Sherlock series 2 episode 3: The Reichenbach Fall spoiler-free review

Review Louisa Mellor 11 Jan 2012 - 21:06
Sherlock

The end is nigh for series 2 of Sherlock, as The Reichenbach Fall sees Holmes face up to his greatest challenge. Here's our spoiler-free review...

 

You either already know the significance of the Reichenbach Falls to Sherlock Holmes or you don’t. If you don’t, then you’ll find out within a few minutes of episode 2.3, and what minutes those are. 

For anyone who still needs convincing about Martin Freeman’s Watson (and it must be pretty lonely to number amongst them), The Reichenbach Fall shows exactly why Peter Jackson was willing to rearrange production on a very, very expensive film to accommodate Freeman’s schedule, and why Freeman himself was prepared to turn down the most high-profile role of his career to see out a part in a BBC drama. He’s a bit brilliant in it. There’ll be tears before bedtime.

Writer Steve Thompson, the man behind series one’s The Blind Banker, was tasked with sculpting The Final Problem into ninety minutes of exciting, emotional drama, and you’ll be relieved to know he’s done a tremendous job.

Any qualms that might have been held about Moffat and Gatiss not delivering the script for this one themselves should be forgotten by the time the credits roll. That said, if it’s even possible to disentangle the two, The Reichenbach Fall is an episode where the performances eclipse the writing. 

Martin Freeman is heartbreakingly good at showing Watson’s repressed vulnerability, and Benedict Cumberbatch displays a broader emotional range than we’ve yet seen from his Sherlock whilst maintaining the mask of a controlled rationalist. The Hounds of Baskerville showed Holmes in the grip of terror, but The Reichenbach Fall has him facing up to horror. 

The source of that horror? Well, that would be telling, but you can more or less guess whose hand has orchestrated the checkmate Holmes is placed in towards the end of the episode. 

So far, series 2 of Sherlock has foregrounded Sherlock’s relationships, and The Reichenbach Fall is no different. This time it’s not Sherlock’s best friend, love interest, brother or housekeeper under the spotlight, but his nemesis.

Andrew Scott is a delicious Moriarty. Clearly insane, clearly a genius and clearly every bit as obsessed with Sherlock as Adler was, Scott exudes menace. It’s all in those eyes. 

Scott plays Moriarty as a composite villain, one part Gary Oldman in Leon, another part Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight and the rest something horrible he’s cooked up with the show’s creators (and quite possibly his therapist, judging from this performance). Despite seeing so much of him in the episode, Scott’s Moriarty remains a chilling antagonist.

There are those who disagree with me on that, but they’ve plenty of prior incarnations with which to sate their appetites for an older, less playfully disturbed villain, so should be happy to leave us Scott fans to go cheerfully about our business.

With the audacious new Moriarty come a couple of bold musical choices the likes of which we’ve not seen before in Sherlock. An apocalyptic Nina Simone track is put front and centre in one montage, while Arnold and Price’s score gives way to a well-known classical piece for a nicely choreographed action sequence.

Thompson and Doctor Who director Toby Haynes arguably have the most personal Holmes story to tell here, but also the most action-filled. Their skill is shown in having balanced the big noise of The Reichenbach Fall’s action sequences without suffocating its quiet, contemplative moments. 

It’s a story about faith, doubt, reputation, and sacrifice. The tabloid press doesn’t come out of it well, but then it’s been a year for that hasn’t it?

The episode includes a pithy critique of the capricious nature of celebrity alongside all the usual Sherlock ingredients. There are clues to be found, kidnap victims to rescue, breadcrumb trails to follow and deduction to be done. 

Disparate threads are woven together in another clever update to a well-known tale, one which seems to take inspiration not just from Conan Doyle’s stories, but from the 1930s Rathbone version of Sherlock facing his final problem (in the choices of location at any rate).

The episode, as ever, requires that its audience pays attention, and thanks to more than one shift in chronology, nipping out for a cuppa mid-way doesn’t come recommended. Not that you’ll want to nip out of course, not for a story with this emotional heft. 

Like I said, tears before bedtime. Prepare yourselves.

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