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Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall

I didn't write anything about this episode when it aired, as I was too close up against an article deadline to have any spare energy for blogging. But I did watch it at the time, and also rewatched it after I'd submitted the article, and enjoyed it very much. And besides, I've written about every other episode of Sherlock which has aired so far - so I may as well keep up that record by noting down a few things I particularly enjoyed about it.

Sherlock has always had incredibly strong design / mise-en-scène, but two examples of that particularly impressed me in this episode. Firstly, the rain cascading down the window-pane behind John when we see him in therapy at the very beginning, looking for all the world like a waterfall. It seemed to me almost like a declaration right from the very start that yes, that's what this story is all about, but it is going to be handled allegorically.

Secondly, the fact that in every one of the three high-security locations which Moriarty infiltrated - the Tower of London, the Bank of England and Pentonville Prison - we specifically saw cups of tea being splashed or spilt as part of the scenes of panic when people realised what was happening. What a fantastically British way to signal a terrible catastrophe.

Then there was Molly being the one to spot that Sherlock was sad when no-one was looking, and being brave enough to ask him about it, and clearly clever and trustworthy enough to play a major role in helping him to fake his own death at the end. Her scenes in this episode suddenly rounded out her character enormously, and brought out new sides to Sherlock, too, so that their interactions were incredibly affecting and touching. I could go on about this I'm sure, but I think this lady has already nailed it.

As for Sherlock's apparent death, and how he did it, there are a whole bunch of theories collected here. I'm not quite sure what I think, mainly because some crucial issues hang on what the 'rules' of Sherlock actually are. In particular, is this the sort of show in which we're supposed to believe that someone could jump off a tall building and into a garbage truck full of sacks and survive the experience? Perhaps if the sacks were maybe stuffed with something extremely good at absorbing shocks, like the squash ball Sherlock is seen bouncing against a bench in the lab? It's possible, as we have seen Sherlock pull off some pretty super-human physical feats before, particularly in fights - but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work in real life.

Also worth asking - is Moriarty actually dead? His apparent death could certainly be faked to a level that would convince most ordinary people by simply using a fake gun and a bag of fake blood. Sherlock Holmes probably wouldn't be fooled by that - but then again, given his ultimate aim of throwing Moriarty's henchmen off the scent by faking his own death, Sherlock would have no particular incentive to call Moriarty's bluff if he knew Moriarty was faking it. Maybe Sherlock knows perfectly well that Moriarty isn't dead, but goes ahead with his own fake-death plan anyway, because he knows that that is a better way of resolving the immediate situation? Given Moffat's track record on this issue, it seems to me wise to reserve judgement on Moriarty until we know for sure either way.

My only real complaint with this episode was the usual one - that when Sherlock and John are running away from the police in hand-cuffs, Sherlock instructs John to take his hand, and John has to respond with an uncomfortable joke: "People will definitely talk!" So I guess I'm still waiting for the episode of Sherlock in which that tired old trope isn't dragged out for another flogging - which is pretty depressing, six episodes in.

Other than that, though, this felt to me like pretty much the perfect Sherlock episode. I await the next series with pleasure.

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( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 8th, 2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
Feb. 8th, 2012 10:24 pm (UTC)
I wondered about that, but this episode aired over three weeks ago and its plot has been intensively discussed all over the internet and in the printed press. I thought it had moved into collective cultural capital territory by now - especially given that it is only reworking the plot of a much older story.
Feb. 9th, 2012 04:48 pm (UTC)
I've had arguments with people who are of the mind that Hamlet isn't yet collective cultural capital, and that flippantly quipping that "everyone dies in the end" was ZOMG THE WORST SPOILER!!1!one!
Feb. 9th, 2012 07:34 pm (UTC)
I still sometimes point people at that poll you did a few years back, I've still not either seen or read Hamlet, but I know pretty much the entire plot, I know I'll enjoy it when I finally get around to seeing it (personal policy: Shaxsper should be seen, then read, if I can't see it, I don't read it, it makes more sense then).
Feb. 12th, 2012 01:43 am (UTC)
That sounds sensible as a general principle - I should have made it clearer that this was a specific request from me (I haven't been spoiled for any of series 2 yet; series 2 begins on Australian telly this week).
Feb. 8th, 2012 10:17 pm (UTC)
I love the contrast between the painful Christmas party scene in Belgravia and the scene in the lab at St Bart's. At the Christmas party, we see Sherlock, for once, make a deduction about Molly that is way off -- and not only is he completely wrong, but everyone in the room knows that he is completely wrong long before he does. Then, in Reichenbach, Molly is the only person to make a correct deduction about Sherlock and what he's feeling. His heart is a mystery to John and Mycroft, but not to Molly.

In that moment, when Molly reveals that she knows that Sherlock is not okay, she reveals herself to be Sherlock's equal, in terms of intelligence, in a way that no other character has been able to do. And she does it on her terms too. I love that she offers to help him with whatever is wrong -- but at the same time, she dismisses him when he starts to say that he'd like some crisps. Molly is willing to help him -- but not for the unimportant things (and this is a nice contrast to the coffee thing in Study in Pink).
Feb. 8th, 2012 10:28 pm (UTC)
Very true about the contrast with the Christmas party - I hadn't thought of that. I certainly hope that Molly will retain the dignity and agency which she has acquired over this season into the next one. She seems to have grown more than any other character in the show at this stage, and you're right that she has become an equal with Sherlock on her own terms.
Feb. 8th, 2012 10:36 pm (UTC)
Perhaps if the sacks were maybe stuffed with something extremely good at absorbing shocks, like the squash ball Sherlock is seen bouncing against a bench in the lab?

I think that the squash ball may also be there to illustrate a different point: there's a particular trick that some magicians can do, in which they can temporarily stop their own pulse, and the way in which this is achieved is by pressing a squash ball under their armpit. Given that Watson is seen checking Sherlock's pulse after he has fallen from the rooftop, I do wonder if Sherlock has used this 'trick' to fool John.
Feb. 8th, 2012 10:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, could be, if there was something else soft / absorbent in the bags to break his fall. I'm still not sure the idea of those bags being enough to do that safely works for me, though, whatever is inside them.
Feb. 8th, 2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
Sherlock instructs John to take his hand, and John has to respond with an uncomfortable joke: "People will definitely talk!"

Actually, I read that a bit differently-- in the beginning, when John is reading the papers and reads that he's called a 'confirmed bachelor,' this leads to a discussion of the media turning on Sherlock. Kitty the tabloid reporter jumps to a similar thing, when demanding/threatening Sherlock in the loo by asking if he and John are strictly platonic. So I read it as John being concerned that the groundwork was being laid to attack Sherlock by saying he's gay. That would also be supported by the Chief Superintendent getting a broken nose for saying Sherlock is a 'weirdo,' which can suggest being gay. So I read it as John trying to defend them both against a particular form of attack because of our irritatingly homophobic society. If that makes any sense. :P

Also, there's a LOT of national identity stuff in the ep-- I didn't use the tea thing because I couldn't find a clip, but I had the Cultural Agency students I lectured to last week analyse a still of Moriarty in the Crown (telling them he's Irish in this iteration of canon) as well as analysing the 'tea party' scene-- wherein the tea set has the UK & Eire on it, Sherlock keeps most of the set nearer him than Moriarty (either protecting it or getting protection from it) but Moriarty has that one piece of it. I could've done the whole robbery, if only there'd been a clip... *sigh*
Feb. 9th, 2012 07:39 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I understand about the media context, but given the running history with that same basic joke, and the tone of voice in which John says it, I'm afraid it still strikes me as part of the same old trope. It's almost exactly the same as what he says at the end of the previous season when Sherlock rips off his jacket with all the explosives in the swimming pool. How much more refreshing it would have been if John had instead laughed cynically and said "Well, at least that'll give them something for their next story!"

Good stuff about the tea party scene - I spotted the design on it, but hadn't really thought it through from a national identity perspective, or noticed how it reflects the relationship between Sherlock and Moriarty. It sounds like your Cultural Agency classes must be ace! :-)
Feb. 9th, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
Good stuff about the tea party scene - I spotted the design on it, but hadn't really thought it through from a national identity perspective, or noticed how it reflects the relationship between Sherlock and Moriarty.

It's a really nice tea set-- I'm curious if they're commonly available or if it was created for the series...

It sounds like your Cultural Agency classes must be ace! :-)

well, I've had 2 people say they want to do essays in my area so far, so I'm hoping that's a good sign. :) You can really do a lot with Sherlock and national identity generally, which I've no doubt someone is actually doing. :P
Feb. 9th, 2012 11:41 pm (UTC)
I read that it is a real tea set and like the coat, it immediately sold out. Can't say Sherlock isn;t doing its bit for British industry!
Feb. 10th, 2012 09:47 am (UTC)
Haha - cool! I understand it is encouraging tourism to Cardiff, too (where e.g. the Tower of London underground scenes were shot), just as Doctor Who and Torchwood have.
Feb. 9th, 2012 10:45 pm (UTC)
is Moriarty actually dead?

I've been wondering about that. It might explain Sherlock's little speech to John on the rooftop - he knows that Moriarty is faking it, so has to convince him (M ) that he (S) is serious.

As for the fall, there are a number of questions. Sherlock clearly wants John *there*, where John can't see where Sherlock would hit the ground.

Then there's the cyclist. Knocking John over at the crucial point.

Looking back at the episode, every time you see Sherlock from John's perspective, he's stood stock-still with his phone to his ear - could he be looking at the dummy from the start of the episode which Sherlock has got Molly to go and fetch?

And the squash ball. Entirely too much time was spent watching Sherlock fidget with the squash ball for it to be irrelevant - you've not really seen Sherlock fidget at all before.

So many questions. Time for a rewatch!
Feb. 9th, 2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
That's true about Sherlock's speech possibly being partly intended for Moriarty. But it's also important that Sherlock persuades John himself that he is serious, so that John doesn't try to come looking for him or make blog posts about how he's sure he's really alive afterwards. So I think he'd have said much the same stuff whether he thought Moriarty was alive or dead.
Feb. 10th, 2012 12:04 am (UTC)
That was the bit which I never really got - why Sherlock felt he needed to hide himself away. Surely he could have faked his death to stop the three hitmen there and then (and indeed, they pack up and leave almost immediately), but afterwards tell John what had happened, and let Lestrade go and pick up the heavies? Lestrade knew who they were, after all.

Feb. 10th, 2012 09:45 am (UTC)
Within the terms of this story, I think it is because he wants to get away from the prominent public profile which has been forced upon him by the papers, and which was cramping his style as a detective. Theoretically, he could do that by popping up straight after the hitmen have gone, working to clear his name and eventually returning to normal life, as you say. But he's ended up alone on a roof-top with a (possibly) dead Moriarty, and that would be difficult to explain in the face of a hostile press and a highly suspicious police force.

Disappearing for a while instead allows the newspaper furore to blow over, and meanwhile gives Sherlock the chance to take action against the rest of Moriarty's huge criminal network while they are least suspecting it. If he allowed anyone, including John, to know that he was really alive, he would lose all the advantages of being able to operate incognito.

But I'm probably at least partly importing assumptions from the original Conan Doyle stories here. Certainly, in 'The Adventure of the Empty House' (which is the next story after 'The Final Problem'), Holmes does explain to Watson when he reappears that he has spent the last three years carrying out secret missions under the cover of his own apparent death, including tracing a surviving member of Moriarty's gang.
Feb. 13th, 2012 07:57 pm (UTC)
rewatching episode 1 and noticed the headline in Sherlock's newspaper.

Coincidence? Building work at the hospital? Possible scaffolding to climb down?

Feb. 14th, 2012 02:50 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I noticed that in episode 1, but I'm not sure. There's absolutely no sign of any building work going on at all in episode 3, and we get a pretty good look at the building and the roof-top which they are on. We'll have to wait until next season to find out. :-(
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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