He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.
—The Final Problem
Not, perhaps, the final problem, but certainly the biggest problem confronting the BBC’s Sherlock is always how to update stories and characters that are iconically Victorian without destroying the essence of the original. Steve Thompson (with input from Gatiss and Moffat, I’d imagine) had a particularly daunting challenge with which to contend this series, that of adapting a story that contains one of the most important events in the Sherlock Holmes canon but is at the same time, arguably, one of the least well-plotted of Conan Doyle’s stories.
In this reviewer’s opinion, The Reichenbach Fall not only matched Conan Doyle’s version–it was better.
Certainly, the Sherlock team could have chosen to stick closely to the original story. Holmes and Moriarty could have confronted one another, and Sherlock could have foreseen eventualities and dragged Watson to Switzerland for an emotional climax. But that’s not how Sherlock works. Unlike Conan Doyle, who chose to off Holmes using someone who hadn’t previously been mentioned, the BBC version has done a careful job of crafting Moriarty as Holmes’s nemesis from the first episode of Series 1 when his name is uttered by the dying cabbie. As a result, viewers needed the stakes to be high, both for the consulting detective and the consulting criminal, and the writers had a great deal to work with. In addition, Conan Doyle killed Holmes because he was tired of him. The show’s intention was the dead opposite–viewers want more of Holmes, not less, so the fall had to take into account the heartbreak that everyone knew was coming, like it or not.
The resulting episode was chilling, funny, beautiful, and heartbreaking. The fall’s conception as a philosophical rather than physical concept was surprising and horrifying, though its inevitable conclusion was extremely close in tone and spirit to the original. In an age of mobile phones and Internet, it makes sense for us to see Sherlock Holmes’s farewell rather than watching his friend find a note, and Mycroft’s ambiguity, while not strictly canonical, fit neatly with his characterization throughout both series.
Ample praise has already been heaped on Cumberbatch, Freeman, and Scott. I will just add that their Bafta nominations are more than deserved, and it’s a pity Freeman and Scott are pitted against each other in the same category.
Here’s to the Sherlock team for crafting a brilliant series of television capped off by a brilliant finale, and here’s to the 18 months we wait for the detective and the doctor to meet again. In the end, that’s what Sherlock is all about.
What did you think about the episode and about Sherlock Series 2? Let me know in the comments.