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Saturday, August 11, 2012

How Did Sherlock Do It?

Sherlock Holmes fans know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle allegedly attempted to kill off Holmes in the short story, The Final Solution. I say allegedly because Doyle didn't have Holmes's body turn up after he and Moriarty fall off Reichenbach Falls, which makes you wonder whether Doyle subconsciously left the door open for Holmes to return. Indeed, in the short story in which Conan Doyle brings Holmes "back from the dead," (The Adventure of the Empty House) it turns out that he didn't fall into the falls at all. Only Moriarty did.

Interestingly, two modern interpretations of The Final Solution appeared on film in the last year. One, the theatrical release, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, stars Robert Downey, Jr. as the British detective. As with the books, it is set in 19th century London, and although it only loosely (very loosely) follows the short story, it does end with Holmes and Moriarty plunging off the falls and into the river below, leaving Watson (and the viewers) with the impression that neither Holmes or Moriarty survive. The second interpretation occurred in the BBC series Sherlock, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. Unlike the Conan Doyle stories and the Robert Downey movies, Sherlock is set in 21st century London. Thus, it shouldn't come as a surprise that they don't follow the Conan Doyle stories too closely (although probably closer than the Robert Downey movies).

The Sherlock version of The Final Solution, entitled The Reichenbach Fall, has generated considerable buzz ("Sherlock: vital missing clue behind death fall") because it's unclear how Holmes survives a fall from St. Bartholomew's Hospital (aka St. Barts) in London (pictured at left). Indeed, as in the Conan Doyle short story, everyone (including Watson) is led to believe that Holmes did die, and it is only at the end that viewers (but not Watson) learn that Holmes is still alive. But how he faked his death remains a mystery and the subject of much speculation among bloggers and the media. According to the show's producers, there is still "a clue everybody's missed," and that it was shown on screen how he survived but no one has yet figured it out. I don't attempt to solve the mystery below; it is, however, my first take on what happened.

The episode is about Moriarty's plot to discredit and kill Sherlock Holmes, concluding with Moriarty killing himself with a gun and Holmes apparently committing suicide by jumping from the roof of St. Barts in order to keep Moriarty's henchmen from killing Dr. Watson, Mrs. Watson, and Inspector Lestrade (Holmes's three closest friends). Prior to jumping, Holmes calls Watson from the top of the roof with his cell phone.  He then throws the phone away and jumps with Watson looking on. Watson then rushes to Holmes's body just as it is carried away by the hospital staff. You can watch the final sequence here:

  1. When Holmes is talking with Watson on the phone, he makes sure that Watson is standing where he is blocked by a small building so that he can't see the sidewalk where Holmes's body (or somebody's body) lands
  2. After Holmes jumps/falls, as Watson rushes to see what happens, he is hit by a bicyclist who knocks him to the ground, rendering him groggy and delaying his arrival at Holmes's body. As a result he is only able to grab Holmes's wrist and never gets a good look at the body before it is wheeled away.
  3. Prior to meeting Moriarty on the rooftop, Holmes seeks the help of his friend "Molly," an employee of St. Barts and someone who spends most of her day working with cadavers. Many believe that Molly helped substitute a cadaver in place of Holmes's body, which is why Watson is prevented from getting a good look at the body.
  4. There is a open-bed truck parked next to the sidewalk where Holmes jumps and appears to have mattresses or similar objects in the back. People have speculated that Holmes either jumped into the back of the truck, or that mattresses were thrown on the sidewalk, cushioning Holmes's fall. There might be something to this because the truck pulls away before Watson arrives.
Of course, all this assumes that it was Holmes who jumped. However, as with the original Conan Doyle story, Holmes may have never have jumped at all and what fell was a cadaver provided by Molly. There is some evidence to support this:
  1. In some of the scenes when Holmes is talking to Watson on the roof, the building shown behind Holmes can't be where it is. It should be to Holmes's right (the viewer's left) if he is indeed standing on the top of the roof facing (and talking to) Watson. For it to be to his right, Holmes would need to be standing somewhere else on the roof (i.e., not on the ledge)
  2. When Holmes turns to look at Moriarty's body (I'm unconvinced he's dead either), he doesn't look behind him as he should, but to his right and down. Holmes could only do this if he was standing next to Moriarty and not on the ledge of the roof.
But if that's the case, then who (or what) the heck was that standing on the ledge? Haven't figured that one out yet...

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