TV REVIEW: Sherlock Season 2 Episode 3 – The Reichenbach Fall

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

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4 comments

  1. I have to admit I didn’t like Andrew Scott’s portrayal in the earlier episodes, but here it all makes sense as he admits his own insanity and then goes to the most extreme lengths to ensure Sherlock cannot escape the trap. The encounters between the two antagonists – flip sides of the same coin – throughout the episode were handled beautifully. And Martin Freeman’s quiet grief was indeed heart-breaking. Watson was always a fairly stoic character, and Freeman’s performance is both subtle and absolutely spot-on.

    Thank God they are coming back for more. Moffat and Gatiss confirmed that season 3 was commissioned at the same time as season 2, but there was no mention of a projected airdate. With both Cumberbatch and Freeman busy on film projects, we may have to wait quite a while for Sherlock’s return from the dead.

    My thoughts are here
    http://slouchingtowardsthatcham.com/2012/01/16/sherlock-the-reichenbach-fall-review/ but everyone should look at the latest entry on John Watson’s blog (go to the BBC Sherlock website to find it), which contains a video clip of a mock BBC Breakfast news story noting Holmes’ demise. It’s brilliant.

  2. I’m, personally, struggling with the end.

    Being a long time reader and absurdly, intimately, obsessed fan of everything Sherlock Holmes; I watch these episodes against a background of the original stories.

    And the BBC has not disappointed me… At all. In fact– quite the opposite.

    Scott’s Moriarty is, I feel, better! than the original. A consulting criminal… Brilliant. And at a similar age to Sherlock. His portrayal is incredible and, if you care to go down this path, fits most, if not all, DSM criteria for a psychopath. Amazing.

    So the ending of this most recent episode… Sherlock is quickly taken by ‘paramedics,’ yes? Notice where? Into an alley-way… Not an ambulance. Doyle’s original “homeless network;” the, “Baker Street Irregulars,” is my best guess. As for the body that fell? The mannequin that was hanging in his apartment perhaps. The little girl who was kidnapped, she screamed at the sight of Sherlock– the kidnapper obviously resembled him. Perhaps Sherlock used him? In the story that follows, “The Final Problem,” the, “Empty House,” Sherlock has a wax bust of himself made and it resembles him perfectly. So well he fools even Col. Sebastian Moran into shooting it and believing that he’d just killed Holmes. Perhaps the BBC guys will bring this into account.

    Knowing full well that they both had to die, I was still shocked the Moriarty killed himself that way. It is making sense to me the more I think of it however; he did then realize how good Sherlock was. So good that he could figure out how to call off the assassination.

    What do you think of the ending?

  3. it doesn’t make sense for them to kill off moriarty. my guess is gun was filled with blanks and he had blood pack attached for effect.

    meanwhile

    HOW DID THE PROFESSIONAL KILLERS KNOW NOT TO KILL THE OTHERS? only the one with watson in his gun sights was able to see holmes appear to jump, the others didn’t.

  4. Robert /

    Having watched the episode thrice, I can say that I am confused that Moriarty won so easily. Sherlock comes to the roof convinced that the computer code was legitimate and has figured out the deconstruction of himself. If that was not the interaction that was presented, please point out where I am wrong.
    Sherlock then solves the riddle of getting Moriarty to break, but it is a bluff, as we see all through this episode, including the aggressive attack on the children’s caretaker to make her talk quickly.
    So, Moriarty fails to see through the ‘ordinary’ man’s actions and then kills himself to force Holmes to kill himself as well? It seems a fool’s errand all around when there were so many better ways to conclude this.

    For me, this was the least plausible of the two seasons and the most impossible of actions for both Holmes and Moriarty. Don’t worry, I look forward to the next season, but I hope the actions are a bit more grounded.

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