Saturday, January 25, 2014

BBC Sherlock (2014): The Sign of Three

Change isn't always easy or fun. Sherlock doesn't always adapt well to change, but in this 3rd season of Sherlock, he's at least trying. Episode 3.2, The Sign of Three, involves a lot of change for Sherlock and John. Why? Because John Watson has finally found the love of his life, Mary Morstan, and this episode covers their wedding. In other words, John's leaving for a new life.

This season is more character-centric than the previous seasons. The cases are pretty much unimportant in comparison to the growth and development of the characters. Take, Sherlock Holmes, for example. In this episode, Sherlock is learning to be empathetic towards other people. This is not a primary function for him, as we all know! The episode opens with him sending an urgent text, pleading with Lestrade to help him, immediately, at once, and he gives no details. Lestrade, being the big boob that he is, doesn't ask for the details, instead flying to Baker Street with the entire cavalry in tow, helicopters and all. Sherlock needs help with his best man speech. That's it. This is typical Sherlock behavior if I ever saw it! What isn't so typical of him is his statement of hoping that Lestrade hadn't gone to too much trouble. This is unusual, my friends!

I've heard complaints that Sherlock isn't Sherlock in this season. No, he's not. He is evolving into something more, something better, something more whole. Remember that Sherlock has been gone for 2 years. He's been alone for 2 years. That tends to change a person since Sherlock doesn't make friends easily, at least not quality friends like John Watson. So, when Sherlock returns, he's different. He has a new appreciation for friendship, a new value for people in general, and John Watson in particular. He is different, he is changed, but in my mind, it is all for the better.

As one of my friends eloquently puts it, Sherlock is learning from John's interaction with people, possibly even mimicking him. He sees something in John's treatment of people that he realizes he lacks, and in his own way, he works to rectify that flaw in his character. Sherlock will never be John and we can never expect him to be John. But he connects better now, to his own emotions, and to the emotions of others. He will never be the Sherlock from the 1st or 2nd season again, the one who heartlessly tears down Molly Hooper. This Sherlock works to remember details about Molly's life, about her fiance, and he even thanks her and wishes her well. It's a remarkable turn-around for Sherlock Holmes, and one that was wholly necessary for the series to continue maturing and evolving. This season is not about stagnation, Sherlock remaining the same self-involved jerk that he's always been, but rather it's about growth.

However, don't expect Sherlock to have changed completely. He's growing, but he's still self-involved! It's remarkable how he can both praise and tear down marriage in his best man's speech in one fell swoop. He points out his failings, how much of a jerk he is, how unlikeable, unlovable, and selfish, facts which only serve to elaborate John's remarkable patience and affection for him. As Sherlock puts it, "John, I am a ridiculous man. Redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship." How incredibly apt and self-aware of Sherlock.

Which leads me to John Watson. He is the one steadfast person in Sherlock's life. Unwavering, unchanging, steady as a rock. Nothing Sherlock does, not even rising from the dead so callously, can shake John's capacity for forgiveness. This episode is a magnificent portrayal of John's goodness as seen through Sherlock's eyes. Did you get that? As seen through Sherlock's eyes! We already knew John was a good man, but Sherlock seemed utterly clueless about his best friend's qualities until this episode.

In The Sign of Three Sherlock shares bits of cases with the wedding guests. He relates "The Bloody Guardsman" which is less about his abilities and more about the care that John Watson takes with people in his role as a doctor. As Sherlock puts it, "I will solve your murder, but it takes John Watson to save your life. Trust me, he has saved mine so many times and in so many ways." In this case, Sherlock is of almost no use whatsoever (in fact, a small child presents the solution to him during the wedding reception). His focus was on John as he battled to save a man's life. He saw something in his friend that he had seen a million times before, but which never sank below the surface until that very moment. John takes care of people, and that fact is never seen as clearly as in this episode.

I could expound on the bits and pieces of the episode, my absolute hysterics when John and Sherlock are roaring drunk during the stag party, the awesomeness of the moment when John deliberately sprains someone's arm in a crackhouse, my adoration of Mary and John dancing together after the wedding reception, the horrendous best man speech Sherlock delivers and the hug John gives him in response, my sorrow at Sherlock leaving alone, but I won't. You know all about that. Instead, I chose to give you my observations of the characters. Who really cares if the case works or not? If it's solved or not? This is John Watson's wedding and all I see is the immense personal growth Sherlock has gone through to reach the point where he can be best man.

As a final thought, consider the moment when John asked Sherlock to be his best man. Sherlock shuts down for a few minutes, staring at him, not even breathing, but you can read every emotion in his eyes. Once he snaps out of it, he asks John "I'm your best friend?" and John replies, "Yeah, of course you are, of course you're my best friend." At the wedding reception, Sherlock says, "If I didn't understand I was being asked to be best man, it is because I never expected to be anyone's best friend." That is the truth of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, ladies and gentlemen. They are best friends. John always knew it, probably from the very first season. But now . . . now Sherlock knows it too.

The end of Sherlock's speech says it all, "So know this: today you sit between the woman you have made your wife and the man you have saved. In short, the two people who love you most in all this world. And I know I speak for Mary as well when I say we will never let you down, and we have a lifetime ahead to prove that."

One more episode, and then at least a year of torturous waiting!


  1. As Gatiss reminded us in an interview, Sherlock is a genius. What do geniuses do? They LEARN. Sherlock is learning. Adapting. Maturing. I think it's incredibly revealing as to his character that he doesn't make any comments about Molly's boyfriend being an obvious Sherlock clone. He refuses to draw negative attention to that and humiliate her -- which is a total 180 from that disasterous Christmas party conversation.

    Anyone who doesn't love this episode has no sense of humor. It's hilarious, touching, absurd, silly, and altogether wonderful. I'm not sure what touches me more -- the fact that Mycroft is gently encouraging to him on the phone, for once without his usual cutting comments, because he is fully aware that his little brother needs him, or that Sherlock brings everyone to tears with his speech without even meaning to. It's lovely. It really is.

  2. Season 3 is definitely about character and character growth. And that is my favorite aspect of any show. I think you definitely hit upon all the vital points of "The Sign of Three", drawing us right into the foundation of what is transpiring in this episode: the evolution of John and Sherlock's friendship. How much Sherlock has changed and how much he values John and their relationship. I love reading about characters and their intentions, thoughts, the way they relate... hehe. In other words, really fun post. :D


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