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The Reichenbach Fall   * S2E3

Directed By
Running Time
90 minutes
Written By
First UK Broadcast
15 January 2012
(7.9 million viewers)
Produced By

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have become heroes in the eyes of the British public, having solved a string of high profile cases that have garnered huge media attention. But then James Moriarty reappears, and pulls off the crime of the century - breaking into The Tower of London, The Bank of England, and Pentonville Prison simultaneously.

He takes nothing. His true aim is to burn the reputation of Sherlock Holmes in the eyes of the press, his peers, and most critically... his friends.

Sherlock must face Moriarty's Final Problem alone, without John - the ultimate confrontation of the two opponents. But how can you beat the plans of an insane rival when the only clear solution is your own death?

Truth be told, it was the episode we were all dreading. We all knew how it ended. We’d read ‘The Final Problem.’ We just knew. But what actually emerged is not an episode to be scared of, but instead a thrilling ninety minutes of action, adventure, twists, turns - and yes, tears - that revealed the poise and incredible construction of this entire series of Sherlock in brilliant, stark detail.

Though we had met him before, and thought ourselves aware and enamoured with the character, here at last we see Jim Moriarty fully revealed. And as well as being a criminal mastermind, the spider in the web, he is also, critically, exactly what Conan Doyle originally conceived him to be – a brilliant, calculating engine of destruction, whose sole purpose is the ending of Sherlock Holmes. It’s easy to forget how much Moriarty has been elevated into the position of arch nemesis in the years since his fleeting appearances in the original canon. The dark version of Holmes, as if his brilliance had been twisted to criminal ends, Andrew Scott has his shot here and takes it, imbuing Moriarty with genuine menace and malice, his intelligence skirting the edge of insanity and definitely plunging over it by the end.

In fact, the performances in the episode are elevated to their highest levels yet seen in the series, but special mention must be made for Martin Freeman. The grief he demonstrates as John mourns his friend in the bookends of the episode is palpable, the at times strangled inability to speak ringing completely genuine and true. And his eulogy is, of course, perfect - and utterly heartbreaking. And it’s a joy to see Louise Brealey finally get to elevate Molly Hooper out of the realms of awkward comic relief and into a truly vital position in Sherlock’s eyes.

Unusually for this series, The Reichenbach Fall is layered with ambiguity. Whereas normally everything perculiar ends up being explained by the close, here it is left hanging and never explicitly stated onscreen – be it the true meaning of I.O.U, or the burnt gingerbread man. Of course, we can work them out if we put our minds to it, and that is the ultimate intent of the episode come the close.

The ending is deliberately engineered to make us search for clues. Like a magic trick, we are introduced to ordinary objects and events throughout, they are taken and used in invisibly precise ways to pull off the trick, and then, when we think we know what has happened, the real truth is stood revealed, alone and silent, in a graveyard watching the grief of his greatest friend.

Rather than the ‘cheat’ of Conan Doyle’s explanation for Holmes’ survival in ‘The Empty House’, the writing team of Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson and first time Sherlock director Toby Haynes have instead chosen to audaciously show us the death of Sherlock Holmes on camera, and make John Watson our eyes and ears. The true genius of this is a reversal of the standard cliffhanger – unlike The Great Game’s explosive vest, gun, and swimming pool combo, it’s not ‘how are they going to get out of that one?’ but rather ‘how did he get out of that one?’ The purpose is the building of a truly great mystery for us to ponder during the wait for Series Three, and ultimately, turn the entire basis of Sherlock Holmes back onto the audience, and thus make detectives of us all.


Music is used to striking effect in the episode. In order of appearance:

‘The Thieving Magpie - Overture’ (1817) by Gioachino Rossini plays during Jim Moriarty’s multiple break ins at the Tower of London, The Bank of England, and Pentonville Prison.

‘Sinnerman’ (1965) by Nina Simone appears during the montage of Jim, Sherlock and John leaving for The Old Bailey.

Part of ‘Sonata No. 1 in G Minor' (completed 1720) by Johann Sebastian Bach is recited by Sherlock on his violin while waiting for the arrival of Jim at 221B.