Since the end of series 1, Jim Moriarty, played by Andrew Scott, has been the ever-present threat to Sherlock Holmes’ life. He had his dirty fingers in the Irene Adler adventure a couple weeks back and when Holmes was hallucinating last week, it was visions of Moriarty that haunted him. This week, everything comes to a particularly sinister end as the consulting criminal tries to solve “the final problem.” As explosive as “The Great Game” was last year, series 2’s finale, “The Reichenbach Fall,” is three times as devastating, both to the characters and to the audience. Nothing’s easy, even for the world’s greatest detective. Based on the Conan Doyle story, “The Final Problem,” this is the last of the season’s adaptations of Holmes’ most famous stories. For people who know the source material, the story in question and the reference to the Reichenbach Falls will be of particular importance. For the uninitiated… shit, man.
The episode begins with Watson tearfully telling his psychiatrist, whom he hasn’t been to since he started living and working with Sherlock, that his best friend has died. COLD OPEN INSANITY. From there we flash back several weeks to when Sherlock and Watson become more famous after solving a case involving a painting of the Reichenbach Falls. Watson worries that Sherlock is becoming too famous and that can only be a bad thing for a private detective. Foreshadow much, Watson? Basically, we should always listen to what John Watson says; he’s a smart fella. Sherlock, as always, thinks he doesn’t need friends. This is not a good plan.
It’s about this time that Jim Moriarty decides to start shit. He breaks into some of the country’s most prominent and highest-security facilities and steals nothing, but leaves messages that say “Get Sherlock.” He allows himself to be arrested and is put on trial. The prosecution’s star witness happens to be none other than Sherlock Holmes and he delights in making himself look great whilst making Moriarty seem as evil and as ingenious as they come. Sherlock shows off so much that he gets himself put in jail for contempt. Moriarty offers no defense, but puts in a plea of not guilty all the same. Much to everyone’s shock and dismay, he is acquitted and set free. Clearly he got to the jurors.
This is the point when things start to get really bad for Sherlock. It’s going to get pretty rough and I think some readers may have a hard time relieving this trauma. As I do not wish to cause any more pain, here is a means of counteracting it: I’ve decided to insert a picture of an unrelated cute puppy.
You feel good now? Okay, so Moriarty basically destroys Sherlock. He makes everybody, from public to private, lose faith in the city’s most famous and popular crime solver, and he does it by making Sherlock do what he does best. He sets up a rather nasty crime involving kidnapped children with only the slightest thread of evidence which Holmes inevitably solves, making the police look stupid. Police detectives don’t like looking stupid at the hands of an “amateur,” so the seed of doubt is sewn that maybe the reason Sherlock solves all these cases is that he’s involved in them. Even Lestrade (Rupert Graves) is forced to concede the point and pick Sherlock up.
Then comes Moriarty’s most fiendish plot; he confides in a success-hungry journalist that he is in fact an out of work actor named Richard Brook whom Sherlock Holmes paid to pretend to be Jim Moriarty, a completely fictitious person, so that the sleuth could be the big hero. Every record of James Moriarty has been expunged and lots of record of Richard Brook suddenly appears. Finally, Moriarty tells Sherlock that his best friends, Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade, will all be killed unless he commits suicide in disgrace. Moriarty essentially wins.
There’s a lot more to this episode; I’m just doing edited highlights. This is the episode where even we the audience are unsure whether Sherlock will win or not. He is utterly defeated, something only someone like Moriarty could manage. For those who have read “The Final Problem,” you know that it ends with Sherlock and Moriarty falling to their deaths from the Reichenbach Falls. Here, Sherlock is not content to have it be so simple; the decision whether to die rests entirely on Holmes and it has to be in complete discredited embarrassment. There’s nothing like taking your lead character, an almost superhuman, taking away everything on which he can count, and reducing him to a sad tabloid footnote. This episode is hard to watch because we want so badly for Sherlock to be victorious; we need him to be, just as Watson needs him to be. Sherlock’s downfall and John’s ultimate angry despair in the aftermath are truly heartbreaking and are arguably Cumberbatch and Freeman’s finest performances.
Once again here, like all the episodes this series, the supporting characters are integral to the story, both in plot and relationship and they all are masterful. I really love the ensemble nature of the show and how each personality enhances the rest. From slowly disbelieving Lestrade to always helpful Molly (Louise Brealey) to never-helpful Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), whose indiscretions are most hurtful here, the supporting cast is brilliant from start to finish. Andrew Scott as Moriarty might be the most terrifying screen villain around. I’d gladly take on a fleet of Daleks and half a Weeping Angel than have to spend more than two minutes in a room with him. He is so good in the role that I actually worry he’s chemically imbalanced. He’s also made the Irish accent menacing for the first time maybe ever.
After seeing two of writer Steve Thompson’s earlier television efforts, Sherlock series one’s “The Blind Banker” and Doctor Who series six’s “The Curse of the Black Spot,” I was pretty worried that he’d be equally mediocre with “The Reichenbach Fall.” With such an important story, I feared he would really drop the ball and not do justice to the first two fantastic episodes. I say, they should always give this guy this much despair to play with. He seems to revel in making Sherlock Holmes the butt of Moriarty’s twisted joke. The final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty is one of the best written, best acted scenes in the entirety of the show and I truly tip my metaphorical hat to Thompson for making the episode both twisted and grounded.
Unlike the first two episodes, which were directed by Paul McGuigan, this episode was directed by Doctor Who director Toby Haynes, who shows that he is both adaptable and virtuosic. His style fits right into the world of the show, while he doesn’t do as many flourishes as McGuigan, the episode doesn’t need them and Haynes finds ways of making each scene and each shot important and unique. The scene at the end with Watson AT A PLACE WITH TREES AND GRASS is incredibly well blocked and shot and it allows what is essentially a monologue to breath like a conversation. With the five Who episodes he’s done and now this Sherlock episode, I’m gonna go ahead and say somebody should give Toby Haynes a feature film. He’s got the chops for sure.
And that’s this season of Sherlock. It was brilliant, but now again we have to wait for more. I want more immediately, but that ain’t how it’s done. CBS is putting out their own Sherlock Holmes series called Elementary starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. So that’s a thing. I don’t know who they have writing it, but it can’t not be a pale imitation of the BBC series. My want of more Sherlock is strong, but the genuine article is worth the wait.