On the 15th January 2012 audiences of BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ were left with an almighty cliffhanger and head-scratcher when their titular protagonist (remember: “heroes don’t exist”) threw himself from the roof of St. Bart’s hospital in London and ‘seemingly’ plummeted to his death after ‘seemingly’ being defeated by his nemesis James Moriarty. However, as a last-gasp shot from this same episode ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ showed Sherlock was actually alive and well, going into hiding after evidently having just faked his own death.
Left with an almighty case of ‘blue-balls’ audiences and fans then began formulating their own theories as to how Sherlock had survived what was blatantly a fatal fall. The theories people came up with were creative, albeit with some being too fantastical to be potentially genuine. I will mention this in my impending review of the first episode of the new third season which has literally just aired here in England (I’m writing this an hour after I watched it) but writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss pay several loving tributes to the involvement and passion of the show’s fans in this respect. Throughout this first episode, aptly titled ‘The Empty Hearse’, three explanations of how Sherlock survived his fall are put forward. The first two of these three come across as being… well… too “Hollywood” and are frankly implausible. The third explanation however, delivered to former-detective Anderson by Holmes himself, is overwhelmingly likely to be the genuine sequence of events.
There will be spoilers in the following paragraphs. If you are in the UK and are planning on watching this episode tomorrow or if you are an overseas viewer and will therefore get this episode at a later date I would stop reading right now.
And here it is…
A recap of the fall
Anyone can tell you that jumping from the roof of even a relatively tall building is almost certainly going to result in death but Sherlock survives his plummet to the pavement through an incredibly smart plan that could have baffled a collective committee of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Commander Data, and (most certainly did baffle) James Moriarty himself.
The key in this entire scene is that Sherlock must jump and John Watson must witness him do so in order to save the lives of Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Lestrade and John Watson. At this moment Moriarty has three assassins with sniper rifle scopes trained on all three of these people and if Sherlock does not commit suicide… they all die. During his confrontation with Sherlock on the rooftop prior to his jump Moriarty, in a fit of sheer insanity at being outwitted by Holmes, pulls out a gun and shoots himself in the head. This was not a trick on Moriarty’s part – he is actually dead and is in no way returning. With any remaining back-door solution to this situation through Moriarty now well-and-truly dead Sherlock is left with no other alternative than to commit suicide by jumping off the building.
Now scroll back up to the first of the two short clips above and pay close attention to 0:07 – 0:12 – to when Sherlock throws his phone away as he prepares to jump. Herein lies a clue that I think a huge number of viewers, myself included, completely missed. Sherlock presses a button on his phone before he throws it away – but what did he do with that one fateful touch? As it turns out he sent a text message to his brother Mycroft Holmes, “LAZARUS”, a message to which Mycroft instantly replies with “LAZARUS IS GO”. “LAZARUS”, apart from being a fantastic biblical reference for the current scenario, is a go-word for Mycroft’s agents who were laying in wait to assassinate Moriarty’s henchmen. That’s right: the man audiences saw packing away a rifle after Sherlock jumped was not Moriarty’s man, it was Mycroft’s.
As it turns out Sherlock and Mycroft, despite their often-demonstrated brotherly friction and disdain for each other, had been working closely for some time – concocting a means of dismantling Moriarty’s criminal network. Moriarty’s obsession with Sherlock provided Holmes brothers with a fantastic window into his entire operation, a window too good to miss. During ‘Reichenbach Fall’ audiences were led to believe that Mycroft willingly gave Moriarty information on his brother in exchange for information on his activities. John Watson, ever acting as our avatar, confronts Mycroft over this and searingly condemns him. Mycroft, as it transpires, has an incredible poker face and is well-capable of misleading people (well, he is a politician after all!) as he completely fools Watson (and us all) into believing that he has betrayed his own brother. That means that the events of ‘Reichenbach’ were orchestrated by Sherlock and Mycroft as a means of drawing Moriarty into the open and opening a way into his organization. So really, it is only through Mycroft’s assistance and intervention that Sherlock survives the events of Reichenbach. Mycroft also plays a key role after-the-fact in dispelling Moriarty’s alias Richard Brooks; clearing Sherlock’s name and reputation posthumously by using his position and power to do so.
So that’s the issue with the assassins and the cover-up resolved but how did Sherlock survive jumping off a hospital roof? After all he still had to jump to maintain the illusion of suicide. Here we see Sherlock at the height of his genius. It is important to remember that Sherlock designated the place that he and Moriarty would have their showdown and he would therefore have time to plan ahead. Sherlock knew that when he next confronted Moriarty he would be potentially meeting his death so taking into account Moriarty’s words “you owe me a fall Sherlock, you owe me a fall” he designates St. Barts’ Hospital, playing into Moriarty’s implied method of demise and drawing him out. As he is preparing to jump Sherlock pleads with Watson to keep his distance and witness his fall from a specific location away from the hospital. By doing this Sherlock ensures that Watson witnesses him jumping off the rooftop but not seeing where he immediately lands, which is between the hospital and the hospitals’ ambulance office. Sherlock uses his last call to Watson to keep his attention squarely focused on himself and not on what is going on around him. During the window that Watson arrives and Sherlock jumps Sherlock’s ‘homeless network’ and ‘associates’ arrive while Watson is fixated on Sherlock and deploy an inflatable pad below Sherlock to break his fall. This entire move is obscured by the hospital’s ambulance office and therefore Watson does not see it. A very nice “sleight-of-sight” trick.
“It’s a trick… It’s all a magic trick John…”
That explains how Sherlock survived the impact of his fall but how did he get away, pack up the pad, and also leave a body double in his place to fool Watson and the coroners? As revealed above, everyone Watson encounters on the way to Sherlock’s body are people who are in on the setup and do all they can to stall him. The man on the bike who crashes into him, the man who holds him back, and the crowd around the body – all in on it. What about the body Watson sees though? If you think back to an earlier scene in Reichenbach the answer is there; another clue audiences potentially missed en-mass. After rescuing the US Ambassador’s children Sherlock tries to question them. However, as soon as he walks into the room the young girl screams in terror at the sight of Sherlock and he is quickly shepherded outside. Because of this Sherlock deduces that Moriarty must have hired a man who bears a striking resemblance to himself to achieve this effect. He also deduces that, considering Moriarty’s callous and ruthless nature, said impersonator would have most likely been killed after he outlived his use to his employer. Using his connection with Molly Hooper, a coroner at St. Barts’ Hospital, Sherlock found the body of the imposter and put it to use as his own posthumous body double – using Moriarty’s own trick against him. Immediately after Sherlock’s fall is broken by the air-bag and he gets away Molly drops the doppelganger body out of a window directly above his landing site. The body is animated with fake blood by Sherlock’s associates while Watson is disorientated and making his way to the body he believes is his friends’(as you can see from the second video clip).
Sherlock Holmes has now saved the lives of John Watson, Greg Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson – fooled the entire world save for a handful of people by faking his own death – and goes to ground using the illusion of his suicide to easily traverse the world for two years tearing apart Moriarty’s now-leaderless organisation. Future episodes in this series might delve deeper into how he got around so easily and how he was aided but I would suspect that Mycroft Holmes and Irene Adler, the former to handle ‘official’ matters and the latter to cover ‘unofficial’ matters had a hand in his actions.
All-in-all… Genius isn’t it?