Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall

Series 2, Episode 3


One of the best things about episodic tv (and other episodic art like comic books) is the ability to use a cliff-hanger. The term probably comes from the suspense arising with someone hanging off a cliff – will they survive or not? (Quite appropriate for the original ending of the Reichenbach Falls story). A similar cliff-hanger was used at the end of the first series of Sherlock when Moriarty had Watson tied up with a bomb and a sniper on Sherlock – would they survive? But this series ends with a cliff-hanger of a different sort. As with the end of the first series, there is really no suspense about whether Sherlock will survive – not because of the storytelling but because of the numbers. It’s been wildly popular and there’s no way the BBC is cancelling this hit. Not just after 6 episodes, and when there are so many more Conan Doyle stories to mine. And Martin Freeman has been doing the press rounds so we all know there’s going to be another series and therefore they can’t kill off the main character. So, no “is he dead?” cliffhanger, but “how did he not die?” cliffhanger….

The episode began with the set up of a flashback. Watson talking to his therapist about the death of Sherlock Holmes – the death that has been in all the papers and internet and everyone knows about. Cut to three months earlier and the ‘Reichenbach Fall’ of it all – which is neatly referenced as a Turner painting that Sherlock has helped recover. The next 15-20 minutes of the episode have an odd, jaunty tone (up until the end of Moriarty’s trial). We see Sherlock accepting various gifts as rewards for solving cases, becoming a press darling and wearing the deerstalker (it all becomes a bit meta at one point). We then see James Moriarty as a gum-chewing tourist at the Tower of London going in to see the Crown Jewels. With the flick of his smart-phone, at exactly 11am, he manages to disable the alarms at the Tower of London, Bank of England and Pentonville Prison simultaneously. He writes “Get Sherlock” (with a smiley face in the ‘O’) on the glass of the Crown Jewels but then proceeds to smash said glass and is found by Lestrade and Co wearing the Queen’s Crown and offering himself up for arrest.

It’s then the trial and Sherlock has been called as an expert witness. In the toilets, he encounters Katherine Parkinson who is playing a journalist called Kitty Riley. I love her on The IT Crowd but unfortunately find her annoying in other roles. This episode does seem to have a problem with the ‘extras’ – the jury here and the family of the banker shown in the opening montage are examples of bad acting that really take you out of the story. I was also concerned that we, the audience, weren’t set up enough for this final showdown with Moriarty. Although he was skilfully portrayed as a master criminal in the first series, in the second series it hasn’t been so obvious why he’s such a big threat to Sherlock. Anyway back to the trial and there’s a nice bit when Sherlock annoys everyone involved in the trial and is locked up in the cell next to his nemesis – the mirrors of each other.

Moriarty’s defence offers up no evidence at the trial, but he is still found ‘Not Guilty’ because he had already threatened all the jury members. As soon as he is acquitted he heads straight to 221B Baker Street where Sherlock is expecting him and waiting with tea. Moriarty explains that he has a special computer code which can break any alarm, hack any account etc and that his exploits at the Tower of London were an advert to other criminals. But more importantly, he sets out again that Sherlock is his ultimate nemesis and he wants to destroy him in their final ‘fall’. “IOU Sherlock” he says as he leaves, “I.O.U.”.

Time lapses. Watson is summoned to a No. 10 – but not that one – it’s the Diogenes Club, a members club where only silence is permitted in their main drawing room. Mycroft Holmes has summoned Watson to tell him that there are 4 assassins who have all recently moved close to 221B Baker Street and asks him to look out for Sherlock. It’s odd because Mycroft is suddenly a bit sinister and noticeably estranged from Sherlock – but in the previous 2 episodes, though hardly buddy-buddy, there had seemed to be at least positive communication between the 2 brothers.

Watson returns home to find an envelope on the door-step with a red seal and breadcrumbs inside. Lestrade then calls Sherlock in to help with a case – the kidnapping of two young children from their boarding school. Sherlock finds an envelope with the same seal in the girl’s bedroom with a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in it. The boy had used linseed oil (used to oil his cricket bat) as  trail and so Sherlock is able to recover the footprints of the kidnapper, which he takes to Molly’s lab to analyse. He finds traces of chalk, asphalt, brick dust, vegetation and PGPR – a substance used in making chocolate – all tied to the Hansel and Gretel story. Sherlock uses his homeless network and knowledge of London to work out that they are in Addlestone.

This picture even shows my home-town in it.

They find the children (but no Moriarty) but the girl screams when she sees Sherlock. A seed of doubt is put into Donovan’s mind and she goes to Lestrade. How did Sherlock find the children so quickly just from analysing a footprint? And why did the girl scream when she saw him? Could Sherlock be the master criminal after all? Sherlock heads in a cab home, but it is being driven by Moriarty who shows him a video on the screen explaining that once the seed of doubt is planted about Sir Boasts-a-lot (Sherlock) then King Arthur (Lestrade) will have no choice but to believe it. “IOU Sherlock”.

Lestrade (and Donovan and Anderson) come to arrest Sherlock. Watson ‘chins’ their police boss and is also handcuffed, but they manage to escape (note another IOU graffiti on the wall by 221B).

Sherlock bumps into one of the assassins and finds out that Moriarty has planted the super computer code with Sherlock somewhere, hence why these criminals have been watching him (but not killing him). Sherlock and Watson decide to visit Kitty Riley, the journalist, who has just published a big scoop about Sherlock. Her source is a ‘Richard Brook’ who claims to be a childhood friend of Sherlock, but we know that Sherlock has only one friend. At Kitty Riley’s flat, they suddenly encounter Richard Brook – but it’s Jim Moriarty. He claims that he is an actor, Brook, who was employed by Sherlock to play a master criminal called Moriarty. He shows his CV (but anyone can fake a CV guys!) and proof that he had been an actor and on childrens’ tv before he played the part of ‘Moriarty’. Sherlock chases after him, but loses him. It is clear that the ‘scoop’ includes a lot of true facts about Sherlock and his childhood, and so a lie is easier to digest wrapped up in a truth. (Moriarty had got the facts from Mycroft, hence his guilt earlier at the Diogenes). Moriarty has spinned such a web so that all fingers now point towards Sherlock as a master criminal.

Sherlock goes to see Molly again. Louise Brealey is really great in this episode. She had sensed earlier that something was wrong with Sherlock and offers help. He thinks he is going to die. He now asks for her help. Sherlock summons Moriarty to the rooftop of St Barts Hospital and sends Watson away on a false alarm about Mrs Hudson. Moriarty is playing his signature tune (Bee Gee’s ‘Stayin’ Alive’) on the rooftop. He is cocky. He has won. Although I wasn’t convinced by Andrew Scott before, he plays the right mix of psycho and menace now and the last 20 minutes of this episode are great. Everyone believes or will believe that Sherlock is a mad criminal mastermind who didn’t solve any crimes because he just committed them all. The final part to this is that Sherlock must jump off the roof and commit suicide, to finally convince everyone that he was a fake. And for added incentive, Moriarty has employed 3 assassins to kill Watson, Mrs Hudson and Lestrade if Sherlock doesn’t jump off the roof. The audience sees that it is a real threat as the 3 assassins load up. Sherlock pounces on Moriarty. There must be a recall sign that Moriarty knows that can stop the assassins. What is it? But Moriarty will never tell, and to really make sure, and to provide the final mirror to Sherlock, he blows his brains out. So Sherlock is stuck. He must save his friends and so gets ready to jump.

At this time Watson arrives back at the hospital. Sherlock sees him from the roof and gives him a call on his phone. Instead of a suicide note, this final phone conversation suffices. Sherlock tries to convince Watson that he was a fake all along but Watson doesn’t and won’t believe him. It’s terribly moving. And then Sherlock jumps and falls splat onto the pavement below. Watson runs after the body but is knocked down (conveniently) by a passing cyclist. He eventually gets to the body, which is surrounded by doctors and passers-by. He gets a quick look at the body (and so do we) and it is Benedict Cumberbatch and it looks like he is dead.

By the end of this episode, this is Martin Freeman’s episode. He really pulls out all the stops. He’s at Sherlock Holmes’ gravestone and he berates him for dying. He’s sad because Sherlock was his only and best friend. “Don’t be dead” he asks Sherlock, “for me”. And the camera pans out to show Sherlock, alive, standing behind a tree…..

So the mystery is how did Sherlock not die. Obviously Molly was involved somehow. And as she works at a morgue she could easily swap bodies. But it definitely looked like Sherlock jumped. I’ve seen speculation that the nerve gas from ‘The Hounds of the Baskerville’ may have been used in some way, but we’ll have to wait until 2013 (!) to find out.

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4 Responses to Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall

  1. Tim says:

    What a great episode this was, despite a handful of niggly flaws. I too had been unconvinced by Andrew Scott’s portrayal of Moriarty, but in the final showdown it just all makes sense. Moriarty is bored with the ordinary and having to co-exist with the ordinary has shaped his own insanity. The three principals here – Cumberbatch, Scott and Freeman – are all fantastic, with Freeman’s understated grief providing the perfect counterpoint to Scott’s hyperactivity.

    Let’s hope they can juggle Cumberbatch and Freeman’s filming schedules so they can produce three more episodes in time for early 2013. The thought of having to wait another 18 months (or more) is a bit too much to bear!

  2. Annabella Diamond says:

    bin lorry, bouncy ball, homeless network

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