Sherlock‘s Series Two went out with “The Reichenbach Fall”, based on the original mystery “The Final Problem” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is a short but extremely important story in the history of Sherlock Holmes, and many things could have gone wrong in attempting to adapt it, but the writers rose to the challenge.
This third episode finally brought back the Sherlock that I became hooked on in Series One. As readers of my reviews know, I was not impressed by “A Scandal in Belgravia” or “The Hounds of Baskerville” because the methods used to bring those stories into the 21st century seemed contrived, over thought, and overdone. “The Reichenbach Fall” doesn’t involve any women of ill repute or spectral animals. Instead it goes back to the very essence of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. You have a criminal who has committed a crime and plans to do more, and you have Sherlock who’s bent on catching and stopping him. The methods of modernizing the story were clever, creative, and they were not the driving force of the story. That was left up to the characters, as it should be. This episode was so good, I had to watch it a second time just to be able to do it justice in this review.
WARNING: Spoilers for both “The Reichenbach Fall” and Doyle’s “The Final Problem” follow! Read on at your own risk!
“The Final Problem” was Doyle’s method of ending the Sherlock Holmes Mysteries. What better way than to kill off your main character, right? To do that, Doyle needed to create a character that was the intellectual equal but the moral opposite of Holmes. Professor James Moriarty was built up as a leader of a large crime ring. He would protect them from the law and they would share their spoils and be loyal to him in return. After Watson married and started his own medical practice, Holmes discovers and spends months tracking down all the members of Moriarty’s crime ring, setting them up for the authorities. He visits Watson unexpectedly after narrowly escaping three attempts on his life by Moriarty, who has sworn revenge because he has nothing left. Holmes and Watson quickly leave London to get out of Moriarty’s reach, but he escapes the law and follows them. Eventually he catches up, tricks Watson into leaving Holmes alone, and then corners Holmes by a large rocky waterfall called Reichenbach Fall. When Watson returns both men are gone. A note left by Holmes explains that Moriarty found him, and it is quickly assumed that both men went over the falls and into the rocks below, their bodies impossible to recover. Holmes’ death was not to be though. Eight years later, Doyle bowed to public pressure and resurrected Holmes from the dead!
Since Moriarty was this huge crime boss and the instrument of Holmes’ supposed demise, anyone would expect that Moriarty had played a large role in the Holmes Mysteries for some time. In fact, this isn’t true at all. Moriarty played a direct role in only one other story, “The Valley of Fear”. Confusingly, the story was published after “The Final Problem”, but it was set well before that. Later adaptations of the mysteries have embraced Moriarty, including him in many of the mysteries and setting him up as the perfect arch enemy that he was always meant to be, only with one change. He doesn’t die so quickly!
While I knew that eventually Sherlock would attempt to rewrite this story – what writer can resist the chance to kill his main character without repercussions? – I was surprised that they did it so quickly. Jim Moriarty has been a highly effective and fascinating character to watch. Unlike his namesake, he’s completely crazy despite his intellect. He craves a challenge because just “Staying Alive” (as the Bee Gee’s sing) is boring. For that reason he intentionally provoked Sherlock in “The Great Game”. He doesn’t go after Sherlock out of revenge, but rather because he wanted a distraction from his everyday life. Once the distraction was over, once he’d beaten Sherlock, he was disappointed that he would have to go back to playing with “ordinary people”.
“The Reichenbach Fall” does an excellent job of modernizing this story while keeping true to the spirit of the original, all the while still building on the canon within the series. Many elements are reversed, but that’s part of the fun of it. In fact, you could say that the original mystery was too straightforward for Sherlock to adapt directly. For instance, instead of Sherlock backing Moriarty into a corner, destroying his criminal empire, Moriarty is on the offensive, actively planting the seeds of Sherlock’s destruction. Moriarty doesn’t trick John into leaving Sherlock alone, Sherlock does that himself. Instead of no one being witness to Sherlock’s fall, there were probably a dozen witnesses, maybe more, and a body to prove it.
What I don’t get is why Moriarty chose to just shoot himself in the mouth. He had won. Yes, Sherlock had realized that he could force Moriarty to call off the assassins that were taking aim at his friends, and I think Moriarty realized that Sherlock was prepared to do absolutely anything. However instead of randomly committing suicide just to spite Sherlock, he could have turned that gun on Sherlock and forced him to jump. As much as I kind of knew Moriarty was going to die because I know the original mystery, I was shocked that the writers chose to do it. Why waste such a fantastically maniacal villain?
Actually there’s another thing that I don’t get, but it’s alright because nobody is supposed to get it. Not yet anyway. How the heck do you talk to someone on a cell phone, someone who can see you from the street, and then jump off a building face first – a hospital no less where the first responders were doctors and nurses qualified to accurately tell if you are dead – be pronounced dead, and NOT die? How did Sherlock do it? If he didn’t actually fall off the roof, who did? Or what did? Sherlock went to Molly for help, no doubt because of her ties to the hospital. She probably helped him fake it, but how? Theories are flying, some probable, but I prefer to wait and see how the writers will approach it. I bet there’s a logical explanation and I’m probably going to kick myself for not thinking of it, but I know one thing for certain. If it isn’t feasible, if I can’t believe it, it’s going to ruin everything!
Those who haven’t read the original mysteries by Doyle may be wondering how Holmes survived the fall from the waterfall. That has a very simple solution compared to what Sherlock is going to have to present. Moriarty did in fact try to take Holmes down the waterfall with him, but Holmes wriggled free at the last moment. Moriarty lost his balance and fell to his death alone. Holmes saw the chance to fake his own death in order to escape the last three of Moriarty’s associates, who he felt would certainly come after him if they knew he was alive. So in order to leave no tracks of his departure, he climbed onto the rock wall behind the waterfall and found a ledge where he hid until the authorities concluded that we was in fact dead. He spent the three years traveling, researching, and waiting for the right time to return to London. Ironically, Mycroft, who so blindly offered Sherlock up for sacrifice the “The Reichenbach Fall” was Holmes’ sole confident in “The Final Problem” because Holmes needed money.
So how long is Sherlock going to stay away, leaving John to think that he’s dead? Clearly it has already been days. They have buried Sherlock, or so they think. Mrs. Hudson is trying to figure out what to do with all of Sherlock’s scientific equipment. John is still in a state of disbelief. Who knows. As for the Third Series, the episode name has yet to be released according to IMDB, so it could be quite some time before we hear what the air date will be. So like John we will just have to find a way to cope with what we know.
I give Sherlock’s “The Reichenbach Fall” five well earned SpaceGypsy Wagons!