Monday, 16 January 2012

SHERLOCK, 2.3 – "The Reichenbach Fall"

Monday, 16 January 2012

"We're just alike, you and I. Except you're boring." – Moriarty to Sherlock

Considering Steve Thompson wrote the worst of series 1's episodes, "The Blind Banker", and one of the least remarkable Doctor Who's last year, "Curse Of The Black Spot", you could forgive most people from raising eyebrows at the fact he'd been entrusted with writing Sherlock's big finale. However, Thompson acquits himself very well with "The Reichenbach Fall", which was another of the show's elastically-plotted thrills. It helped that this was the first adventure to truly focus on arch-nemesis Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), and that the stakes were high for Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) on a personal level, and it all came together brilliantly for a climactic rooftop confrontation and puzzling denouement.

Consulting criminal Moriarty simultaneously opens the Bank of England's vault and Pentonville Prison, while smashing his way into the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London to await his own capture by the alerted police. A quick and easy conviction is expected at the Old Bailey, especially as Moriarty offers no evidence in his defence, yet the jury make the bizarre decision to acquit him... allowing Moriarty to continue the next phase of his masterplan, to solve the "Final Problem" of having a nemesis like Sherlock as a thorn in his side. But it's not really as simple as that, because there's the mutual fascination and respect between the two men, very much opposite sides of the same coin. Moriarty comes across as a super-genius who's become psychotic out of sheer boredom. He's overjoyed that someone like Sherlock exists, yet suspicious that he's not his equal, and in some ways his mind games are just a test to see if Sherlock's worthy of his adversarial status.

The great thing about "The Reichenbach Fall" was realising how Moriarty's plan was going to work, as it became clear he's planting seeds of doubt in people's minds that Sherlock's a totally benevolent genius working for "the angels". After kidnapping boarding school children and feeding them mercury-tainted sweets at an abandoned warehouse, it became less about finding their abductor and more about preventing the police from acting on their suspicions that Sherlock (solving crimes on piffling evidence like a footprint) may actually be the culprit. Throw in the hilariously bizarre moment when Moriarty went to investigative reporter Kitty Riley (Katherine Parkinson) claiming to be children's TV actor Rich Brooke, forced by Sherlock to play the role of Moriarty in a sick fantasy, and the whole episode really started to take on a life of its own. While nothing here was completely plausible, the fact Sherlock exists in only a semi-realistic world really helps, and enables the writers to just have fun with sillier ideas.

As for Moriarty, he's been a divisive figure on the show since he made his entrance in "The Great Game" at the swimming pool, seeing as he's such a departure from most people's idea of that character. This episode definitely helped you see what creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat were after when they devised him (an impish Irish version of The Joker) and Scott gave an engaging performance, but I'm still not completely sure Moriarty should be like this. He's unnerving and obviously intelligent, and a scene where he shared tea with Sherlock while tapping binary digits with his fingers and biting the letters "I O U" into an apple, was absolutely fantastic, but I still find myself wishing he was less of a "character" and more of a "person". It's slightly too cartoonish for me still, although I know others think that works really well against the show's others characters who are played straight.

Similarly to series 1's finale, most people will be discussing the ending over anything else. A marvellous scene with Moriarty and Sherlock on the roof of a hotel (instead of a waterfall in the books), where Sherlock realized the only way to save Watson (Martin Freeman), Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs) and Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) is to commit suicide by leaping off the edge—which is the agreed signal to three snipers to lay down their weapons. What's going to puzzle people for many months, is how they've chosen to leave things. Moriarty's seemingly shot himself in the face, after realising he's the weakness in his own plan—but I suppose that's survivable depending on where the bullet went. Or perhaps series 3 will be a prequel to these adventures? More confusing was Sherlock's swan dive off the roof, smashing his skull on the pavement below, ending the show with Watson over his grave... before the last-second reveal of Sherlock watching from afar. How Sherlock cheated death is completely beyond me, and I'm not expecting an explanation that works perfectly when the show returns.

Overall, "The Reichenbach Fall" was a fine resolution of this improved second series. I loved how Sherlock's celebrity status was the summit of the social "fall" Moriarty set him on, and Freeman was given far more opportunities to bring humanity to what can otherwise be a mechanical plot-driven show. In fact, of the three episodes, this was easily the most emotional and human, with Cumberbatch's best performance in the role. Watson's scene at the grave was also genuinely moving, as he struggled to contain his emotions at the death of his most remarkable friend... who's left this world with everyone thinking he was a crazy fraud.

Taken as a whole, series 2 covered some compelling thematic areas (sex, fear, identity), and did a wonderful job updating three of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. It's hard to choose between them, as I've rated them all the same, but I probably prefer "A Scandal In Belgravia" because Moffat's twisty writing is such a perfect fit for the show. But the final two episodes seemed to justify the 90-minutes a lot better, especially this finale, and it would be a crime if various people's careers obstructed a third series next year...


  • It delights me how the deerstalker hat has become an icon of Sherlock Holmes in this update, with Sherlock himself hating that fact.
  • That was The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson as the reporter, I'm sure you know.
  • So how did Sherlock fake his own death? The best theory I've heard is that he threw a doppelganger off the roof, perhaps a corpse provided by Molly the doctor. But wouldn't DNA tests prove that wasn't Sherlock? Wouldn't someone like Watson have identified the body? How would Sherlock have found an exact double that would fool so many people?
written by Steve Thompson / directed by Toby Haynes / 15 January 2012 / BBC One