Monday, 16 January 2012

Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall

“Don’t be dead. Will you do that just for me?”


Right, now that the formalities have been dispensed with… that was excellent telly. Superb, in fact. Steve Thompson has come good at last. Even so, it wasn’t quite as good as either of the Steven Moffat scripts (it lacked the spark and wasn’t quite as clever), or as good as Mark Gatiss’ The Great Game (the cleverest of them all). That’s to praise with faint damn, of course, but Thompson is no Steven Moffat. Similarly, we Doctor Who fans know all too well that Toby Haynes is a first rate director (I bet the Nina Simone stuff was played back during recording. Nice.), and he's done a first rate job here. He’s no Paul McGuigan, though. Then again, who is? Actually, let’s not allow the fact that other episodes of this superlative series are even better distract us from how bloody good this is.

The framing device, with the first scene being John telling us that Sherlock is dead and the story then unfolding in flashback, is utterly predictable, but that’s the joy of it. And yes, even the fact that it’s undercut in the final scene by a blatantly not-dead Sherlock is predictable. But again, that’s the joy of it. The cleverness is in the little things and the characterisation.

A lot of stuff pays off here, from Donovan’s suspicions about Holmes to Holmes’ relationship with the lovely Molly; at last he finally says something nice to her, and a bloody good thing too! I just want to hug her whenever she’s on screen. I suspect she had a lot to do with how Sherlock faked his death, although there’s quite a lot to be explained. There was a body! It was buried! And yet today we find out that a new series is on the way. Yay!

Both Cumberbatch and Freeman are extraordinary here, giving us a much wider emotional range than they’ve previously been called upon to show. But it’s Andrew Scott who’s the revelation here, managing to square the circle of being suitably and terrifyingly psychopathic without crossing the line into pantomime villain territory. This is Moriarty as the Joker, and it works. He’s a very disturbed individual, with a death wish because he’s “bored”. He defeats Sherlock, yet he’s the one who is, seemingly, genuinely dead. His own life means less to him than the silly little game he's playing. He’s clever enough to virtually warp reality itself, creating a world in which Sherlock is a fraud, but what does it bring him in the end?

Interestingly, this is an episode in which all the clever people fail. The fall of Sherlock, the apparent death of Moriarty and the accidental betrayal of his brother by Sherlock can perhaps be set against the humanity of John and, arguably, Molly, who finally gets at least some appreciation from the man she loves. Even Donovan and the journalist (it’s great to see Katharine Parkinson, but even better to see the tabloids getting skewered)) are arguably portrayed as too clever for their own good. This is the triumph of the ordinary. Appropriate; this episode is clever but, compared to other episodes, not too clever. But it certainly has heart.

Still, I thought last series ended in a big cliffhanger… how will they get out of this one? I suspect empty houses may be involved somehow…

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