Earlier today, Sherlock co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss revealed three words essential to the plot of series 3’s adventures – they were rat, wedding, and bow. Join us as we take an in-depth look at the words’ significance, and the stories we expect to see when the show returns.
Last year gave us woman, hound, fall – three keywords which were clear references to the Arthur Conan Doyle stories “A Scandal In Bohemia” (“A Scandal in Belgravia”), The Hound of the Baskervilles (“The Hounds of Baskerville”) and “The Final Problem” (“The Reichenbach Fall”). Since the writers picked the three most iconic adventures for Sherlock’s sophomore series, these words pretty much spoke for themselves. This year however, they’ve gone down a more ominous route. Rat, wedding, and bow could all refer to several stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon – so we’re exploring the many adventures of the super sleuth to try and predict what’s ahead for our favorite characters.
Rat – “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”
Probably the easiest of the three words to decipher, there are very few things that “rat” could be referring to. Sure, Lestrade is often described as “rat-faced,” but it’s unlikely that a full 90 minute episode could be constructed from a facial description of a character who’s been with the show since it began – though we’re not putting anything past the writers of Sherlock. Instead, this is most likely to be a reference to “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
The story sees Holmes and Watson travel to Herefordshire, where they’ve been commissioned to investigate the seemingly unsolvable murder of Charles McArthy. While trying to prove the innocence of McArthy’s son, Sherlock untangles a web of blackmail, gangs and robbery with the “rat” in question being a dying reference to the murderer.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” is Patience Moran, a girl who witnesses part of the crime being investigated. While in the original story she’s an incidental character, she shares a surname with Colonel Sebastian Moran – Moriarty’s right hand man and the person widely believed to be taking up the villain mantle from Sherlock’s arch-nemesis. Mark Gatiss has confirmed that “The Empty House” will be the starting point of series 3, a story in which Moran tries to exact revenge on the great detective. Given the writer’s reputation for mashing-up stories and characters, we wouldn’t be surprised if the similarity in surnames was utilized for a shocking plot twist…
Wedding – The Sign of Four
This is where things become a little bit harder to pinpoint. We’re fairly certain that “wedding” refers to the marriage of John Watson and the love of his life – but the trouble here is: which one? Canon enthusiasts everywhere are quick to make jokes about Arthur Conan Doyle’s ambiguity when it comes to John’s spouses – and that’s because the good doctor marries six women throughout the course of his life, none of which are ever mentioned by name. Of course, Moffat and Gatiss have joined in on the jesting and set up Martin Freeman’s take on the character with a string of girlfriends throughout the first two series. Now though, it looks like we’ll finally see him tie the knot for the first (and hopefully last) time.
The Sign of Four is the only time throughout the 60 stories where a potential spouse is mentioned by name, and her accompanying mystery is diverse and thrilling. After her father’s unexplained disappearance several years previous, Mary Morstan approaches the duo with a mystery concerning inheritance, assassination and a gun fight on the River Thames. As the complex plot unravels and a pact made between four convicts and two security guards is revealed, John falls in love with Morstan and the two become engaged.
As only the second Sherlock Holmes story in a long list, The Sign of Four could change the dynamic of BBC’s Sherlock. After marrying Mary, John moves out of 221B Baker Street to live with his wife. He returns for many more mysteries, and eventually moves back in after Mrs. Watson’s death, but for the vast majority of the canon, Holmes lives in the apartment by himself. Since Steven Moffat has made several comments about being “interested” in the effect marriage would have on Sherlock and John’s friendship, it’s only a matter of time until we hear wedding bells ring – and The Sign of Four presents the perfect opportunity.
Bow – “His Last Bow”
Here’s where things get a little worrying. There are very few things that this final word could point to, and only one story that justifies such an overt reference. “His Last Bow” tells the story of the last case Sherlock Holmes takes before retiring from “the game” and keeping bees until his eventual death. Could this mean our favorite high functioning sociopath will be arrogantly flipping up his collar for the last time?
Although Doyle went on to write 12 more stories (set before this final adventure), “His Last Bow” shows the super sleuth turn his hand to espionage for a final game of wits with German spy Von Bork. Largely believed to be a piece of propaganda ahead of World War I due to its patriotic nature and third person narrative (breaking from the usual tradition of John Watson “writing” Sherlock’s adventures). As Holmes takes on an undercover alias – “Altamont” – he finds himself tracking, capturing, and interrogating Von Bork in order to try and prevent a bomb from detonating.
“His Last Bow” lends itself to the grander scale and political implications that were introduced in series 2, and would certainly make for a great series finale. However, we’re not convinced it will actually bring the end of Sherlock. Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson are known for messing with the canon’s chronology to fit their narrative – and the former has promised that the series 3 finale will bring a bigger cliffhanger than “The Reichenbach Fall.” While we certainly wouldn’t put it past the writers to end the show on a cliffhanger, the modern adaptation is faring far too well commercially and critically to end before its prime.