Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Bad, right. Well the bad news is that, currently resting on the far side of episode 2 as we are, we only have one episode in the current series of Sherlock left. I know, I can’t believe it either. The good news though, is that if episode 3 is even half as good as episode 2, it’ll be an absolute corker.
The Sign of Three saw Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) face a case he never thought possible- the curious case of the unwritten best man’s speech. Having sort of proposed to Mary (Amanda Abbington) in the previous episode, albeit dramatically diverted at the time by the re-appearance of his supposedly dead best friend, John Watson (Martin Freeman)’s wedding day has now arrived. This has left a desperate Sherlock in the tricky situation of having to not only write an entire speech in which he must emotionally connect with a room full of tissue ready wedding guests, but, crucially, this is a situation in which he must act normal, and not like a ‘high functioning sociopath’ for an entire day. Premise established, the episode proceeds to use said speech as a vehicle for well -timed flashbacks on the adventures of groom and best man, from the stag do to an invisible man to a womanising ghost. As the speech trundles on, taking us from laughter to tears in minutes, so too do the stories of the different cases, until Sherlock’s dramatic and somewhat inevitable conclusion that a crime, a murder no less, has been planned for this very day, in this very room.
For now, however, back to the speech. Despite the fact that the speech itself transpired to be nothing short of a masterpiece, touchingly delivered and utterly true to the relationship of the three characters involved, Sherlock’s speech making skills are met with, at best, concern. Perhaps well founded given his previous behaviour towards any member of the opposite sex John has shown an interest in. Mrs Hudson Sherlock’s long suffering landlady, played with a splendid warmth and simplicity, as ever, by Una Stubbs, finds the concept of Sherlock talking about a subject other than grisly homicide in front of so many rapt, normal people so hilarious that she can’t get passed the idea of him reading out the telegrams without breaking down in fits of laughter so over the top she sounds like a woodland bird being poked with something hot and pointy, to paraphrase. Sherlock himself isn’t entirely thrilled with the situation either, with even Watson failing to notice how ‘terrified’ the detective clearly is.
Happily, it falls to the tremendously likeable Mary to save the day, as she cunningly plays the boys off against each other in order for them both to be re-assured that the wedding, and indeed life after it will all end happily, with both feeling all the while feeling comfortably superior that they are doing the other one a favour. A woman who can outsmart Sherlock and Watson to boot without having to take her dressing gown off? Nice. Very nice. In fact nice is exactly what Mary is. As I said a moment ago she really is very likeable. Not so much fortuitous as utterly crucial to the longevity of the series, the success of her character has clearly been meticulously discussed and planned to the nth degree. The requirements were probably something along the lines of, firstly, a character strong enough to hold her own when talking to the infamous sociopath as well as being a person in her own right, and finally not to mention somebody John Watson would want to marry. That’s a lot to achieve in the form of just one fiancée. Fortunately, the writing team, and indeed Amanda Abbington herself, more than achieve this.
I think it’s fair to say that her real life marriage to Martin Freeman goes some way towards making their on screen relationship work, too. The two have a warmth, ease and sense of fun about them on screen through which they manage to create that rare thing in TV partnerships – actual genuine seeming chemistry. Given how hand and glove-like Cumberbatch and Freeman’s performances fit each other, the latter’s relationship with his now wife really had to be absolutely spot on in order to have a chance at working. A fantastic performance here, too from Benedict Cumberbatch, who, whilst allowing us to see a more fragile, silly and ultimately more human side of the socially awkward sleuth remained 100% true to the man himself, even in this most uncharacteristic of situations.
The more detective-like elements of the episode were down played in favour of Sherlock’s old enemy, ‘sentiment’, which may well have angered some die-hard puzzle-solving fans, but for me there was just the right amount of background mystery and intrigue. It was as fascinating and mind-boggling as ever, but didn’t get in the way of either the hilarity of the stag-do flashbacks, in which we were treated to the rare and totally brilliant sight of a drunken Sherlock, nor the poignancy of the day itself and Sherlock’s heart felt congratulations and tributes to the happy couple.
It was the perfect, perfect mix of jokes, tears, laughter and excitement. Just any wedding speech should be – although most don’t wind up with an attempted murder.
But then, that’s what you get when you pick Sherlock Holmes as your best man.