Monday, January 30, 2012

Sherlock, The Reichenbach Fall: What Really Happened?

The PBS/BBC Sherlock series is one of the most entertaining shows I've seen in years. It's a modern take on Conan Doyle's classic with strong writing, a superb cast, and plenty of mystery and deduction. If you're not watching it, you're really missing out.

Spoiler alert!

In fact, if you're not watching it, you should probably miss out on this blog post too. Seriously, stop reading.

What follows is an in-depth, full-of-spoilers discussion of what happens in the final episode of the show thus far, The Reichenbach Fall.

The final question

I'm sure you know exactly what I'm going to discuss: how did Sherlock fake his own death?

Using my amateur deductive reasoning and a healthy amount of rewind & pause, I have a pretty good guess at what happened. Let me walk you through the reasoning.

To start with, let's state the very obvious: either the body that fell off the roof was (a) Sherlock, or (b) it wasn't. I think we can fairly confidently eliminate option (b).

An impostor?

Could Sherlock have thrown Moriarty's body or the test dummy from earlier in the episode in his place? Not likely.

First, there was no way Sherlock could have bent over, hauled up a body or a dummy, brought it to the edge, and shoved it over, all without Watson noticing. There were some quick cuts and edits during the scenen, but we have no reason to believe that Watson looked away from Sherlock at any point during their conversation.

Other practicalities make this even more difficult: Moriarty was dressed noticeably differently than Sherlock (different coat, white shirt instead of dark, a tie instead of a scarf) and had shorter hair; seconds before Sherlock jumps, he looks back and Moriarty's body is lying there, still in the original outfit; the scene where Sherlock jumps is shot from behind and it's clear no one is just shoving a body/dummy off the roof.

Finally, the biggest evidence of all: the body falling through the air is clearly flailing its arms and legs. Neither a dummy nor a dead body would fall like that.

Verdict: it must have been Sherlock himself who jumped off the building.

How did he survive?

One key piece of evidence is that Sherlock is extremely specific in where he wants Watson to stand during their conversation. Here is the layout of the scene:

When Watson arrives, Sherlock is on the hospital roof, some 6-8 stories up, with a shorter, 2-3 story brick building between him and Watson. Watson tries to run around to the side of the brick building, but Sherlock yells at him to return to his previous spot. Sherlock is very vehement about this.

It's likely that Watson would be able to see Sherlock from either vantage point, which leaves only one other possibility for why Sherlock would care about where Watson stands:
(1) There was something between the brick building and the hospital that Sherlock didn't want Watson to see.
After Sherlock jumps, Watson again tries to run around the brick building and this time, is knocked down by someone on a bike. This is unlikely to be an accident and gives us our second hint:
(2) Sherlock needed to delay Watson until the something was no longer visible.
If you watch the scene closely, there is one item that fits both of these criteria: a truck filled with bags (garbage? recycling? laundry?) parked right next to the spot where Sherlock's body ends up. You get your first glimpse of this truck just as Watson is coming around the corner, just before he is knocked down:

You see the same truck drive away, out of the scene, a few seconds later as Watson finally gets to Holmes' body:

Think on that for a second: if a body comes crashing down a few feet from your truck, do you just casually drive away or jump out and see what the hell just happened? The fact that the truck drove away increases our confidence that it was part of the plot.

Verdict: the bags in the back of the truck served as padding to break Sherlocks' fall.

How did it go down?

Before meeting with Moriarty, Holmes seeks out Molly and tells her that he thinks he will die and that he needs her help. Holmes must've already realized that Moriarty's goal was to get him to commit suicide, so he enlisted Molly - who works at a morgue and could certainly fake autopsy reports and death certificates - to help him fake it. It's also worth remembering that it was Sherlock, not Moriarty, who arranged the meeting on, of all places, the rooftop of a hospital.

When Moriarty blew his brains out, Sherlock had no choice, and jumped. He landed in the truck, covered himself with some sort of blood (possibly provided by Molly), and dropped down onto the pavement to play dead. In fact, he did better than that. We saw Holmes with a bouncy ball much of the episode; it turns out there is a classic magic trick that involves squeezing a ball under your armpit to cut off circulation to your arm and make it seem like you have no heartbeat.

What about the bystanders?

Since all the bystanders could see the truck and Holmes fall into it, they must have been in on it. The crowd that gathers around Holmes' body and the biker that knocks over Watson were either part of Holmes' homeless network or government folks brought in by Mycroft.

Mycroft is an interesting possibility because his reaction to reading about Holmes' death is ambiguous: was he sad or relieved? Even more telling is the fact that Mycroft isn't with Watson and Mrs. Hudson at the cemetery to pay his respects to Holmes. My guess is that Mycroft knows Sherlock is alive, though it's possible that he merely deduced it after the fact.

No matter how improbable..

It'll be some time before the third season comes out and reveals the truth. In the meantime, feel free to join me in speculating by leaving your best theory in the comments.


yellowtree said...

Hi, I don't know what happened with Sherlock, but there is one thing you got wrong, at least I think you did.
There are two "rooftops", the one he actualy is standing on and the one we and John are lead to think he is. He jumps from another place of the rooftop, a little to the left I think.
Any thoughts?

Yevgeniy Brikman said...

What evidence is there for multiple rooftops?

yellowtree said...

So i’m trusting that the director, writers and so on, did a good job and that there aren’t continuity errors. So let’s do this step by step, because I don’t have a complete theory, just points.
First the rooftop: I didn’t mean exactly multiple roofs, just two different points. When Moriarty is waiting for Sherlock on the roof, he is seating on a wider step than the one seen after, when Sherlock positions himself to talk to John, the second is much narrower and has blood or something on it. But we do see Sherlock jump from the larger one. Besides you can see on google that the building in front of Sherlock can’t be the one in the back of John. Do you agree?

Yevgeniy Brikman said...

I'd have to go back and look. I didn't notice there being a difference between where Sherlock jumps from and where he had met Moriarty, but it's possible.

Having said that, even if it's different, how does that affect the explanation?

yellowtree said...

It would change it all and implies all different range of questions.
Sherlock didn’t jump from the place we and John think he did, we never see what’s below him. It adds the question who or what is John actually seeing and says that when Sherlock asks John to look at him, he is doing something important that neither we nor John sees, because John is not looking at Sherlock, he is looking at a fake.
It also rules out the rubbish truck theory.

Rob Miller said...

Excellent analysis, Jim! Spot on, really. There's just one more clue that I'd like to suggest and I think it's one that Moffat himself has been suggesting (he just couldn't resist).

Moffat stated in an interview that there was a big clue that all of the Sherlock theorists out there have so far missed. The only indication he gave was the following: "It's something Sherlock did that was out of character but which nobody has picked up on."

I got thinking about the episode and that could refer to several lines of dialogue. However, there was one scene that stood out so far that I couldn't believe I didn't see it in the first place: Mrs. Hudson getting shot! Or rather, a phoney phone call saying that she'd been shot and Sherlock's complete lack of concern. He doesn't seem to care at all about Mrs. Hudson and that, to me, is more out of character for Sherlock than anything else in the episode. John even points it out! He reminds Sherlock that he nearly killed a man for hurting Mrs. Hudson in the past. So that's it - that's the clue Moffat's talking about!

So what does the clue mean? If you check out Sir ADR's original story "The Final Problem," you'll note that Holmes knows the note Watson is given (about a sick Englishwoman in the original story) is a hoax but he lets him go anyway.

So in this episode either Sherlock knows the call about Mrs. Hudson is a hoax and lets John go or, more likely, Sherlock arranged the call about Mrs. Hudson. I'd suggest that he had Molly make that call or maybe somebody working for Mycroft. But we never know who made the call to John and it's never explained in the end. We just assume it's Moriarty. But even if it was, Sherlock might have let it happen specifically so it could set-up John's return to witness everything in exactly the way Sherlock planned.

Moriarty says to Sherlock in that great scene after he's acquitted that he's setting up Sherlock for a big fall. I think Sherlock worked out well in advance that that indicates suicide. That's why he texted Moriarty when he did and that's why he arranged to have John sent away when he did: to time it all out so that John arrived back to the hospital right when Sherlock needed him to. So John could witness everything as Sherlock intended.

Finally, I think it's perfectly in line with the original stories that Mycroft is in on this. After all, in the follow-up story (The Empty House), Mycroft is in on it. So he probably did have a hand in helping Sherlock fake his own death.

That's my take, anyway.

All the best,
-Rob Miller

Nyurrrk said...

Hi guys,

just stumbled across this blog while finally checking some of my own conclusions:)
I fully agree with the main line - about the red truck, and the squash ball (the hint at the latter I unintentionally saw in a comment to an article before figuring out myself, damn:). Other than that I intentionally avoided any online discussions on the matter not to spoil the fun, so I might be missing something that everybody know already.

While I agree with this scenario, Yellowtree is spot on as well. During the final sequence (on the phone with Dr. Watson), when filmed from the roof Sherlock is standing about 10-15 metres to the right from his position as seen from Dr. Watson’s vantage point. (In the direction of St. Paul’s Cathedral). Not only the building in the back but also the configuration of the roof leave little room for doubt here (Google Maps Street view, maximum zoom).

This fact threw me off the right track in the beginning, as I had found it before the red truck. I thought it wasn’t him who was standing on the roof and talking on the phone, and something was going on the roof to the right at the same – which is why Watson was supposed to keep his eyes on Sherlock. But now I think it was not intentional. When they glance down during the stand-off with Moriarty, they also see NOT what they were supposed to see from the point on the roof, where they were talking.

Besides, during the fall, he’s passing those faded letters on the wall in two different places (frame-by-frame view). I think we are just finding those small errors one can find in any movie

I also think that most of the bystanders have to be in on it, for the same reasons that you cite, but also because another guy is taking Sherlock’s pulse on the neck (which to my knowledge you cannot stop), and there’s a bunch of paramedics that would not have been tricked by the ball-in –the-armpit thing.

To me the red truck and the ball look very solid. Especially the ball – it’s elegant, not extremely obvious, yet simple. All other stuff like Molly’s help with the cover-up is fairly obvious even from the first look.
Another thing that didn’t come up and could still be used there: whatever Moriairty used to make those children afraid of Sherlock (a mask?) might have played some role as well. In fact, it would only be necessary for the morgue/funeral part, if it was Sherlock with a squash ball on the ground. I also thought the way Irene Adler made everybody (including Sherlock) believe it was her body might play a role too. The DNA thing is clear, but Sherlock recognised her as well (might have been her, alive though. She probably knew what Molly liked after all:).

What I don’t fully understand is why Moriarty did not include Molly in the list of targeted friends. Maybe because Sherlock has always treated her so bad


yellowtree said...

Hi again,
I don't know if I got right what Anya said, you think the two rooftop places can be a mistake? I'm convinced it can't. The thing is the writers didn't want to reveal the scheme, so in my opinion they show us two viewpoints and probably to timelines mixed up. Besides while they are on the phone there are moments in which the camera follows an arch, from where John is standing to his right where Sherlock really is. Those are really very quick and unfocused sequences. And when Sherlock and Moriarty look down, we don't see what they see.
As for the ball, I disagree. I believe that Sherlock used a drug that induces temporary paralysis made from the plan that he mentions when looking for the kidnapped children and the disused sweet factory. It’s all well explained in Sherlock Holmes film (2009). I think the ball indicates that someone, Molly probably, took his blood and he squeezed the ball so that the blood pumps out easier.
Sherlock wanted everybody to believe that he committed suicide, so very few people, if any, could have known that he was alive. So the people on the street and the medical staff can’t be involved. Maybe Mycroft is involved, I don’t even think that Molly is fully aware of Sherlock’s plan. Molly wasn’t one of Moriarty’s targets because she might have been the one who told Moriarty which people were important to Sherlock during their dates and she was totally convinced that Sherlock had no feelings for her.
As to the truck, it seems to me that it is too far away to be a secure landing place and I do think Sherlock falls from the rooftop from the right, so the truck has no use.

Well, I'm not convinced that we are going to get what happened before next episode, but we can always try!

T.W said...

nice deduction mate, there IS two roof top but the second one is on the other side. Yeah you're right about the whole thing, though there's a big writing comp on sherlockology's website. take a look at it if you want to. :)

Jagdheesh Singaram said...

How about this? Sherlock IS actually DEAD and the guy seen at the end of the episode is sherlock's evil identical twin who is going to star in the next season

Dartanyan45 said...

Checkout "Lifenet on WikiE and Youtube:

ALF1002 said...

Jagdheesh, I think you are on the right track. An evil twin, the real Moriarity, makes a lot of sense given the kidnapped girl's scream. However, it is still likely that Sherlock survived his fall, for why else bother with Molly, making John stand in a particular position, etc? I think the JM we have come to know is in fact an actor, which is how he could truthfully say that SH hired him, and explains how he could have a children's show and so forth. SH had to make his death look convincing; he knew it was Moriarity's end game, and he knew it pretty early on, for why else does he try to hide his sadness from John? Can't wait to find out how much of this is true, or how far off we all are!

jwaquitaloqious said...

The first verdict seems a bit too rushed. Remember that in the Hounds of Baskerville, Sherlock asked if human cloning had taken place in the fort that Mycroft owns. And Mycroft does owe Sherlock.
I think It is a bit too early to just assume that it was Sherlock who jumped. Especially because if your brother's death was on the front page of a newspaper, why could you casually and calmly be reading the proceeding articles? Mycroft knows something and that much is certain.

jwaquitaloqious said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily C. said...

Hi. I completely agree with you on your theory. According to the writers, none of the theories that have been circulating the internet are correct, but I think they are just trying to throw us off and fake us out so that we are all put in the dark. Or maybe they just want the glory of thinking they are the only ones who know what actually happens. I guess we will see in the third season, which I am just DYING to see!

bakeshoppe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alyza Cortes said...

I think the crowd was part of it and while surrounding him they were all faking his fall by placing make up around him.

Sydney L. said...

good conclusions!
just wondering... is moriarty actually dead?? bc if he is why did sherlock still have to fake his own death?

P. Pemberton said...

From ‘The Art and Logic of Sherlock’s Reichenbach Fall’
Sherlock, as a master logician, played Moriarty’s logic against him. Using classic Prospect theory logic, Sherlock knew that Moriarty would threaten his friends (loss aversion) and came to the roof prepared with a game changer for Moriarty.
• Sherlock injected the little rubber ball with Baskerville drug in the lab (the ball is in his hands behind his back on the roof (pix on my post)).
• Sherlock squeezed the drug onto Moriarty’s coat when he whirled him around and we can see it on his coat as he walks away.
• Sherlock intentionally provokes a homicidal crisis in Moriarty using the same techniques described in Hounds of Baskerville. He drugged Moriarty knowing full well the effects of the drug and the potential outcome with an unstable personality like Moriarty. Moriarty reaches to shake Sherlock’s hand ---and the angel shakes hands with the devil---in effect allowing something he knows to be wrong, Moriarty’s suicide, to happen. Does Sherlock hesitate, understanding full well all levels of this deal? Yes—he moves slowly but also resolutely. John and Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade are the lives in the balance. They are Sherlock’s responsibility to protect. Only Sherlock could have a coming of age moment like this.
• Moriarty’s mental calculus collapses in on itself. Moriarty planned to kill Sherlock, however when Sherlock and Moriarty are the same, then Moriarty’s mind sees his way to suicide because it kills Sherlock twice over: it kills Sherlock because they are the same and it removes Moriarty as a possible savior: ‘uncontrollable aggressive homicide’ per the drug profile.
• Question: Why, if Sherlock planned on drugging Moriarty and precipitating a game-changing crisis, did he plan a way to fake his own suicide instead of leaving the roof after Moriarty died?
• Answer: Sherlock lives and breaths logic: the authors of prospect theory won the Nobel prize for it in 2002. Prospect theory demonstrates how people perceive their options in a relative way based on their point of view before a choice instead of evaluating the option just according to how much they could gain. Losses (a formal, mathematical way of saying ‘being human’) carry a higher value, that is, they hurt more than a comparable gain. These are values Moriarty faulted Sherlock for and for which Moriarty calculated accordingly. Sherlock understood how Moriarty calculated Sherlock’s own options and Sherlock played to win. He calculated the three variables necessary in the equation to drive his own fall: it was logical, thus predictable that Moriarty would threaten Sherlock with the loss of his friends (loss aversion) as a means of forcing his hand.
• So Sherlock came prepared to jump and fake his suicide. He used optical illusion with the laundry truck, choreographed timing, and more, so that our own tendency towards confirmation bias would lead our conclusions astray.
We love the who dunnit—serenely content in our contemplation and recall of the smallest meaningful detail. This scene offers us even more: spirit, power, phrasing, expressiveness, allegory and pathos.
—Pemberton (

A Evans said...

The only thing I would add is against the theory about the ball stopping the pulse. I think it's possible that it could be as simple as one of the passers-by pushing Watson's hand off of Sherlock's wrist when he tries to take his pulse. Simple but effective way of stopping watson knowing he's alive.
Another thought that is definitely not true but I'm going to say it cause it made me giggle. Sherlock is dead and the Moriarty is a zombie wearing Sherlock's mask (the one he scared the fairytale kids with). That would make for a hilarious series..!

A Evans said...

Also 01/01/14 :D