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Saturday, 11 January 2014

Sherlock: "The Sign of Three"

Previously: "The Empty Hearse"

I feel like I need to preface this review by saying that I didn't think this episode was necessarily... "bad"...? But it was definitely weird as hell. It was a pile of butts. It was a hysterical LOLfest. It was a Richard Curtis movie written by sadists. Was it "good television"? Well, I personally found it quite entertaining (in between my agonised shrieking at the supreme awkwardness of Sherlock's speech), but I suspect that more serious Sherlock fans will have a bone to pick with the extremely uneven characterisation. If I was a more serious critic, I would also point out its odd story structure, its bizarre lunges between slapstick comedy and sentimentality, and its apparent abandonment of the show's core purpose as a crime drama. It's really no surprise that this episode was so divisive between fandom viewers and the show's more mainstream audience.
The reason why I'm hesitant to label this episode a "bad" is because I've seen Bad Sherlock, and its name is the Blind Banker. That episode was a common-or-garden example of shitty television, with a side order of blatant racism. But The Sign of Three? Was just plain weird. I think what we've learned here is that if they do indeed end up making a fourth season, Steve Thompson's episode will be the wild card. Just think about it: he went from worst ever episode (Blind Banker) to the heartwrenching thriller that is Reichenbach, to this. Meanwhile, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss remain reasonably predictable in that Moffat is excellent at writing individual scenes and snappy dialogue, but will pepper his episodes with offensive garbage and OTT grandstanding... and Gatiss is a horror nerd fanboy who takes the show way less seriously and is entirely happy to take the piss.

I still do not understand the basic logistics of the murders, though. So, Dean Thomas and Watson's old commanding officer were both stabbed in a way that wouldn't show until they removed their belt, which was acting as a tourniquet. But as soon as they did so, they exsanguinated, fast enough that they couldn't so much as call for help. IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? I mean, wouldn't you NOTICE getting stabbed? Wouldn't they feel it, even when wearing a very tight belt? Particularly if it was a wound that was serious enough to very quickly kill you once you removed the pressure? And NO blood leaked out beforehand, at all? Sherlock Holmes stories have always relied upon a certain element of ridiculousness to make their central crime plots more interesting, but this is definitely the most nonsensical murder we've seen in Sherlock so far.
Aside from the barefaced ludicrousness of a crime plot that requires the victim not to notice that they've been fatally stabbed, my main quibble with the plausibility of this episode was the absence of people filming during Sherlock's mid-wedding meltdown.

At any wedding, there is usually SOMEONE filming, but even if John and Mary had elected to not have any kind of footage of the speeches at the reception, EVERYONE WOULD HAVE STARTED FILMING ON THEIR CAMERAPHONES AS SOON SHERLOCK GOT GOING. I mean, the kids and teenagers at least, if the adults were too English and middle-class to get caught using their iPhone during an embarrassing moment at their friend's wedding. Sherlock is a public figure, and he was performing one of the most bizarre and mesmerisingly awful Best Man speeches in human history. I refuse to accept that it wouldn't be on YouTube, Upworthy and UK Buzzfeed within 24 hours. One of this show's gimmicks is Sherlock's regular usage of smartphones when solving crimes, so there's really no excuse for this bizarre lack of cameraphone footage when it's less convenient to Sherlock's personal storyline.
The crackfic tone of The Sign of Three meant that a lot of non-fandom viewers were probably disappointed, especially since the episode's central story (such as it was) was only vaguely adjacent to the crime TV genre. However, one thing that may have been easier for non-fandom audiences to palate was the characterisation. Your average "serious" Sherlockian has probably rewatched the first two seasons multiple times and spent hundreds of hours writing meta posts on Tumblr, discussing the show, and reading fanfic. They have analysed John and Sherlock's personalities until they know them inside out. So to anyone with this level of familiarity with the characters, this episode is likely to have been pretty fucking baffling.
I haven't actually rewatched the last season of Sherlock since it aired on TV, but there were still a bunch of things in this episode that I quickly realised were utterly out of character. The most glaring example was the Maid of Honour. When she was first introduced, I was like, "Man, wouldn't it be awesome if they just spent the rest of the episode with Sherlock acting as her matchmaking service?" but realistically, I assumed that he'd end up offending her and/or deducing that she was a criminal or something. But no. This was a crackfic. A crackfic in which Sherlock did indeed act as a matchmaking service for a woman he'd never met before, despite his utter distaste for romance, people, and quite possibly women in general. Why was he so friendly towards her when he couldn't even force himself to treat Watson with simple human compassion during the bomb scene in last week's episode? Is this meant to be evidence of a character evolution that took place over the intervening months between episodes one and two? Or, more likely, was it just another throwaway joke to add to a comedy episode that was already swimming in "random" humorous asides?
The middle episode of a season of Sherlock has traditionally been the zany/ridiculous one, but I think The Sign of Three indicates that the writers now have the power to do basically whatever they want. The show's ratings are incredible, and it's the reviews of the first and third episodes that really matter. God only knows what they'll do with season four. I'm hoping for a more coherent story arc, though. When it was announced that Lars Mikkelsen had been hired to play Charles Augustus Magnussen, I was psyched because he's a great actor and Charles Augustus Milverton is one of the most interesting villains in the original Holmes stories. The TV crime genre is already littered with terrorists and mass murderers, but a talented blackmailer could be a far more interesting and insidious threat. I can only hope he survives tomorrow's episode so we can get to see a more fleshed-out Milverton/Magnusson storyline in season four, rather than just bringing him in for one episode.

Miscellaneous
  • Re: my earlier points about Steve Thompson being the wildcard writer in this show -- I am aware that this episode was credited to all three writers, but Thompson was announced as the original writer. I think Gatiss and Moffat stepped in to rewrite the episode, for whatever reason. Goodness knows what it was like before. More disjointed, or less?? Either way, Gatiss and Moffat are probably collaborating to a certain extent on their own credited episodes, anyway. So Gattiss's first ep would've had some input from Moffat, and vice versa for Moffat's final ep tomorrow night.
  • John and Sherlock's drunk scenes: HILARIOUS. Probably my favourite part of the episode. 
  • The entire mini-story about the murdered (or attempted-murdered) soldier was utter nonsense, wasn't it?
  • Not wild about seeing Naked Irene Adler again. Unnecessary, in more ways than one.
  • I WAS happy to see Mycroft hanging around Sherlock's ~mind palace~, though. Mycroft has had a very interesting role this season, possibly the best interpretation of Mycroft I've seen in any adaptation. (Possibly because Gatiss is writing dialogue and character development for himself, LOL.)
  • I already wrote about this in the article I linked at the beginning of this post, but this episode was mindblowingly fanfiction-y. Months of John/Sherlock relationship stuff compressed into half an hour of clip show storylines, plus crackfic garbage like Sherlock becoming obsessed with wedding planning. Which is awesome if you like that sort of thing, and if you don't, well... sorry, bro. Maybe there'll be some crime next week, or something.
  • Several of my friends are convinced that Mary is EVIL EVIL EVIL. I'm more inclined to suspect that she's doomed to die, although that's not a solid prediction. It's more based on a combination of my distrust for Steven Moffat, and the fact that she dies in the Holmes stories (possibly in childbirth). The main argument against this is that John's already taken enough punishment, and killing off his wife would just be OTT. My favourite future-Mary theory so far came from my friend Grace, who thinks that Mary will survive and have her baby, because having to take care of a child is the least objectionable way of effectively getting rid of her so John and Sherlock can continue with their adventures in future seasons, while Mary continues to be awesome in a more background role.
Other Sherlock posts

8 comments:

  1. OK, I loved the ep -- let's get that out there first because it will allow me to be critical in an affectionate way -- but found the incomprehensibleness of the crime was exacerbated by the odd editing. Possibly there's a piece of footage out there that was accidentally left out while everyone was yukking it up? Maybe? I just accepted that this ep was supposed to be "John and Sherlock: The Bachelor Party" and I think the actual crime (fortunately Dean Thomas made it through his attempted murder -- "Heavens, have I been stabbed in the belly? I thought it was indigestion") was there just to check the crime drama box. My two favorite moments were Sherlock's Cheshire Cat smile at Mary' ex and Molly being the one to flag the Sherlock best man speech as a potential disaster on par with an errant comet hitting the earth. LOVED Mycroft on his treadmill as well.

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  2. I really enjoyed the ep, because I live and breathe fandom, but there were two things I just could not get over:

    1. When John and Mary go off to have their little conversation as Sherlock folds serviettes...really? Sherlock Holmes did not notice that Mary was answering a phone that did not ring? REALLY?

    2. The invisible knife... when the puzzle showed up I immediately yelled "ice knife"!! which was not the answer, of course, but is AN answer, and an obvious one, and one I expected Sherlock to at least consider.

    I can go along with everything else, except Sherlock losing his Sherlock-ness, i.e. his observation and deduction skills.

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  3. Just a comment on the guard's stabbing - when Sherlock and John were sitting on the bench looking at the guard, one of them mentioned something along the lines of "it must be hard not to scratch when on duty", which was supposed to make the crime more plausible when it was revealed. Those guards are trained to be motionless and ignore anything that happens to them so any discomfort he felt, he would have forced out of his mind, and neither he nor any tourists could see any blood anyways since it was in his back. This leaves hours for the stab wound to take its toll (and he looks very hurt/injured when he is taking off his uniform) and then it seems fairly believable that he would lose blood quickly after removing the tourniquet (and he was alone in the showers so if he was dying he might have called out too quietly for anyone to hear). The injury might have caused internal bleeding as well, increasing the risk of death.



    The officer was stabbed during a photo I think, so I assumed that the time until discovery was a lot shorter. His face registers confusion/pain as seen in the flashback, but as a soldier he probably ignored it or chalked it up to an old injury or something. And the fact that John went in to save him - no ambulance was rushed to the scene - means the wound can be taken care of by a single doctor and isn't that serious if it is supervised by a doctor.
    Just my two cents. But if this much thought is required, it definitely stretches the bounds of plausibility haha :/

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  4. I have no idea where to even begin with this episode, but in short, I'm not a fan of it. The crime was ridiculous, I find the kind of semi-non-linear storytelling they used especially annoying and difficult to enjoy and I felt like there were a lot moments that didn't make sense for the characters.
    Probably Mary's character is actually the only thing I 100% like about season 3 so far.

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  5. On the stabbing thing. I think part of it is that these guys have a higher tolerance for pain. The other part is that if those belts are on tightly enough to stem the blood flow, then they might be on tightly enough to cause a bit of numbness in that area, so the pain might have been off and on (from movement) as well as pretty mild at the start. It could have been mistaken for weird back pain or something.


    And with pin pricks (or stabbings in this case), I don't think the pain is nearly as bad when there is heavy pressure on it. There might have been some or a lot of blood loss into the body (into the stomach or abdomen), enough to make you a bit woozy or tired like from a blood donation, but as soldiers they probably didn't think too deeply into the fatigue. (Cause who expects to be stabbed in the middle of a crowd like that?) Then, when the belt was removed, the pain was there in full force and the blood, a lot built up inside at this point, started rushing out. So the death ended up being fairly quick.


    At least, that's my interpretation.

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  6. About the stabbing: it's actually not so incredible, iirc, empress Elizabeth of Austria (aka Sissi) was killed in a similar fashion. Some maniac stabbed her with a sharped needle while pretending to stumble and knocking her down. The resulting wound was so small that she herself didn't notice it at first and got up and only collapsed a while later, allegedly still not aware that someone had stabbed her. so yeah, fatal tabbing that won't get noticed is actually not completely ludicrous, if the blade is sharp and pointy enough.

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  7. "This was a crackfic. A crackfic in which Sherlock did indeed act as a
    matchmaking service for a woman he'd never met before, despite his utter
    distaste for romance, people, and quite possibly women in general. Why
    was he so friendly towards her when he couldn't even force himself to
    treat Watson with simple human compassion during the bomb scene in last
    week's episode?" <-- THIS
    It's funny, I didn't actually object to this whole Maid of Honor (she didn't even have a name, did she? I try to not get too "MOFFAT IS SEXIST"-ranty every other second when talking about this show, but come on!) storyline while watching the episode, I think because I was waiting for the inevitable incredibly-awkward moment where Sherlock makes someone uncomfortable by being casually horrible and misogynistic, and I was so relieved to be spared that, especially after the horrible secondhand-embarrassment of the speech, that I just sort of giggled and went along with it. This is sort of how I felt about a lot of the episode, I think? "Oh, this will be awkward and upsetting and terrible. No, just ridiculous and goofy and straight out of a fanfic? Well...ok then!"
    About Mary: I'm not sure what to think, exactly. Her treatment this episode, even more than last time, is definitely super fanservice-y, in that she almost reads like a Holmes/Watson shipper at points, she's a total stock Moffat woman character in a lot of ways (kind of a mash-up of River Song and Amy -- especially with all the "aw, my boys" sort of stuff), but it doesn't bother me a ton. At least she was better than Irene, right? Although, how could you be worse?
    Clearly I'm still very confused w/r/t how I feel about this episode in general.

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