Last one, everybody!
The Reichenbach Fall
Summary: As Sherlock’s fame continues to grow, so do the schemes of his arch-nemesis. As Moriarty starts carrying out his promise to “burn” Sherlock, the detective and John race desperately to stay one step ahead of him.
Why it’s ranked here: I think one of the reasons Series 3 was so disappointing is that this episode was such a hard act to follow. It’s beautiful. It’s mind-bending in the best possible way. And yes, it manages to be heart-breaking, even though practically everyone who has ever heard the name “Sherlock Holmes” knew how it would end.
It was fitting for me to post about “A Study in Pink” right before this one, because in many ways “The Reichenbach Fall” completes that episode. In “Pink,” for example, we see Sherlock risking his life just to prove how brilliant he is. John has to save him at the last second. In “Reichenbach,” we see Sherlock allowing his reputation as a brilliant detective to be destroyed in order to save John. Look what a good dose of character development can do! On the other hand, “Pink” starts with John alone, dreaming about the war. “Reichenbach” ends with John alone, re-assuming his military posture, psychosomatic limp, and psychiatrist. Oh, and both episodes prove why you should never get into a cab without looking at the driver.
Moriarty is, obviously, a big reason why this episode works. His antics are more subdued during his scenes with Sherlock, which just makes him that much creepier. And it doesn’t help that everything seems to be going exactly his way from the beginning. For me, the most disturbing moment in this entire series is when John and Sherlock encounter Moriarty as “Richard Brook.” He was so convincing that for a split second, I really wondered if this was his true identity.
For a story with so many allusions to classic fairy tales, this episode plays on a uniquely modern fear: that paranoia we all sometimes feel about hackers, super-secret spy agencies, and anyone who can use the power of the Internet to steal someone’s identity, twist it into something completely false, or even erase it from existence. Just the fact that the vast majority of people seem to believe everything they read on the Internet, even though the vast majority of people are able to edit the Internet with impunity, makes all the drama in this episode uncomfortably plausible. If somebody can do that to Sherlock Holmes, then why not you? Sweet dreams…
So Moriarty was an awesome villain. But this was also the first time we really got to see Sherlock as a genuine, honest-to-goodness hero. No, he’s made it very clear that he’s not “one of the angels,” and no, of course he didn’t literally sacrifice his life to save his friends, but he did sacrifice his reputation. And for Sherlock, that’s even more impressive. It’s quite heartwarming to see definitive proof that he has, indeed, learned to value a few people more than his own ego.
But on the heartbreaking side of things, special mention has to go to John Watson, and Martin Freeman’s portrayal of him. John’s monologue at Sherlock’s grave is one of the most tear-jerking moments I’ve ever seen on television, and it’s all down to Martin’s beautifully genuine performance. The way that scene was filmed also helps–I love how, when John finally breaks down, the camera doesn’t look directly at him; we only see him cry in the reflection off the tombstone. And then he straightens up, gives a salute-like nod, and he’s immediately right back where he was at the beginning of the show. Cue the tears.
And then…look who came to his own funeral! Cue “Stayin’ Alive” chorus.