Previously, on Sherlock: “The Empty Hearse”
With “The Sign of Three”, BBC’s adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s enigmatic detective, who has been adapted so many times, somehow manages to be altogether unique with its continued brilliance. It’s frankly remarkable how well done this series always is.
The bulk of what percentage of the episode’s story is directly pulled from the stories written by Doyle–namely the title–comes from The Sign of the Four, the second book in Doyle’s Sherlock canon. Like this episode, The Sign of the Four deals a bit with John Watson’s relationship with Mary Morstan; unlike this episode, the book does not include their wedding. Yes, “The Sign of Three” takes place mostly within the construct of Dr. Watson and his fiance tying the knot, as it were, but that really is merely a setting for the dynamic duo’s usual follies.
What’s most striking among the episode’s themes is its further exploration of the fraternal love shared between Sherlock and his hetero lifemate John. I love how this series is constantly taking pedestrian tropes and perfectly molding them to fit snugly within its fabric. Whenever your best friend gets married, there are inherent pangs of loss and jealousy; a fear that a familial bond is being intimately altered as you deliver your brother unto the throes of matrimony, as with tossing a lamb to wolves. Sherlock, of course, experiences that, but he does it in such a way that only he can. He hurls himself into the wedding and this major life event as if it’s his latest unsolvable case; he doggedly dedicates himself to fording the river that is this moment in his friend’s life, even if its current reveals itself to be the rapids of the Amazon. In this dedication–and explicit fear of the new–Holmes’ usual passive feelings toward John are shown to slowly swell to a deafeningly active volume. As I mentioned last week, I absolutely adore the fact that this series has continued to progress the character of Sherlock and, as a result, his humanity has experienced an immense growth that’s simply delightful.
With that said, Sherlock is still Sherlock, and he does find several moments to demonstrate this fact. These moments include: trying to out-science intoxication, potentially scarring a child forever, demonstrating an unexpected knowledge of social media, and delivering probably the most outstanding Best Man’s speech ever given; sure, it carries Sherlock’s signature brash honesty, but it’s also brimming with a sincerity that is only so evident for the years we’ve spent in the company of this most extraordinary man.
Yes, there are deductions and cases and the expected fancy of it all, but what makes “The Sign of Three” so damned good is that it carries that which continues to bring Sherlockians back every two years or so: familiarity. As superlative as the series is, with its window into marked genius and proclivity for the incredible, what makes it tick is just how well the writing, directing, and acting bring those things to an emotional reality. From Mycroft’s transference of his worried loneliness onto an anxious Sherlock to Mary’s embrace of that odd bond that makes Sherlock and John’s bromance prosper, it’s all just so… right.
Again, stateside Sherlockians will have to wait a few weeks until this episode airs on PBS Masterpiece on January 26th, a week after “The Empty Hearse” airs on January 19th. The season three finale, “His Last Vow”, airs next Sunday on BBC One.