Monday, January 16, 2012

Oh Sherlock, our Sherlock --- a spoilery-tastic reflection on "The Reichenbach Fall"

Spoilers - spoilers - so if you haven't seen the 'finale' of 'series' two, "The Reichenbach Fall", then look away now.

I said NOW.

Looking away? Waiting til you have seen the episode?


Oh flipperty-gibbets, WHAT a finale!

From the opening despair of John Watson visiting his psychiatrist ("I haven't seen you in eighteen months" - oh we know, we KNOW! [1]), and the streaming rain of tears outside her window... we were in for bumpy emotions. Dear lovely sweet John Watson, all military stiff-upper lip and rod-back, stumbled towards saying what he did not want to acknowledge: "Sherlock Holmes is dead".

We were promised "tears before bedtime" (thanks Mr Gatiss for the warning, though more importantly, thanks - *sob* - Mr Steve Thompson, whose pen delivered this 'final problem'.)

Those familiar with the original stories [2] will know that 'The Final Problem' is where and Holmes meets his doom at the Reichenbach Falls along with Moriarty. This modern re-working of Holmes took the demise and gave its modern setting twists galore.

There were nods to all manner of cultural reference points here: Moriarty (probably Andrew Scott's best performance in the role) channelled the spirit of Gary Oldman in Leon with his neck-cracking, classical music-listening criminal actions; and was it only our house that thought 'SETEC ASTRONOMY' at the mention of a code to break all codes? [3].

Additionally, where the original tale had assassins AFTER Sherlock, this re-visioning has the assassins protecting him (in a fashion). Of course, their ultimate and actual task is revealed to be far more horrific to contemplate - to kill three of those closest to Sherlock, should certain conditions not be met.

The role of the media was crucial in both creating and presenting Moriarty with a solution to 'The Final Problem' - given Holmes' massive public profile as a genius to rival Moriarty - not least in saving for the nation Turner's lost masterpiece 'The Great Falls of the Reichenbach', what should Moriarty do to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes?

And so Moriarty devises - in no small part thanks to the ineptitude of pompous brother Mycroft Holmes - a falling down to rival the fight at the Reichenbach Falls. To publicly undermine Sherlock's genius in the public eye - to make him seem 'human' - would have been one thing; but Moriarty engineers events through his alter-ego as Rich Brook, actor, to make it seem that Sherlock has been deliberately generating crimes to solve, faking the whole thing, even to hiring Brook to 'play' Moriarty.

Of course, the idea that Sherlock would go so far as to create crimes to solve and show off solving is a fallacy that the detestable Sgt Sally Donovan and the equally obnoxious pathologist Anderson eagerly believe in, overruling Lestrade's instincts to stand by Sherlock. I was fair shouting at the TV by this point saying "why do you believe them?!"

But then Holmes can be, inherently is, a show-off. Watson: “Don’t try to be clever. Intelligent is fine, but let’s give Smart Alec a wide berth.” Holmes: “I’ll just be myself.” He's caught too much public eye, but he can't help but be smart, to see the connections, to follow the trails. Sherlock cannot help but show the limitations of slower, normal human thinking: no wonder he baulks so viciously at Katherine Parkinson's not-fan/journalist: "You repel me" (a line she turns back on Sherlock when she is in thrall to Richard Brooks as the hired actor who has played Moriarty to Sherlock's ego).

It is not just about the dialogue though: it is in the performances as a whole that the elegance really shines through. Cumberbatch playing a rattled Sherlock is a glory to behold, but that it is acutely observed by the adoring Molly is a touch of tear-choking genius. Her recognition that he's sad, something she sees when no-one is looking, like her dying grandfather could not cover over either, is heart-rending, not least for the confused sense of feeling some emotion that Cumberbatch conveys in a twitch of his eyes. In the end, he asks a favour of Molly: by the culminating seconds of the episode - oh please tell me it is so - we should know what that may be.

Before then, there is the roof: Moriarty at his maddest, his most frustrated, and Sherlock at his most diminished, triumphant and then despairing. Caught in a lock-down, battling wits and nerve against each other, showing puzzles that were not and revealing puzzles 'unexpected'... Moriarty shoots himself to avoid 'defeat' (is he REALLY dead?), and Sherlock, knowing that unless his own body is seen, three of those closest to him will die [4] ... well, Sherlock shows his humanity and falls gracefully, thoroughly, to his death.

Or does he?

Sherlock talking on his mobile with a returned John Watson from his hoax errand (another nod to the original tale), is a masterpiece of dialogue, emotion and delivery, but after watching the fall, Watson is knocked over and crashes to the ground - he is at best dazed when absorbing the sight of his friend on the pavement, skull crushed and bleeding.

So we come to the final graveyard sequence [5]. If you weren't crying by now, then Watson's choking rebuttal of the lie was wondrous to watch, and his line "Don't be dead" was the final straw.



And then the final shot. Sherlock, watching John walk away from the grave.

Back for more?

I cannot wait to see what they do next.


[1] Launched on an unsuspecting world in summer 2009, Sherlock has been an instant hit. How and why the BBC could not have foreseen that and re-commissioned the series on completion is baffling. Still...

[2] And if you don't know the original stories, go read them now! What on earth are you doing watching this stuff and not familiarising yourself with the origins of the character and concept?

[3] Go watch 'Sneakers'. Now. It's fab.

[4] Why Watson, Mrs Hudson and Lestrade (rather than Molly as the third)? Because Moriarty never really got the Molly thing: he wouldn't understand her maintained belief, to do anything to help Holmes...

[5] Again, no Molly... whatever she knows or does not know, whatever part she has played in what happened at the fall, she would not be able to bear being at the grave.


Skuds said...

It was spectacular, far better than the Baskerville one which (for me) was by far the weakest of the 6 episodes but I thought that the final shot of Sherlock spoiled it.

Conan Doyle didn't feel it necessary to include any hint that Holmes was alive at the end of The Final Problem - though to be fair even he didn't know at the time since he was trying to kill him off.

I can remember the first time of reading the original and the feeling of confusion about whether Moriarty really did exist after all, even though you knew he really did, and that transferred really well with even Sherlock appearing to have some doubts as to his sanity.

Glad that Moriarty ridiculed the idea of a tiny bit of computer code being able to open anything. Up to then it had been a worry that something so patently impossible could be a major plot point.

The idea that Holmes has to remain 'dead' to protect Watson is another thing carried over from the original quite well I think.

Now very much looking forward to the 21st-Century version of The Empty Room!

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Yeah, I would have liked to NOT have the final shot (although I do think that it be read --- at least until Twitter --- that it wasn't necessarily a 'real' shot, more imagination, hope, expectation on the part of the viewer)

Mostly though I was hacked off at becoming certain there was a new series (not as I am ungrateful, but it took some of that uncertainty off and made the final image more definite...)

JoeinVegas said...

Those Sherlock episodes supposed to start here soon, right after Downton Abby. Have you seen the new Sherlock movie, and how it treated the ending to the 'falling over the falls'?

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

No - was meant to se new Sherlock Downey film over Xmas and it hasn't managed to happen yet. A shame, but we watched the first on DVD so it may be the same with the second one!

Jane Henry said...

LOVED it!! I have no more to say. Except that BC and MF my two new heroes...