Sherlock Review- The Sign of Three

Thompson’s offering provides more emotional depth than the fun but ultimately lack-lustre ‘The Empty Hearse’, but promises to remain a divisive episode among the fanbase.

Having known for a while that Stephen Thompson was writing the episode where John gets married, and being a long- term fan and occasional sufferer of ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Doctor Who’, I had been wondering how the hell he was going to inject racism into a wedding. Knowing that the episode title was based on ‘The Sign of the Four’, which runs on 19th century colonial themes and is not one of Doyle’s more sensitive works, I was quite worried. Thankfully the bigotry only made itself apparent in what could be argued was a variation on the ‘black man dies first’ trope, so either he’s embarrassed at his earlier efforts or the BBC are sick of getting letters.

Photo from the Daily Mail, who were disappointed.

Whatever the man’s prejudices are, there can be no doubting Thompson’s affection for his source material. The strength of many successful TV adaptations- whether The Walking Dead or Hannibal– is that they twist the original tale. Fans of the series can enjoy nods to the previous canon but still be kept guessing. By setting their effort in the twenty-first century, Moffat et al have placed it the realm of speculative fiction- a familiar place for those who write sci-fi. Sherlock has been able to gather the following it has in part because viewers are encourage to imagine how their favourite characters and stories would be changed by time. We take the part of Sherlock. running theories and probabilities in our head as we watch. To paraphrase the character himself, we don’t look, we observe. These references- when not too heavy handed- serve to delight, frustrate and keep us guessing. ‘The Sign of Three’ pulled this off perfectly. Leaving aside the unbelievable framing device of Sherlock’s speech, the vignettes felt like a collection of Conan-Doyle’s short stories, and tied together nicely at the end.

The fascination in the Mayfly plot came not from high-octane action sequences or extraordinary originality, but from watching Sherlock leap from conclusion to conclusion, always just ahead of the viewer. I found it satisfactory. This being said, the audience can not be expected to suspend their disbelief to the point where they’ll accept that a person can be stabbed without their knowledge, no matter how tight their belt. Has Thompson never had a flu jab? I also find it ridiculous that John would go straight back to his wedding after losing his mentor. However, the plot was not nearly as bad as that of ‘The Blind Banker’, a story with more holes in it than a Vatican-approved condom.

Comic scenes made up almost a bulk of the episode, yet they very rarely dragged on. A drunken Sherlock makes for great fanservice, but overall I found it charming, helped in part by Cumberbatch and Freeman’s stellar performances.

And now we arrive at the Big Fat Gay Moment. Addressing my issues with this show in terms of queer-baiting would require a whole separate series of articles. I will choose to assume from this episode that Sherlock has very deep feelings for Sherlock of a ‘whatever Sherlock is’ nature and John is pretending not to notice. I will not get into John Watson’s feeling on the matter, because my desire to have a bisexual character that isn’t some sort of fetishised sexpot on a popular television series threatens to completely overwhelm me and make an objective analysis impossible (renyhadley.jpg)

This series, we seem to be spending a lot of time rattling around in Sherlock’s brain. I have absolutely no problem with this. The Boy’s Own Adventure tone of Conan-Doyle’s original works sucked in many of us as children, but the characters and relationships of Watson and Holmes draws us back in as adults. The world’s only consulting detective is also an ex-addict prone to fits of mania and depression-we know he can break. Psychologically unstable at the best of times and appearing traumatised and uncertain in the last episode, he is now may be risking the loss of his partner. One might wonder how long he’ll be able to keep it together. Sherlock, of course, is aware of this. and so he oscillates between uncharacteristic acts of warmth and tenderness and going to great pains to make sure nobody likes him. It has always been easy to romanticise Holmes as a character. We know he has hidden depths, but they can only be guessed at. His deduction of Mary’s pregnancy might have made for an unbearably mawkish ending, but watching him leave the party early to avoid spoiling the night for John is heartbreaking. The detective’s emotions may be anyone’s guess, but Holmes’ final line in ‘The Sign of The Four’ is “for me, Watson, there is always the cocaine bottle”.

Not one for those who prefer their Sherlock more suspense driven, ‘The Sign of Three’ has all the makings of a ‘Marmite’ episode. However, there is some hope in sight for those who’d prefer more case content. Who is Teassa, and why is she trying so hard to attract Sherlock’s attention? I can’t help but hope that Mary is tied up in something awful. The character is far too perfect, and far too perfect a fit for John to be believable. There is far too much potential in the mystery of her backstory for her to be another Clara, who began to bore me to tears with her chirpy-cheery attitude and cardboard cut-out personality. The episode tells us little in this regard, except that she is an orphan, as in ACD canon. Props to Redditor  Walls, who noticed this little tidbit:

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HIGHLIGHTS:

  •  Drunk Sherlock. Though I do think it might be best for the series as a whole if the writers stayed away from Archive of Our Own for a while.
  • Character Insights
  • Affection for the canon
  • “A meat dagger?”
  • Still hope for a larger mystery
  • “A high functioning sociopath with your number.”

LOW POINTS:

  • John’s reaction to Major Sholto’s Depth
  • Plot holes.
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The Long Awaited ‘Sherlock’ Review- The Empty Hearse

I dithered about reviewing Sherlock, because it’s very much a show I have Very Strong Feelings about, and I was worried that I’d just produce a transcript of my Inner Angry Nerd battling out my Inner Squealing Fangirl instead of anything remotely resembling actual criticism. Then I watched it while at the family home, which has terrible wi-fi and is ten miles away from the nearest shop. There’s only so much time one can spend playing increasingly competitive family games of Monopoly, drinking alone and watching Top Gear re-runs, so I decided to commit my musings to print for the sake of my mental health. Overall, I felt that Gatiss produced a mixed bag- nothing close to the embarrassment of Thompson’s ‘The Blind Banker’, but far from the standard the show has proved it can reach.

The episode had its highlights.There is a positive feeling of all-round “newness”. Relationships are uncertain, no-one knows where they’re going. Martin Freeman’s performance as a seriously wound up Watson was a joy to watch, once again proving that he can act more with one facial muscle than many can with their whole body. And who can’t help but love the face that gave us this image:  Cumberbatch is on form as always as a Holmes in flux. One of the best things about this series is how the writers handle the characters. Whatever happened during ‘the hiatus’ has left the detective a little bit jumpier, a bit more impulsive- but apparently no more clued in as to his partners emotions, a fact beautifully revealed by the restaurant scene. The transformation from cocky and eager to uncertain and terrified was comedy gold. When we first see Sherlock, he is being tortured. I’ve always been a fan of the creator’s subtle and well-researched dealings with mental health- any doubt about Watson’s PTSD diagnosis vanished when he unleashed on a chip and pin machine. What we see here is a Holmes in flux, disjointed, with Watson’s recriminations sneaking into his psyche. Even as he pulls on the famous deerstalker and waltzes into the crowd of baying reporters, we are not satisfied that he really knows how to “be Sherlock Holmes”. This certainly suggests that viewers have something to look forward to, in regards character development at least.

The flaws in ‘The Empty Hearse’ can be described in two words- lazy writing. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Gatiss- he’s got two years worth of expectations to live up to. Mostly, I didn’t have a problem with the way the whole fall question was handled- it was intended to be humorous and to build suspense, and it achieved that aim. The plot, however, was dull, predictable and lacking the eenail-biting tension viewers are familiar with, not least because half of it was lifted from V for Vendetta. reddit

I suppose I should talk about the fanservice, just to get it out of the way. The BBC adaptation has always had a flirtatious relationship with both the fans and the canon. When this angle is played just right, it makes for perfect seasoning, showing the creators’ love for the original material and gently poking fun at the show’s cult following. While I did enjoy the new take on Anderson, some material just seemed like so much filler. Gatiss has always been a marketer on the side- see the thankfully short-lived Technicolour Daleks, clearly dreamed up as toys for Doctor Who’s younger audience. He may well be hoping for more free publicity from the fanbases’ Twitterati, but writing episodes solely for their squee-appeal is an easy way to lose the interest of critics and less engaged viewers. And though Sherlock swooping in, all black coat and frantic emotion to save John makes my little queer heart swell, one can’t help but think that Watson has to be an expert on being abducted by now.

Aesthetically beautiful as always, the editing on this episode was mostly fantastic, with razor sharp match-cuts keeping the audience on their tones and providing many giggle-worthy moments. However, Sherlock’s music video style London Underground deduction montage couldn’t have been more out of place if he’d swung in on a wrecking ball, and some sequences just seemed unnecessary- another indication that the script lacked the meat to keep ‘The Empty Hearse’ going for a whole ninety minutes.

Overall, there seemed to be a certain shallowness about the episode, a willingness to sacrifice content for cheap laughs- but there are certain whispers of hidden depths. Sherlock’s deduction of Mary, for example- was that the word liar?

If it is, we have hopes for an interesting female character in a show that has always been lacking in that regard. We also get a bunch of vague hints and unanswered questions- why would John’s abductor’s text her first? Exactly how changed is Sherlock? What exactly is Magnussen’s interest in the detective? So much now depends on the overall arc of the series, and how Moffat and Thompson handle the next two episodes. Ultimately, ‘The Empty Hearse’ on IOUs- promising much for the future, but delivering very little on its own.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Match cuts

John and Sherlock’s homoerotically charged fight in the restaurant

Mark Gatiss chewing the scenes as Mycroft.

LOW POINTS:

The Underground montage. Seriously, I thought Cumberbatch was about to start crooning depressing indie lyrics about urban anonymity.

Excessive amounts of fanservice and episode filler

Lazy writing

“I Don’t Shave For Sherlock Holmes”- the most obvious marketing ploy since the Technicolour Daleks. The worst part is, I’ll probably still buy the t-shirt.