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.
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?
- 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.