The latest episode of "Sherlock" is the show's most innovative installment and yet the one truest to the spirit of the original stories, as the mystery is quintessential Conan Doyle, concerning a bloody corpse in a locked room and no murder weapon in sight. That delicate, comically wrought balancing act is why "The Sign of Three" is the best "Sherlock" yet, encapsulating the essence of the entire series in 90 minutes as it sets the stage for something new.
Almost the entirety of the episode takes place at John and Mary's wedding. As John's best man, Sherlock, a masterful storyteller, gives a speech that is layered with anecdotes, great sentiment and humor, all of which seem to perfectly express everything we love about the show.
His speech is at once a stand-in for the audience and a venue for the writers to definitively chart a new course.
In this scene from “The Sign of Three,” Sherlock Holmes (right)?gives a speech at John and Mary’s wedding.
At one point, Sherlock openly acknowledges the chemistry between the leading men that has been so crucial to the show's success: "Indeed, any reputation I have for mental acuity and sharpness comes, in truth, from the extraordinary contrast John so selflessly provides," he says, suggesting the writers are in full command of their material.
This kind of self-awareness was evident in the last episode, but it didn't feel as organically built into the plot as it does here. For instance, a wedding is a momentous transitional event, an occasion that exists somewhere out of time to send-up the past and welcome the future.
Perhaps that's why the mystery here is self-contained: the plot strands, all unique to the episode, are nicely wrapped up by the time the credits roll. Much of the action plays out in flashbacks as Sherlock relates a case he and John never closed as a way to highlight his companion's decency as a man who cares more about saving lives than solving mysteries.
The sequence is pure canon. In many of the original stories, John, married and no longer living at Baker Street, would occasionally make his way over to Sherlock's flat and allow the sleuth to regale him with such sensational stories of incredible detail and linguistic precision that any boundary between audience and narrator would quickly disappear. "The Sign of Three" uses this conceit to honor the timelessness of Doyle's characters, who will be around for as long as stories are told.
So though the plot is serialized, very much like its Victorian sources, there are interpersonal developments that will no doubt carry over into episode three. Sherlock, in his speech, ultimately reveals a side of him that has always existed, even if he continues to ignore it in favor of advancing his intellect. For as much as he professes to be a high-functioning sociopath - self-consciously and thus, insecurely - Sherlock's very human heart betrays his cold mind in "The Sign of Three." In praising his best friend, Sherlock uses many of the same words John used to describe Sherlock at the end of "The Empty Hearse."
Thus, the two not only complement each other, but their characterizations are wholly dependent on one another. They see themselves in each other, and each is selfless in different ways.
That's why, in a drunken reverie detailed in a flashback, the two play a game of "Who am I." The card stuck to Sherlock's head has his own name printed on it. After John hints of a character who is human, clever, nice-ish, not as tall as most people think, and someone who often rubs people the wrong way, Sherlock has a revelation:
"Got it" he slurs. "I'm you, aren't I?"