(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. previous: “The Hounds of Baskerville”)
There are a lot of ways in which this was 90 brilliant minutes of television drama, but the first way in which it’s brilliant is the opening moments. John, in his therapist’s office, his voice catching as he tries to articulate a horror that he cannot bring himself to speak of: Sherlock Holmes, his best friend, is dead.
Martin Freeman in this scene… So lovely, so poignant, so come here honey and let me give you a hug. I was already halfway in love with Freeman, but that’s when I fell all the way. Something about Sherlock has brought out new levels of awesome in this very fine actor.
But the really brilliant thing about opening with the news that Sherlock is dead, and then flashing back to how it happened, is that it puts nonreaders of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction on a par with the devotees. Anyone who know the Holmes stories surely salivated when the title of this episode was announced. Because we know what happened at Reichenbach Falls: Holmes battled with his nemesis Moriarty, and they both fell to their deaths. Except then Holmes turned up years and explained to Watson how he had faked his demise. (Conan Doyle may have been the first writer of pulp fiction to discover that no one ever dies… at least not permanently enough that a popular character can’t be revived if audiences demand it.) We Holmes fans of longstanding would already have been anticipating throughout the episode a battle to the death and then a miraculously still-alive Sherlock… and now so would those who don’t know a thing about the great detective prior to Benedict Cumberbatch taking on the role.
(Or maybe not quite on a par, at least for some newbies. Because there were a few shocked cries of “spoilers!” in response to a Guardian headline the next day: “Sherlock: How did he fake his own death?” You’d think by this point that anyone would know that there was no way in hell that the central character in a TV show this popular would actually be killed off, and that if it looked as if Sherlock had died, he surely must have faked his own death. Elementary, no?)
But the whole thing is such a marvelously structured mindfuck! The big crime, Moriarty’s simultaneous break-ins at the Tower of London, the Bank of English, and Pentonville Prison? They never happened. At least not like we — and Sherlock! — were meant to believe.
I can open any door, anywhere, with a few tiny lines of computer code…. In a world of locked rooms, the man with a key is king.
That’s so amazing that it can’t be true… and it isn’t! It’s all a ruse. It fooled Sherlock, and it certainly fooled us — it’s not just Sherlock who wants everything to be clever. We expect that now, too, not just from this show but from everything. We expect everything to be as clever as it can possibly be. We’re fooled by the quality of our own expectations.
That there ended up being a weird sort of anti-tension in Moriarty’s revelation that his scheme was a trick played off the surprisingly suspenseful trial sequence. Moriarty is on trial, he treats it as a joke, he offers no defense: it’s totally obvious that he must be found guilty… and yet there I was in suspense over what the verdict would be, perhaps because I was trying to figure out what sort of evilly clever plan of Moriarty’s would require him going to prison. But it was all another distraction! He’s found not guilty!
It’s all weirdly hilarious, and disturbing that it’s so hilarious.
But other moments were simply downright riveting. Sherlock and Moriarty talking over tea after the not-guilty verdict, both so still and calm, the menace hanging in the air between them. Beautifully, eerily done.
When Moriarty’s ultimate plan is revealed,
he’s so convincing as Rich Brook, the actor Sherlock Holmes hired to be his archnemesis, that I can almost believe it. It’s a fiendish scheme. It is the fairy tale of our time: “Everybody wants to believe it, that’s what makes it so clever: a lie that’s preferrable to the truth,” as Sherlock says, stunned. That’s the appeal of conspiracy theories. That’s the appeal of global-warming denialism and creationism. So of course this will work. And Sherlock knows it.
Then there’s the scene on the rooftop. This is what we’ll be talking about till Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss resolve it for us. How did Sherlock fake his own death? Dammit, how?
It is clearly Sherlock jumping from the roof… or, at least, someone alive who looks very much like Sherlock:
The jumper is pinwheeling as he falls, so he — whoever he is — is still alive. So it can’t be, for instance, Moriarty’s corpse dressed up in Sherlock’s coat; which also ties in with the fact that Sherlock cannot have planned for Moriarty to commit suicide (if he is dead!), and the fact that Sherlock looks absolutely horrified and astonished when Moriarty puts the gun in his own mouth.
But Sherlock did anticipate that he himself would have to die. So he certainly can have planned for that.
I do think it must be Sherlock himself — and not any sort of double — at the roof edge the whole time. Because John never takes his eyes off him
from the moment he arrives on the street below until the moment Sherlock jumps, so there’s no chance for a switcheroo.
The only time John does lose sight of Sherlock is after he jumps: John cannot, from his vantage point, see Sherlock hit the ground. And it must be noted that Sherlock tells John to stay in a very precise position — “Stay exactly where you are. Don’t move. Keep your eyes fixed on me.” — presumably so he could not see the sidewalk below, and also so that the biker could knock him down and slow John down from getting to the scene.
We may presume that the biker is from Sherlock’s homeless network.
So what happened after Sherlock jumped? Well, it’s a bus stop down below the jump point. Early on, when Sherlock first steps up to the edge of the roof, there are two buses below:
What is there when Sherlock jumps — we see after the body has landed on the sidewalk — is a recycling truck:
The back of this truck is like a big cage — you see these vehicles all over London — filled with plastic bags full of recyclables. Here’s the truck pulling away as people start to run up to the body on the sidewalk:
Sherlock could have jumped to land in the recycling truck (which he prearranged to be there) while, at the same time, an already dead body was thrown from the truck onto the sidewalk (prearranged with the help of Molly, whom Sherlock approached for assistance, and whom we know would do anything for him).
Dammit, that sure does look like Sherlock lying dead in the street. Though we might interpret this as the expectation of John, who is dazed from hitting his own head in the street (when the biker knocked him down) and from his own emotional shock at what he had just witnessed:
A dead-body switcheroo would not explain, however, all the blood:
I’m pretty sure a heart would have to be still pumping — if on its last beats — to produce that much blood.
And John feels for a pulse on a wrist. He’s a doctor — he’d know the difference between a just-this-instant dead body and one that had been dead for a while.
Moriarty got the kidnapped little girl to scream when she saw Sherlock, which suggests the possibility that there’s a double for Sherlock around somewhere. How to find that double and work him into a switcheroo would be a problem, especially since he must have been working for Moriarty.
Mycroft has traditionally been smarter than Sherlock, so he could be involved in some way that we cannot even anticipate yet, even to the point of having wanted Sherlock removed from the world (perhaps only temporarily). Could Mycroft be the mastermind behind the mastermind, having played Moriarty (as by giving him the information on Sherlock that allowed for the Rich Brook scheme) and then helping Sherlock arrange a disappearance?
And there’s this graffiti:
This could be Moriarty telling Sherlock: “I’m gonna kill you, I’m gonna turn you into an angel.” Or could it be someone else who owes Sherlock — Irene Adler? — telling him that she’s coming to his rescue?
Steven Moffat has said that there’s a vital clue in “The Reichenbach Fall” that we’ve all missed. What could it be?
Random thoughts on “The Reichenbach Fall”:
• Here’s a question that’s nagging me: How did Moriarty create Richard Brook if he doesn’t have the key to everything? Did he just do it the way he does everything else, by the intimidation of people in the right places? Or will “Rich Brook” fall apart as soon as anyone looks closely… but by that point, Moriarty perhaps figures, Sherlock will be dead and disgraced and maybe no one will look closely, or even if they do, Sherlock’s own actions will be taken as proof of the “truth” even with evidence to the contrary at hand? Big lie indeed…
• I love freeze-framing and reading the newspapers and other documents in shows like this:
I love how this article opens:
In a twist worthy of a Conan Doyle novella, Mr Sherlock Holmes was yesterday revealed to be an expert witness at the trial of ‘Jim’ Moriarty.
So, what did Conan Doyle write in this universe that’s as famous as Sherlock Holmes… whom he clearly could not have invented, since Holmes is real?
I don’t get this, though:
This article is blobs of text that repeat. Why? They know how obsessively we watch. Why skimp? It makes no sense. They’re going to the trouble of mocking up newspapers, and they can’t invent three full paragraphs instead of copying and pasting one over and over again?
• On “Richard Brook”’s CV, you can read his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. So I shot off an email:
Subject: is Richard Brook James Moriarty?
Date: January 21, 2012 5:31:33 PM GMT
Inquiring minds want to know.
Here’s what I got in return:
Subject: Out of Office AutoReply Re: is Richard Brook James Moriarty?
Date: January 21, 2012 5:31:51 PM GMT
Thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately, I will be out of town and without access to email for an unknown period of time. For all urgent requests, please contact journalist Kitty Reilly, and she will be able to direct your message. Otherwise, please feel free to reply with more details and I’ll be sure to respond when I return!
Thanks from your favourite storyteller,
I Googled the domain and found:
And this at the domain:
Curiously, the domain is not owned by the BBC (which has done such a great job with Sherlock’s site and John’s blog). It’s owned by Los Angeles web developer Lily Lapidese. I hope she does something fun with the site. But, seriously, BBC: domain names are cheap. Why would you not buy this one yourself and use it to promote the show? You do know that we geeks eat up this viral web stuff, don’t you? Did you figure Sherlock was popular enough and didn’t need more promo?
• Obviously Sherlock is now familiar with fangirls and their desires:
For he knows that Fan Type B is “your bedroom is just a taxi ride away.”
If Sherlock had been nicer to Kitty, would that have forestalled Moriarty? Or would Moriarty have found someone else to take advantage of?
• I want this teapot:
• Great quotes:
“This isn’t a deerstalker now — it’s a Sherlock Holmes hat.” –John
“James Moriarty isn’t a man at all. He’s a spider.” –Sherlock
“How hard do you find it, having to say ‘I don’t know’?” –Moriarty
“Aren’t ordinary people adorable? Well, you know, you’ve got John. I should get myself a live-in one.” –Moriarty, to Sherlock (and he does get a live-in one, in Kitty!)
“I know you’re for real. Nobody could fake being such an annoying dick all the time.” –John, to Sherlock
“I love newspapers. Fairy tales. And pretty grim ones, too.” –Moriarty
“You’re insane.” –Sherlock
“You’re just getting that now?” –Moriarty
“I was so alone, and I owe you so much… Just one more miracle for me. Don’t. Be. Dead. Would you do that just for me? Just stop it. Stop this.” –John