TV Review: Murder at the Wedding


{All photos courtesy BBC One.}

Note: this article was also published on Neon Tommy.

Sherlock, series 3, episode 2, “The Sign of Three”. Written by Stephen Thompson, Mark Gatiss, and Steven Moffat (based on the works of Arthur Conan Doyle); directed by Colm McCarthy. Produced by BBC (in partnership with PBS Masterpiece). Copyright 2014: seen January 26, 2014.

Alas, this is not a sign that Mary married both of them.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. John Watson (Martin Freeman) is getting married in “The Sign of Three,” the second episode of the third season of Sherlock. While we don’t see the actual wedding, technically the entire episode (outside of the teaser) takes place at the reception, interspersed with flashbacks to show the audience how we got there. But when all is said and done, “The Sign of Three” is all about Sherlock’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) speech as best man, which means in turn that the episode ends up actually being all about John.

As with the first episode of the season, “The Empty Hearse,” “The Sign of Three” is overloaded with characterization, as we see Sherlock praising John by using some cases that we haven’t seen before (but have been written up on John’s blog), two of which are – at the time the speech begins – currently unsolved. And also as with “The Empty Hearse,” it’s another mystery-light episode, focusing more on the characters and their development and less on the actual mystery. But this focus on characterization over plot doesn’t mean this episode isn’t any good. In fact, for the most part, it’s pretty dang brilliant.

“The Sign of Three” has the distinction of being written by Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Steve Thompson, each of whom had written an episode in each of the previous seasons (and Moffat and Gatiss are, of course, the show’s co-creators). It’s a very tonally light episode, and heavy on the comedy. Everything from John’s soon-to-be-wife Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington) manipulating both John and Sherlock to go out on a case together to – what is my personal favorite part of the episode – John’s stag night (drunk!Sherlock is best!Sherlock) gives the show great comedic moments, making this episode shine.

The one episode where they are both lightweights.

Both Cumberbatch and Freeman do some great acting here, showing off their comedic chops, and we even get to see Watson being a doctor in a crisis. Thankfully, the direction (Colm McCarthy) is much more cinematic this time around, staying away from the fast-cut aspect that we saw in “The Empty Hearse.” Gatiss and Moffat keep saying they want to treat these episodes as mini-movies, and it’s good to see that the direction is following that aspect.

As mentioned, the mysteries at the heart of the episode are a bit on the weak side. The two unsolved ones coincidentally wind up being the same mystery, and that coincidence is shuffled off with a line about how “The universe is rarely so lazy,” forgetting that the previous episode had Sherlock remark, “Unlike the nicely embellished fictions on your blog, John, real life is rarely so neat.”

The characterization of Sherlock implies that there may be something going on with him, and we get another sign that there’s something about Mary that we still need to know as the big bad hinted at the end of “The Empty Hearse” may or may not be hinted at here as well. And anyone with a passing awareness of basic storytelling and tropes knows that something bad is on the horizon as Sherlock vows to be there for John and Mary, especially when we learn a bit of news about Mary.

Let’s give a toast to Cumberbatch, who has one hell of a monologue in this episode.

Once again, the audience is left with the impression that there is more going on to this story than we see in this 90 minutes, which may leave casual viewers feeling a little lost. In today’s world where episodes are streamed online and able to access quicker, and television series are able to play the long game with their story arcs, is this necessarily a bad thing? But on the other hand, the tone of this episode is vastly different from what we’ve seen in the previous seasons, coming across more of a rom-com than a mystery, which means the die-hard fans are also a little lost.

When taken in context of the show overall, this episode makes it feel like Sherlock is rediscovering what it’s about. “This blog is the story of two men and their frankly ridiculous adventures,” says Sherlock at one point in this episode, and it unconsciously reminds the audience that the stories this show is based on were never fully identified as mysteries, but as adventure stories (the first series of short stories, after all, were combined into The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes). In the end, this episode is an adventure, and a comedic one to boot. When you realize that, it’s a blast to watch, and will have fans of the show picking it apart for meaning for years to come.

However, the lightness of it (as well as the relative lightness of the prior episode) means I am absolutely terrified as to what is most likely in store for the next episode, which also qualifies as the season finale, especially as Moffat has promised us yet another cliffhanger. Bring on the pain, Moffat. Let’s see what you can do.

Watch the trailer for the next episode, “His Last Vow,” below, which airs February 2.

Sherlock can be seen on PBS (and on PBS’s website), and has one more episode this season.

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