My Problems with the Season Finale of Sherlock (BBC)

I have long been a Sherlock Holmes fan, having first my father to thank for making be read Hound of the Baskervilles, second to that wonderfully nostalgic film Young Sherlock Holmes (if you’re from PR, you probably remember that they ran it every single weekend on TV when we were kids, that and Die Hard, ad nauseam) and third to the Sherlock Holmes-themed episodes of Star Trek: TNG. Since then I have read all four canon novels, and two of the short story collections (I am currently on The Return). I have therefore always been critical of most adaptations; I am particularly violent about the 2009 and 2011 films, and I have steadfastly refused to watch them for fear of provoking a repeat of my stellar psychotic outburst from when I saw the Eragon adaptation in cinemas (theaters for my American public). Needless to say, when I heard that the BBC had aired a new Sherlock Holmes series and that it had the gall to set in in the 21st century, I was, to say the least, very skeptical. However, a friend convinced me to watching it, and I will be forever grateful to him for it. The series is brilliant, just brilliant: it captures the essence of Doyle’s characters perfectly, and even though it is set in the present, it maintains that Victorian feel and atmosphere.

Now, while there have been a couple of things that I have disagreed with (I didn’t like the characterization of Moriarty at first, for example, or the lack of Mary Morstan, and I wasn’t entirely convinced by the Irene Adler reimagining), the series managed to, surprisingly, avoid my ‘righteous anger’. And then the second season finally came by. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the episode immensely, and it had me on the edge of my seat the entire time, yet at the same time I felt cheated.


First Peeve: The Reichenbach Fall

Now, the title of the episode is ‘The Reichenbach Fall’, and it follows Doyle’s ‘The Final Problem’. If you’ve followed past the spoiler warning, then you are aware that the title comes from the waterfall in Switzerland where Holmes and Moriarty have their final bout before toppling off the edge to their untimely doom. You also know that Holmes survives, even though ACD did mean to kill him off then and there. The scene, in the short story, while not ‘seen’ (because Watson wasn’t present, having been tricked by Moriarty into going back to town), is very chilling: Watson hurries back to the falls, finds Holmes’ last words written on a piece of paper, and deduces from the footprints that the two archenemies must have fallen from the cliff. The image of the cliffs, the waterfall, and Watson standing there looking down into the abyss, and of course, the image of hero and villain fighting each other until they both fall, still haunts readers (myself included) to this day.

Which is why I was severely disappointed that, in the episode, the Falls are a reference to a painting of the Falls, and that Sherlock , John and crazy psycho Jim (that’s how I call him in my mind) never get to go to Switzerland. Instead, the epic battle between the hero and his archenemy takes place on a bloody rooftop! Don’t get me wrong, the scene was done relatively well, but it simply does not compare. Why call it Reichenbach when you’re not going to have the actual place? Just call it ‘The Final Problem’. The title becomes a cheap pun (Sherlock solved the mystery of the Reichenbach painting and was called the ‘Reichenbach Hero’, so ‘Fall’ implies ‘Hero’s Fall’ both physically and metaphorically, ha-bloody-ha). In essence, I wanted my damned waterfall scene! I sound like a petulant child, but I am very jealous when it comes to Sherlock Holmes.

Second Peeve: Moriarty

I hinted at this before; I am not entirely convinced by the characterization of James Moriarty. In ‘The Final Problem’, ACD presents the Professor like someone elegant, superior in every possible way, refined and cold, and between that and most ‘classic’ film versions of the character, I had formed a very specific image of him. The one in the series strikes me as too camp, extravagant/eccentric, and too unhinged. Professor Moriarty is an intellectual who uses his brain power for crime; Jim is a psychopath who uses his mental abilities for evil. While I have grown to appreciate the character in the series, he is too ‘crazy’ for me; he is frightening, but not in the same way. I do not have much substantial reasons for my dislike, so I will chuck it up to a matter of taste.

I will conclude with this though, compare how each version dies: The professor fights Holmes until they both topple off the cliff; Jim shoots himself to force Sherlock into killing himself. Maybe I just want to view Moriarty as a noble (if frightening) villain instead of as just a psycho.

Third and Biggest Peeve: Cliffhanger Fail

While the first two things were relatively minor and I could have overlooked, my biggest problem with the episode is that I feel Moffatt and Gatiss completely screwed up the ending. I knew the story beforehand; I knew the story even before I read ACD’s short story, which was why it took me so long to actually read it. I danced around ‘The Final Problem’ for months before giving in, because I did not want to read about Holmes’ death, even though I knew he would come back safe and sound in The Return. I ‘suffer’ from something I call ‘Post-Reading-Depression’ (PRD for short), which means ‘the better the story, and the longer the story, the more depressed I am at the end when it finishes’. If a character dies at the end, on top of everything, PRD will probably last for one or two days. [I will write a proper entry on PRD one of these days]. It is partly welcome (much better than run-of-the-mill depression) and partly annoying.

As such, when the moment came to watch ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ I prepared myself mentally for the inevitable depression that would come from Sherlock’s death. Not only did I love the character from the literary point of view, I had grown to love the series in its own right. I knew he would be fine, but I knew it would hit me hard. The episode starts and John Watson is talking with his therapist about his best friend’s death, and I already I can foresee the state I will get to in ninety minutes. Stuff happens, lots of running, no proper Reichenbach (oh well), Moriarty is a bit out-of-character (tough luck), Sherlock jumps (oh, sweet misery), John is standing by the gravestone mourning his best friend’s death (here come the tears!), Sherlock is hiding behind a pillar watching John (f**k!).

Do you get the picture? The original story is, since the subsequent publication of other Sherlock stories, a cliffhanger (almost literally). Every Holmes’s fan knows this, they know he will return, but the cliffhanger still exists. It creates a moment of tension, anxiety and excitement. It makes you sad, terribly sad and afraid, even though you know everything is fine. It keeps you, for one moment, hesitating. And then then Moffat and Gatiss take it away by showing that Sherlock is fine! We know he’s fine! You do not need to treat us like children and ‘make it all better’. I feel cheated out of my pain!

Anyone (at least I hope so) who watches this series does it because, one: it’s a great series, and/or two: it’s Sherlock Holmes. The ones who are in for the latter reason know the stories, and the ones who are in for the former, will likely have looked up information on it by now. In other words, 98% of the viewers (I give some leeway for the strange ones who will have gone in knowing nothing at all) will have known Sherlock dies and comes back in the next story; the writers need not have spoken down to us by giving up the cliffhanger.

It is so disappointing, especially when one considers the fantastic cliffhanger they wrote for the first season. We didn’t know whether Sherlock had shot the bomb, whether Moriarty’s men had started shooting, whether Mycroft’s men had swarmed the building at the last second, whether Sherlock actually decided to shoot Moriarty himself, (and these are just from the fanfiction I read about it). We knew they would be ‘fine’ because there was going to be a second series, because there had to be a conclusion to the standoff, and because we knew there are more stories in the canon. -We were allowed our ‘excitement, anxiety and (for some of us) subsequent depression’-.

Oh well, what’s done is done and all that jazz. The most I can ask for and hope for is that they don’t do it again: Please don’t treat us like children. Given that they have hardly done so thus far tells me that it was a ‘one-off,’ therefore I still look forward, like a child anticipating Christmas, to next year’s season. Maybe they’ll introduce Mary Morstan; one can only dream.

While I might give the impression that I am angry at the episode, I am not, and it had enough ‘epically awesome’ elements to offset the bad. I would be interested to know whether other Sherlockians out there share my peeves or whether they disagree massively.

Comments are welcome; until next time!


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