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Sherlock S3E2 The Sign of Three – Advance Spoiler-free Review * 03 January 2014


An unusual and unique instalment of Sherlock, The Sign of Three is a complex, rip-roaring and extremely funny episode that takes the series into tonally new territory, while preserving many of the elements that we all love from the past.

It's no secret that the second episode of Series Three is centred on the wedding of John Watson and Mary Morstan. It forms the backbone of the narrative and setting, with the entire duration dipping in and out of a critical part of the happy day through a complicated branching structure that leads the characters, and us, to some wildly unexpected places. Perhaps more so than any other episode of Sherlock, this is the one that demands a repeat view to truly appreciate the intricate nature of the events we're shown. The script is credited to all three writers for the first time in the series' history, with Steve Thompson leading, and elements of the style of each are evident throughout the duration.

Following on from The Empty Hearse, the emphasis remains on the relationship between the characters. There is delightful interplay between the supporting cast, and a genuine further deepening of the friendship between John and Sherlock, all expertly played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. The events at the end of The Empty Hearse have solidified them. While we may have become used to the notion of these characters living in the modern day, The Sign of Three is the first time we see the pair fully enmeshed in modern social culture - with surprising and utterly hilarious results that may possibly provide more talking points than anything in the series opener.   

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Like the preceding episode, while there is a central case in the narrative, it is not immediately apparent, with over a third of the duration of the episode running past until it fully forms. When it does though, it's a story element that isn't engineered to serve the characters in the same way that the terror plot of The Empty Hearse is. Instead it's a good old fashioned mystery, a very cleverly constructed piece of writing that allows both Sherlock and John to shine in their unique ways, and highlights how dependent they both are on the other now when placed into dangerous situations. Mary continues to be an excellent addition to the cast as well, Amanda Abbington a warm, wonderful presence who continues to effortlessly interact with both the leading characters and is utterly accepting of the wild and strange adventures the pair find themselves thrust into.

The Sign of Three is visually astonishing to look at, featuring true visual pizazz thanks to director Colm McCarthy. The entire episode is infused with stand-out moments, including a memorable and quite beautiful new introductory shot for 221B, a striking use of split screen editing, and a dramatically different and new visualisation of Sherlock's deductions. It also goes without saying that the scoring of David Arnold and Michael Price continues to be sonic delight, going into pulse-pounding and dramatic new places that are unique to this instalment.

The warmest, funniest episode of Sherlock in existence, The Sign of Three sees the series stepping quite boldly into broader comedic tones and more emotional themes. The friendship of Sherlock and John is clearly the front and centre of this new series, and Sherlock's overt (and covert) reactions to the changes in John's life give everything a subtly moving, powerful undercurrent. But despite all the lightness and fun that infuses the episode, the close brings us a few tiny flecks of foreboding for the series finale in His Last Vow, and we can't help but feel the humour that has defined the opening two parts of Sherlock Series Three is a very clear and conscious presence due to what may lie ahead…     



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