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“The Sign of Three” is an incredibly different kind of Sherlock episode. Not a bad different; just an interesting different. I am actually surprised that producer Steven Moffat and his team did something like this considering they have only three 90-minute episodes every two years to tell their stories. Do so something that breaks away from the traditional format is incredibly risky in Sherlock’s circumstance. Then again, perhaps Moffat felt that they have built up enough good-will from their fanbase that they can get away with doing something unique.
Fortunately, the gamble paid off as “The Sign of Three” was an incredibly entertaining installment of the cult-favorite series. I suppose it is appropriate that this episode had a different format as the narrative centered around the wedding of John Watson and Mary Mortsan (Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington, respectively) – definitely a one-of-a-kind event for this show. Most episodes of Sherlock weave their tale in a very straight-forward manner. Here, we are treated to what can be considered a series of vignettes (which all come together in the end – more on that later) told by Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) of a variety of cases he and Watson had investigated. Sherlock uses the tales as his best man speech in order to highlight the qualities he sees in Watson.
Though I noted in the previous episode that Sherlock is starting to show more emotion to those close to him, don’t think that his rambling speech is overly gushy. There is sentiment, but it still has all the Sherlock dry wit and unintentional put-downs which infuriate others.
Also, speaking of the previous episode, this is definitely a game-changing season. The writers here are doing a lot of things to redefine the core aspects of Sherlock. This isn’t done as any sort of retooling of the concept that some shows go through. Instead, it is more of a natural evolution of the series. It plays off that two year gap between seasons 2 and 3. Many shows tend to revert back to the status quo. Sherlock isn’t doing that. The playing field was slightly reset and the writers are reveling in it and using it to their advantage. Now, it is possible that, eventually, the show will revert to the past status quo (in fact, I have a bad feeling about the fate of Mary), but for now, I love seeing this evolution.
As I mentioned earlier, the seemingly unrelated stories Sherlock tells all link together (which, of course then culminate Sherlock deducing someone is going to be murdered at John’s wedding). I’ll admit, this is an incredible stretch. The sure happenstance that Sherlock would tell random stories that just happen to connect to each other (he didn’t know they did previously) that just happen to relate to John’s wedding really strains credibility. However, it doesn’t bother me as much as something like this normally would.
Here’s why: the bad guy’s “murder plan” is incredibly clever (even if that also stretches some credibility) and the way Sherlock deduces it seems like it was ripped straight from an Arthur Conan Doyle story. “The Sign of Three” is an original story, but that “false authenticity” in a strange way gives it a pass. Maybe it is the British accents. Perhaps it is just that entertaining. I’m not sure.
Sherlock’s third season continues to be a developing one. It’s evolving the show and the characters. I like this direction, and I look forward to see how things wrap up.
“The Sign of Three” is scheduled to air in the US on January 26th on PBS.