Sherlock series 2 episode 3: The Reichenbach Fall review

The brilliant second series of Sherlock concludes with an exciting and emotional finale pitting Holmes against Moriarty. Read our review of The Reichenbach Fall here…


This review contains spoilers.

“Nobody could be that clever”. Well, one person could, as it turns out.

One person could be clever enough to walk away without a scratch after publicly jumping to his death. One person could be clever enough to deduce the flaw in Moriarty’s far-reaching plan. One person could be both clever enough and decent enough to allow his reputation to be sacrificed to save his friends’ lives: Sherlock Holmes, the best and the wisest man Watson’s ever known.

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What a way to bring this superlative series to a close. The Reichenbach Fall gives us another elegant update to past versions of the story, upping the action and emotional wallop of previous episodes to draw to a tearful conclusion now that Sherlock Holmes is dead.

Except no, he isn’t. Thanks to the wonderful Molly and her handy access to all those corpses, a switcheroo of sorts must have taken place between the rooftop and the pavement so Holmes could pull off the mother of all fake-outs. If Holmes isn’t dead though, why are we all crying?

Because of Martin Freeman, that’s why. Those few pre-credits minutes in the psychiatrist’s chair and the graveside monologue were gorgeously acted. Ever the military man, bolt upright, mouth twitching, and struggling to disguise his pain, John Watson was heartbroken at the loss of his friend.

Benedict Cumberbatch too, deserves a ton of praise for this week’s rattled, fearful, sad Sherlock. Slipping between cold alien intellect and boyish smirk, delivering that gloriously Old Testament rooftop speech about shaking hands in hell, then bidding a bitterly charged farewell to Watson, this was comfortably Cumberbatch’s show-best performance. 

Which leaves us with the third side of the triangle: Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty. The Reichenbach Fall is by far the most we’ve seen of Moriarty, and judging from that surprise exit, likely to be the last we see of him too. That’s not a given though, especially if series 3 follows the chronology-shifting example set by this episode. 

Scott’s Moriarty is brilliantly menacing, and all the more so because he’s cast against physical type. Moriarty takes advantage of his youth and deceptive lack of guile to act the gay IT technician or out-of-work children’s TV presenter one minute, then to glower with insanity and threaten to turn people into shoes the next. 

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He’s mercurial, brilliant, unpredictable, and completely out of his mind – not a man, remember, but a spider – all of which makes Moriarty a delight to watch. I miss him already.

To the story, then. After the emotional pre-credits scene, things kicked off apace with a brisk, comic montage of Sherlock’s rise to celebrity before the action began proper. 

The episode’s title received an early mention as the camera floated past Turner’s The Great Falls of the Reichenbach, a stolen painting Holmes was being congratulated for having recovered. The image nodded to the past versions of Holmes we’ve seen duelling with Moriarty against the backdrop of those Alpine falls, but as ever in Sherlock, was used to forge something new. 

As the case which made Holmes’ name, the word Reichenbach had become indissociable from Holmes himself, now known popularly as the Reichenbach hero. Thus the ‘fall’ of the episode’s title became both a literal plunge to his death and the figurative fall of Holmes’ reputation. Neat stuff. 

Then came Moriarty’s heist scenes, as the devilish mastermind channelled Gary Oldman in Leon by cracking his neck bones and air-conducting a symphony whilst committing the crime of the century. 

Moriarty’s smartphone apps and skeleton key computer code turn out to be a red herring, him having achieved the break-ins not through electronic wizardry, but through good old-fashioned bribery and holding people to ransom. 

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His behaviour at his subsequent trial was deliciously sociopathic, as was Sherlock’s for that matter, bearing out the truth in the classic antagonist’s line he utters to Holmes, “We’re just alike, you and I. Except you’re boring.” Speak for yourself, Jim. He’s not boring to us. 

Sherlock and Moriarty’s confrontations were made all the more intense by Doctor Who director Toby Haynes’ still high-angles. Haynes kept the episode as stylish as ever, from Sherlock’s characteristic text-on-screen storytelling, to the time-lapse cityscapes and the cool fashion ad pan across Moriarty on the rooftop.

Music-wise too we were served up a couple of treats, with a brief return to episode one’s Stayin’ Alive and Nina Simone’s Sinner Man galloping us apocalyptically through the pre-trial action. Arnold and Price’s beautiful post-fall score transitioned wonderfully into the show’s theme music as a conflicted Sherlock watched a wrecked Watson walk away from his grave. I defy anyone with a heart who was paying attention not to be touched.

Katherine Parkinson’s Kitty Riley, the spinner of grim fairy tales (with a ‘Make Believe’ sign on her living room wall to drive home the point), made a decent punching bag for the episode’s timely dig at the tabloid press. Her initial appearance as a Sherlock fan gave way to something less frivolous as her words became the tool Moriarty used to destroy his enemy’s reputation. 

Moriarty’s plot to discredit Holmes and have him slandered in the gutter press may have been one we’ve seen faced by the likes of Spider-Man or Batman, but it’s never been played with the tenderness seen here. John’s refusal to believe even Sherlock’s own confession of wrongdoing showed him to be as true a best friend/hostage/live-in normal person as any superhero ever had. Everybody needs a Watson.

Just one thing though, did Lestrade strike anyone else as an odd choice for number three in Sherlock’s list of bosom buddies? Mycroft’s absence is understandable, but no Molly? I suppose she was otherwise occupied…

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Exciting and affecting in equal measure, with an elegant rug-pull that must have had a few viewers questioning whether Holmes was indeed everything we’d been led to believe he was, The Reichenbach Fall was a worthy send-off for the best drama currently on TV. 

Now, if only Cumberbatch and Freeman will pause their present assault on Hollywood, we’d like some more please. Applause all round.

Read our review of episode 2.2 The Hounds of Baskerville here.

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