In a particularly memorable scene from the Sherlock season two episode ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’, the detective storms into 221B Baker Street covered in blood and carrying a harpoon. Mere moments later he is hungry for yet more work, and stomps around the flat yelling, “I need a case!”
Watching the middle chapter of the third season, ‘The Sign of Three,’ that sentiment is particularly relatable.
The long-awaited return of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s modern update kicked off earlier this week with a decent season premiere that featured some great character moments between John and Sherlock. My chief criticism of the episode was that the actual case – one involving an impending terrorist attack – was somewhat weak and didn’t account for much of the episode’s running time. Overall, however, that can be forgiven in an episode that was largely about Sherlock’s return and the way that John deals with it. Even better, that episode’s tantalizing conclusion set up the season’s new arch-villain and hinted that things were about to start getting serious.
Well, they are. Presumably. Eventually. But before Sherlock can get on with the business of mysteries and crime-solving, there’s a wedding to attend! A wedding that takes up an entire episode. And boy, if you like weddings then you’re in for a treat, because no detail is left out: the drunken stag night; the wedding photo session; decisions over serviettes; the bride and groom’s waltz; John asking Sherlock to be his best man; each of their friends discussing how Sherlock will react to the best man question. It’s all there – with the surprising exception of the actual wedding ceremony. Maybe there wasn’t time for it.
There’s also a case to be solved, but as with ‘The Empty Hearse’ it feels jammed in almost begrudgingly, as though the writers knew it was a box that had to be ticked. The mystery doesn’t get introduced until over a third of the way through the episode, and is constructed to fit into Sherlock’s best man speech so that it doesn’t derail the wedding shenanigans too badly. As such, it’s not particularly interesting compared to some of those that have gone before: a basic locked room murder and a man going on a romantic date several days after being pronounced dead.
This might come across as a rather grouchy outlook on an episode that is stuffed to the gills with sweet, funny and moving scenes, as well as the usual high class of acting and excellent chemistry that we’ve come to expect from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. For many fans of the series, ‘The Sign of Three’ will probably be a delight to watch as it spins the wheel of fanservice over and over again and picks out plenty of endearing little moments. If there’s a central theme to the rather distracted and wandering narrative, it’s the question of whether or not life will change for the two friends after John gets married and embarks on his new life with Mary.
To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on the characters and their relationships in this way. John, Sherlock and their friends have always been the emotional heart of the show and are just as interesting as the crimes that they solve. But character development and complex mystery plots are by no means mutually exclusive, and it would have been a lot more satisfying to see John and Sherlock solidifying their friendship if they’d been bonding over a bomb plot or an impossible murder, rather than champagne and cake.
Despite the significant life event for John and Mary that takes place in ‘The Sign of Three’, it still feels like a filler episode, and with only three episodes per season Sherlock is not a show that can afford filler episodes. After this rather light and fluffy appetizer, let’s hope that next week’s finale has some meat to it.
Sherlock returns next Sunday for the season 3 finale ‘His Last Vow’ on PBS. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below: