TV REVIEW: Sherlock Season 2 Episode 3 – The Reichenbach Fall
Posted by brogen on January 15, 2012
James Moriarty (Andrew Scott) pulls off the crime of the century; he breaks into The Tower of London, The Bank of England and Pentonville Prison at the same time. Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John (Martin Freeman) knew that Moriarty would not stay hidden for long, but they did not expect him to return with such a bang.
Now it is up to Sherlock to solve Moriarty’s ‘Final Problem’ while holding on to his reputation, sanity and his life. Can Sherlock outwit his nemesis before it’s too late?
If season one of Sherlock was about building the mystery of the title character and his world, then season two has been about tearing it down. Episode one saw Sherlock’s cool façade crack when confronted with a woman he admired, episode two saw his sanity and his rationale come in to question and now Moriarty returns with the biggest challenge that Sherlock has faced, one that stands to destroy everything that Sherlock holds dear.
After last week’s slightly weaker episode – The Hounds of Baskerville – Sherlock returns to our screens with what is possibly the best episode we have seen so far. Steve Thompson – who penned the episode of Doctor Who; The Curse of the Black Spot – has created a tangled web of mystery and intrigue. Almost every character we have encountered so far – from Mycroft to Lestrade and everyone in between – is drawn in somehow, and Moriarty sits at the centre, as Sherlock notes; like a spider. Moriarty pulls the strings and watches everyone dance.
Steve Thompson has taken Conan Doyle’s story The Final Problem and brought it into the modern day. While the elements of the story remain the same – Sherlock and Moriarty finally face off, and Watson is distracted by a hoax report of an ailing woman – most of the story is used as inspiration, rather than told verbatim. The story takes place in London; Sherlock has reached the height of his fame after the recovery of a Turner painting, aptly titled The Reichenbach Falls, and Moriarty returns with the intent of bringing him down and solving ‘The Final Problem’.
The games that Moriarty plays are designed to make Sherlock – and his adoring public – doubt the evidence of his own mind, but after his breakthrough in The Hounds of Baskerville, Sherlock may not be as easily fooled as Moriarty hopes.
Benedict Cumberbatch is on fine form in the title role. His performance in this episode is suffused with a melancholy that suggests the character is aware of the fate that awaits him. This foreshadowing leads to Moriarty being able to finally confront Sherlock, but we always knew that while Moriarty may be one step ahead of Sherlock, it is hard to pull the wool over his eyes. While Sherlock’s trademark smart statements are fully evident at the start of the episode, as time goes on, he appears to be worn down by the gravity of the situation he is facing. His final phone call to John is heartbreaking in its sincerity and frustrating in it’s simplicity, but also serves to remind us that Sherlock is merely playing the role that Moriarty expects of him.
Martin Freeman is absolutely heartbreaking as John Watson, the man who has lost his tenuous hold on the new life he found after he returned from Afghanistan. His grudging admission of the reason he returned to therapy after an 18-month break throws a shadow over the episode, and gives the audience something to hope for… and against. Martin Freeman allows John Watson to be lost without his friend, and his devastation matches the audiences’ as we fear we may lose the best character we have seen on screen in years. As always, John is a sounding board for Sherlock, but for the first time Sherlock begins to push his friend and confidant away, confusing and hurting John, which means that his eventual heartbreak is only greater – he thought he would be able to win Sherlock back, but loses his chance.
The star of the show, however, has to be Andrew Scott as Moriarty. Not only does he get to become the criminal mastermind we always knew he was, he gets to dress up in the Crown Jewels and deliver some absolutely first class lines, including; ‘Every fairy tale needs a good, old fashioned villain’ and ‘Suddenly, I’m Mr. Sex’. Scott throws out these lines with such aplomb that he steers clear of comedy and becomes egotistical and deliciously malicious. Moriarty is a chameleon, and has taken on the power of disguise that Sherlock uses in the original books, albeit for a different reason. Holmes disguises himself to evade capture, whereas Moriarty blends in with the intent of furthering Sherlock’s disgrace and potential insanity. And he does it with style…
This episode is a return to form for Sherlock. We see the consulting detective at his best – solving the mystery of two kidnapped children – while he struggles with his demons and, ultimately, his mortality. The consulting criminal is at the peak of his powers and he plays mind games with Sherlock in the hopes of toppling him from his throne. London returns as the backdrop to the episode, and also as a character of itself. The text on screen is still there, as well as a great sequence with a map in Sherlock’s imagination. The editing, dialogue and an unusual use of music add to the pace, and while there is a lot going on, the problem is finally and fatally solved.
This is the episode of Sherlock we have been waiting for, and it is outstanding. There are thrills, spills and plenty of mystery. It is possible that Gatiss and Moffat could put an end to the series here, but with 9 million viewers tuning in to A Scandal in Belgravia, it hardly seems likely. While we are not left with as painful a cliff hanger as at the end of the last season, the end of the episode is sure to leave audiences screaming in frustration.
We look forward to welcoming Sherlock back to our screens; after all, there is one final mystery he has not solved… That of his ‘death’.
GS Reviewer: Brogen Hayes