Recap / Sherlock S 02 E 03 The Reichenbach Fall

"I am you. Prepared to do anything. Prepared to burn. Prepared to do what ordinary people won't do. You want me to shake hands with you in hell? I shall not disappoint you."
Sherlock Holmes

John Watson has returned to his therapist's office for the first time in eighteen months. Why? Because his best friend, Sherlock Holmes, is dead.

Only three months earlier, Sherlock had been catapulted to even greater heights of fame thanks to his recovery of a famous painting of the Reichenbach Falls, amongst other big-note cases. How did the Reichenbach Hero fall so far? The answer is wrapped up in the simultaneous break-ins at the Tower of London, the Bank of England and Pentonville Prison, along with a budding journalist, a high-profile trial, international assassins, fairy tales, the mysterious Richard Brook, and the "final problem" of Jim Moriarty...

This episode provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Artistic License – Chemistry: Sherlock, you are working with oil. Of course you are going to find glycerol.
  • As You Know: Lampshaded and justified during Sherlock's confrontation with Moriarty after the trial, when they both know what Moriarty's up to but somebody needs to explain it for the audience.
    Moriarty: You understand.
    Sherlock: Obviously.
    Moriarty: Off you go, then.
    Sherlock: You want me to tell you what you already know?
    Moriarty: No, I want you to prove that you know it.
  • Ate His Gun: Moriarty shoots himself in the head to make sure Sherlock can't outgambit him into saving Sherlock's friends.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Moriarty's plan to destroy Sherlock's reputation and then kill him succeeds ...except Jim killed himself to do it and Sherlock isn't actually dead.
  • Badass Boast: Sherlock tells Moriarty in no uncertain terms that if he harms his friends, Sherlock will burn him right back.
    Moriarty: Sherlock, your big brother and all the King's horses couldn't make me do a thing I didn't want to.
    Sherlock: Yes. But I'm not my brother, remember? I am you. Prepared to do anything. Prepared to burn. Prepared to do what ordinary people won't do. You want me to shake hands with you in hell, I shall not disappoint you.
    Moriarty: Nah. You talk big. Nah. You're ordinary. You're ordinary. You're on the side of the angels.
  • Bilingual Bonus: One of the networks set up by the international assassins for spying on Sherlock is "red-de-cielo," or, literally, Skynet.
  • Blackmail: How Moriarty got the jury to declare him "not guilty."
  • Break His Heart to Save Him:
    • Right before jumping off St. Bart's, Sherlock tells John that Moriarty's version of the story is true, so that John, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson won't get offed by snipers.
    • Sherlock's earlier attempt to do this was, sadly, a lot more successful. John receives a phone-call telling him that Mrs. Hudson has been shot. Sherlock refuses to go with him to see her and acts as if he doesn't care about her when previous events have clearly shown otherwise. Throughout the episode, people have been slowly turning against Sherlock, all except John who has been fighting his corner all the way until this moment which causes him to snap and call Sherlock a 'machine' before abandoning him as well. It turns out Mrs Hudson was fine all along and the whole thing was a ruse set-up by Sherlock to get John to leave him so he could face Moriarty alone.
  • Brick Joke: John is making a comment about Newspaper Nicknames where Sherlock points out that John already has one, "Confirmed Bachelor John Watson" which he is less than pleased with. Later on after Moriarty is arrested and newspapers are flying across the screen, if you pause it to read it you will see they once again address John as "Confirmed Bachelor".
    • Heck Moriarty's entire fake personality Richard Brook is a Brick Joke. Rich Brook is the English translation of "Reichenbach", the case that launched Sherlock into fame. He comments on the fact he was surprised no one got the joke.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: In his final confrontation with Sherlock, Moriarty slips into an American accent for a little bit for no reason at all.
  • Bullying a Dragon: All Sherlock's put-downs of Anderson and Donovan finally come back to bite him.
    John: They are all coming over here now. Queuing up to slap up on the handcuffs. Every officer you made to feel a tit, which is a lot of people.
  • Call Back: Moriarty tells Sherlock he's already told him what "The Final Problem" is if Sherlock was paying attention. It happened in "A Scandel in Belgravia" when Moriarty's phone rang: "Stayin' Alive".
  • Chained Heat: Sherlock and John.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A literal example — Mrs. Hudson's Repairman is an assassin (with his gun in his toolbox) sent by Moriarty to kill her if Sherlock does not commit suicide.
  • Common Nonsense Jury: Moriarty was caught red handed stealing the Crown Jewels. There are plenty of witnesses and good quality security camera footage. At trial he offers no defense and the judge tells the jury that they have no choice but to convict. They return a verdict of "not guilty," because Moriarty has used the ultimate tactic to get away with his crime: jury intimidation.
  • Complexity Addiction: This is how Moriarty knew Sherlock would fall for the "super-code" lie. He's actually disappointed to be right.
    Moriarty: That's your problem, you always want everything to be so clever.
  • Continuity Nod: While handcuffed and and forced to hold hands with Sherlock, John mutters "Now people will definitely talk", referencing his line in "The Great Game".
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Neatly exploited by Moriarty. As Sherlock points out, nothing he could steal from any bank in the world is ever going to be worth more than a computer program that will let him break into any bank in the world.
  • Deconstruction: Holmes is an incredible, unbelievable detective. So Moriarty arranges matters so he's less credible, and to make people stop believing in him. In fact, people start to think he actually set up the crimes he solved.
  • Did You Actually Believe?: There's no magic formula that can open any door. Moriarty just bribed a few people, and is actually disappointed that even Sherlock bought it.
    • Also, at the end when Sherlock is standing on the roof of Bart's and telling John "no one could be that clever" in regards to him faking his genius. Averted by the fact that Sherlock was lying about being a fake in order to save John, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson.
  • Diegetic Switch:
    • Jim Moriarty's iPod music became the BGM to his jewel heists in "The Reichenbach Fall". Appropriately enough, the song is Rossini’s "Thieving Magpie".
    • Later, when Moriarty is waiting on the rooftop, "Stayin' Alive" plays as BGM, then becomes the diegetic music from his iPod as Sherlock arrives.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Sherlock humiliates Kitty Riley (in front of no one). In return, she runs a story in the paper about Sherlock being a fraud, which ruins his life.
  • Disturbed Doves: After the jump scene, when we're watching people gathering around the body. Two birds fly off from the hospital building.
  • Driven to Suicide:
  • Evil Plan: Moriarty's plan to "burn" Sherlock.
  • Extreme Doormat: Oh, Molly. To give her some credit, though, it's ultimately portrayed more positively here than it was in many previous episodes. She was the first (and for quite a while, the only) person who realized that there was something uncharacteristically very wrong with Sherlock that he was trying to hide from everyone (even John—heck, especially John), so it makes sense that, once she realized just how much trouble Sherlock was really in and that she was the only person he could come to, she would be willing to help him. Doormat? Yes. Undying Loyalty? Also yes.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Sherlock is standing nearby, right out in the open, in his signature outfit when Watson and Hudson visit the cemetery at the end. They just can't see him Behind the Black.
  • Faking the Dead: Sherlock.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Kitty Riley makes everyone believe that Sherlock is the true mastermind behind all the crimes he "solves."
  • Famed In-Story: Continuing the trend of series 2, Sherlock is becoming an internationally-renowned detective.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Moriarty.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Well, if you know the original stories, you knew that Holmes would die in the Reichenbach episode. You also knew that he was never really dead after all.
  • Foreshadowing: when Moriarty writes "Get Sherlock" as he tries to steal the Crown Jewels, he paints a smiley on the O. Foreshadows the fact that he has been at the flat and seen the smiley painted on the wall.
  • Flat "What.": John is a master of these. In particular, this is his reaction when Sherlock, to whom he is handcuffed, announces that they are about to jump in front of a bus.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    • At a trial, the judge threatens to throw Sherlock into a cell for contempt of court, and asks "Do you think you could survive for just a few minutes without showing off?!?" Sherlock thinks for an instant, and opens his mouth. Cut to Sherlock being thrown in a cell.
    • And again when Sherlock is arrested Watson is seen looking like he's going to punch the chief superintendent; cut to outside and the chief superintendent is nursing a bloody nose.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Donovan and Lestrade are driving to the Tower of London where a break-in has occurred. They have also heard since leaving the station that the Bank of England has been broken into. When Lestrade finds out Pentonville Prison has also has a security breach, his response is "Oh no!" Series 2 may have more swearwords than series 1 but the language is still very mild.
  • Holding Hands: Sherlock and John, while handcuffed together. To the sound of exploding squees of slash fangirls everywhere.
    John: Now people will definitely talk!
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Moriarty's endgame isn't killing Sherlock, but railroading him into killing himself.
  • Hollywood Hacking:
    • Moriarty creates a computerised key which he uses to break into the Tower of London, the Bank of England and Pentonville prison all at once. Subverted when Moriarty reveals that the key was a fake and that he simply paid off the right people to help him.
    • Would have been an especially extreme example if it weren't for the subversion. The "code" was simple enough that Jim could tap it out in binary on his fingers during a single conversation. For comparison, the text that makes up this very page would take well over 100,000 "taps".
  • Homoerotic Subtext: More than ever. It extends beyond the usual Sherlock/John to Sherlock/Moriarty as well.
  • Hope Spot: Sherlock's last-minute realisation that Moriarty has a way to call off the assassins targeting John, Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade. His attempt to Take a Third Option is brutally cut off by Moriarty's Thanatos Gambit.
  • How We Got Here: Like the original story, this episode opens with John Watson telling us that Sherlock Holmes is dead and then backtracks to show us how it all went down.
  • Idiot Ball: Some extremely circumstantial evidence leads Donovan and Anderson to believe that Sherlock kidnapped and poisoned two children. Anderson even speculates that Sherlock may have committed twenty or thirty crimes that he had helped the police investigate in the past, despite the piles of hard evidence that discount such a theory.
    • Aided by the fact that Lestrade is the only inspector in London who even tolerates Sherlock, and only because his skills were useful. Once it becomes clear that he is the only officer on Sherlock's side and can do nothing to help, the force's otherwise-universal hatred of him reduces them to being Moriarty's puppets.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Kitty Riley is trying to be this, but Sherlock calls her out for being a Hot Scoop and Stalker with a Crush trying too hard to impress people. He gets burned for it, badly.
  • Inspector Javert: Sally Donovan is very quick to determine that Sherlock is a criminal.
  • Instant Sedation: Moriarty sprays something on the face of a guard in the Tower of London, and he goes down like a sack of potatoes in one second flat. Possibly justified in that at least some of the guards are in on the scheme, so he might have been faking.
  • Ironic Echo: "You repel me."
  • Irrevocable Order: Moriarty says that he's "not going" to call off his hitmen. Sherlock realises that implies he could if, say, someone as ruthless as him tortured it out of him. Moriarty agrees, and promptly blows his own brains out to ensure there really is no turning back.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: Battering down, to be precise, in the opening scene after Sherlock's apparent suicide. It's still grey in the closing scene at the graveside.
  • Jerkass: The Chief Superintendent. While his anger at Lestrade is justified, there's no excuse for instantly getting confrontational with John for just looking at him in his own apartment.
  • Jury and Witness Tampering: Moriarty blackmails and threatens the entire jury into returning a "not guilty" verdict, despite his lack of a defence.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Moriarty makes everyone think that his plan is to sell his computer program to the highest bidder. When everyone is trying to stop him it only furthers his real plan to discredit Sherlock.
  • Kick the Dog: Moriarty makes this episode an hour and a half of him doing nothing less than this. And then some more.
  • Manly Tears: Sherlock is in tears almost the entire time as he makes one final call to John before he fakes his death. John is partially obscured, but can be heard crying at Sherlock's grave.
  • Meaningful Name: "Richard Brook". Rich Brook would be an English approximation for "Reichenbach," a play on words that gives the episode its title. Literally, it would translate to "reicher Bach."
  • Mood Dissonance: "Staying Alive" makes a return appearance during a tense moment.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Sherlock makes the coolest pot of tea in television history.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Moriarty refers to his conflict with Sherlock as "The Final Problem," referencing the name of the short story on which this episode is based. Likewise, the Reichenbach Falls made a prominent appearance in that story as the location where Holmes (apparently) tumbles over the ledge to his doom.
    • Peter Ricoletti, the man at the top of Interpol's most-wanted list, is a reference to one of Holmes's untold early cases ("Ricoletti of the club foot") mentioned in "The Musgrave Ritual."
    • Sherlock's deduction about Kitty Riley's wrist is similar to one that Holmes makes in "A Case of Identity."
    • Sherlock's courtroom description of Moriarty as a spider at the centre of a criminal web is lifted almost word-for-word from "The Final Problem".
    • Moriarty's threatening but very civil discussion with Sherlock in the sitting room at Baker Street recalls his visit to 221b in "The Final Problem."
    • During their tea-party Moriarty tells Sherlock, "You need me — or you're nothing." Holmes himself expresses a similar sentiment in "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder."
    • The Diogenes Club is from the original stories, as is its blanket ban on talking.
    • The abduction of the diplomat's children recalls "The Adventure of the Priory School," in which Holmes is called in to find the young son of a prominent nobleman, who has also been kidnapped from an upper-class boarding school.
    • As in the original "Final Problem," Sherlock is nearly run down by a cab. The twist is that it's not an assassination attempt by Moriarty, and one of Moriarty's assassins actually saves his life.
    • Lestrade mentions Inspector Gregson as someone else who has consulted Sherlock. Gregson was another police inspector who often appeared in the stories.
    • The phone call that John receives claiming that Mrs. Hudson has been shot is a clear reference to the (literal) Swiss messenger from "The Final Problem," who draws Watson away from Holmes with a note about a sick Englishwoman who needs a doctor.
    • Moriarty's fondness for snipers (they are key components of his plans in this episode as well as "The Great Game") may be a reference to Sebastian Moran, Moriarty's right-hand-man in the stories.
    • "This phone call, it's — it's my note." In the original story, Holmes left an actual note.
    • At Sherlock's grave, John calls Sherlock "the best man, and the most human human being, that [he's] ever known." In the closing words of "The Final Problem" Watson writes that he will always regard Holmes as "the best and wisest man [he's] ever known".
    • Moriarty's attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, as well as his being acquitted at trial even though everyone knows he's guilty, are both plot points from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce).
    • Likewise, the climax, in which Moriarty tries to talk Sherlock into jumping off a roof, seems to be based on a similar scene from the Basil Rathbone film The Woman in Green. Moriarty climbing the stairs while Sherlock plays his violin is also directly from that film, complete with the moment where he steps on a squeaky step, the violin stops for a second and then starts again.
    • Moriarty's plan bears a striking resemblance to The Seven Percent Solution, Nicholas Meyer's non-canon novel based around the idea that Holmes invented Moriarty.
    • All the discussion of Sherlock being "on the side of the angels" is a Shout-Out to the BBC radio plays with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson (and Orson Welles as Moriarty). In the dramatisation of "The Empty House" Watson exclaims "You're the devil, Holmes!" Holmes replies "The only one, however, who has always been on the side of the angels."
    • The warehouse Sherlock uses the homeless network to find has Rhododendron ponticum, the same plant that Lord Blackwood used to fake his death by hanging in the first Robert Downey Jr. film.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: John throws one at Mycroft when it is revealed that the latter, while trying to get Moriarty's computer key (which turned out not to exist anyway) ended up telling Moriarty Sherlock's entire life story — which he proceeds to use as ammunition against him. Mycroft appears to be shaken up by the accusation.
  • Noble Demon: Sherlock invokes this, stating that he might be on the side of the angels, but he is not one of them.
  • Not Helping Your Case: Once Moriarty's smear campaign reaches a certain point, Sherlock evidently decides "to hell with it" and goes on the run — pointing a loaded gun at his best friend's head in the process.
  • Not So Different: Moriarty taunts Holmes with this repeatedly. It's not until the climax that he realises how right he was.
  • Occam's Razor: There is no supercode for hacking into all of the world's systems; Moriarty simply used expertly-placed inside men.
  • Please Wake Up: John to Sherlock's grave. After his goodbye monologue about his undying faith in Sherlock, he turns around and ...
    John: Please, there's just one more thing, one more thing, one more miracle, Sherlock, for me. Don't ... be ... dead. Would you do — just for me, just stop it. Stop this.
  • Pun-Based Title: Based on "The Reichenbach Falls," the painting Sherlock helps recover at the beginning of the episode.
  • Punny Name: "Rich Brook," "Reichen Bach" in German.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Sergeant Donovan makes Lestrade take her doubts to the Chief Superintendent, who's under the impression that Sherlock has only helped on a few minor cases. The reveal that Sherlock (a civilian) has been given unmitigated access to sensitive data and cases leads him to tear Lestrade a new one and order him to bring Sherlock in.
    • When John punches the Chief Superintendent he unsurprisingly finds himself being arrested for assaulting an officer.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Sherlock firing in the air in a highly populated area would be bad enough, but he then puts the gun (still loaded) to John's head with the safety off. And then he drops it on a cobblestone street. It's a miracle they both made it out alive.
  • Refuge in Audacity: If all you want to do is prove you can steal the Crown Jewels, why run off with them when you can await the police wearing them, while sitting on a throne in an ermine robe?
  • Rooftop Confrontation: Sherlock and Moriarty.
  • Say My Name: Before Sherlock jumps from the roof, John screams, "SHERLOCK!"
  • Shout-Out:
    • A clearly deranged man pops something in his mouth, plays classical music through his headphones and cracks his neck in preparation for committing a crime — Stansfield in The Professional, anyone?
    • Moriarty hacks into locked vaults and security systems to the tune of "The Thieving Magpie" by Rossini — Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Also, Moriarty refers to Bach as "Johann Sebastian" (as Alex refers to "Ludwig Van").
    • Moriarty invokes this in-universe with "Hansel and Gretel," to spectacularly disturbing effect.
    • The song that plays when Moriarty breaks into the Crown Jewels' case, unlocks all the doors in the penitentary and opens the bank vault is overture from "The Thieving Magpie." The wax seals on envelopes he leaves have a magpie impression on them.
  • Spot of Tea:
    • Sherlock and Moriarty might be mortal enemies, but they're still British (well, Sherlock is).
    • During the break-ins, every single one involves someone who is drinking tea.
  • Strawman News Media: Kitty Riley and, presumably, her editors (at The Sun?) buy into Richard Brook's story hook, line and sinker. Given the outbreak of the News International hacking scandal during production, it feels rather timely.
    • Considering that Moriarty is just that good, his story probably just holds up well enough.
      • Alternatively, it's The Sun. They're not known for being great at checking facts before publishing.
  • Thanatos Gambit: The final move in Moriarty's Xanatos Speed Chess game.
  • Tragic Bromance: John is devastated by Sherlock's apparent death.
  • The Unfettered: Taken to its most logical extreme by Moriarty. He won't let anything stop him from achieving his goal of destroying Sherlock Holmes. Not even himself.
  • Unwitting Pawn:
    • Sgt. Donovan.
    • Mycroft Holmes.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Moriarty's gambit is to convince the world that Sherlock Holmes is one of these. And it works.
  • Wham Episode
  • Wham Line: John opens the episode with one.
    John: My best friend, Sherlock Holmes, is dead.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Sherlock's decision to tarnish his own reputation to save the lives of his friends, who for their own safety cannot know that he saved them.
  • Wicked Cultured: Moriarty.
  • Worst Aid: Sherlock is flipped over and moved onto a stretcher after he's just fallen from a building, with no precautions taken such as stabilising his head or neck. It's made worse by the fact that it was hospital workers who were doing this. It's possible they my have pronounced him dead on impact, deeming any further precautions unnecessary.
  • Xanatos Gambit: At every turn, everything Sherlock could have done sends him further and further down Moriarty's rabbit hole.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Sherlock and Moriarty are playing like nobody's business.
  • You're Insane!
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: The crux of Moriarty's Evil Plan is to force Sherlock to completely destroy his own reputation.