Ordinary People: Sherlock and “The Reichenbach Fall”

Sherlock and The Reichenbach Fall Benedict Cumberbatch
Go take a flying leap.
Aren’t ordinary people adorable?
 —Jim Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes

You know the type he means: the ones who are certain that good is good, bad is bad, and dead is dead. Truly adorable, those gullible, fallible creatures.

Moriarty would keep them as pets. And Sherlock? Well Sherlock is facing a bit of dilemma over this ordinary people thing. At one time he’d have agreed readily with Moriarty. Problem is, he’s coming to realize that ordinary people—the ones who actually feel; the ones who actually care—aren’t necessarily inferior. They have their uses; even their advantages (although he’s loath to admit it). That’s never been as clear to him as it is in “The Reichenbach Fall,” the final episode of Sherlock series 2 on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery.

As Sherlock goes head-to-head (brain-to-brain?) with his archnemesis Moriarty, the ordinary people in the drama provide us with the landmarks we need to find our way through. We identify with them. We understand them. And we recognize their strengths.

We always knew Moriarty would return. Even if you know next to nothing about the Holmes canon, you had to assume that the creators of Sherlock wouldn’t introduce a character as delicious as Jim Moriarty and then limit him to scant minutes on the screen in a couple of episodes. Nope. He’s back and he’s badder and madder than ever. (Kudos to episode writer Steve Thompson, who also wrote “The Blind Banker” episode in series 1.)

Sherlock’s been on a roll, you see, solving case after high-profile case, including the recovery of a stolen J.M.W. Turner painting of the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, where Arthur Conan Doyle attempted to do away with his Sherlock Holmes in the 1893 short story “The Final Problem.”

As a result of his accomplishments, Sherlock, now dubbed the “Reichenbach Hero,” has garnered a level of public attention that’s making Dr. Watson uncomfortable. “The press will turn, Sherlock. They always turn and they’ll turn on you,” Watson tells the oblivious detective. Score one for the ordinary people.

But the only thing that genuinely worries Sherlock is Moriarty: the dark to Sherlock’s light (if Sherlock ever can be considered “light”). Sherlock’s success has made Moriarty jealous. He wants attention too. And he’s decided to get it by breaking into the three most impenetrable sites in England—the Tower of London, the Bank of England, and Pentonville Prison—simultaneously.  He’ll follow that up by being caught, arrested, tried, and acquitted. (Best not to dwell on how he manages all of this.) And for his next trick: nothing less than the ultimate discrediting and demise of Sherlock Holmes.

Andrew Scott as Moriarty in The Reichenback Fall

Andrew Scott as Moriarty is just beautiful. I want to dislike him. I know that I should. But I can’t take my eyes off him: his smirk, his grin, the rakish tilt of his crown. There’s always a sense that he hasn’t gone quite over the top yet, but when he does it will not be pretty.

One aspect of Moriarty’s genius is his ability to identify and exploit human behavior and motivation. It’s as if he’s been out doing field work among the humans while Sherlock has been holed up in the library stacks reading about them: practical application versus theoretical knowledge.

Thus Sherlock can astonish with his intellect, but Moriarty can charm. And when the charmer begins to plant doubts about the intellectual’s unexplainable prescience, many people are willing to listen. But not all people.

Throughout the series Sherlock has gathered around him a “team” of ordinary people. Dr. Watson, we know, is Sherlock’s staunchest ally and most fervent supporter. His faith isn’t blind—he’s too smart for that—but it is unwavering. Mrs. Hudson doesn’t always understand Sherlock, but she does love him frustrating as he can be. Inspector Lestrade is past the point where he needs convincing of Sherlock’s powers of deduction; he’s benefitted from them often enough. It would take more than the machinations of Moriarty to sway those three.

But there’s one more member of Sherlock’s team, the benchwarmer; the one who’s perpetually overlooked and underestimated. That’s Molly Hooper, morgue assistant at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. It’s time we paid attention to Molly, and not only because Louise Brealey does such a lovely job of portraying her with sweetness and sincerity. We’d all like to believe that if we were around Holmes we’d fall naturally into the role of Watson. Truth is we’re probably more likely to behave like Molly—awestruck and awkward.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey

She’s the most ordinary person of all, just like us. Her hopes and desires are ordinary too: that someone will take the time to notice what she has to offer and that someone will utter those three little words that can change everything: “I need you.” Fulfill those hopes and you’ll discover there’s power in the ordinary. Even a genius can figure that out.

“The Reichenbach Fall” concludes series 2 of Sherlock with a stumper, and series creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are having a swell time teasing viewers who are speculating on how the seemingly unresolvable ending will be resolved. (Click here for one example, but beware of spoilers!)

Things we know:

1) There will be a series 3;
2) It will begin with an episode based on the 1903 story “The Adventure of the Empty House”;
3) There will be two other episodes in series 3;
4) Filming will begin in early 2013.

Until then, join the speculation on the Internet or simply follow the advice of the secret message embedded in the Masterpiece Mystery closing credits: “Believe.”

Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.

Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. Clare 2e

    Great write-up, Leslie! The ordinary really were the tough surviviors here, and to a cetain extent, the extraordinary revealed as a being trapped in a desperate cul-de-sac.

    I just loved Molly Hooper in this. Watson doesn’t hate Sherlock for who he is, but he gets some of the good (probably the best). Lestrade gets something for what he suffers. Even Mrs. Hudson has her moment when Sherlock champions her. Sherlock hasn’t championed Molly. In fact, he’s humiliated her. And still she doesn’t hate him and it isn’t because she’s deluded. She sees him pretty clearly and is the most extraordinary ordinary person in this episode. I adored that she got her chance!

  2. Stefanie

    Great post! There is one point where I disagree with you though.
    “Sherlock’s success has made Moriarty jealous. He wants attention too.”
    I don’t think that’s the case at all. Jim couldn’t ultimately care less about what all those ordinary people think of him. The Fall was all about Sherlock, and about the game between the two of them. Beating Sherlock (and having fun not being bored) was Jim’s aim, not attention or jealousy, in my opinion.

  3. Lakis Fourouklas

    I’ll have to agree with Steffi. Moriarty only cares for the game.

  4. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    I stand corrected. Steffi, you’re right. He’s not jealous, he’s bored and impatient. But he is great, isn’t he?

  5. Stefanie

    He’s [b]amazing[u].[/u][/b] I started giggling hysterically (with happiness) when he was introduced last season!

  6. EileenK

    I wasn’t crazy about the episode, but Martin Freeman (John Watson) was astoundingly good. He tries to square up like the soldier he used to be–so much communicated in facial expression and body language. His acting is restrained where Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott are just a bit too over the top for my taste. That’s probably the director’s doing, but love, love, love Martin Freeman’s performance.

  7. Carmen Pinzon

    I loved this episode but still haven’t a clue as to how they done it. The ‘seasons’ are too short, imo, and #3 can’t come soon enough.

  8. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    @EileenK Martin Freeman is perfect for exactly the reasons you state. Did you watch the original U.K. series of The Office with Ricky Gervais? Martin Freeman’s fantastic in that too.

    @bungluna Steven Moffat has pointed out that each episode of Sherlock is as long and as complicated as a feature film, and no one would expect them to produce more than three feature films a year. He’s right, but that doesn’t make the time between series go any faster!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *