Giving a best-man toast at a wedding is no easy task, but it’s especially hard when you’re a misanthropic detective with an “international reputation” — and one of the happy couple’s honored guests is being targeted by a murderer.
That was exactly the dilemma faced by our titular hero in “The Sign of Three,” the mind-bending (and decidedly bittersweet) second episode of Sherlock‘s fantastic (albeit painfully fleeting) third season.
Also tricky? Recapping a labyrinthine episode with multiple overlapping cases, timelines in constant flux, characters harboring enigmatic agendas and murderers who can walk through walls and make their weapons of choice magically disappear. That said, I’ll do my best to pithily break down the action:
PRE-WEDDING JITTERS | We kick off with an amusing intro in which beleagured DI Lestrade misses out on being the one to arrest an elusive bank-robbing gang because he’s responding to an emergency text from Sherlock — who, it turns out, just needs help with his best-man toast. Soon after, though, we move to Watson and Mary joyously exiting the church as husband and wife, Holmes extending his detective services to help the maid of honor (a delightful Yasmine Akram) select the right hookup partner, and one of Watson’s oldest, most reclusive friends, Major James Sholto (whose military career included a tragic case in which an entire group of training officers was killed), arriving at the last minute. Of course, multiple flashbacks then begin to fill in the anxieties leading up to the big day, especially Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson each filling Sherlock’s head with the idea that Watson will somehow abandon him post-nuptials. (Methinks those tales shook him a little, despite his brave front.)
WATSON POPS THE QUESTION | Sherlock’s toast kicks off with a flashback to the hilariously stilted moment in which Watson asked him to serve as Best Man — a moment that left the great detective’s brain full of thoughts and ideas, but the rest of his body in a state of stunned silence. After this recollection, however, the speech rounds a bend on two wheels, the resulting screeches causing fits of panic among the guests. “A wedding is, in my considered opinion, nothing short of a celebration of all that is false and specious and irrational and sentimental in this ailing and morally compromised world,” Sherlock shares, somehow slipping in that the position of vicar was merely invented as “a career opportunity for the family idiot.” Mercifully, the Best Man zags back to the “funny stories” portion of his chat, and that’s where our central mystery begins to unfold, with the telling of the tale of “The Bloody Guardsman.”
WHY WE LOVE MARY (REASON NO. 7,214) | Whether for Sherlock’s sake, Watson’s sake, or out of sheer recognition that one shouldn’t lose one’s identity in a relationship, Mary insists Watson find a case for himself and Sherlock to pursue in the week leading up to the wedding. (No, Sherlock making serviettes in the shape of the Sydney Opera House cannot be deemed as a good use of his time!) And so, we move on to…
THE BLOODY GUARDSMAN | Holmes regales the wedding guests with the case of a private in Her Majesty’s household guard — aka one of those fellas in the tall, fuzzy, black hats who stand stock still while tourists snap their photos — who writes to he and Watson fearing he’s being stalked. By the time our duo arrives to chat with him, he’s been discovered having bled out in a shower. As Sherlock demands that the officer in charge let him scour the crime scene, Watson discovers the dude is (whoa!) still alive. Still, the question remains: How did a murderer enter the Private’s locked shower stall? And how did the weapon (and the perpetrator) magically vanish from the scene? No, Molly’s beau’s theory about a “meat dagger” doesn’t really hold up even under the most cursory examination, but then again, Sherlock himself admits to the audience that even his expert mind never cracked the case. (Talk about burying the lead!)
THE TIME WHERE THE SHERLOCK THEME GOT A DUBSTEP REMIX (SERIOUSLY, IS THAT DOWNLOADABLE SOMEWHERE?!) | Sherlock hilariously turns to Molly for help in planning how to get Watson tipsy (but not wrecked) on a pub crawl through every street where they’d found corpses (complete with stopwatch timing and careful measurements of every drink and potty break). (Also, bully for Molly for her “and we’re having quite a lot of sex!” response to Sherlock’s queries about her finacé.) After a mere two hours (and some sneaky shots added to the beer by Watson), our BFFs are back at 221B, playing “celebrity,” and then taking on a client who’s convinced the man she dated — who never called her back even to break things off — was a ghost (seeing how, she later discovered when visiting his apartment, he’d died before their date). Holmes compromises the intergity of, well, something by vomiting on the dead man’s carpet — and Lestrade winds up having to spring him and Watson from a night spent in the pokey.
ABOUT THAT GHOST | Sherlock follows up on the “disappearing date” case by visiting a chat room of women who are convined they, too, have dated a ghost. (How cool was that construct of our detective in an ampitheater mimicking the interplay of his online conversations?) Sherlock finds a quintet of women with a common thread and determines they’ve all been duped into one-time-only dates with “the Mayfly Man,” who uses the address of recently deceased bachelors as his “home.” But WHY, he wonders. “You’re missing the obvious, mate,” explains Watson. “Because he’s a man.” And probably a married one, at that. (Let’s just say this tale creates some awkward toast moments about the “suffocating chains of domesticity.” Yeesh.)
A SHOCKING REALIZATION | As Sherlock is relaying the story to the wedding guests, he remembers that their original client used Watson’s full name: John Hamish Watson. And he remembers that Watson never tells anybody his hated middle name — except for the 100 or so folks who got his wedding invite. All those duped women, they worked for one man. And one of those women, she somehow laid eyes on Watson’s wedding invite. A coincidence? Probably no such thing. And as Sherlock ponders the possibilities, there’s the voice of Mycroft in his head, throwing around terms like “criminal intent” and “extraordinary lengths.”
HOW IT WRAPS UP | “Who would you murder at a wedding?” Sherlock asks aloud. “And who could you only kill here?” As he begins to ponder those questions in relation to the Mayfly Man, he also thinks back on his Watson Wedding checklist. “Plan.” “Rehearsal.” And he realizes that the case of the Bloody Guardsman was a rehearsal for the murder that’s about to go down. The victim has got to be the infamous Major Sholto, who lives in a remote, undisclosed location and wouldn’t normally be seen in public. And finally, as the Major locks himself in his room with a gun, ready to take on his murderer (whoever it is), Sherlock’s brain unlocks the case. Both the Major and the Bloody Guardsman wore military uniforms with tight belts worn high on the waist. The killer practiced on the guardsman by stabbing him through the back of the belt — a wound that only became painful and potentially fatal after he removed his uniform, released the pressure on the wound, and the blood began to flow. And while the Major then insists it’s his time to die, that he just wants to take off that belt and exit stage death, Holmes appeals to his fellow social outlier: “We would never do that to John Watson,” especially not on his wedding day. All that’s left is finding out whodunnit, and Sherlock sends Lestrade to retrieve the just-left wedding photographer for a little questioning. Turns out the dude is a brother of one of the recruits killed under the Major’s watch. And he would’ve gotten away with it, if it weren’t for
those meddling kids our titular crime-solver
AND BABY MAKES THREE? | The case closed, and the Major off for medical attention, the reception resumes with a bride-and-groom dance and a public vow from Sherlock (who doesn’t do vows, and won’t again after this one) to always be there for “all three” — er, two — of ‘em. Stepping away from the mic, he apologizes to Watson and Mary for his slip-up, but then explains that Mary’s sudden increase in appetite, change in taste perception (she hated the wine she’d ordered and loved just months prior) and recent morning sickness meant she had a bun in the oven. (Bonus points for this all occurring as “Oh What a Night” played in the background.) It’ll all be fine, Sherlock tells them, considering all the practice they’ve had with a baby like himself. But then, alluding to Mrs. Hudson’s cautionary tale about how her own now-estranged BFF left her wedding early, Sherlock dons his signature coat, leaves the sheet music for his ceremonial violin solo in an envelope and heads into the night.
Does he believe marriage — or more importantly, a baby — will change the nature of his crime-solving partnership? Is he just not that enthralled with the idea of watching drunk relatives do the “Electric Slide”? Whatever the case, let’s hope we solve his state of mind in next week’s (gasp!) season finale.
EPISODE’S BEST QUOTES
“They were right about you: You’re a bloody psychopath!”
“High-functioning sociopath. With your number.”
Holmes, correcting one of Mary’s ex-boyfriends after revealing to the bloke that he’s done a full background check and determined he’s still in love with the bride
“John says he’s the most unsociable man he’s ever met.”
“He is? He’s the most unsociable?”
Sherock, expressing outrage as Mary describes Watson’s pal Major Sholto
“Previous commander suggests I have a current one.”
Watson deftly picking up a telling adjective in Sherlock’s discussion of the groom’s friend and former commanding officer
“The best and bravest man I know, and on top of that, he actually knows how to do stuff — except wedding planning and serviettes. He’s rubbish that that.”
Sherlock, in a sentimental mid-toast moment
“I think you’re a popular choice at the moment, dear.”
Mrs. Hudson, responding to Sherlock’s query — in the midst of his verrrrry long toast — about who one might want to murder at a wedding
“I wish you weren’t…whatever it is you are.”
The Maid of Honor, expressing her delight in Sherlock’s waltz instructions (and other charms) as well as her reservations about the many reasons he’d never go for it
“Brilliant, ruthless and almost certainly a monomaniac — though in fairness, his photographs are actually quite good.”
Sherlock, summing up the murderous photog’s work
What did you think of this week’s Sherlock? Was your mind blown by the way the central cases intersected? If Sherlock were your best man, how would you rate his toast? Sound off in the comments!