Episode Title: "The Reichenbach Fall"
Writer: Steve Thompson
Director: Toby Haynes
Sherlock Holmes is dead.
Even before the opening credits roll, we see Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) tearfully recount to his therapist that his friend, Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) is no longer among the living. Readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem" knew this was coming, but it's still a little surprising that "Sherlock" creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss would tackle this story so early in their run.
The writer, Steve Thompson crafts a thoroughly modern tale about the character assassination of Sherlock Holmes through the lens of the 24/7 media. Sherlock's uncanny abilities and success along with John's popular blog about their adventures has made Sherlock into a celebrity… much to his chagrin. Sherlock's rival, Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) also grabs the spotlight with a daring break-in to get at the Crown Jewels while somehow opening the vault at the Bank of England and the prison cells at Pentonville Prison by remote.
Moriarty doesn't even try to get away with the Crown Jewels and he settles in for the trial of the century. Unlike Sherlock, Moriarty basks in the spotlight of his new found fame and he doesn't even try to mount a defense against the charges. Amazingly, Moriarty walks free after secretly intimidating the jury before paying a visit to Sherlock to say "I owe you."
From there, things start to fall apart for Sherlock. Professional assassins begin moving into his building and Sgt. Sally Donovan (Vinette Robinson) becomes suspicious that Sherlock was behind the kidnapping of an ambassador's children after he located them with scant evidence. It did't help that the rescued young girl recoiled in terror upon seeing Sherlock's face. Of course, Moriarty is behind it all. But even Sherlock's closest ally with the police, Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) begins to suspect that Sherlock may not be what he seems.
Moriarty's masterstroke is when he convinces a reporter that there is no Jim Moriarty. He is simply Richard Brooks, an actor whom Sherlock hired to play the role of Moriarty so that Sherlock could have an adversary to make himself look good. Even though John never voices his doubts out loud, this seems to shake him more than anything. Sherlock says nothing to "Richard Brooks," but the look on his face is almost admiration for what Moriarty has done.
John eventually deduces that most of Moriarty's information about Sherlock came from his brother, Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss) as he attempted to get Moriarty to speak about the mysterious computer code that later allowed him to break into some of the most secure installations in the world. It's a betrayal of the highest order and yet Mycroft offers only a weak apology to John and he does nothing to save his brother from what happens next.
Because the narrative that Moriarty has created won't be complete until Sherlock is dead and his reputation utterly destroyed, he attempts to blackmail Sherlock into jumping off the roof of St Bartholomew's Hospital or else his assassins will kill John, Lestrade and even Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs). Despite Sherlock's deduction that Moriarty can still be made to call off his killers, Moriarty kills himself rather than give Sherlock the opportunity. Without any other apparent recourse, Sherlock calls John and confesses to being a fraud before jumping to his death.
And yet Sherlock shows up alive in the very last scene as John tearfully says goodbye at his grave. Moriarty may be dead, but his assassins are still at large and Sherlock is vilified in the media as a fraud. It's a pretty major cliffhanger to go out on, especially when it may be more than a year before we see new episodes of "Sherlock."
How did Sherlock survive the fall? The key is Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), the medical examiner who carries a not-so secret torch for Sherlock despite his casual disinterest. Because of her unrequited love for Sherlock, Molly's intelligence is often overlooked by the Great Detective even though she is the first to notice that Sherlock is hiding his sadness and even fear from John. Sherlock eventually confesses to Molly that he believes that he will die and he says that he needs her help.
Molly is also not one of the three people that Moriarty threatened, which means that he overlooked her despite first approaching Sherlock while posing as Molly's boyfriend. It was Moriarty's first major mistake, because I believe that Sherlock would not have survived without her off-camera assistance.
It's fairly easy to figure out the first and third steps in Sherlock's miraculous escape from death or catastrophic injury. By approaching Molly, Sherlock must have been planning to fake his death even before he was summoned to the hospital roof. And if Sherlock was alive after the fall, then the paramedics who ushered him away must have been in on it too.
The problem (or should I say, The Final Problem) is that we see Sherlock fall from the roof to the sidewalk and there doesn't seem to be a believable way for Sherlock to have lived through that ordeal. Moffat and Gatiss have insisted that the solution to that sequence is already within the episode as filmed, but even on multiple viewings it's not clear or obvious. If Sherlock slowed his fatal decent by some awning we didn't see then fans will justifiably cry foul.
Regardless of how Sherlock's survival is explained, I feel no need to complain about it. Cumberbatch and Freeman are so good in their respective roles that the long wait between seasons is worth it. More than any episode of "Sherlock" before it, "The Reichenbach Fall" humanized Sherlock through his fear and demonstrated the depths of John's friendship with him. John not only punches a police official to be arrested alongside Sherlock, he also aids in Sherlock's escape from custody during one of the episode's most thrilling sequences.
John Watson is someone who would do anything for Sherlock and his devastation at Sherlock's confession and subsequent (apparent) suicide are almost painful to watch. Sherlock may be a huge a**hole to even his closest friend, but they had a bond that simply can't be denied. And even Sherlock had tears in his eyes as he said goodbye to John.
If this is the last time we see Moriarty on "Sherlock," than Andrew Scott deserves credit for one of the most electrifying turns as a villain since Heath Ledger's Joker in "The Dark Knight." The comparison is apt because Moriarty is alternately hilarious and terrifying. And aside from Sherlock's survival, Moriarty did everything that he set out to do. He may have had to kill himself to ensure his victory, but Moriarty still won.
Rupert Graves should also be commended for his understated performance as Lestrade. There's a slow build of doubt that steadily builds on Lestrade's face as he comes to believe that Sherlock may have committed all of the crimes that he solved. He clearly wants to stand by Sherlock, but there's an unmistakable terror in Lestrade's eyes as well. Because if Sherlock was a fraud, Lestrade's career could have been ended and there would have been incalculable damage to almost every criminal case that he closed with Sherlock's help.
"The Reichenbach Fall" was an immensely satisfying and even intense viewing experience; which may also have been "Sherlock's" finest episode to date. 2013 can't come soon enough…
Because Sherlock Holmes is alive.