This review, like my previous review of “The Empty Hearse,” will have two parts—a spoiler-free section, and then a clearly-labeled spoiler section.
Part I: Spoiler Free
The middle episode of each series of Sherlock thus far has been something of its own animal. “The Blind Banker” in Series 1 and “The Hounds of Baskerville” in Series 2 stand alone from the other episodes in their series, both in tone and style. I suspect that when all Series 3 episodes are viewed together, the same thing will be said of “The Sign of Three,” which is about as radically different from “The Empty Hearse” as it’s possible for a coherent show to be. I stress coherent because it works, on basically every level.
Where “Hearse” was fast-paced and intentionally frenetic, “Sign” takes a gentler approach and lingers on various breathtakingly beautiful visuals, while still managing to feel as if the action moves along at a brisk pace. Text-on-screen and other effects like Holmes’s mind palace are used even more effectively than in the first episode, and their presence serves the story well.
The plot of “The Sign of Three” is extremely complex, doubling and tripling back on itself in ways that could be confusing if the direction was any less clever than it is. Thankfully, the editing is clear, and the transitions are well marked. I didn’t get lost at any point, and I found my mind engaged rather than baffled. At its heart, “Sign” is a very personal story about three people: Sherlock, John, and Mary. Throughout the episode, each of their characters is explored in complex and touching ways.
Of all the episodes of Sherlock to air thus far, “The Sign of Three” is one of the most canon-heavy, with quotes and allusions to numerous stories occurring constantly throughout. Long-time fans of Holmes, some of whom were less than pleased with the tone of “Hearse,” will, I believe, find much more to enjoy here, and those who loved “Hearse” as much as I did will find “Sign” equally entertaining.
Part II: Spoilers
You might have expected Sherlock Holmes to be a terrible Best Man, but if you did, you’d have been wrong. From the unbearably touching moment of John asking Sherlock to stand with him, to Sherlock’s admission that he loves to dance, “The Sign of Three” was almost achingly beautiful in its delivery of character moments.
No less intriguing was the twisting, turning plot, which united the seemingly unrelated ghost boyfriend case with mysterious military murders, while showing Sherlock’s mind palace in a new way—a courtroom that revealed a great deal about how his brother and friends impact his mental processes.
The Sherlock of “Sign” is firmly post-hiatus, a man who has realized the value of the friends in his life and is willing to work to care for them. While humorous, his obsessive care for the details of John’s wedding showed a depth of love the viewers have rarely seen from Holmes before.
Like every Sherlock episode to date, this one had beautiful details, from the story of Mrs. Hudson’s cartel-running husband, to Sherlock’s way with children, to Mary being an orphan. Wondering which ones will come back up in future episodes is always a fun mental exercise.
Sherlock’s side characters also had fantastic moments in the episode. Lestrade proved his care for Sherlock by choosing him over major professional recognition. Mrs. Hudson did her best to prepare the detective for life after John’s wedding. Molly and her boyfriend provided ample comic relief. Even Donovan, whom we haven’t seen for a while, proved to be as capable and intelligent as ever.
For me, “Sign” was a little bit hard to watch in the best possible way, because the happiness was so very happy, but the undercurrent of darkness was never far below the surface. For those who know the canon history of the characters, it’s impossible not to foresee the potential for dark days ahead. Nevertheless, a wedding is cause for joy, and “The Sign of Three” is a gorgeous episode with a captivating story and wonderful character development.
The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.
The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.