Performer of the Week: Benedict Cumberbatch

sherlock-benedict-cumberbatch-sign-of-threeA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Benedict Cumberbatch

THE SHOW | Sherlock

THE EPISODE | “The Sign of Three”

THE AIRDATE | Jan. 26, 2014

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THE PERFORMANCE | Did last Sunday’s Sherlock leave your head spinning (like that top at the end of Inception)? You’re not alone.

The mind-bending, frequently guffaw-inducing “The Sign of Three” was anchored by Benedict Cumberbatch’s dazzling turn as the titular detective, whose best-man toast at the wedding of BFF John Watson served as the foundation for a labyrinthine yarn of multiple timelines, multiple mysteries and a brilliantly beer-soaked bachelor party that winkingly played with the show’s crime-solving quirks.

Three scenes in particular stood out: First, Holmes’ epic-length toast — which ran so long (and in some places, so inappropriately) that it had Watson pleading aloud if there was “any chance of an end date.” Cumberbatch brought to life his “highly functioning sociopath’s” discomfort at participating in the kind of very public, very traditional ceremony he’d spent his life avoiding, while also occasionally releasing the naughty disdain and unabashed vitriol percolating just below the surface. Still, while Sherlock let fly pot-shots at the vicar (“a career option for the family idiot”) and disdain for the institution of marriage (as “false and specious and irrational”), Cumberbatch’s deft comic touches and glimmers of heart made it totally believable when he eventually won over the crowd. Calling Watson “the best and bravest man I know” and claiming himself to be “a ridiculous man, redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship,” Sherlock’s usually hidden humanity — and devotion to his partner in crime-solving — flashed briefly but brightly, bringing tears to the eyes of the wedding guests (and, presumably, most of the viewing audience).

Cumberbatch subsequently transitioned — in a flash of detective genius — to the realization that a wedding guest was about to be murdered, and then took us for a detour into Sherlock’s trippy mind palace. That he placed the overlapping clues into context and solved the case (with plenty of time to spare for drinks and dancing) only made the scene that much more impressive.

Cumberbatch also delighted in the most hilarious sequence in the series’ history: Sherlock, taking Watson out for a bachelor’s night planned with painstaking precision, wound up getting plastered after Watson added surreptitious shots to the mix. This led not only to Cumberbatch unleashing Sherlock’s impish side (in a game of “Celebrity,” of all things), but also to an inebriated examination of a possible crime scene in which the great detective’s typical flashes and assessments were dumbed-down to blurred words like “egg? chair? sitty thing?” and “Wood? Pipe/tube/wotsit? Thingamabob?” (Pop quiz: How many times did you rewind your DVR to fully enjoy all the goofiness?)

And finally, there was Sherlock’s quiet, bittersweet exit from the reception — which followed his deduction that beaming bride Mary was, in fact, pregnant. All episode long, Sherlock had brushed off other characters’ prognostications that Watson’s marriage would ultimately alter the fabric of his most precious relationship. But as the happy couple took to the dance floor sans Sherlock — “We can’t all three dance; there are limits!” Watson noted — our retiring detective slipped away, physically and emotionally, without so much as a glance backwards. To quote the tune that pulsated through the final scene, “Oh What a Night.” And oh what a performance.

How Your Mother Met MeHONORABLE MENTION | It’s a hard task to live up to eight seasons of hype, but Cristin Milioti has done just that as How I Met Your Mother‘s future Mrs. Ted Mosby — and never more so than in this week’s Mother-centric 200th episode. In just a short half-hour, Milioti turned her briefly glimpsed character into a fully realized woman with her own set of heartaches and quirks. She made us laugh (breakfast showtunes!), she made us swoon (that singing voice!) and she made us cry (if her “talk” with dead boyfriend Max didn’t break your heart, you might want to check if you have one). As the Broadway vet crooned a somber, touching rendition of “La Vie En Rose” near Ted’s porch, you could feel the bachelor falling in love with the charm and sensitivity of the unseen woman next door — and we fell right along with him.

parksHONORABLE MENTION | Few actors are as well versed in the art of juggling comedy and drama as Amy Poehler. But in this week’s emotional Parks and Recreation, which revolved around the departure of Leslie’s BFF Ann (Rashida Jones) —and, to a lesser degree, Chris (Rob Lowe) — the recent Golden Globe winner simply outdid herself. Her comedic bits were on point per usual, but it was the dramatic moments — particularly her remarkably subtle and satisfying roadside goodbye to Ann — that stood out the most. She can do this and host the Golden Globes with legendary panache? Give her all the Emmys!

Which performances rocked your world this week? Sound off below!