Last night’s Sherlock episode felt weirdly like a tribute documentary to the programme, shown mid-series – but in a fun way. The episode showed Watson and Mary getting married, and cleverly used Sherlock’s unusual best man speech as a framing device for references to previous episodes and glimpses of Sherlock and Watson cases we haven’t seen (I particularly liked ‘the elephant in the room’ that turned out to be a real elephant). It was definitely one for fans rather than casual viewers, and opened itself up to charges of self-indulgence. As a fan, I loved it.
As usual, there was a lot of terrifically imaginative writing. This episode was more from Sherlock’s perspective than Watson’s, and the show was gloriously creative about getting inside his head, from the text onscreen that’s usually used to convey his deductions appearing blurred and incoherent when he’s drunk to the bizarre leather-seated courtroom where he ‘interviewed’ witnesses. This episode had a lot of fun with Sherlock’s emotionless ‘high-functioning sociopath’ persona; Benedict Cumberbatch’s blank face of horror when first asked to give the speech was a particular treat. But it ultimately showed Sherlock’s human side by showing how he truly cherishes his friendship with Watson, the man who doesn’t solve crimes, but saves lives. It also included humanising details such as Sherlock bonding with Archie, the pageboy, over his crime scene photos, and an unexpected revelation about Sherlock’s hobbies. The Sign of Three allowed for a deeper exploration of the emotional dynamics between the characters than last week’s frenetically paced episode. Sherlock’s tribute to Watson was downright heart-warming. Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss also seem to be exploring his relationship with Mycroft in great depth this season. Sherlock’s clumsily trying to bring his even more socially awkward brother out of his shell, but his ultimate rejection of his imagined version of Mycroft’s mystery-solving advice suggests that the brother who thought he was stupid is ultimately a harmful influence on him. However, Mary’s character got less development, which I thought was a shame – so far all she’s done is banter a bit with Sherlock. Hopefully she will get more directly involved in the boys’ investigations in future.
All this took up so much running time that the actual mystery felt like a bit of an afterthought, and while it was satisfying to see everything come together in the usual mind-bendingly convoluted way, ultimately it took too long, was a bit too heavily foreshadowed to truly be a surprise and had a couple of plot-holes. However, as a celebration of everything Sherlock is about, The Sign of Three worked very well, and was a great reminder that there’s a lot worth celebrating.