Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Journey to Reichenbach One: Overture

How did Sherlock get here?

The Reichenbach Fall.  "The fall of Rich Brook."  The creators of the SHERLOCK universe chose the name.  The clue is in the name.  Not "Falls," plural, but the fall with the more permanent destination of one man only.

How Sherlock survives his leap is far less interesting than all that led him to the ledge.  The series of events leading Sherlock Homes to the edge of death didn't begin in the opening scenes of  "The Reichenbach Fall." This journey began before the very first scene of  SHERLOCK's premiere episode.   It began when Moriarty hatched a plan to eliminate Sherlock Holmes, arranged for a cab driver under a death sentence to execute it,1  and Mycroft brought Dr. Watson into Sherlock's life.2  


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes  in his book A Study in Scarlet and in a deathly plunge into an abyss at the Reichenbach Falls, killed both Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty in his story  "The Final Problem." Doyle intended this to be the last he would ever write about Holmes.

Just as "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Final Problem" served as the beginning and intended end of Sherlock Holmes fictional life, a life Doyle never intended to resurrect, so the present BBC Holmsian reality, "A Study in Pink" and "The Reichenbach Fall" serve as narrative bookends between which  Sherlock's character is born, evolves and plunges into his own abyss.  The first two seasons, the set of six episodes can be seen as a subset, a coherent portion of what will be many SHERLOCK series and episodes as yet to be produced.

  Parallels: "A Study in Pink" and "The Reichenbach Fall"
  • You can talk a man into committing suicide, you don't need a gun.
  • Sherlock goes off on his own; John tries to find and save him
  • Sherlock is willing to torture someone to get information.
  • Both men should have died.  Only one did. 
  • Sherlock sacrifices his reputation to protect John.
  • The crimes were designed to garner attention in the media

Sherlock's Evolutionary Path Leads to the Ledge.  It's Moriarty through the voice of the cabbie who gives us Sherlock's pre-John Watson character:
"Are you clever enough to bet your life?  ...  I bet you get bored, don't you?  ... I know you do.  A man like you - so clever - what's the point of being clever if you can't prove it?  ... Still  the addict ... but this, this is what you're really addicted to, isn't it?  You'll do anything, anything at all, to stop being bored. You're not bored now, are you?"

Moriarty, whom the cabbie refers to as Sherlock's "fan," told the cabbie all about Sherlock, including how to entice him to destroy himself. That cabbie was Moriarty's disguise. As seen in The Tale of the Killer Cabbie, neither the cabbie nor Sherlock was intended to survive. Both pills were poisoned, both would die, mystery forever unsolved, Moriarty's identity safe.

And as Irene Adler later told us, a disguise is always a self-portrait.  Moriarty is a proper genius. Moriarty is a true psychopathic serial killer motivated by profit. Moriarty wants to eliminate Sherlock Holmes, but more, to beat him.  In the killer cabbie scenario, Sherlock Holmes will die defeated while Moriarty remains unknown.   

But John Watson saved Sherlock's life by killing the cabbie.   Watson confirms for us Moriarty's characterization of Sherlock as willing to die to fight intellectual stagnation,  "It's how you get your kicks, isn't it, you risk your life to prove you're clever."  Sherlock uses cleverness, the exercise of his intellect as a weapon, as his identity, his reason to live.   He identifies himself as a sociopath, other's feelings or welfare irrelevant, it's all about the "brainwork."   When other's hands shake in fear as they reach for the poisoned pills and face death, Sherlock's shake with the adrenaline of excitement.  

For reasons unavailable to us in Sherlock's backstory, Moriarty knows his psychology, his disregard for the value of his life, his need to assert his intellectual superiority, his reckless nature in the face of mortal danger.   Moriarty knows Sherlock as a man without boundaries.  Moriarty has none, either.  But Moriaty, the true psychopath, cannot conceive of self-imposed boundaries that are motivated not by fear or conformity or respect for social custom, but from love.  Love not as feelings, no sentiment at all, but love as the willing sacrifice of oneself for the benefit of another.

Sherlock changes.  In the very first episode, in his encounter with John Watson, his evolution commenced. A spare glance and Sherlock knew that John risked his freedom to protect him;  Sherlock immediately sacrificed another moment of intellectual triumph, that for which he lives, even insistently proclaiming his own ineptitude, to protect John Watson.  While Sherlock doesn't seem the worse for torturing information out of a dying man, he expresses concern over John's mental/emotional state because he had just killed a man.  And John, he of the trust issues, admits it. 

Sherlock was alone, his own brother considered his archenemy, someone who offended people so often and grievously they warned others away.   He was a  man in need of a flat-mate he believed he would not find due to his own nature.  In John Watson he finds a partial but accurate reflection of self. In being valued, he is able to value. 

This is something Moriarty does not witness and cannot comprehend. 

Journey to Reichenbach Two: The Curtain Rises

1 see The Tale of the Killer Cabbie
2 See Professor Moriarty: Out of the Shadows

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