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Sherlock's Reichenbach Fall: How did he do it?

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Let's be honest about this – we've spent a good chunk of the last two years trying not to obsess over the ending of Sherlock's second series. After the initial collective period of watercooler chat and feverish screengrabbing in the last week of January 2012, we all agreed to put the rooftop of St Bart's out of our heads for the sake of our mental health.

But with the first screening of 'The Empty Hearse' now barely a day away, it's time to get the figurative magnifying glass back out.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock in 'The Reichenbach Fall'

© BBC

Sherlock prepares to jump in 'The Reichenbach Fall'


Last weekend's very exciting full trailer confirmed nothing, except that Sherlock is still as much of an insensitive douche as ever. But Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and scriptwriter Steve Thompson layered plenty of clues into 'The Reichenbach Fall' itself, and we've taken it upon ourselves to sift through as many as we can. Here goes...

Molly
Sherlock's entire plan kicked into motion during an exchange with Louise Brealey's Molly, who had already quietly noticed that something was wrong with him much earlier in the episode. "Molly, I think I'm going to die," he says, and when she asks what he needs, he responds "You".

Sherlock S02E03: 'The Reichenbach Fall'

© BBC / Hartswood

The unassuming Molly became Sherlock's secret weapon


There are any number of ways Molly could have been of use to Sherlock here. Despite his touching admission that she's "always counted", she wasn't among the people Moriarty targeted because they were dear to Sherlock – that was John, Mrs Hudson and Lestrade – so she could theoretically put a lot of things in motion without being noticed. And she works in St Bart's morgue, putting her in a pretty ideal position to fake Sherlock's death from the paperwork point of view.

In addition to falsifying pathology reports and "identifying" Sherlock's body, Molly could also have provided him with a fake corpse to use as a decoy.

John and Sherlock in 'A Scandal in Belgravia'

© BBC

John's eyes are fixed upwards on Sherlock, but what's happening on the pavement?


John
From the moment he stepped out of the cab and saw Sherlock on the roof, John was being maneuvered like an unknowing chess piece. When he tries to move closer to the building at one point, Sherlock shouts at him to stop and stay exactly where he is. "Keep your eyes fixed on me. Please, will you do this for me?" he begs, and John obeys.

Then there's the cyclist who knocked John out cold the second after Sherlock seemingly hit the ground, preventing him from seeing what happened for at least the next thirty seconds or so. This was presumably one of Sherlock's homeless network, and makes it clear that a crucial bit of maneuvering happened while John was unconscious, whether it was Sherlock landing safely in a truck before playing dead for John, a decoy corpse being swapped in for Sherlock's, or some other kind of bait-and-switch.

A red pickup truck drives away just after Sherlock lands


The truck
When Sherlock initially lands, his body is obscured by a red pickup truck which is filled with rubbish bags. The truck immediately drives away, which is suspicious in itself – what kind of weirdo casually cruises away after a man's just jumped to his death?

So maybe Sherlock landed in the truck (on top of the bags which were actually full of pillows or something), and was driven away. Or he landed in the truck, then immediately leapt back out after covering half of his head with fake blood, and lay on the pavement in time to play dead for John.

The problem with this is that we definitely see Sherlock – or what looks like Sherlock – land on the pavement behind the truck, with a pretty horrifying crunch. A trick of the camera?

The bystanders
A crowd of onlookers descended on Sherlock's body very, very quickly, so that a disoriented John had to fight his way through. And crucially, he's gently held back even when he gets to Sherlock's body and tries to take his pulse – he only manages to keep hold of his wrist for a second, which wouldn't be long enough to tell one way or the other if he was alive.

The crowd also whisked Sherlock's body away on a stretcher very, very quickly. Probably quicker than should have been possible. More of the homeless network? Molly's colleagues? Mycroft's connections? All three?

Benedict Cumberbatch in 'Sherlock' episode six 'The Reichenbach Fall'

Sherlock is uncharacteristically tearful during his final phone call with John


The "clue everyone's missed"
We should preface this by saying that Moffat is a self-acknowledged big old liar who lies, so it's worth taking every single word he ever says about the show and specifically its mysteries with a massive hunk of salt.

With that proviso in mind, let's consider Moffat's statement the week 'The Reichenbach Fall' aired in the UK. "There's one clue that everyone has missed," he said at the time. "It's something that Sherlock did that was very out of character, but which nobody has picked up on."

In response, many fans have pointed to the fact that the generally chilly Sherlock openly cries on the phone to John, while leaving what passes for his suicide note. The circumstances are extreme enough that crying doesn't necessarily seem out of character even for Sherlock – we see the similarly stoical John break down on a couple of occasions in the episode.

But let's say the tears are the clue Moffat's talking about. How would they help Sherlock to fake his death? Some have theorised that if Sherlock took some kind of drug to slow down his heart rate (preparing for the possibility that John would take his pulse), then his watering eyes could be a side effect. Or did he simply fake it in order to make the ruse more convincing to John? It wouldn't be the first time he's pulled the crocodile tears card.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock in 'The Reichenbach Fall'

© BBC

Does playing with a bouncy ball count as 'out of character' behaviour?


The bouncy ball
Which is more out of character: Sherlock crying, or Sherlock playing with a bouncy ball? He's pointedly doing the latter when John comes to see him in the lab.

Sherlock doesn't make a habit of fiddling with props without a reason, but given that he's plotting his own death at this stage, he's got good reason to be more twitchy than usual. Sometimes a bouncy ball is just a bouncy ball.

But sometimes a bouncy ball is what you use when you want to temporarily stop the pulse in your wrist. If you squeeze it under your armpit, apparently this genuinely works. The flaw in this theory is that Sherlock would have been taking a big gamble on John only checking the pulse point in his wrist, as opposed to his neck.

Was the apparently very dead Sherlock that John saw even real?


Sherlock's body
John does turn Sherlock over, and both he and we get a grisly close-up look at his apparently very dead face. But there's a shaky, hazy quality to the camerawork in that moment which had some fans questioning whether we could trust what we were seeing. John's just been knocked out at this point; he's probably concussed and definitely in severe shock. Severe enough shock to fall for a mannequin wearing a mask?

Another popular theory suggests that the fear drug introduced in 'The Hounds of Baskerville' could have been used on John. The drug worked by playing on people's pre-existing fears. After the phone call they'd just shared, the thing John would have been fearing and expecting in this moment was to see Sherlock dead.

The screaming girl
One of the unresolved threads from this episode was the abducted little girl who screamed when she saw Sherlock. It's clear that she'd been conditioned in some way by Moriarty to fear Sherlock's face, as part of the plan to frame him as a delusional murderer, and that might be all there is to it. Or could the blurring between Sherlock's face and Moriarty's face have a bigger meaning?

There was no mention of what happened to Moriarty's body at the end of the episode, which leads us to question whether his corpse might have played a role in Sherlock's fake death. If Moriarty had some kind of realistic skin mask of Sherlock's face, and had been using it to brainwash the little girl into being afraid of him, that mask could have been strapped to Moriarty's body before it was thrown off the roof.

Watching the footage again, there's really no way that what falls can be a corpse or a dummy. Whether it's Sherlock or not, it's clearly a living person who's wheeling their arms in order to break their fall, and we don't think even Moriarty is so changeable that he can reanimate after being shot in the head.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott in 'The Reichenbach Fall'

Moriarty posed as Richard Brook in order to frame Sherlock


The episode's title
Arthur Conan Doyle had Holmes fall to his death at the Reichenbach Falls, an actual series of waterfalls in Switzerland. But Moffat and Gatiss's subtly tweaked update is 'The Reichenbach Fall', with Reichenbach referring to Moriarty's alias 'Richard Brook'.

For those of you in need of a refresher, Moriarty posed as an actor named Richard Brook in order to paint Sherlock as a delusional fraud, claiming that he'd been hired to play the role of his nemesis. This means that the episode's title literally means 'The Richard Brook Fall'. Could this mean that it was indeed Moriarty's body that fell from the roof, rather than Sherlock?

For all the reasons already outlined, though (wheeling arms and so forth) it doesn't feel likely that Moriarty's corpse could have been used as a decoy. His ominous threat to Sherlock was "I owe you a fall", so The Richard Brook Fall probably refers to the more general "fall" Sherlock's reputation took as a result of Moriarty's plan.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock in 'A Scandal in Belgravia'

© BBC

Sherlock's newspaper carries an intriguing headline in 'A Scandal in Belgravia'


The newspaper
Go with us on this. In series 2's opener 'A Scandal in Belgravia', Sherlock is reading the paper over breakfast when he gets his first text from Irene Adler. What impact could this possibly have on his faux-death two episodes later?

Well, probably none. But the front page headline is 'Refit For Historical Hospital', and the accompanying photograph looks very much like St Bart's. A clue? Possibly, given that the second series production schedule meant that 'A Scandal in Belgravia' was filmed after 'Reichenbach'.

The 'Scandal' commentary with Moffat, Gatiss and Cumberbatch confirms that this headline was deliberate, and was included as a kind of "seed" for the finale, but it's not clear how much significance it has.

What clues did we miss? Let us hear your Reichenbach theories in the comments below!

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