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Reichenbach Theories: Not How, but Why

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

As we wait for series three, the Sherlock fandom has devoted a truly impressive amount of creative interview to figuring out the “how” of the final act of “Reichenbach.” The more I think about it, though, the less interested I am in that question. What I want to know is why. Thar be major spoilers for “The Reichenbach Fall,” and minor spoilers for interviews with Steven Moffat *gollum* where he discusses series three in his usual tight-lipped way. So if you want to avoid that, don’t read any further.


Are all the series one-ers and Sherlock virgins gone? Because the last thing I want to do is spoil this episode, which really is a magnificent heart-stopping, gut-wrenching accomplishment.

So at the end of “Reichenbach,” Moriarty reveals he has assassins trained on the three people Sherlock really cares about: Watson, Mrs Hudson, and Lestrade. (And what does it tell us that Lestrade rather than Mycroft was singled out? Moving on…) After Moriarty himself commits suicide, Sherlock throws himself from a rather tall building and is seemingly dead, but of course we learn at the very tail end of the episode that he survived. Without revealing himself to Watson, I suppose out of fear for his life. And roll credits.

Thus begins the longest two years of some peoples’ lives. I’ve only been living with it for a few weeks, and it seems like ages. I have my theories on the fall itself. They involve a poison to mimic death and a cushioned fall possibly aided by Molly who could fake death certificates, provide blood, etc. and by big brother who could arrange to clear the street and give Sherlock a controlled theater to play out things with Moriarty.

But the bigger question to me is why John would be so upset by this. I mean, obviously, John has gone through quite a bit of grieving, and discovering Sherlock is alive wouldn’t be easy. But he’s also an army doctor suffering from PTSD. He knows that in war situations (which his partnership with Sherlock has been likened to, see Mycroft’s comments in “Pink”), people sometimes die to serve a cause and save their fellows. But some comments made by Moffat suggest to me that John isn’t going to move on anywhere near as easily as he does in the Doyle stories. Which makes me wonder: what could Sherlock have done that would make it hard for a soldier to forgive someone “dying” (even fake-dying) to save his own life?

I can see two likely possibilities: First, maybe John isn’t as much a soldier as he once was, and this whole incident pushes him to the conclusion that his relationship with Sherlock is problematic – that it has to change somehow. There are some other spoilers for series three I won’t go into, which make me think Watson may be more ready to settle down than he was at Reichenbach. He’s been put through quite a bit by Sherlock in both “Baskerville” and “Reichenbach,” and then of course the hell that is the aftermath of Reichenbach. (Can we even talk about how thoroughly upset he is in the final scene, when enough time has passed for them to put up a gravestone?) So perhaps John would have at one point have been better able to understand Sherlock’s motives, but because he’s moved on into less intense, less extreme, more functional relationships. So dealing with Sherlock pulls him back into a kind of person that’s no longer healthy for him.

The other option is, I think, darker but to my mind more likely. Maybe this whole situation isn’t as accidental and unavoidable as it might seem. Recall what’s gone on here: Mycroft detains Moriarty and lets leak the very personal details Moriarty needs to wreck Sherlock (and Mycroft is entirely too competent to do this accidentally); Sherlock misses the crucial clue on the case; he’s very nearly arrested on on unsustainable warrant over the girl’s kidnapping; he distances himself from John with the whole fake-shooting-of-Mrs.-Hudson thing and turns to Molly, the very person he’s ignored over six episodes but is uniquely situated to help him fake a pre-meditated death; and he chooses the scene of his and Moriarty’s final conflict. Over the whole series he’s been obsessed with not only rooting Moriarty out but also his whole network. And finally there’s the fact that Sherlock’s actions seem so… off throughout this whole episode. It’s almost like he’s playacting at being some persona rather than being who he really is.

So the thought’s crossed my mind: are we sure that Sherlock hadn’t planned this whole showdown as a way to draw Moriarty out and take him out, hopefully with a few of his henchmen as well? If so, I can imagine John learning about this and being upset that Sherlock put his own life on the line to take out Moriarty, even risking John’s well-being (because it’s not like Moriarty doesn’t have a history of using John to force Sherlock’s hand). If I’m right about this idea that Sherlock invited Moriarty to “come and play” as a way to take him down, that means he’s undervaluing the hell this would put John through, and John has every right to be upset about all that.

An interesting side question: what did Sherlock mean at the end of “Baskerville” when he promises John that it won’t happen again? This is after John’s worked out that his whole experience in the laboratories was Sherlock running a cruel experiment on him, and that Sherlock was wrong in one of his deductions. Does Sherlock just mean that he won’t be wrong again? I don’t think so, because Sherlock makes quite a few deductions with the awareness that some of them will probably be wrong. That’s certainly the pattern in “Pink,” for instance. And I’m not sure John is so concerned on whether Sherlock was correct or not. More likely, I think Sherlock is promising never to hurt John again for the sake of a case. Which raises the obvious question, how is that different from what Sherlock was doing in “Reichenbach”? If I’m not in complete left field over here, it does seem like a broken promise. Which is perhaps a major mark against my theory, and one I don’t have a great answer to.

Of course, I could be overthinking this. If a long-dead friend showed up after putting me through all that, I can’t say I wouldn’t react along these lines:

Irrational, perhaps, but entirely human. And maybe it will turn out being just that simple.

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