Monday 16 January 2012

Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall

Reichenbach To Basics

Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall
Airdate: January 15th 2012. UK. BBC1

Warning: If you’re not already familiar with the broad sweeps
of the original Holmes story on which this one is based...
you can be pretty sure this review is gonna have some
massive spoilers... not to mention one hell of a rant!

Hmmmmm. The Reichenbach Fall, based on Holmes story The Final Problem, which ended with the death of both the title character and his arch nemesis, is not the worst episode in the new series of Sherlock. I am firm in my resolve that last week's was the worst. However, it has to be said, that this episode was also not that great and, although this is partially due to obvious writing in a lot of places... the real blame has to be placed at the last 15 seconds or so of the episode, where the BBC (or at least the writers working for them) proved themselves totally gutless by completely copping out in exactly the same way that Guy Ritchie did in his recent (and still showng at a cinema near you) big screen adaptation partially based on the same story, Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (read my review here).

To address the former problem first... the actual detecting and total lack of the element of surprise was, I believe, due to clumsy writing which made pretty much most of the episode totally predictable. Shortly after an envelope filled with something that looks like thick powder is brought into play as an element of the so-called mystery, for example, a victim’s room is shown to contain a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. As soon as this was glanced on screen I told the people I was sitting with that the envelope obviously contained bread crumbs and that, if the writing continued to be this obvious, then I wouldn’t be surprised if something to do with ginger-bread turns up in a minute.

This, of course, proved to be the case and there really wasn’t a sense of surprise in the episode at all, I’m afraid. I could predict, just from the pacing, when exactly Mrs. Hudson was going to drop into the narrative and how non-existent Moriarty might seem to be sometime soon. To be fair, I assumed about ten minutes into it that Moriarty had not yet appeared on screen at all in either the first or second series but was just a man posing as Moriarty on his behalf... a paid avatar, if you like. When the plot began to look like it was following that prediction too, I must admit I flung my hands up in the air.

However, to give credit where credit’s due, aside from the obvious plot turns, the directing and editing were back to being on form after the “slow-horror” burn of last weeks episode. While I didn’t enjoy all of the little visual representations and metaphors intended to show us the inner workings of Holmes’ mercurial mind quite as much as usual, the information overload, quick-fire delivery of small notions and concepts was a welcome return to the style on display in the majority of the episodes of the two series’ so far.

And, naturally, the acting was superb as I have come to expect from this series. Cumberbatch, Freeman and Gatiss were all great but I’d have to give a special shout out to Rupert Graves who has been consistently playing the most likeable characterisation of Inspector Lestrade since Dennis Hoey’s excellent “why-if-it-isn’t-mister-’olmes” version from the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce versions of the war era. Extra credit, really, has to go to Andrew Scott who is absolutely riveting playing Holmes nemesis Moriarty. It’s true that he plays him in much the same way as he might play a certain Gallifreyan timelord (can we have Moriarty as the next Doctor Who please?) but he certainly isn’t a boring interpretation and is pretty much the only person you are watching when he’s on screen. Completely into this interpretation of the character.

But all this falls down, I’m afraid, and pales into insignificance when it comes to the last 15-30 seconds of the episode... the last in the series until Series 3 airs. This is why...

When Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Final Problem, he ended it with both Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty plunging to their death in the Reichenbach Falls. And that was it. Game Over. Sherlock Holmes was dead... let that be an end to it.

Why? Well Conan Doyle wanted to write other stuff so he killed his popular character, thinking that would do the trick with his adoring public I suspect. And so Holmes was dead for ten years. Ten long years of real time (and an absence of around 4 years I think, in terms of story timeline... don’t hold me to that one though... I’m not a rabid Holmes fan) barring the writing of the story The Hound Of The Baskervilles after 8 of those years... a story Conan Doyle wrote as being set before the events of Reichanbach. But that wasn’t good enough for his public... they wanted Holmes back properly and so, eventually, Conan Doyle gave him a miracle escape and started writing more stories of the logic-bound sleuth.

And that’s what should have happened in last night’s episode and it’s also what should have happened in the recent Guy Ritchie movie. Unfortunately the new movie proved to worrying a prospect, I suspect, for the film company to risk the non-literary section of the general public thinking the character was “done in” and then wait three years for the next movie without self-hyping it enough. So in the last minute or so of the movie, Holmes makes an unexplained (as yet) return to the narrative... unmasking his deception to the audience while still keeping his fellow characters “out of the loop” at this juncture.

Okay... so it was gutless and annoying and frankly, I’d have expected more fight from the British director (who may have even made the decision to do this himself for all I know) but I certainly didn’t expect Stephen Moffat and co at the BBC not to at least leave Holmes dead for the short year between series'. Honestly... it’s an absolute insult to the general public that they are “writing down” to us in this way, especially when the previous series and the opening episode of this one were so much more intelligently considered. It’s not good enough and when I realised Watson’s graveyard goodbye to Holmes was going on way more than the duration of the shot called for, I said to my dad, who was watching it with me, “Oh no! They’re going to screw it up again aren’t they!” True enough, there was Holmes observing Watson at his “cemetery plot” and I was dismayed that, even after priming the audience sufficiently that Holmes was up to something with Molly and having a “random cyclist” (probably Molly again) hit Watson (presumably drugging him?) just as he’s running to the un-named corpse on the pavement, the audience would be more than prepared for Holmes miraculous return in the next series. But no... the powers that be obviously didn’t want to take that risk (nor the risk that people would not want another series apparently) because they managed to find a way to leave the show on a cliff-hanger, of sorts, again. Yep! They managed to turn Reichenbach Falls into a cliffhanger ending! Doh!

Now everyone wants to know how Holmes pulled off such a trick and they’re gagging for an explanation I expect. I’m sorry... but that was not a clever move. It was too cheap and easy and I don’t think I forgive the BBC for that one. Don’t get me wrong, I love cliffhangers... but this was just not needed and neither, in my book, was it a welcome ending. We needed to see Holmes die and we needed to feel its permanence. Now, all the drama that could have been wrung out of the first episode of Series 3 on this element (not to mention the humour of the situation which, to be fair, they’ll still manage to get in I guess) has been wasted. This was not a good way to end it and, as you can probably guess by now, I was more annoyed by this one than I was by the Series 1 finale.

Okay... not giving up on the show yet. I’ll happily be there at the start of Series 3 because, no matter how valid (or invalid, depending on your point of view) my criticisms are of this series, it’s still pretty much the best written and presented show on British television at the moment... I’ll grudgingly restate that. And the music’s pretty cool too. But they really need to get their game on if they want to hold my interest next time around. Really hope they do.


  1. I enjoyed both this and the Hounds episode, but agree that neither reached the heights of episode one.

    Of course, this is all relative, as Sherlock is pretty much the best British drama I've seen in an age.

    As for the ending...that Holmes made an appearance next to his own grave was rather predictable. Not sure I was as aggrieved as you - the fact that series 3 had already been commissioned meant I wasn't grieving like poor Watson.


  2. Hi there...

    Sorry it's taken so long to get back to answering my comments. I appreciate your reading.

    Yeah, I was pretty aggrieved.