Note: This article, all of it, is just one GIANT spoiler.
Long before “The Reichenbach Fall” (TRF) aired, fans and the general public were informed of Sherlock’s demise. That’s what transpires in the Conan Doyle story, and that’s what was set to happen in this recreation. To some, this sort of foreknowledge could act as a comfort. But, in my case (and I reckon the case of many others), it made the lead up to his fall excruciating. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the episode would go for the jugular right from the beginning. It did, incidentally.
TRF opens on a bleak afternoon in the office of John’s psychologist. John sits in his chair, looking markedly more rumpled than usual. He is reluctant, perhaps unable, to voice his reasons for returning. Finally, after much evasion, he confirms what everyone suspected: “[His] best friend, Sherlock Holmes, is dead.”
Thankfully, the mood lightens from there. We catch up with Moriarty (Andrew Scott) as he singlehandedly sends Britain’s safest locations into panic mode. (In his world, if one feels so inclined to override the security systems of jails, banks, and museums, there is an app for that.) While the higher ups spill their tea and collectively crap their pants, Moriarty dances to classical music—like any self-respecting villain—and dons the Crown Jewels. As far as evil geniuses go, Moriarty is the most fabulous. And the most unhinged.
After this point, most of the episode dedicates itself to the classic “his word against mine” scenario. Moriarty manages to convince several of those closest to Sherlock that the detective is not as clever as he seems. He likens him to Sir-Boast-A-Lot, a knight whose stories of grandeur cannot be trusted. As his colleagues at the police department begin to turn against him, Sherlock relies on two of the only people he has left: John Watson and Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey).
Sherlock’s reliance on John, by now, is unsurprising and welcome. Even when John is on the verge of doubt, Sherlock is able to reel him back in. His reliance on Molly, however, is surprising and just as welcome. Until this episode, Molly was the poster child for wallflowers. She pined after Sherlock, stammered through small talk with him, looked like a wounded puppy after every snarky comment he made. In TRF, her meekness and eagerness to help is finally rewarded. The moment Sherlock feels that his stand off with Moriarty will end with death, he turns to Molly to be his last hope in survival.
As the episode draws to a close, that hope seems to dim. Sherlock and Moriarty face their “final problem” atop New Scotland Yard (NSY). Moriarty, in his usual twisted fashion, speaks of Sherlock being “ordinary” and “on the side of the angels.” The distraction he once found in the detective has evolved into a mere self-reflection. He is bored with his own life, thus he finds his nemesis boring. Nevertheless, he has ensured that those who matter most to Sherlock will die if Sherlock doesn’t kill himself first. And, just to prove that his own involvement in their assassinations is unnecessary, he shoots himself right in front of Sherlock. This sends Sherlock reeling, but only momentarily. Unbeknownst to many, he has a devised a plan that needs to be carried out. He steps onto the ledge and dials John on his mobile.
John pulls up in a cab outside of NSY just as the call goes through. Sherlock orders him to stand exactly where he is, no closer. With genuine regret, he tells John that he is a fraud. He is, and never was, as genius as he seemed. John desperately counters him, reminds him of the first time they met. The two of them keep their eyes fixed on each other and reach out in futility. Sherlock, once on the verge of tears, lets them fall freely. For a man so characteristically stoic, this reaction has an immediately heartbreaking effect on viewers. We see that for the first time, probably in his entire life, Sherlock is overcome by love. John is his world, his anchor, his partner in every sense of the word. And though it is clearly agonizing to let all of that go, Sherlock realizes it is for the best. Sherlock may be a great man, but John remains the good one. The only way to match John’s goodness is through sacrifice. And so, with a toss of the phone and a flutter of the coat, he soars off the building’s ledge.
From then on, we adopt a very John-centric view. As he hurries to the body, he is run over by a bike. He hits the ground, hard. He fights through the disorientation and the crowd of witnesses to his friend. The sequence is full of slow motion, distorted imagery, and unsettling camera work. Like John, viewers can hardly trust what they see. We trust only the sense of tragedy, the feeling of loss. We muddle through as John does, in a vacant 221B and in his doctor’s office. He revels in things unsaid and life unlived.
Finally, at Sherlock’s grave (marked with a headstone just as stylish and officious as the late detective), John expresses his grief. His voice breaks, but his conviction does not. He speaks of Sherlock’s greatness, his humanity and his strength. He acknowledges that his life, without Sherlock, will never be the same. Then, as if flipping a switch, John reverts to a specter of his former self. The army doctor turns on his heel and walks away. The camera pans, and we see what John does not: Sherlock, alive, looking on from nearby.
As the screen cuts to black, the synapses in my brain misfire. I am filled with a volatile cocktail of rage, euphoria, and despair. I mutter only swear words as I search for blankets and a half-eaten chocolate bar. I am, it would seem, the Sherlock fandom personified. Days later, I am still dumbfounded. However, my initial responses have given way to a larger sense of appreciation. The writers, the creators, the directors, the actors—they are a perfect storm. This season, even more than the first, riveted me from start to finish. And while I am legitimately—embarrassingly—grieving over the end of Sherlock, I am also rejoicing over the reality of a third season. The wait may be long, but it will be worth it just to see the Baker Boys back in action.