Explaining the ending of Sherlock series 2
The finale to series 2 of Sherlock posed viewers one or two head scratchers. Luckily, the internet has risen to the challenge and provided these answers. Massive spoilers ahead...
This article contains spoilers.
From Silver Blaze, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:
“It is one of those cases where the art of the reasoner should be used rather for the sifting of details than for the acquiring of fresh evidence. The tragedy has been so uncommon, so complete, and of such personal importance to so many people that we are suffering from a plethora of surmise, conjecture, and hypothesis. The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact – of absolute undeniable fact – from the embellishments of theorists and reporters.”
You can say that again. Sherlock Holmes may have been on about a disappeared horse when he uttered the above, but a plethora of surmise, conjecture, and hypothesis is a pretty spot-on description of what the internet has steadily been filling up with since Sunday night.
The tragedy of Sherlock’s flappy coat seeming to have flapped its last flap in The Reichenbach Fall was of such personal importance to so many people that, unwilling to wait eighteen months or longer for an explanation, the web’s hive mind set about doing some deducing of its own. And by Jove, I think they’ve got it.
This round-up is indebted to the tireless work of the commenters on this site who have sifted through details to provide theories and observations galore. Here goes then, just how did Sherlock pull off the mother of all fake-outs?
As soon as the latter stages of Moriarty’s game dawn on Sherlock, it’s off to Molly he runs, to tell her not only that she counts, but that he needs her help.
We can assume then, that Molly Hooper is in some way instrumental to Sherlock’s false ending. Conveniently, she wasn’t one of Moriarty’s three targets, despite being on the Baker Street Christmas party invite list, and despite Moriarty knowing about her thanks to those three dates they went on (she sure can pick ‘em, that Molly Hooper).
Molly not being tracked by a sniper meant she could gad about falsifying coroner’s reports and fiddling with corpses to her heart’s content. Or to Sherlock’s content, we should say.
Her access to dead bodies, pathology reports and medical personnel make her a sure thing for some kind of involvement. But which was it? A corpse-swap? A false report? Both?
The rubbish truck
Killer7 was the first but by no means the last of our commenters to cite the significance of the red pick-up truck in Sherlock’s Houdini-like escape. Filled with rubbish bags (but is that all it's filled with?), the open-backed vehicle was parked next to the spot on the pavement spot where the body landed, and pulled away just as the crowd rushed to the scene.
That’s some damning evidence right there. Casually driving off when a man has seemingly jumped to his death mere feet away is unusual behaviour to say the least. Clever commenters have suggested that the truck – if it was indeed Sherlock who jumped – was a prepared and cushioned landing spot, parked precisely to block Watson’s view (and presumably that of the sniper Holmes was also trying to fool) giving Sherlock time to break a blood capsule or two and move relatively unharmed to the pavement where he played dead.
If not that, then the truck could still have been there to obscure a switch of some kind, and to carry off the non-Sherlock body, whoever that may be.
One interesting observation arrived from commenter Aranya, who remarked upon the clearly chalked out rectangle on the pavement surrounding the spot the body landed, a shape which tallied precisely with where the truck was parked. Chalk? Suspicious driving? Bags of rubbish? It’s got plan written all over it.
This was no accident, our commenters screamed. On his way to the body, Watson was knocked down by a timely cyclist, disorientating him and keeping him away for precious seconds.
Holmes made reference to his homeless network earlier in The Reichenbach Fall, and the consensus seems to be that that’s where the mysterious cyclist (again, who fails to stop when confronted with an apparent suicide just yards away) hails from.
Wilder imaginations have linked the cyclist and Watson’s discombobulation to a swiftly administered dose of fear gas from The Hounds of Baskerville, making Watson see what his mind expected him to when he eventually reached the body. We're yet to be convinced this last point isn't one complication too many.
The screaming girl
Now this is an interesting point. Part of Moriarty’s plot to discredit Holmes involved framing him for the kidnap of the ambassador’s children. To achieve this, Moriarty somehow conditioned the young girl to be deathly afraid of Holmes, hence her screaming when Sherlock entered the police questioning room.
There are various theories on how this was done, from the extreme: Moriarty using plastic surgery to make one of his goons into a Holmes lookalike, to the mundane: a bespoke Holmes mask or dummy (the latter of which does pop up in a later Conan Doyle story) or simply pictures of Holmes being used to traumatise the children. It wouldn’t be the first creepy video Moriarty had knocked together in that episode...
If there is a Holmes lookalike around, and one in the habit of kidnapping children, then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to chuck him off a building we suppose, though we’re going to need more convincing on the body double idea. It just doesn't seem, what's the word? Elegant.
Mycroft, remember, practically is the British government. He’d have the resources at hand to stage any number of fake public suicides one would imagine, and he's not squeamish around corpses as the flight of the dead proved. But Mycroft's involvement rests on this: would Holmes have gone to him for help?
Unlikely, we think, judging from Moriarty’s speech to John about there being too much history between them, too many old scores and resentments.
Though what are we to make of Mycroft’s pensive expression after reading his brother’s story in The Sun? Is that grief and regret we see flash across Mycroft in the Diogenes Club, or could it be the careful poker face of someone in on the plan?
Sceptical lot that you are, many just wouldn’t accept that a self-administered bullet through the brain could kill off Moriarty. There was talk of prosthetics, blanks, fake blood, and the suspicion that there wouldn’t a corpse by the time anybody came looking.
We’re not really sold on this particular conspiracy. The Reichenbach Falls have ever meant the death of Moriarty, and there seems little incentive for Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson to deviate from source on this particular point, especially when they’re at liberty to do as Conan Doyle did and move back and forth in Holmes’ timeline.
No, Moriarty’s not just resting, we know a dead parrot when we see one. But is his the corpse that gets lobbed off the building in Sherlock's coat? Well that rather depends on our next candidate...
After returning from the wild goose chase, Watson arrives at the scene and is made to fix his eyes on Holmes. Witnessing the fall, he’s then knocked down by the cyclist, and blocked by the crowd (of Sherlock employees?), before he eventually reaches the body.
If the body was indeed Holmes feigning death on the pavement after landing safely in the rubbish truck, his heart would be racing. How then, could a medical doctor be fooled into thinking he had no pulse?
A tricky one, this, with possible explanations being that either the body was indeed dead and made up to look like Holmes, or the more prosaic solution that Watson was in no fit state to make medical judgements.
There is precedent in the Conan Doyle story The Adventure of the Dying Detective for Holmes to trick Watson’s medical instincts, but we may just have to wait for series 3 to get the final part to this puzzle.
So there we have it. The curious case of the rubbish truck, the well-timed cyclist, and the faked coroner's report. Any advance on that?