Monday, January 6, 2014

Sherlock: "The Sign of Three"

Getting into the spirit of Victorian racial attitudes.
Was I expecting an adaptation of "The Sign of the Four" from the phenomenally witty and clever title of this episode? Not really. The basic gist of this episode is flashbacks, with crimes being served up in dribs and drabs. We begin with Lestrade acting like a tit as he gets more and more frustrated in the company of Donovan who, unlike Anderson, hasn't grown a beard and joined tumblr. There are some dastardly criminals, the Waters Family, on the loose. Their crime? Re enacting the opening scene of The Dark Knight apparently, robbing banks in clown masks. They eventually get caught in the act, a computer warning telling the police "Hacking Detected", some of the most hilariously pathetic Hollywood-style computing misrepresentation I've seen in a while. I'm surprised there wasn't a big red progress bar that beeped loudly when it was full. There's an emergency at Baker Street, however, so Lestrade rushes off to discover that it's just Holmes struggling to write his best man speech for Watson's wedding. Of course, we know it's going to be a joke, it's more predictable than the sun coming up in the morning, but for god's sake. Is this a comedy? How much humour does this show really need?
You either die a hero, or live long enough
to see yourself performing a Moffat/Gatiss(/Thompson) script.
Anyway, in a rather repetitious fashion, this episode, much like the one before, is primarily a character study. That's fine, but this show does three episodes every couple of years, roughly speaking. Does there really need to be another episode that's primarily character focused? The next one had better be pretty damn intriguing. Of course the crimes Holmes recollects in this episode during his speech all tie together but basically it's just a bit of the old stabby-stabby, foreseen from the outset when we get a long lingering shot of a horribly scarred military officer with burns all over one side of his face. Am I watching The Dark Knight? Anyway because it's Sherlock we can expect that he's probably the target, what with, as I mentioned last week, the general sense of nostalgia for Britain's glory days. If this was Castle he'd almost definitely be a former special forces mercenary, 'cause they love to show soldiers becoming criminals. And of course I'm not going to act like this episode is all "the army is brilliant" because we can see that clearly Major Sholto's scars are more than skin deep. Sholto's name is of course a reference to "The Sign of the Four" but these connections are, by contrast to this character's trauma, relatively shallow.
"Off the adult furniture, Martin."
So how does this episode go on the character front? It's all right, I suppose. The thing is, we already know this version of Holmes is really weird and that Watson is his friend in spite of it all. We see how he's been a positive, humanising influence on Holmes, which is something that comes out in the original stories. So that's all right, even if I think it's a tad laboured. In fact Holmes has changed so much he's actually started to act a bit like the Eleventh Doctor in the days of his dotage, running up and down, yelling, waving his arms around and slapping himself. We get a nice pointless cameo from Irene Adler - she must have been either really bored or in the need of some quick dosh - to remind us of that episode which should have been handling all this last series when the Holmes/Watson friendship fell, at times, by the wayside. And of course we get to see what Holmes would act like when he's drunk, which is basically just like any comedy drunk person in a TV show (and to a certain extent in reality): he stumbles around, falls asleep and throws up. At times funny, mostly a bit cliché, could have been better.
"I've just graduated from Harvard College Yale.
I aced every semester and I got an A."
We're suddenly all on board with Mary too, which is pretty startling given that we've known her all of one episode before this, but given that it's all fairly run of the mill Sherlock Holmes stuff I don't really care. I guess I felt slightly moved when Holmes was saying what a good chap he thought Watson was and all that? It just bores me to tears when character development becomes the focus. I'm generally in favour of plot-driven drama in cases like this because I think characterisation works better in the background. But Sherlock knows its audience, right? I mean, it knows that if anyone wants to see a slightly eccentric man in the modern day solving unusual crimes they can put on an old Jonathan Creek or something, so they focus on the character of the detective rather than the crimes he solves. But I feel like they've really wrung as much mileage as they can from poking and prodding Holmes' peculiarities and reassuring us that at the end of the day he's really a big softie like the rest of us by now, haven't they? I feel like there has to be a better compromise here, I mean, they've got ninety minutes to work with, serve us up a proper mystery.
Oh, was this written by Moffat? I wouldn't have guessed.
One letter short of a description of the episode.
The mystery in this episode turns out to be the connection between the murder of Dean from Harry Potter and the attempted murder of Major Sholto, each stabbed through the belt so that they'd die when they removed their uniforms. Interesting that they didn't notice the pain of getting stabbed. I'm not sure we're really offered quite enough explanation for why Dean or whatever he was called in this was so exposed to his killer that he thought he was being stalked by him. Why did the photographer need to hang around so much that he attracted suspicion? The revenge plot involving Sholto is pretty by the numbers as well. The tie in of course is with the photographer's role as a "ghost" dater who apparently found out information on Sholto by taking the identities of dead men and dating Sholto's staff. Makes sense, I suppose, but it was mostly worth it for Alice Lowe. It's ten years this year since Garth Marenghi's Darkplace first aired. Bloody hell. I dunno why, but I've always had a thing for Alice Lowe. I wish she was in more stuff. I dunno why I feel the need to mention it but what else is there to say? Oh, apparently Holmes' inner landscape sometimes is a kind of parliamentary room where Mark Gatiss dictates to him from a pulpit. Why does Mycroft need to be in this so much? He gets a scene in this for absolutely no reason, similar to related bits of padding with, for instance, Mrs Hudson. The second Mrs Hudson scene made me want to chew off my own leg with boredom. Are we supposed to assume that Holmes is always imagining Mycroft telling him what to do? I suppose Mycroft is supposed to represent his rationality but it still seems weird and kind of pointless.
"...are you done yet?"
There's a line Watson makes in this about "faking opinions" which is more or less reused from Coupling, Moffat seemingly resorting to cannibalising his own stuff. Is Sherlock doomed to always have boring middle episodes full of extraneous cushioning? Also, was the final scene meant to evoke the Third Doctor's departure from Jo at the end of "The Green Death"? Who knows. This episode feels a bit like a mash of a bunch of different things served up to Benedict Cumberbatch to make the most of when he's not playing the awkward "high functioning sociopath" bits that have been trotted out since the show began. I didn't mind his scenes with Mary's bridesmaid, although they veered into the blatantly contradictory when he was borderline flirty with her. Does he or does he not get people? Him getting along with the little kid was also kind of amusing, although the bit where his mum said Holmes had "promised him pictures as a treat" - I know the implication was gruesome crime scene images but like... well, never mind. "The Sign of Three" then. Oh, I suppose the little fellow with the blowpipe was a reference to the original novel. In any event, I had to take a break from this two thirds of the way through because I was so bored. Then again Alice Lowe was in it, so maybe it's the best episode of Sherlock ever? We need to put the heavy character focus to rest now and have a really, really good, interesting, perplexing crime. It's what Holmes would want, after all.

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