The Reichenbach Cliffhanger: how did Sherlock fake his own death?

Those of you who watched Sherlock, the BBC’s fabulous modern-day adaptation of Conan-Doyle’s deer-stalker wearing detective, may recognise the above title. Those of you who didn’t watch it, should do so. Watch all of it, watch it well, and watch it now. It should only take you 9 hours, then you can come back. Done it? Good. At the end of the final episode of series 2, ‘The Reichenback Fall’, Sherlock appears to cheat death as he jumps from the top of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital only to be seen alive and well in the final shot before the credits (at his own funeral, as it happens).

*SPOILER ALERT* OR MAYBE JUST SPOILER-ISH, SINCE NOTHING’S CONFIRMED

So how did he fake his own death so well? The extent to which my theories* are blindingly obvious is not clear to me, but on the off chance that some of my ponderings come as revelations to you lot, here goes. The timeline of events is as follows. Sherlock asks Molly (the girl in the Bart’s mortuary who Sherlock’s horrible to, remember?) to help him, and relies on her being in love with him to ensure that she a)is loyal and b) takes every effort to fulfil his plan and save his life. The first thing that she engineers is the call from the ‘paramedics’ to Watson that Mrs Hudson has been shot (which later turns out to be untrue). This is in order to remove Watson from Bart’s so that Sherlock can face Moriarty, and also so that Watson can participate (unknowingly) in another part of the plan.

Now, Sherlock meets Moriarty on the roof in order to convince him to shoot himself*. He then waits for Watson to return and calls him the second he gets out of the Taxi to deliver his ‘suicide note’. Before he tells Watson he is a fraud, he makes sure he remains standing exactly where the Taxi dropped him off. This is extremely important, because although the way the scene is shot by the director makes it seem as if John has a direct and unobstructed line of sight to Sherlock, this is not the case. There is a smallish red brick building between Watson and Bart’s, obscuring about the final quarter of Sherlock’s fall from the roof.
Red brick

The Taxi driver, who just so happens to be in Baker Street when Watson emerges from 221b is clearly in on the plan too. Not only does he stop at exactly the right place opposite Bart’s, he also appears to be arguing with somebody who wants a ride outside 221b, suggesting that he is refusing to take any fare other than Watson.
Taxi

The ‘suicide note’ in which Sherlock confesses to being a fraud is also significant. It serves 2 purposes. Firstly, it is an attempt by Sherlock to minimise John’s grief at his death. Secondly, and more importantly, it is in order to ensure he is forgotten. The episode takes pains to show how Sherlock’s increasing fame is making it hard for him to remain an effective ‘private’ detective. His fame is also behind his downfall: so many officers eager to believe he’s a fraud due to a toxic combination of jealousy and embarrassment caused by Sherlock’s success. By instructing John to tell everyone in his life that he is a fraud, to let the newspapers know and remove any chance of him being seen as a martyr, he maximises the likelihood that he can fade away and be forgotten.

When Sherlock jumps, he can be seen to be a fair way out from the building, perpendicular to it.
Perpendicular

As John begins to round the corner of the red brick building following Sherlock’s fall, we can momentarily see a red laundry truck next to Sherlock’s body, which is now parallel to Bart’s.
Truck

John is then knocked down by a cyclist. This is also planned by Sherlock, and executed by members of the homeless network that he employs in order to delay, disorientate and confuse Watson lest he catch on to what Sherlock has done. This disorientation can be shown not only by the director’s emphasis of John’s discombobulation, but also by the disjointed series of events as John is hit. In the frame as John is hit, the red laundry truck is missing, and a crowd of people have gathered around Sherlock’s body.
No truck crowd

However, after John is hit, and is struggling to get to his feet, we are shown a shot with the red truck clearly present, driving away from the spot where Sherlock fell, and the crowd of people just beginning to assemble.
Truck no crowd

So far then, my theory is that Sherlock jumped in to the laundry truck. Then it is my opinion that he burst a capsule of fake blood (supplied by Molly) on his head, took a pill to stop his heart (supplied by Molly, possibly taken whilst still on the roof), and either knocked himself out and jumped on the floor, or had the driver of the truck do it. This explains how he comes to be parallel to Bart’s, and also how he has no pulse when John checks it. There are no gaping head wounds, or any other wounds for that matter, which would not be expected after a fall on to concrete from such a great height (surely?!). The shot directly after the fall where Sherlock hits the floor parallel is, thus, slightly out of sequence.

The paramedics, possibly arranged by Molly, arrive eerily fast and whisk Sherlock away into Bart’s, where his heart is to be restarted, and then wrongly pronounced dead by a complicit Molly. Mission Accomplished**.

Most of my points can be reviewed here:

Excuse me now for a bit whilst I bask in my own smugness***.

*Other theories include Moriarty not really being dead either and gravity being a masonic conspiracy. Not that last one.

** One variant that I considered in an earlier version of my thesis is that the body is an elaborate and sophisticated cadaver supplied by Molly. Seems unlikely to me.

***Please continue the debate in the comment section if you have alternative pointers

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4 Comments

Filed under Miscellaneous

4 responses to “The Reichenbach Cliffhanger: how did Sherlock fake his own death?

  1. Lydia Hill

    It’s still a long way down into the laundry truck……

  2. I saw a gif set on tumblr that the ball that sherlock was using in the lab helped him to stop his pulse.. check that out.

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