The second episode of Sherlock focused more on comedy and the building of characters and character relationships than any episode thus far. Based around the wedding of Watson and Mary, the show has chosen to shake up its format slightly; rather than the linear storyline that we usually enjoy The Sign of Three is formatted around a series of flashbacks to previous cases all presented by Sherlock during his best man speech. While it is admirable that Stephen Thompson has the courage to try something new with a TV show that has such militant fans, he unfortunately fell a little short this week.
Somehow the flashback sequences weren’t strong enough to carry an audiences attention in the same way the usual story-arc can; the use of multiple short stories is definitely strong in the history of Conan-Doyle’s detective but these stories just didn’t come together in a clever enough way to countenance such a radical change in formula.
While the format was clunky there were some stand out sequences, particularly the stag night. Sherlock . . . on a stag night – it’s better than you could ever imagine. What starts out as a night driven by a mathematically worked out alcohol intake ends with Sherlock and Watson drunkenly out on the case of a ghostly boyfriend. Cumberbatch and Freeman are hilariously accurate as a drunken duo, their bleary eyed concentration matched only by the brilliant composition of the shots with half the screen often out of focus, fading in and out in line with the duos drunkenness.
Despite his self proclaimed “high functioning sociopath” status Sherlock rises to the challenge of being best man admirably: YouTubing napkin designs, arranging seating plans and interviewing (and intimidating) ex boyfriends. All of which is done which the usual Sherlock awkward brilliance.
The Sign of Three is one of the funniest episodes of Sherlock so far, so it’s a shame that the dramatic elements fell so flat with a frankly weak murder plot made even weaker by the fact that 40% of the people I watched it with got it way before Sherlock!
Mary Marston, however, really came into her own in this episode, Abbington’s flawless (and unsurprising) chemistry with real-life partner Freeman made the episode for me – perhaps overtaken by Mary’s effortless manipulation of both Sherlock and Watson, always in their best interests of course! Her easy charm and unflappable nature make her a more that welcome addition to the team.
Though episode two was more patchy than usual, a strong comic stream runs through the whole episode and the style of the whole piece is as innovation and intriguing as ever but the flashback formula just didn’t gel. While the seemingly inconsequential anecdotes Sherlock throws out in his best man speech do come together to form a bigger picture, the writer has perhaps not been clever enough neglecting to lay the breadcrumbs for the audience to follow. While the bigger, more obvious murder plot is playing on the audiences mind the less interesting ones fall away leaving the big reveal with a feeling of unwelcome familiarity – none of the information is entirely new. The whole episode was very much like having a McDonalds meal – thoroughly enjoyable while eating but twinged with a sense of disappointment after you’ve finished. While the episode was very entertaining, the unraveled murder plot left more than a few questions unanswered when looking back.