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Recap / Sherlock S 03 E 02 The Sign Of Three

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"The point I'm trying to make is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and all-round obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous, [He looks at the priest], unaware of the beautiful [He looks at the maid of honour] and uncomprehending in the face of the happy [He looks at Watson and Mary]. So if I didn't understand I was being asked to be best man, it is because I never expected to be anybody's best friend. And certainly not the best friend of the bravest and kindest and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing."
Sherlock Holmes
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Sherlock faces his biggest challenge of all — delivering a best man's speech on John's wedding day.

While absolutely terrified out of his mind, Sherlock has started to prepare for John and Mary's wedding day, honing his napkin-folding skills, composing a unique violin solo and screening all of the wedding guests.

Once at the wedding, as part of the speech, Sherlock recalls two adventures on which he and John had gone, one named "The Bloody Guardsman" about a guardsman who had been stalked and found stabbed in a shower, without an attacker or a weapon in sight.

The other is about Sherlock and John going on a pub crawl as John's Stag Party, and while still embarrassingly drunk taking on a new client and trying to find out if the man a woman has been dating had existed at all, seeing as he had disappeared. When coming to from his hangover, Sherlock concludes by comparing similar women in similar situations that they were dealing with a man who takes over the identities of recently deceased in order to get to know women.

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Though, once he's done retelling the last tale, Holmes realises the two cases were connected, because their client Tessa knew John's Embarrassing Middle Name, something that only those closest to him knew before he was grudgingly persuaded to put it on the wedding invitations.

Rapidly concluding that the Mayfly Man is after one of the guests, Sherlock Holmes has to figure out not only who he's after, but how the Bloody Guardsman got attacked in order to save John's wedding.


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Tropes present in this work include:

  • Action Prologue: The beginning of the episode follows Lestrade and Donovan trying (and repeatedly failing) to stop a group of bank-robbers. Lestrade is extremely close to being the one to slap the cuffs on at last... then Sherlock summons him.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Major Sholto was a villainous character in The Sign of Four. In this episode, he's John's former commander and friend from the army, though blamed by many for the deaths of his last squad.
  • Beneath Notice: The wedding photographer.
  • Binge Montage: Sherlock's and John's Stag Party.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The arguably funniest episode we've seen thus far of Sherlock ends with him leaving the wedding, alone, realizing that things really will never be the same between him and John.
  • Book-Ends: Following the Cold Open, the episode begins with Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson discussing the changes marriage brings to a person, how regrettable it is to leave a wedding early, and a couple of other things which come back at the end.
  • British Royal Guards: Played completely straight, as the Bloody Guardsman is portrayed as standing outside Buckingham Palace, seemingly not allowed to move as tourists take photos next to him or try to get him to react.
  • Brought Down to Normal: While inebriated, Sherlock's normally amazing Sherlock Scan completely disappears and he observes the world like average people do without any specific details.
  • Brutal Honesty: After the massive disaster of the stag night, John tries to say it was a nice evening out, but is forced to agree with Sherlock's immediate declaration that it was awful.
  • Buffy Speak: Sherlock's Sherlock Scan, once under the influence of several yards of lager, turns things like chairs into "Sitty thing?".
  • Busman's Holiday: A good portion of the episode is just Sherlock casually recounting his experiences with John as part of his toast speech. Suddenly he realizes that his stories are actually connected and are indicative of something sinister at the wedding. Cue Sherlock having to foil a murder at his best friend's wedding.
  • But I Digress: Sherlock intentionally veers off into unrelated (and sometimes inappropriate) tangents during his best man speech so that he can buy time for himself to figure everything out.
  • Call-Back: John, standing there, trying to talk his deeply unsociable friend who everyone wants dead out of essentially killing himself. Sound familiar? It's Sherlock that manages to talk Major Sholto down, because he knows first-hand what that sort of grief would do to John.
  • The Cameo: Lara Pulver briefly reprises her role as Irene Adler, appearing in Sherlock's mind. Yes, she's naked again.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: For John's stag night, Sherlock had calculated the exact amount of alcohol he and John should consume at each pub to have the optimal amount of enjoyment without becoming too inebriated. To the point where Sherlock brings along two marked graduated cylinders for the bartenders to fill. Unfortunately for Sherlock's plans, John sneaks extra shots and has the graduated cylinders spiked with extra hard liquor when Sherlock's not looking. They end up back at Baker Street completely shitfaced after only two hours. After they accept the case to investigate the ghost date, Sherlock and John get arrested for investigating while drunk. Lestrade gets them out of the hold and makes fun of their weak drinking constitutions.
  • Casual Kink: "Vicki" had sex with the Mayfly after meeting him online and only knowing him by his username. He was wearing a mask. She calls Sherlock "sexy" and gives him lascivious looks with a saucy smile on her face through the entire Mind Palace sequence. She's a maid, albeit not French or in a sexy uniform. Her ideal date is "Dungeon". And she has more criteria for the ideal man than any of the more "normal" women.
    • Janine is very impressed that Sherlock has handcuffs with him.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The stalker from the Bloody Guardsman comes back into play later on. As does Archie. It's his suggestion that the former could be the murderer among the guests, and he's right. Without this information, Sherlock likely wouldn't have been able to save Sholto.
  • Complexity Addiction: The Mayfly Man wants Major Sholto dead, and doesn't get his wish, leading him to quip this:
    Mayfly Man: My problem is I tried to be clever.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Vatican Cameos
    • Just after they've realised Major Sholto is the intended victim, and he's disappeared. John is surprised Sherlock doesn't remember his room number, but remembering would mean deleting something. Sherlock's mind is a hard drive.
    • Sherlock refers to himself as a high-functioning sociopath after being called a psychopath.
    • A drunk Sherlock says "I know ash!", referring to his analysis of 243 types of tobacco ash.
    • Sherlock references Irene Alder knowing John's middle name.
  • Contrived Coincidence: During his best man speech, Sherlock brings up two recent cases he and John haven't managed to solve. He has no idea about it yet, but those two cases just happen to be linked to each other, as well as to the wedding party at hand.
    Mind Palace Mycroft: What do we say about coincidences?
    Sherlock: The universe is rarely so lazy.
    • Perhaps also a case of Fridge Brilliance — Sherlock's mind is always working on the case even if he isn't consciously aware of it, and perhaps the fact that those two cases were linked registered subconsciously as he worked out how they related to the wedding.
  • Cringe Comedy: The beginning parts of Sherlock's best man toast are rife with this, as he casually insults various guests in a somewhat oblivious fashion. Subverted in that it was all intentional as a way to bring it back around to Self-Deprecation and demonstrate his weak social graces and how John has made his life more full than if he wasn't in it.
  • Death by Irony: Attempted at least: a man who clearly lived for his uniform and all it stood for was to be killed by it.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: While Sherlock deduces in his head and remembers Irene Adler, she appears before him in her "battle dress". He responds, "Get out of my head. I'm busy!".
  • Drama Queen: John calls Sherlock one to his face. Sherlock's look of open-mouthed indignation is priceless.
    John: You are not a puzzle solver, you never have been. You're a drama queen! Now there is a man in there about to die, "the game is on", SOLVE IT!
    Sherlock: (has a high-speed realisation, then kisses Mary's forehead) Though, in fairness, he's a drama queen too.
  • Easter Egg: In the teaser the newspaper deriding the police and their attempts to catch the Waters gang has another article about a bright ideas of the Mayor of London. Doubles as a Take That!.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Watson's is Hamish, and he doesn't like to tell anyone (Sherlock only finds it out by getting hold of a copy of his birth certificate after a prolonged guessing game). This becomes a plot point when a complete stranger happens to know it.
  • Eureka Moment: Holmes, when he's telling the story about the Mayfly Man (a man who lives a day at a time as another identity), suddenly realises both stories are connected to this wedding.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Major Sholto is prepared to do this when he realises he's the target for the murderer.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Tessa seems totally oblivious to the fact that Sherlock and John are too drunk to take on a case.
  • Fair-Play Whodunnit: Technically, this episode is one, as all the facts Sherlock uses to solve the two mysteries are presented to the viewer before The Reveal. However, the solutions are so far-fetched that it's quite unlikely anyone besides Sherlock could actually deduce them.
  • Framing Device: The best man's speech is one for two smaller adventures involving Sherlock and Watson.
  • Genius Ditz: For all Sherlock's genius, he is utterly useless at simple things like the duties of being best man at Watson's wedding. It's driven home when he has no idea what to do to stop a man from bleeding out and dying while Watson has to instruct him to keep pressure on the wound.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: When John and Sherlock wake up in jail, John makes a point of asking Lestrade to speak quietly. The scene is also shot to emphasize the harsh, white sunlight streaming into the cell.
  • Heroic BSoD: Sherlock, after John has told him that he is his best friend. Or so it seems at least though, because actually there is a lot going on in Sherlock's head, just that the shock makes him forget to verbalize any of this.
  • Holding the Floor: Sherlock has a rapid-fire series of realizations just as he's about to end his best man speech with a toast to the bride and groom: the Mayfly Man was trying to get information about the wedding, is at the wedding, and he's there to kill someone... but he doesn't yet know who. As long as he keeps talking, he make sure everyone stays in their seats. Trying to both buy time and deduce at lightning speed, his speech veers off onto bizarre and inappropriate tangents.
  • Hollywood Density: Averted in the open, where members of the Waters family struggle to carry three gold bricks at once.
  • Homage: The ending, with a lonely Sherlock leaving John's wedding, is a blatant homage to the Doctor Who story "The Green Death". Subsequently confirmed as such by Mark Gatiss on twitter.
  • Horns of Villainy: The imagery is invoked in the scene where Mary is giving both Sherlock and Watson a thumbs up for coercing both of them to take the other one out on a case to alleviate their mutual anxiety, Mary is standing directly below a pair of taxidermied horns on the wall. These horns appear to be growing out of her head, making her look devilish. This not only symbolizes her skillful manipulation of the two of them, but also preludes to future developments of her character.
  • I Never Told You My Name: Sherlock has a Eureka Moment when Tessa refers to John as "John Hamish Watson" and wishes him to have a nice wedding, something she shouldn't have known. Only a select group of people would have seen John's middle name on his wedding invitation, leading Sherlock to realize that the Mayfly Man would be at John's wedding.
  • In Name Only: Even by Sherlock's standards, this one has very little to do with the story its title references. There are a few nods to it (such as the dwarf with a blowgun), but the main plot shares only the fact that Sherlock has to come to terms with Watson and Mary's relationship (in the book, they met for the first time as she was the client), and that there's a character called Major Sholto, whose role in this episode is different than the book he was taken from.
    • Although in both the original story and this episode the crimes are committed by a man named Jonathan Small.
  • Insistent Terminology: Again, Sherlock has to correct someone calling him a psychopath that he is a "high-functioning sociopath".
  • Interface Screw: While drunk, Sherlock's Sherlock Scan is slurred, blurry and inaccurate.
  • Kid Has a Point: Archie pipes up, while Sherlock is trying to deduce who the potential murderer could be, that it could be the one who tried to kill the Guardsman. He's right, and it helps Sherlock solve the case.
  • Lady in Red: The maid who dated the Mayfly Man wears a red dress and a red coat. She's also apparently sexually adventurous and knew the Mayfly Man as "Lovemonkey".
  • Literal Metaphor: Sherlock mentions that he and John once had to deal with "The Elephant in the Room" in one of their previous cases. No, not an uncomfortable subject that they didn't want to talk about; an actual elephant in a room.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Nearly said word for word by Sherlock in regards to the Bloody Guardsman, who apparently got stabbed in a locked shower cubicle without anybody having been inside.
  • Ludicrous Precision: On the pub crawl Sherlock insists on buying beer in units of 443.7 milliliters instead of just buying it in pints (473.2 milliliters). The difference is well within the margin of error given how it's served; in fact it's less than the head on the beers.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Early on we see the Waters gang wearing clown masks for their bank heist.
  • Man Hug: John is so moved by Sherlock's best man speech that he offers him a man hug while Sherlock is spluttering in confusion that he made everyone cry.
    • Lampshaded just before the actual hug:
      John: If I try to hug him, please stop me.
      Mary: Certainly not!
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: A case involving a woman who thinks she dated a ghost turns out to be part of a plot to murder John's old commanding officer at the wedding.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The Sign of the Four — Sholto (at least the name), the bad guy, Jonathan Small, and the dwarf with the blowpipe.
    • In the opening scene, there's a reference to a Scotland Yard inspector named "Jones", who's apparently Lestrade's rival on the force. "Athelney Jones" was the name of the primary Scotland Yard detective who assisted Holmes in The Sign of the Four, filling the role that Lestrade had previously played in Doyle's novel A Study in Scarlet.
    • John being embarrassed by his middle name, and Sherlock finding it out after researching it obsessively. Doyle never actually decided what the "H" in Watson's middle name stood for; the fans came up with the name "Hamish" as an overly-complicated explanation when Mary called him "James" in one story, and Watson didn't correct her ("Hamish" is the Scottish variant of "James").
    • Sherlock is seen stuffing a bunch of cigarettes into a slipper, in reference to him keeping pipe tobacco in a Turkish slipper in Doyle's novels.
    • John watches from the window as a potential client apparently argues with herself in the street: "She's going to ring the doorbell. Oh, no, she's changed her mind. No, she's gonna do it. No, she's leaving, she's leaving — Oh, she's coming back." Sherlock's comment — "I've seen those symptoms before. Oscillation on the pavement always means there's a love affair" is drawn directly from A Case of Identity.
      "I have seen those symptoms before," said Holmes, throwing his cigarette into the fire. "Oscillation upon the pavement always means an affaire de coeur."
  • Nausea Fuel: In-Universe; a post-stag party, hung-over Watson isn't prepared to deal with Mrs. Hudson making him a full English breakfast.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: After months investigating some elusive bank robbers, Lestrade is about to make the big arrest. He suddenly receives an urgent text from Sherlock asking him for help. Lestrade leaves the scene and rushes to Baker Street with the cavalry, only to discover that Sherlock needed help... with his best man speech(!).
  • Nightmare Fetishist: The ring-bearer. Sherlock bribes the kid into behaving by showing him gory pictures of murders.
    • Sherlock's date, Janine, clearly has no problem with his usual weirdness. He flirts right back.
  • No Indoor Voice: After Lestrade comes to get Sherlock and John out of jail, he makes it a point to speak very loudly as they are suffering hangovers. Heavily suggested that this is to get back at Sherlock for the beginning of the episode.
    John: [whispering] Could you keep it down?
    Lestrade: NOT REALLY!!!
  • Noodle Incident: Sherlock's speech includs mentions to several cases he worked on, among them The Elephant in The Room... which was an actual elephant in a room... Later he regrets the case he chose to talk about and mentions "I should have told you about the Elephant in the Room". John's blog leaves this story a mystery, stating that they're not allowed to talk about the case because of the Official Secrets Act.
  • The Nose Knows: At the wedding Sherlock manages to identify that a passing gentleman is wearing two different kinds of deodorant.
  • No Social Skills: Sherlock texts Lestrade asking him to help with his best man speech. That's all fine and good. However, things would have gone a lot better if Sherlock hadn't phrased it in a way that made it seem like that his life was in immediate danger.
  • Not So Different: Major Sholto says this to Sherlock. This leads to Sherlock convincing him to live.
  • One Drink Will Kill the Baby: Refreshingly averted. Depending on when Sherlock found out about the baby, he didn't say anything about Mary drinking the wine/champagne even as she was drinking it. Neither Mary or John brought up her earlier drinking either.
  • One of the Kids: Sherlock has hints of this, as he connects with the wedding's ringbearer by admitting that he doesn't really count as a "grown-up" and by sharing his morbid fascination with murder victims with the kid.
  • Painting the Medium: During the flashback to John and Sherlock's stag night, after they have too much to drink, the edges of the scene get increasingly blurred.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Sherlock steals a bearskin hat and marches right behind the other soldiers into their headquarters.
  • Percussive Therapy: After the bank robbers foil Lestrade one too many times, he can be seen outside the bank repeatedly kicking his car's tires in a fit of rage.
  • The Perfect Crime: The murderer figures out how to fatally stab someone in a way they wouldn't even notice and won't cause them to bleed out until hours later.
  • Reality Ensues: Watson has been using his military ID for a while to get in and out of places. The Guards Major promptly points out that Watson has been out of the Army for a while and his ID's out of date.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The beginning of Sherlock's best man speech is one towards himself (while also insulting most of the wedding guests in passing to demonstrate what an arsehole he naturally is). Then he talks about how John's virtues made him a better person.
  • Red Herring: The introductory shots of Major Sholto, showcasing his scarred hand and face while ominous music plays, immediately make the viewer suspicious of him. Of course, he turns out to be the victim instead of the murderer in this case.
  • The Reveal: The Mayfly Man was plotting to kill Major Sholto all along, and he infiltrated John's wedding by posing as the wedding photographer. He kills his victims by stabbing them with a blade so fine that they don't feel it, and positioning the stab wound so that the victim's belt puts enough pressure on the wound to hold it closed—allowing him to escape before his victims realize that they've been killed.
  • Self-Deprecation: This page's quote. It's probably the most frank, realistic look that Sherlock will ever take of himself, ever.
  • Sherlock Scan: Hilariously subverted when Sherlock is called out on a case while messily drunk. When he tries to Scan the crime scene, all of the deduction subtitles are blurry, inaccurate, and slurred, like "egg chair sitty thing", "???", and "sleep".
  • Shirtless Scene: Bainbridge gets a brief one, noticing the stalker from his window.
  • Shout-Out: The unexplained glowing on Sherlock's face when he opens the matchbox spoofs the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta opens the briefcase in Brett's apartment. We never find out what is in either of them.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Slasher Smile: Sherlock does one when warning Mary's ex not to have any delusions about the relationship restarting.
  • Slow-Motion Drop: When Sherlock gets his Eureka Moment during his speech, he drops the glass he's holding, which shatters as he finishes a thought and a separate sentence out loud.
  • So Proud of You: Sherlock feels this way about John, and admits admiration for him in his best man's speech despite his awkwardness.
  • Spinning Paper: The opening scene has a spinning paper with headlines about the Waters gang.
  • Stag Party: John and Sherlock go on a pub crawl as this. Both are smashed in a couple of hours: Sherlock was pre-planning his alcohol consumption to prevent this, but John spiked his drinks with shots.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Sherlock vanishes from a park bench in the middle of a conversation John is having with him without John noticing.
  • Subverted Catchphrase: Sherlock and John investigate a case while drunk, and Sherlock can't remember his catchphrase:
    Sherlock: The game is... something?
    John: On?
    Sherlock: Yeah! That, that!
  • Survivor Guilt: Sholto.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: During John and Mary's wedding reception in "The Sign of Three, the song "December, 1963" by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is playing. Choice lyrics include "Oh, what a night/ You know, I didn't even know her name/ but I was never going to be the same/ What a lady, what a night." It's revealed in "His Last Vow" that Mary is living under an assumed identity.
  • Tears of Joy: The guests and John do this when that bloody-awful best man's speech turns out to be very sweet.
  • The Teaser: A cracking example, with Lestrade and Donovan repeatedly catching a gang of thieves only for them to walk free from court every time. After the teaser, they're never mentioned again.
  • There Are No Coincidences: Played straight.
    Mycroft: Oh Sherlock, what do we say about coincidences?
    Sherlock: The universe is rarely so lazy.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: After being foiled by the Waters gang for years on end, Lestrade is finally going to get a moment of recognition for his hard police work.
  • Time-Delayed Death: The Mayfly Man kills his victims by stabbing them with a blade so fine that they don't feel the wound, and perfectly places the stab wound so that the victim's belt holds it closed, and he doesn't realise that he's been stabbed until he takes his belt off. His first victim, the Bloody Guardsman, is in the middle of taking a shower when he starts to bleed to death.
  • Title Drop:
    • Sherlock when he reveals that Mary is pregnant.
      Sherlock: It's hard to miss the sign of three.
    • Sherlock also gives the next episode its name in his speech to John and Mary after their violin waltz.
      Sherlock: Here it is, my first and last vow.
  • Too Much Information: Watson's reaction when Mrs. Hudson starts describing her late husbands' physique.
    • Also Molly happily tells Sherlock that she and Tom are having quite a lot of sex.
  • Trial Run Crime: The first victim is a Buckingham Palace guard found near death from a stab wound with no weapon in sight, in a locked-room mystery. Turns out that the killer had attempted to kill him for no other reason than to test a method intended to be used on another victim. The "test" victim lived (because Watson was there to give him medical treatment). It was a plot point, since It made it clear that Watson would be able to save the second victim (his old friend and wedding guest).
  • Two-Faced: Major Sholto is badly scarred down one side of his face and has a paralysed hand on the same side.
  • The Un-Smile: Invoked. Sherlock's "smile" to scare off Mary's ex is both disturbing and hilarious (well, at least to the audience).
    Mary's Ex: They're right about you. You're a bloody psychopath!
    Sherlock: High-functioning sociopath. With your number. *Slasher Smile*
  • Unreliable Voiceover: Sherlock's best man speech is full of flashbacks. One involves how John first asked him to be his best man. After John finally told him bluntly that he wanted Sherlock to be his best man, Sherlock explained in his speech that he told John how honored he was, etc. Cut to the flashback where Sherlock just stands there staring at the same spot for several minutes, while John waits patiently. Sherlock then continues that it was only later he realized that he said none of that out loud.
  • Unsuspectingly Soused: Sherlock's plan to remain at the perfect level of inebriation at John's stag night is foiled by John secretly adding shots of vodka to the beer they are drinking. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: The inevitable result of Sherlock's inebriation, right into the carpet of an apartment he is drunkenly failing to investigate.
  • Walk and Talk: Sally Donovan and Lestrade walk a stretch in the opening during which she gives him an overview about their plan to catch the Waters family.
  • Wedding Day: Sets the stage for this episode.
  • Wedding Smashers: For once, one of the general wedding guests is targeted rather than the bride or groom.
  • Wham Line: In-universe. The one thing that he never saw coming was being asked to be John's best man. This breaks his brain enough so that he can't verbalize any of his thoughts for several moments.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?:
    Lestrade: What's the worst that could happen?
  • Whole Episode Flashback: The flashbacks during Sherlock's speech at the wedding take up most of the screentime.
  • You're Insane!:
    David: They were right about you. You're a...bloody psychopath!
    Sherlock: High-functioning sociopath...with your number!
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: Sherlock starts his speech at John's wedding as obnoxiously as possible; turns out he was deliberately establishing his own flaws to make a greater point about why John is so important to him.

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