‘Sherlock’ shows ‘Signs’ of Desperation

After the masterful return of “Sherlock” with the episode “The Empty Hearse,” we see that like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the team behind “Sherlock” can’t quite handle romance. This episode, called “The Sign of Three,” is almost embarrassing to watch. “Sherlock” airs tonight at 9:58 on PBS Masterpiece Theatre. Check local listings. 

When I’m talking about romance, I’m not talking about bromance. Of course, there was once a wedding quite early in the Sherlock Holmes series. Sherlock wasn’t the groom, but a witness and the woman was Irene Adler. She married a man named Godfrey Norton who must have been quite extraordinary, perhaps even more so than Holmes, but people tend to forget Norton when re-writing Sherlock Holmes because they can’t take Holmes being defeated by a woman. This series has not been different in that respect and instead of Adler becoming respectable and driven by love, she was not only saved by Sherlock, but also a dominatrix or high-class prostitute. Remember Adler wasn’t exactly a courtesan–she was ambiguously characterized as an adventuress. She did attract the attention of a king-in-waiting and did love him enough to want to exact revenge after being dumped due to her lowly birth.

Adler appeared in “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

This particular episode, “The Sign of Three” is based on “The Sign of Four.” In this novel, Holmes’ client is Mary Morstan. Her father, Captain Arthur Morstan, disappeared in 1878–a decade earlier, and since 1882, she’s been receiving extraordinary pearls via the post. This story takes place in 1888, before the technology made pearls more common. Pearls were once rare and considered precious gemstones, but with the granting of the patent on culturing pearls in 1916 and the development of an industry, cultured pearls have become common place.

So for Morstan to receive pearls in the mail is quite an impressive surprise. The story is about a treasure stolen through treachery. The Sign of Four is a clue left on a map of a fortress with the names of four people. In the end, Holmes discovers the tale of betrayal and revenge, but Morstan’s fortune is lost (sent into the water over the side of a boat) and yet, Holmes loses his companion, Watson, to marriage. Watson has proposed and Morstan has accepted.

In this episode, “The Sign of Three” John (Martin Freeman) and Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington)  are getting married. and Sherlock  (Benedict Cumberbatch) has writer’s block. He must write and deliver the best man’s speech. Sherlock is in such despair that he interrupts Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) during a large bust–texting him for help.

Sherlock’s distress results in him contacting his brother, Mycroft (Mark Batiss) and we will later see that he defers to Mycroft in his mind when he’s trying to resolve the case of the Mayfly Man. In this case, one he takes on while severely drunk. He finds that here is a man to dates women and he takes them to his apartment and then disappears. The apartments, they soon discover, belong to dead men and the men all these disparate women have dated where those of the dead occupants. Now, yu know that one can’t date a ghost, not even if it is Patrick Swayze and you’re Demi Moore.

Back at the wedding preparations, we learn that John is quite sure that a certain Major James Sholto (Alistair Petrie) will show up. He’s lived in seclusion and receives more death threats than Sherlock. He was the only survivor of a unit of new soldiers in Afghanistan. He does show up, but we know, before Sherlock that he is the target of a murder attempt.

As a view, you know that somehow this all ties in with the Mayfly Man and the various women who were dated by him. No spoilers her, but I hate arriving at a conclusion too longer before Sherlock. I also found the rambling best man speech given by Sherlock silly.

In this episode, Sherlock is shown as vulnerable (having to confess his feelings about his best friend now that he finally has one), totally dependent upon Mycroft although just in the last adventure he was able to be in Afghanistan where he was tortured, and spend a year of solving various mysteries. Mycroft has become the superior man and adventurer who saves Sherlock, just as Sherlock saved Adler. Sherlock even asks Lestrade to save him from writer’s block when you’d think Sherlock might have consulted with a higher authority on etiquette and used technology. He could have hacked into the email of some of the authorities on etiquette or waylaid the Royal Family’s protocol experts and even constructed a program that would manufacture a winning speech.

The title of the episode does give some reference to Watson’s engagement and marriage, but it is also a bit of a red herring. The solution comes at the end although you’ll be a bit disappointed that Watson is a bit thick and should probably turn in his medical license.

The real pleasure of this episode is the site of the wedding reception scenes–the orangery at Goldney Hall in Bristol, though I’m not sure that a bride would like to be upstaged by a bright yellow room. The bride didn’t wear white; she wore off white. And the rule about upstaging a bride is fairly well thrown out of the window. At least the bride lives.

“The Sign of Three” episode of “Sherlock” airs tonight (26 January 2014) at 9:58 on PBS Masterpiece Theatre. Check local listings. After the episode airs, it will be available VoD on the PBS website.

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