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Reichenbach theories

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Spoilers for the series two Sherlock finale, so I suppose I should put this behind a cut.

If you hang out long enough around Sherlock fans, sooner or later you’ll come up with an outlandish theory about how Sherlock survived his fall off the roof of St. Bart’s at the end of “The Reichenbach Fall.” It’s like a virus, really. For one as taken with the show as I’ve become, I’ve not given a lot of thought to that question. We know Sherlock survives, and given Moffat it will rather be extremely clever how, or extremely irreverent like how he survived the end of series one.

But I was watching ‘A Study in Pink” last night and it did seem there were several similarities. The use of false kidnappings that are really murder, for one. The beginning with conversations with John’s therapist. The similarity between the three dead people killed before the pink lady by an intermediate working for Moriarty, versus the three people Moriarty threatens to kill through an intermediate if Sherlock doesn’t jump of the roof.

As for clues, a few things jumped out at me.

1. The Reichen/Rache connection. In “Study in pink,” the last murder/suicide victim carves her name into the floorboards where she dies, using her finger. Anderson, a rather doltish detective, interprets it as the German word for “revenge.” “Reichenbach” also turns on the casual observer misunderstanding quite a lot. There’s the trick of whether Moriarty is Richard Brook, for instance, or whether Sherlock is just an attention-seeking showboat (he does seem to revel in it after the Reichenbach case a bit). A lot of people seem to be hearing hoofprints and thinking zebras, not horses. We’ve been down this road before.

It’s one thing to say people are fooled by what’s going on with Sherlock here. That’s no great revelation. But because they are fooled, they miss out on something obvious that it takes Sherlock to point out. I don’t know for certain but I suspect the characters’ (and while watching the show’s, the audience’s) misgivings about Sherlock could be blinding us to something serious going on. My hunch: why is he suddenly willing to step into the limelight with Reichenbach? Why is he willing to be a star witness? Is he really so sure that Moriarty would go to jail because the evidence was against him? These things seem seriously un-Sherlockish. If you suspect Sherlock is a fake, they can be read one way. But if that’s a misdirect, odds are we’ve missed something, just as the Scotland Yarders missed the obvious connection to Rachel because they were focused on Rache.

2. “This is my note.” Just before he jumps, Sherlock calls John and talks to him for some time. This could be read as a bit of sentiment, but I’m struck by one other point in the series we’ve seen a “suicide” note in play: the whole Rache thing I just described. Turns out it’s the name of her stillborn daughter from quite a while ago, which Sherlock is convinced couldn’t possibly be pure sentiment. As he rightly points out, carving a name into a wood floor using your fingernail “would have taken effort, it would have hurt.” And in ASiP, it’s the name rachel which provides a crucial key: the password to her email address, which lets them track her smartphone’s location using its GPS.

So when Sherlock tells John this call is his note – my gut says there’s some similarity at play here. For Sherlock, making this call takes effort, it hurts him, but my guess is it also provides a key to understanding what’s been going on the last few days. This “note” is less about sentiment and more about giving John the clues he needs to figure out what’s going on. (Was he taping his conversation with Moriarty? Does he hope there’s some little thing he says in the call that will force John to the conclusion that he wasn’t lying about the cases, that he truly does care how he affects John?

3. “That’s what people do.” Sherlock says these words just after calling his call a note. When you’re about to kill yourself, you write a note to loved ones; that’s what people do. And the most obvious parallel to this quote is something Moriarty literally screams in “The Great Game.” He’s telling Sherlock how much he’s enjoyed their little “game,” and Sherlock points out that people have died. To which Moriarty bellows, almost unhinged, “That’s what people do!” But there’s a more subtle parallel in “A Study in Pink”:

Dr. John Watson: People don’t have archememies.
Sherlock Holmes: What?
Dr. John Watson: In real life. People don’t have archenemies.
Sherlock Holmes: That sounds a bit dull. So what do people have in their REAL lives?
Dr. John Watson: Friends, people they like, people they don’t like, boyfriends, girlfriends…
Sherlock Holmes: Like I said, dull. [emphasis mine]

Sherlock here says he’s calling because “that’s what people do” – normal people. I don’t think he means it in the way Moriarty did, that he was about to die because that’s what people do. Rather, he’s saying he is leaving a note because, just like those ordinary people, he has friends. Not just archenemies. (And yeah, this is Sherlock so that “just” is important.) That’s a subtle way of telling John that he has a good reason to do what he’s about to do. It’s not despair or panic. he’s doing it for a friend because he’s actually doing what people do.

4. The looking-down-on-John/looking-up-at-Sherlock camera angle. In the unaired pilot there’s a scene just after Sherlock and John go to the crime scene and Sherlock has run off. John is making his way to the street to get a cab, and he looks up to see Sherlock on a building. This is dark and mysterious, and to a john frustrated he’s just been abandoned after being dragged out, it looks more than a little fishy. I personally suspect this frustration feeds into his willingness to suspect Sherlock as the murderer, when they meet next. He’s not willing to actually voice the suspicion, but even when Sherlock denies it (although admitting it’s a valid inference), John still seems a little suspicious. It unnerves him, this thought that his new friend is the sort who would regularly get mistaken for a murderer.

The camera angles on that scene, where John looks up and sees the friend he’s just abandoned skulking around roofs overhead, is almost exactly the same as the camera angle just before the “suicide.” But this time it’s daytime, and Sherlock actually engages him, meets his eye. It’s almost like he’s challenging John, begging him to think it through. Yes, the facts (the newspaper story, the fact that Sherlock was unmoved by a rumor that Mrs. Hudson had just been shot) don’t look too good for him, but facts have misled him before. And Sgt. Donovan’s statement at that crime scene to stay away from Holmes since “One day we’ll be standing around a body and Sherlock Holmes will be the one who put it there. [...] ‘Cause he’s a psychopath. Psychopaths get bored.” – that was truly bad advice. John needs reminding that Sherlock really is clever enough to pull this off and that first appearances can be misleading. And there’s something eerily familiar about the camera angles, it’s almost daring us the viewers to remember that as well.

There are other similarities I could mention. I’m still trying to sort out what they might mean, if they mean anything. But there are enough similarities to make me think, if you’re interested in getting a glimpse into what’s going on under the surface at Reichenback: take another look at Study in Pink.

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