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Sherlock in Retrospect: The Reichenbach Fall

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By David Selby.

The Reichenbach Fall is almost undoubtedly the most popular story of the two series. Critically applauded, it left both fanatic and casual viewers pondering on the ways by which Sherlock somehow faked his death. It’s where Sherlock suddenly stood out above other television programs; through its ingenious idea of audience interaction.

There was something which irked me about The Final Problem. It was to be the last adventure of Sherlock Holmes – “I must save my mind for better things,” wrote Conan Doyle; “even if it means I must bury my pocketbook with him.” Yet that was the story’s downfall. It felt last-minute – Sherlock’s greatest adversary, positioned at the centre of a criminal web, was introduced spontaneously, and it was when one realised that Conan Doyle seemed to have, upon deciding Sherlock Holmes was a distraction, sat down and written the story without prior planning. It was the unexpectedness of Sherlock’s fall; the sudden convenience, that made the whole thing feel like a last-minute affair.

Of course, this also rubbed off well on the novella and was another reason why it was one of my favourites too. As with Watson himself, the reader was so stunned by Sherlock’s sudden death that the ‘shock’ pathos was more felt than it would have been with the usual excessive levels of foreshadowing. And with the weight of the stories that succeeded it, The Final Problem was quite instrumentally placed.

That was where the BBC adaptation stood out. It had the shock factor of Sherlock’s (apparent) suicide but also a superior structure, having been prefigured by a complex arc. Simply: it had been planned.

The focal point of the narrative was Sherlock’s public image. As a character, he cared little about social perception (unlike John; conscious of being reduced to gossip, frustrated by Sherlock’s apathy on the matter). And it was here that the greatest revelations came to light: what does Sherlock care about?

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Moriarty knew how to work Sherlock. He knew what would destroy him. Exposure as a fake genius was perhaps Sherlock’s only bother in terms of his appearance – true to the fact that Sherlock is, to the end, pompous.

The success of the episode was fundamentally down its dénouement. The roof scene was questionably television’s finest climax, as all lose ends were tied up and the inventiveness (and morality) of both the good and the bad was exposed to the viewer. Everything is planned; everything has a reason, and the two masterminds stood conversing in an almost friendly manner above the rest of the city – saying something about their own idea of importance.

The (Grimm) ‘fairy-tale’ motive was disquietingly stressed by Moriarty’s storybook-complex. Yet still Sherlock himself won – for he had his own ending planned. But it wasn’t the victory which was important to the episode; it was the pressure placed on the protagonist and the decisions it led to him making. He built a solid, realistic bond with John Watson and seeing the pair torn apart by fate was a heart-rending cessation. Mrs Hudson too loved Sherlock; the mother-figure became visible towards the end of the episode. The funeral was skilfully scripted, and Mycroft’s minimal role – sitting in his office, reading the headlines – was poignantly subtle. Though perhaps the most memorable change in dynamic was between Sherlock and Molly: she always mattered.

The Reichenbach Fall is many things. It’s engrossing, suspenseful, shocking and completely beautiful. The big question now is: how did Sherlock do it? Well, the answer’s certainly ambiguous…

Verdict: 9.5/10

Catch up on the other articles in this series:

  • Mark M

    Brilliant Article David. I have loved reading this series of retrospects. Well Done

  • The Doctor, Islington

    Reichenbach is beautiful; like a sympathy.

    Doyle was a genius (reluctantly), but the show just has a sort of harmony to it that Doyle could never have achieved in his format. Not even like a game, but a dance. Like Holmes playing his violin.

  • mark27b

    Great retrospective. Whilst Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull reviewed the ‘Many Happy Returns’ minisode it would be helpful to include the link above.

    One minor quibble…suddenly stood out above other television programs…should read programmes.

    Programs is for computer coding, programmes is for TV.

    • David Selby

      Sorry – still using American English after all these years! *slaps self*

      • mark27b

        No problem, used to watch you in Falcon Crest lol.

        • David Selby

          I also played a lesser-spotted UNIT guard in Doctor Who.

  • Say Bye to Whovian Down Under

    My favourite episode of Sherlock. Loved reading about it, I’m going to watch it right now.

  • Pdurston

    Splendid review, David. Definitely my favourite Sherlock story so far.

  • Who Fan No 565

    My favourite episode of Sherlock………. only 2 days to go guys!
    And it seems the wait has been worth it!

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