnant and Sherlock's first and last vow speech make me doubt my theory of the Moriarty triplets and the death of Mary will come to pass, but I'm happy to be wrong and to be surprised by what the writers will come up with.

    1. Thanks again for stopping by. I always look forward to your takes on the episodes.

    2. Terrific review, John. Whether we agree or disagree on this series, I can safely say I thoroughly enjoy reading your thoughtful blog. Keep up the good work!

      As an ardent fan of the show and a Sherlockian, I admit I have cringed a bit at Holmes being "caustically abrasive", as you so accurately termed. However a thought occurred to me when I first viewed A Scandal in Belgravia, seeing the updating of Irene Adler. It struck me that we live in a very different society than the canonical Holmes and, as such, we have become socially de-sensitized. Adler is an "adventuress" in the canon whose produces a potential scandal merely by being in a photograph with the king. There is obviously more implied but it's not too lurid in our modern society. However, having a royal involved with a dominatrix...that would be "tabloid heaven" even by today's standards.

      My thought was this...would a polite Holmes having some social graces (being a product of his possibly more-polite Victorian society) need a similar "updating" as well? Would he have to be written as "over-the-top" in his social ineptitude in order to for the average citizen in our society to recognize how dysfunctional he is? Perhaps the modernization of Holmes needs to take into consideration not only technology and today's London but also vastly different social mores. Just a few musing I've had regarding BBC Sherlock.

      Having seen His Last Vow, I can't wait to hear what others who have yet to watch it will say and, despite my work travel next week, I'll be sure to check your blog and see what you think!

      Thanks for posting your link on G+!

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    4. You said; "My thought was this...would a polite Holmes having some social graces (being a product of his possibly more-polite Victorian society) need a similar "updating" as well? Would he have to be written as "over-the-top" in his social ineptitude in order to for the average citizen in our society to recognize how dysfunctional he is? Perhaps the modernization of Holmes needs to take into consideration not only technology and today's London but also vastly different social mores. Just a few musing I've had regarding BBC Sherlock. "

      I think you hit it right on the head about whether or not a polite Holmes would fly very well in a modern updating of the Canon.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I actually think that a modern-day Sherlock Holmes with excellent social graces could be just as funny (or funnier) than a rude and condescending one. After all, rude plays well in movies and TV these days and so many characters are rude. A well-mannered Holmes would be a fish out of water and would give Holmes the chance for witty comebacks that go over the heads of his intended targets. "From what I have seen of the lady, she seems, indeed, to be on a very different level to your Majesty," said Holmes, coldly. So much better than "What is it like in your funny little brains? It must be so boring." Or "Did you know your name means one who defecates?" from "Elementary". Rude is easy to write. So much tougher to be polite and cutting.