»Every fairy tale needs a good old-fashioned villain«, Andrew Scott's Jim Moriarty informs Sherlock Holmes early on in "The Reichenbach Fall". It's an intriguing quote, but doesn't reflect their situation. No beautiful princess needs to be rescued, and no dragons are blocking the way. Neither is Moriarty a witch, nor an evil stepmother. This story is the psychological showdown of two geniuses and it's as good as television gets.
The reason for that is clear: Andrew Scott. Of the six episodes of Sherlock, the three in which he was provided with dialogue were outstanding, while of the other three, only one was. You could ascribe that to chance, but there is no denying that the confrontations between him and Benedict Cumberbatch are the very best thing this programme has to offer. In "The Reichenbach Fall", the consulting criminal and the consulting detective meet on several occasions, each of those scenes trumping the precedent with regard to its entertainment value. At the Old Bailey, the two share subtle grins, as Sherlock lectures the prosecuting barrister in properly questioning witnesses; during teatime in 221B Baker Street, they chat about Johann Sebastian Bach, how adorable ordinary people are, and how Moriarty could potentially throw the entire world into disarray; and on a taxi TV screen, 'Jimbo' Moriarty addresses 'Boffin' Holmes in his most certifiable appearance yet, cheerfully telling the story of Sir Boast-a-lot.
But then, there's the rooftop scene. Nearly ten minutes long and without a deus ex machina intervening, it's one of the cleverest and most engrossing head-to-heads between hero and villain in the history of moving pictures. For a long while, the two parties just talk – although 'talk' is quite an understatement in that sentence, seeing as Scott is equipped with right about the best dialogue an actor could ever wish for (»I read it in the paper, so it must be true. I love newspapers.«, »There is no key, DOOFUS!«, »Oh, just kill yourself, it's a lot less effort.«) and that Cumberbatch is truly sensational when leading his nemesis into believing to have the upper hand. Though once Moriarty suddenly shoots himself in a twist more shocking than all the hounds of Baskerville combined, it's more than words flowing on the top of St Barts. Now, Sherlock's got his go at kicking the bucket, something he elegantly does by plummeting off the building and confirming what Moriarty had previously said about him: he's on the side of the angels.
As a result of that fatal hop, Sherlock shows its dramatic side, and especially Martin Freeman plays a pivotal part in that turning out well, giving one of the best acting performances of his career when experiencing Sherlock's suicide, talking to his psychiatrist, and addressing his deceased friend via tombstone. Of course, the programme's protagonist isn't actually dead – the outcome of Arthur Conan Doyle's source material and the fact that the BBC has renewed their biggest accomplishment in years for a third series strongly suggest that. However, it still feels like a bizarre decision by screenwriter Stephen Thompson to prematurely solve the 'mystery' by showing the consulting detective alive and well at the end of this episode already. Someone should mail this man the link to the Wikipedia entry on cliffhangers.
I'm not driven up the wall by that, however, and Thompson has done an otherwise exquisitely fine job at devising "The Reichenbach Fall", combining humour and suspense and giving a specific purpose to every single scene. In my opinion, this is the best Sherlock instalment up to that point, and even if the third series unexpectedly made a muck of delineating its eponym's faked suicide, my stance on this wouldn't change a bit.
My detective scribblings: »In a twist worthy of a Conan Doyle novella, Mr Sherlock Holmes was yesterday revealed to be an expert witness at the trial of 'Jim' Moriarty.« - The fictional newspaper articles couldn't possibly get any better than that. Sherlock claiming to never have liked riddles is in a bit of a contrast to his profession, isn't it? Unsolved cases are a sort of riddles, if you ask me. Some excellent soundtrack choices at the beginning of this episode: firstly, the classical music playing while Moriarty stages his break-ins and then, a wonderful jazz song by Nina Simone in the moments before the trial. In this episode more than ever, Mycroft shows a lot of disagreeable character traits – indirectly contributing to his brother's supposed death, for example. But the final straw is really him reading The Sun. Also: there just has to be some way in which he is connected to Sherlock surviving that jump, since he is on the good side of characters after all. Sherlock having to kill himself in this episode obviously sets him thinking. For an easy way out, he should have just listened to the useful advice Inspector Lestrade gave to those worrying about the cabbie/suicide assistant getting to them in the pilot: »Don't commit suicide.« Best quote: any random sentence uttered by Moriarty.
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