How did Sherlock Holmes do it?

Last updated 10:36 28/05/2012

The second season of Sherlock - the mini-series written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman - finished up on Friday with an episode titled The Reichenbach Fall (really an adaptation of classic Holmes tale The Final Problem) and a surprise ending that consumed most of my thinking over the weekend.

(Warning: Spoilers from the second season of Sherlock follow.)

In case your memory is hazy, Moriarty (played by Andrew Scott, who did a remarkable job with the part) spends most of the episode destroying Sherlock's reputation and framing him for a series of high-profile crimes. Desperate to clear his name, Sherlock rocks up to the St Bartholomew's Hospital morgue and asks Molly Hooper for help. After arranging for Watson to be distracted at 221b Baker St, he arranges to meet arch-nemesis Moriarty on the roof of the hospital.

20120528After a mostly verbal confrontation in which it becomes clear that Moriarty is the only person who could clear Sherlock's name, Moriarty pulls out a gun and shoots himself in the head, leaving Sherlock in shock. Sherlock steps to the edge of the roof and calls Watson, who has just arrived at the scene - he tells Watson that the call will act as a suicide note, and jumps. Watson manages to check his pulse and we see a shot of Sherlock's face, before paramedics rush him away.

A few moments later we see Sherlock watching over Watson at the cemetery where he was supposedly buried.

So how did he do it? How did he survive the death drop off the side of St Barts?

It's clear that Sherlock survived the fall; he was pretty alive-looking at the cemetery. The question is how he survived the fall. Did he use some kind of invisible rope? Was there a body-double switch (or a dummy switch) at some point? Were his bones coated with an adamantium alloy back in the 1960s?

Speculation on how Sherlock managed to survive the fall - and remember, Watson checked his pulse and we saw his motionless, blood-covered face - is rife on the internet, with a huge number of theories* appearing. Writters Moffat and Gatiss fuelled the fire when they explained that there is a clue in the episode itself that reveals how he did it: "I've been online and looked at all the theories and there's one clue that everyone's missed," says Moffat. "It's something that Sherlock did that was very out of character, but which nobody has picked up on."

Okay ... but what did Sherlock do that was "very out of character"? A dedicated fan named insectatorious has put forward the idea that the questionable behaviour took place early in the episode when Sherlock told a reporter that she "repelled" him. Since forming a personal opinion is out of character for Sherlock, and since repel is a homophone** for rappel, a method of using a rope to safely climb down a rock face or building, Mr Tatorious believes that the clever detective used some kind of bungy cord to control his fall to the ground.

Of course, that is just one theory. Others have guessed that Molly helped Sherlock by providing a body double which was switched into place after Sherlock somehow landed in a passing garbage truck, or that Sherlock used the "homeless network" he mentioned back in Season 1 (and which is a big part of the original stories), or that Watson was knocked over on purpose, which gave Sherlock time to make himself appear dead, or that the hallucinatory drug from previous episode The Hounds of Baskerville was used on Watson, which made him think he'd seen Sherlock fall.

Personally, I wonder if he somehow figured out how to land on the ground without killing himself. Sherlock knew that he had to die - or at least fake his death - in order to clear his name, and asking Molly for help ("I need you") is fairly out of character. Perhaps Molly used her knowledge of death to help Sherlock figure out the optimal falling height (Sherlock chose the roof of St Barts) and the best landing position (we see Sherlock waving his arms and legs around mid-fall) to ensure survival. The cemetery scene at the end takes place a few months after the fall, giving plenty of time for recovery.

I'll admit, it's a long shot. But cats can survive falls from that height because they have a bigger body surface area compared to their weight and by keeping their limbs loose. In the original tale, The Final Problem, Sherlock survives a big fall over the Reichenbach Falls by using a form of martial arts. Perhaps he figured out a way of safely falling to the ground, then had help appearing dead and being swept away before Watson could figure out the truth.

I'm probably wrong - but I can't see how else he could have done it. Whatever the truth might be, it was a fantastic ending to a brilliant second season which was only let down by the fact it was only three episodes long. I can't wait until it returns, sometime in 2013.

In the meantime, what do you think: how did Sherlock survive his fall from the roof of St Barts?

(*) Okay, not that adamantium theory; that's Wolverine, not Sherlock.

(**) A word that sounds the same, but has a different meaning; a heterograph is a word that sounds the same, has a different meaning and is spelt differently, too. Don't say you've never learnt anything here at OTB.

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39 comments
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Scott   #1   10:43 am May 28 2012

Steven Moffat has said people have been trying for months to work this out after the UK screening, and no-one has got it yet.

Personally I don't have a clue.

John   #2   10:48 am May 28 2012

Sherlock clearly was on a building, but not on the building that watson was looking at. All the shots of watson looking at sherlock were done from watsons persepective not sherlocks, so a body double could have worked. It amazed me that the moment he had fallen there were 2 doctors a paramedic and an ambulance to prevent watson from getting to the body. Just some thoughts

Hayden   #3   10:50 am May 28 2012

Love the series (purchased it on Blu-Ray and watched it before it aired here) and was totally confused (but also enthralled) by the ending! Can't wait until the next season where hopefully some questions will be answered...

Pamela   #4   11:06 am May 28 2012

First up, can you give a little credit to the third writer on Sherlock, Steve Thompson, who wrote this fantastic episode? It isn't all Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' work!!

And Andrew Scott was awesome, so well done as Moriarty he just collected a Bafta as Best Supporting Actor for it this morning.

Now, onto the theories...Molly has to have something to do with it. But that can't be what Moffat was referring to as something we've missed. It's too obvious, given the set up, as we know she works at the hospital and has access to the morgue (eg, to sign off on a death certificate and find replacement body to hand over as "Sherlock").

Sherlock also asks John to stay back from approaching the hospital, so one figures he didn't want him to see the details of what would happen next; he needed him to stay put so that the cyclist would career into him so he wouldn't see him or whoever it might have been fall to the ground. Other theories are that all the people we see crowd around Sherlock are in cahoots, and are not actual hospital workers.

Still doesn't explain how to survive the actuall fall itself though. A relaxant drug may do the trick but it would be a huge risk without testing. Mycroft has to be involved as well. Just not sure how.

Rachel   #5   11:09 am May 28 2012

I though the most out of character thing that Sherlock did was apologise to Watson. I hate that each series is only 3 episodes long - I want more of it!!

UilamOsa   #6   11:34 am May 28 2012

Body Double. The child at the hospital was screaming when she saw Holmes so maybe she had been frightened by a Double.

Moriarty liked to tie off loose ends so maybe he was already dead, and Molly had recovered the body and used this as a decoy for Holmes.

He had Watson stay a certain point so that he could see a REFLECTION of Holmes falling. Whilst Holmes fell and landed safely from the opposite building.

The Body double was already there.

Watson was in shock already (Mycroft maybe?) and didn't get a clear view of who's pulse he was checking.

Also, I'm looking forward to the 3rd Season BUT I really want Donovan & Anderson to get theirs.

LMB   #7   11:38 am May 28 2012

I must asmit ... I've spent far too much time trying to gigure it out. I also wish I could see it all again but sadly we have no taping equipment at our house. The bit where Watson was knocked over must be somehow significant and I did wonder if he'd been drugged so he THOUGHT it was Holmes on the ground but then it could only have been Moriarty in his place ... and he's too short and everyone else can't be drugged too ...so I dunno. And speaking of Moriarty, was the discovery of his body with head wound even mentioned by anyone? Where is he? Did he fake his own death and what did Molly have to do with it? I like your theory that she may have taught him how to fall, though it was a very long way! But the reporter. She repelled him then he repelled her .. hmmm They didn't make it very clear what happened to the body of Holmes after it was taken away. Ok, my answer is, I have no idea!

Niri Tacen   #8   11:45 am May 28 2012

Sherlock spent much of his last phone call to Watson telling Watson to stay where he was. Like all big magic tricks, Sherlock wanted Watson to be standing in a certain spot, his vision at a certain angle, so that Sherlock was able to hide the secret.

Something I noticed was when Sherlock steps up onto the parapet for the last time, there were marking beneath his foot. I think these were a guide to him, so he knew the precise place to step.

During the fall he moves his arms and legs, as you might if you were aiming for something.

All this is me suggests that Sherlock was aiming for a particular spot, like an airbag, one that was then bundled into the van that drove off. The bike knocking Watson over might be a red herring, or it might be to give Sherlock's helpers time to clear the gear out of the way, and for Molly to give Sherlock an injection to slow his heart rate.

I also think Moriarty faked his death. Blanks in the gun, blood pack on his head... Moriarty would have gambled or deduced that Sherlock wouldn't check him.

benb   #9   12:28 pm May 28 2012

@ LMB#7 - OnDemand on tvnz website to watch it over and over again to your hearts content.

Steve   #10   12:36 pm May 28 2012

How about Sherlock put a face mask (via Molly)on Moriarty and threw Moriarty's body off the building?


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