Sherlock Review: The Sign of Three

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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.

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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.

7 Canonical References in The Empty Hearse

Ahoy, Matey, here there be spoilers! Read on at your own risk.

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Not only was Sherlock Series 3’s first episode a knockout example of television; it also contained the numerous references to the original Doyle stories that fans have come to expect. I’m listing seven, in no particular order, though there were many more, some I’m sure I haven’t even thought about.

1) Reunion in disguise

In “The Adventure of the Empty House,” which features the return of Sherlock Holmes after the Great Hiatus, Holmes first greets Watson disguised as an elderly bookseller, and only after Watson fails to recognize him does he reveal his true character.

BBC Sherlock has been light on actual disguise up to now, but Mark Gatiss chose to pay homage to the canon when he had Sherlock disguise himself as a waiter to surprise his friend after his two-year absence and supposed death. The sheer lack of emotional acuity this required will no doubt be discussed for years to come.

2) Big Bad Moran

The plot of “The Empty Hearse” bears little resemblance to “The Empty House,” but Gatiss did choose to stick with Moran as the villain of Sherlock’s return story. In canon, Moran is Moriarty’s second-in-command and the key to taking down his organization. Sherlock did not borrow that plot point from Doyle, but did retain the idea of Moran as a powerful, shady figure with sinister plans.

Gatiss (and co.) also connected Moran to the giant rat of Sumatra, a brief canon reference and perennial fan favorite.

3) John or James

In “The Empty Hearse,” a mysterious enemy sends Mary a text that contains a code. Many of the words are irrelevant, but sharp-eyed fans will have noted the phrase “John or James,” which is most likely a nod to the fact that in the canon, Mary Morstan once famously called her then-husband John Watson “James,” a continuity issue that has puzzled fans for generations.

4) Deduce-Off

In one of the most amusing sequences of “The Empty Hearse,” Sherlock and Mycroft engage in a competition of deductive skill. This directly mirrors their interaction in Doyle’s story “The Greek Interpreter” in which they similarly put their skills to use and Mycroft proves even cleverer than his younger brother.

5) Mrs. Hudson’s Hysterics

Una Stubbs added warmth and comic relief throughout “The Empty Hearse,” but her frying pan-wielding hysterics were straight from the canon. In “The Empty House,” Holmes casually tells Watson that he, “threw Mrs. Hudson into violent hysterics,” by returning from the dead, and Sherlock certainly took the idea literally.

6) Sherlock’s Nonchalance

One of the biggest conversations fans across the globe are having post- “Empty Hearse” is about Sherlock’s perceived lack of emotional sensitivity upon his return, most notably to Watson, but to his other friends as well. This tracks completely with Doyle’s description of Holmes’s return in “The Empty House,” during which Holmes says to Watson that he “had no idea that you would be so affected” and generally acts like perceived death and extended absence are no big deal. Love it or hate it, Gatiss’s characterization of Holmes in the episode mirrors Doyle’s, both in its tenderness and, at times, baffling lack of human understanding.

7) Mary’s Tolerance

The fan community had a certain amount of trepidation about Mary’s characterization in “The Empty Hearse,” but she proved to be sweet, strong, complex, and ultimately invested in the deep friendship of her fiance and Sherlock Holmes. Her character in general dovetailed with the descriptions of her throughout Doyle’s Sign of Four, but more specifically, her willingness to intercede with John on Sherlock’s behalf speaks to the fact that for a great deal of the Doyle canon, she allows her husband apparently unrestricted and unhenpecked freedom to pursue his crimefighting activities with the detective. This, along with her positive interactions with Holmes in The Sign of Four, suggests that she has a high opinion of Holmes much like the one “Empty Hearse” has begun to establish.

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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.

Sherlock Review: The Empty Hearse

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This is a two-part review. The first part will be spoiler free, and I’ll let you know when I’m moving into spoiler territory.

Part I: Spoiler-free

It’s been many moons since Sherlock graced our screens, and it seemed that with every passing day, expectations grew stronger and anticipation heightened. After seeing the episode, I can say with 100% certainty that even the highest expectations were not misplaced. As with previous series, the writing is clever, the directing fast-paced and stylistically unique, and the acting unparalleled. What I did not expect was the liberal (and extremely effective) use of humor to an extent we haven’t previously seen in the series.

Perhaps what surprises me most is how absolutely satisfied I am. Literally every box on my Sherlock wishlist was ticked, and not in the perfunctory way we sometimes see with longer-running franchises. Without spoiling details, I can assure you that giving an hour and a half of your time to “The Empty Hearse” will present you with an intriguing and twist-filled plot punctuated by character moments so numerous and so good that I’m tempted to use the word sublime to describe them.

I’m having a little bit of a problem here, because it seems that when it comes to reviewing, negative opinions add credibility, but I can’t seem to come up with any of significance (minus a couple of vulgarities that are not to my personal taste). The opening salvo of Sherlock Series 3 is about is perfect as it gets, and I can’t wait to see what the next two episodes have to offer.

Part II: Spoilers

Where to begin?

There was a little doctor with a mustache. There was a detective who needed a shave. And there was a hilariously dramatic scene in which Benedict Cumberbatch kissed Louise Brealey. At some point, I tweeted, “I CANNOT WITH THE WATSTACHE.”

Yep, “The Empty Hearse” broke my brain. The devious genius of Mark Gatiss gave us not one, but three, ways Sherlock “did it,” never really definitively telling us which was real, but sending up about every fan theory in existence. I think we all wanted John to punch Sherlock. I didn’t know I wanted him to punch him like twelve times, but once I saw it, I knew I really did.

Anderson. Dear goodness, Anderson. Anderson is, as they say, all of us. Crank-turned-conspiracy nut, he turned out to be the one who was right all along. Like the beleaguered fandom, he endured, growing increasingly and more hilariously insane. He may have deserved it, but give the poor guy a few props for persistence.

In many ways, as Kafers pointed out in her review for the Baker Street Babes, a main theme of the episode was relationships, and I agree. Sherlock is about a mad, surrogate family, and “The Empty Hearse” was about what happened when the glue that held it all together–Sherlock Holmes–was gone and what had to happen to put it back. Surrogate sister Molly and surrogate mum Mrs. Hudson were their usual brilliant, funny, understated selves, and Inspector Lestrade’s heartfelt reaction to Sherlock’s return was equal parts humorous and heartwarming. Getting the gang back together was far from a routine necessity; it was a pleasure to watch.

At the same time, Amanda Abbington’s luminous warmth as Mary added a beautiful dimension to John’s life, and I was glad to see that Mofftiss used a canonical reading of her character–a strong woman who likes Sherlock Holmes enough to let her boyfriend/husband spend a great deal of his time with the detective. The ending tease of the man we know to be the Big Bad of this season was another intriguing touch.

“The Empty Hearse” was funny, clever, completely captivating, and left absolutely nothing to be desired. I really couldn’t have asked for more. Bring on eps 2&3.

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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.