The crackpot IOU theory left a lot of questions unanswered: Who is Richard Brook? Why is Sherlock’s behavior so out of character throughout the entire episode? Since when is Mycroft so stupid? What is the final problem? Why does Moriarty thank Sherlock before killing himself? There has to be a rational, non-crackpot explanation for all of this – something that doesn’t involve super-secret ciphers or magical blood capsules. What if “IOU” is not the Reichenbach puzzle?
Moriarty hints at the existence of a riddle for Sherlock, and yet the only “riddle” we actually see turns out to be Bach’s Partita No. 1. The riddle could just be another bluff, but if Moriarty never created any puzzle for Sherlock to solve, then why is he so upset in the rooftop scene? Notice that he doesn’t get angry when Sherlock taps out the fake binary code – it is the detective’s “I can use it to alter all the records, I can kill Rich Brook and bring back Jim Moriarty” proclamation that causes the consulting criminal to finally snap.
What is it about these words that makes Moriarty so mad, and why is he calling Sherlock a doofus? If there is no key code, that means the consulting criminal paid someone to alter the records, and Sherlock can “kill Rich Brook and bring back Jim Moriarty” by simply altering them back (and it wouldn’t be too hard, considering who his older brother is). What if the real reason Moriarty is so disappointed in “ordinary Sherlock” is not because of the binary code, but because he did give Sherlock a puzzle – a puzzle that he thinks the detective never solved? And what if maybe, just maybe, this puzzle has something to do with Sherlock’s words that got the biggest reaction from the consulting criminal: “I can kill Rich Brook and bring back Jim Moriarty”?
“IOU” looks like a riddle, but if it were, Moriarty wouldn’t dismiss it as unimportant just because ordinary Sherlock couldn’t solve it. The consulting criminal is the type of person who cannot “cope with an unfinished melody.” If he really gave Sherlock a puzzle, he’d bring it up again during his final confrontation with the detective. If the Reichenbach puzzle exists, it has to be something that Moriarty talks to Sherlock about on St. Bart’s rooftop. There is no mention of “IOU,” so that’s not it.
Let’s look at what he does talk about.
After calling Sherlock ordinary and announcing that he has beaten the detective, Moriarty asks him two questions: “Did you almost start to wonder if I was real? Did I nearly get you?” He doesn’t ask about the key code, the binary sequence, or the “IOU” message. It sounds like he is simply taunting the detective, but what if he is actually testing him here?
Moriarty: “Did you almost start to wonder if I was real? Did I nearly get you?”
Sherlock: “Richard Brook.”
Moriarty: “Nobody seems to get the joke. But you do.”
Sherlock: “Of course.”
Sherlock: “Richard Brook in German is Reichenbach. The case that made my name.” The detective eagerly demonstrates that he understands the joke that “nobody seems to get” and then taps his fingers to “prove” that he gets not only the Richard Brook joke but also the binary code.
Now, keep in mind that Sherlock is only pretending to believe in the binary code. As was pointed out at the beginning of the crackpot theory, the “code” he’s tapping out in St. Bart’s lab is completely different from Moriarty’s “Partita No. 1” sequence. But if Sherlock is trying to appear an ordinary doofus, then why is he showing that he’s the only one who understands Richard Brook’s origins? Something’s wrong with this picture.
Moriarty (looking at Sherlock’s fingers): “Good. You got that, too.” This is where it’s getting interesting: notice the word “too”at the end. Ordinary Sherlock, of course, didn’t get the key code – the key code doesn’t exist – but Moriarty’s sarcastic comment makes it sound like Sherlock got neither the key code nor the Richard Brook joke.
Well, duh. How could “ordinary Sherlock” possibly get anything right if he is playing stupid? The detective pretends to believe that Richard Brook was named after the case that made his name, just like he pretends to believe that “a couple of lines of computer code are going to crash the world around our ears.” If “ordinary Sherlock” didn’t get the Richard Brook joke, then it means that Moriarty didn’t name his alter ego after Sherlock’s most famous case. It means that everything is backwards, left is right (or, in this case, ambidextrous), and we need to reexamine the entire series.
How much do we actually know about Jim Moriarty? The consulting criminal presumably works under his real name, and yet he manages to stay a complete mystery. We’re never given any indication that Sherlock found anything on Jim Moriarty (public records, school records, birth certificate, Google results, anything). Miss Wenceslas admits to Sherlock and Lestrade that she was instructed by Moriarty, but Lestrade never finds anything on the consulting criminal, either (if he did, Sherlock wouldn’t suspect John of being Moriarty in the pool scene). Moriarty reveals that he “never liked” Carl Powers, so the two boys didn’t just meet at that tournament for the first time – they actually knew each other. The connection between them is never explained; the only thing Sherlock says about it is that Carl’s classmates “check out spotless.” During Moriarty’s trial, all that the newspapers say about the crown jewel thief is that he’s Irish-born, “of no fixed abode,” and “Ireland’s very own man of mystery.” It’s like he doesn’t have a past.
How did Moriarty manage to erase every single record of his existence ever if there is no computer code that can unlock “any door, anywhere”? Furthermore, how did he create Richard Brook, the actor? He may have paid someone to alter all the records, just like he hired people to commit daylight robbery, but what about Richard’s CV? “Rich is best known for playing the heroic young anaesthetist Brian Stokes in the long-running BBC1 Medical Drama Emergency.” Why would the criminal mastermind put a long-running BBC1 medical drama on his fake resume? Does he not realize how easy it is to check something like that and discredit his entire story? Why include “TV Work” section at all? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just list a bunch of small theater plays?
It’s Occam’s razor. Nothing is known about Jim Moriarty because he never existed in the first place. Richard Brook, on the other hand, can easily prove his existence because he is a completely real person. A “soft-spoken Irish heart-throb” from a popular medical drama, he could know Carl Powers well – could even be his classmate – and would still “check out spotless.” And if this Richard Brook chose to engage in any extracurricular criminal activities, he wouldn’t use his real name, now would he? He wouldn’t be that big of a doofus. He would probably create an alias for himself.
If Richard Brook met his clients in person, he’d run the risk of being eventually recognized as the actor from Emergency or the storyteller on kids’ TV. That’s why he must always “stay above it all.” That’s why he organizes crimes, but his clients never have any direct contact with him – “just messages, whispers.” I’m surprised that he wasn’t recognized during his trial, but I suppose the art of disguise is knowing how to hide in plain sight. I’m sure some people thought that the crown jewel thief looked a lot like “that guy from that TV show,” but people see what they expect to see, and no one expected the criminal mastermind to be an actor. Besides, Richard knew that even if someone did recognize him, he could just tell his “Sherlock hired me” story a bit sooner and back it up with all the TV work he did.
But wait, what about “Falls of the Reichenbach,” Turner’s masterpiece? This is the case after which everyone started to call Sherlock the Reichenbach hero. This is why Moriarty named his alter ego Richard Brook, right?
Not necessarily. Notice that we’re never given the story of the theft of this painting – we don’t know who stole it, why it was stolen, or how Sherlock recovered it. What we do know is that Moriarty is at least partly responsible for every high-profile crime that happens in London. With the exception of the Hounds of Baskerville case (during which Moriarty was detained), he is behind every single major crime Sherlock solves. The theft of Turner’s masterpiece is as high-profile a crime as you can get, so the chances are that Moriarty’s criminal network was also involved in it in some capacity. If we take into account Moriarty’s Richard Brook joke that “ordinary Sherlock” didn’t get, it becomes fairly obvious that the consulting criminal didn’t choose to name his alter ego “Richard Brook” after the painting. He chose the painting. “Falls of the Reichenbach.” Richard Brook’s Fall. The fall that he owes to Sherlock.
If that’s the case, then “IOU” is simply a reminder of the fall that’s coming.
So, here’s my non-crackpot Reichenbach theory: Jim Moriarty’s real name is Richard Brook. An actor by day and a consulting criminal by night, he is growing bored of fooling ordinary people. He needs an appreciative audience – it’s the frailty of genius. Richard Brook wants the detective to figure him out, to guess his name. This is his Reichenbach puzzle. This is why he snaps when Sherlock says he can “bring back Jim Moriarty.” Richard Brook is not a fake. Jim Moriarty is.
It also explains Moriarty’s obsession with Grimm’s fairy tales. Remember the parcel with the burnt gingerbread man? We’re never shown the front side of this parcel, but Mrs. Hudson says that the name on it is a “funny name, German, like the fairy tales.” (She’s obviously talking about the name on the parcel and not the name of “some chap” that delivered it – if she decided to inform Sherlock and John about how funny and fairy tale-like the delivery guy’s name was, she would at least make an attempt to say the name itself. Moriarty’s parcel came with a return address this time; the reason why Mrs. Hudson doesn’t feel the need to tell the funny name to Sherlock and John is because that name is right there on the parcel.)
Now, ask yourselves: What German name is “like the fairy tales,” well-known enough for Mrs. Hudson to recognize it as being “like the fairy tales,” and looks “funny” to an English speaker? I’d expect Richard Brook’s “German” name to be Reichenbach/Reichen Bach, but Reichenbach is not “like the fairy tales.” Grimm is not a funny name. Rapunzel is an instantly recognizable German fairy-tale name, but Moriarty says he is “a good old-fashioned villain.”
What is the funniest name in the history of ever that is also one of the most famous German fairy tales? A name that is fit for “a good old-fashioned villain”?
Rumpelstilzchen/Rumpelstiltskin is the first German fairy tale that comes to mind after Mrs. Hudson’s description and the only fairy tale in Moriarty’s edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that actually fits this description. Rumpelstiltskin is, of course, a demon who tells people to guess his name or else.
The parcel with the burnt gingerbread man had to come from Mr. Rumpelstilzchen or Rumpel Stilzchen – funny, German, and instantly recognizable as a fairy tale.
Rumpelstilzchen is a clue from Richard Brook, but this is not what helps Sherlock solve Richard’s puzzle. Notice that the detective becomes visibly alarmed when he hears about the funny German fairy tale-like name, but he doesn’t ask Mrs. Hudson to tell him this name, nor does he ask for the parcel. He might be able to see the return address when John leaves the parcel on the table, but even if so, why doesn’t he ask for the sender’s name the moment he hears about it?
People don’t usually ask questions if they know the answer, and they tend to ask no questions at all if they know both the answer and that their apartment has hidden cameras. Sherlock doesn’t ask Mrs. Hudson to tell him the name on the parcel because he has already solved Richard Brook’s puzzle and, as evidenced by the Hansel and Gretel case, is well-acquainted with fairy tales. He knows that Richard is playing the “guess my name” game with him, and so he can easily figure out the consulting criminal’s fairy-tale alias based on Mrs. Hudson’s description alone. And if the puzzle is already solved at this point, it means that “Mr. Rumpelstilzchen” is not the first clue Sherlock gets from Richard.
The friendly bomber says that he “never liked” Carl Powers, so the swimming tournament wasn’t the first time they met. Carl laughed at him, which points to them being in the same age group. The consulting criminal is around the same age as Sherlock, who was “only a kid” when Carl drowned. So, Carl was killed by a child who knew Carl but “never liked him” and who had access to Carl’s eczema cream. The simplest conclusion is that Carl’s killer was his classmate.
Let’s look at the rest of Sherlock’s conversation with the bomber.
Notice that Moriarty answers Sherlock’s inquiry about the noise, but ignores the detective’s first question: Who are you? The next time he calls Sherlock (via a hostage), his first words are: The clue’s in the name – Janus Cars.
At first glance, this scene seems very straightforward: Moriarty is giving Sherlock a clue to Ian Monkford’s disappearance. Notice, however, that this is the one and only time in the entire series that Moriarty actually points out a clue. He doesn’t help Sherlock with any of his other puzzles, not even when the detective can’t figure out the Van Buren Supernova until the very last second. I think it’s also worthy of note that when Moriarty finally deems to give this clue, Sherlock is already testing Monkford’s blood in the lab after concluding that the owner of Janus Cars is a liar. The case is practically solved, and Sherlock still has a lot of time before the deadline. Is Moriarty really so pathetic that he has resorted to giving out unnecessary clues just to hear Sherlock’s voice? It doesn’t make sense.
That is, unless this call isn’t about Ian Monkford’s disappearance at all. Yes, Moriarty is giving Sherlock this clue because he is bored, but he is bored in general – bored of playing boring games with ordinary people. Moriarty isn’t talking about Monkford’s disappearance here, not really. He is answering Sherlock’s previous question: “Who are you?”
The clue to Moriarty’s dual identity is in the name – Janus Cars. Janus, as John Watson correctly remembers, is “the god with two faces” – the god of beginnings, endings, and transitions between two different conditions. The friendly bomber’s two different “faces” are Richard Brook and Jim Moriarty. Coincidentally (or perhaps not coincidentally), Richard Brook is an actor, and Janus masks are the symbol of theater.
Richard knows that after he introduces himself as Jim Moriarty, Sherlock will research the connection between Moriarty and Carl. (And when I say “research,” I don’t just mean Google. Sherlock has Scotland Yard’s resources at his disposal, and his brother is the British Secret Service and the CIA on a freelance basis.) Richard also knows that Sherlock will not be able to find “James Moriarty” among Carl’s classmates, neighbors, relatives, or swimming competitors. If Sherlock is smart enough to piece together the “god with two faces” clue, Moriarty’s admission that he “never liked” Carl, and the fact that there are no records on this particular James Moriarty, then he can easily solve Richard Brook’s puzzle.
The consulting criminal appears in person in the pool scene, so “guessing” his real name is a piece of cake. All Sherlock has to do is find the names of Carl’s classmates, long-time competitors, young neighbors, and relatives – every child who could know Carl well enough to never like him and who could have access to his medication – and then find what those children look like now. The Janus clue points at having two identities, so Sherlock needs to find pictures of Carl’s classmates even if they all “check out spotless.” (I suppose he could also look for actors among them if you want to interpret Janus as a clue to theater, but it’s a bit of a stretch.) The detective is not above meticulous research, and he has access to all the records through Mycroft and Lestrade. Besides, Richard Brook is an award-winning actor from a popular TV show, so his pictures should be easily found online. A simple Google search will do the job.
A whole year passes between the events of “The Great Game” and the Reichenbach case, so Sherlock has more than enough time to check pictures of Carl’s friends and classmates and find Richard Brook among them. Remember that just like the original Sherlock Holmes who “turned away with disdain from popular notoriety,” this version of Sherlock considers a public image to be the last thing he needs. The appearance of the Reichenbach painting is the exact moment Sherlock starts acting out of character – a private detective who used to cover his face from photographers now attends press conferences and poses for pictures. His sudden change of attitude towards popular notoriety could very well be explained by the eerie resemblance between the name of the stolen painting and that of his nemesis. Sherlock sees that Richard is playing a game with him again, and so he plays along. When the consulting criminal starts sending big cases his way, Sherlock does his best to become the “nation’s favourite detective,” deliberately creating potential interest in the “life story” Richard fished out of Mycroft.
I don’t believe for a second that Mycroft told Sherlock’s actual life story to Richard. Only an ordinary doofus would believe in “the ultimate weapon, the key code – a few lines of computer code that can unlock any door.” Mycroft is smarter than Sherlock. If Sherlock doesn’t believe in the key code, then neither does Mycroft. That means the key code is not the reason the consulting criminal is kidnapped and interrogated for weeks. In “A Scandal in Belgravia,” Mycroft remarks that Moriarty seems desperate for his attention which “can be arranged,” so the interrogation shown at the end of “The Hounds of Baskerville” is probably the arranged “attention.” Judging by the state of the walls in Richard’s cell, they do talk about Sherlock. But Mycroft isn’t concerned about “the ultimate weapon,” so he has no reason to blab about his brother’s entire life to an obsessed psychopath. In fact, he wouldn’t blab even if he were concerned about it – Mycroft Holmes doesn’t blab. If Mycroft was trying to get Richard to talk, and if Sherlock’s life story was the only thing that made the consulting criminal open up, then wouldn’t it make more sense to just tell him a bunch of believable lies?
The only rational explanation for why Mycroft, the smarter brother, blabbed about Sherlock’s entire life to the consulting criminal without even believing in the key code is that nothing he said about Sherlock was true. (Sherlock knows about it, of course, and was most likely involved in concocting this “life story” – notice his complete lack of interest in the “Sherlock’s a fake!” exposé. Kitty gives the yet-unpublished article to John, but Sherlock never even bothers to look at it.) If Mycroft lied to Richard, it means that Kitty’s exposé and all subsequent articles that use Richard Brook’s statements can be easily proven false in season 3.
Mycroft can’t have Richard Brook killed or imprisoned indefinitely – the spider’s “criminal web with a thousand threads” will retaliate, likely hurting Sherlock in the process. He lets Richard go, and the Holmes brothers play “ordinary” to lull the consulting criminal into a false sense of security. To be able to have the final confrontation on his own terms, Sherlock needs to make Richard think that everything is going according to the consulting criminal’s plan. That’s why everything Sherlock does is out of character. He is acting.
When Richard visits 221B after the verdict, Sherlock pretends to believe that “nothing in the Bank of England, the Tower of London, or Pentonville Prison could possibly match the value of the key” Richard has in his possession. All the while, he’s trying to figure out the consulting criminal’s plan: “So, how are you going to do it? Burn me? […] Why are you doing all of this? You don’t want money or power, not really. What is it all for?” Richard keeps mysteriously referring to their final problem that needs to be solved.
After the little girl screams, Sherlock announces to Lestrade that he isn’t willing to play Moriarty’s game and then proceeds to dramatically accuse John of starting to believe Moriarty’s lies. Hilariously, he’s saying all of this while holding Moriarty’s camera he has just found in his bookcase, and the camera is still working. He never turns it off, removes it from the room, covers it with anything, or breaks it – when he connects it to his laptop, it’s still in working condition.
Lestrade calls and warns Sherlock in advance that the police are coming to get him. The detective has ample time to escape, but he doesn’t – apparently, not being there when the police arrive isn’t enough to become a proper fugitive, especially considering that they don’t even have a warrant for his arrest. It’s only when Sherlock is handcuffed and about to be taken to the police station that he grabs a CO19 officer’s gun and makes his “imminent and daring escape” that Richard Brook will undoubtedly hear about. Out of the reach of Moriarty’s cameras, he admits to John that he’s “doing what Moriarty wants, becoming a fugitive.”
When John offers to ask Mycroft for help, Sherlock says it’s not the time for a “big family reconciliation” (which is funny, considering that he had no qualms about asking his “brother dear” for access to Baskerville in the previous episode). But maybe Mycroft is already helping Sherlock to do “what Moriarty wants.” The detective knows he won’t be able to become a fugitive if a JP doesn’t issue a warrant for his arrest. The police have no evidence of Sherlock’s involvement in the kidnapping except for Sergeant Donovan’s “little nagging sensation” and a screaming child who clearly suffers from mercury poisoning. The girl “hasn’t uttered another syllable,” so they have no reasonable grounds to suspect Sherlock at least until she starts talking. There’s just not enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant. After refusing to go to the station with Lestrade, Sherlock says that the police will be deciding “whether to come back with a warrant and arrest” him and immediately starts typing away on his laptop. The camera is very careful not to show us the screen.
When the Chief Superintendent tells Lestrade to go and fetch Sherlock in, the Detective Inspector immediately calls John and says that they’re all coming over to 221B “right now.” The police can’t just give themselves an arrest warrant, but they head over to 221B right away, without ever going to a justice. I suppose it’s technically possible that the little girl started talking, said that the bad man who kidnapped her looked like Sherlock, and Lestrade managed to get an arrest warrant even before going to the Chief Superintendent.
John: “Have you got a warrant? Have you?”
Lestrade: “Leave it, John.”
But if they had a warrant, why would he be telling John to “leave it”? I understand that detective TV shows are not supposed to be 100 percent realistic, but come on. Not only do the police arrest Sherlock without a warrant and without a single piece of evidence, but they also bring a completely unnecessary armed response unit with Glock 17’s and MP5’s – all to arrest one unarmed man.
The first thing Sherlock does after escaping is drop the stolen gun, probably so that the police don’t throw all their forces to search for an armed fugitive. But the police don’t even have time to properly look for him because something more important has just happened – all units are very conveniently called “to 27” just as Mycroft’s brother is about to make his “imminent and daring escape.”
The whole thing looks staged. Sherlock’s ludicrous and obviously illegal arrest only makes sense if one assumes that the Chief Superintendent was told by his superiors to arrest the vigilante detective, bring the whole cavalry, and not worry about a warrant (for example, because this is a matter of national security – Sherlock was “given access to all sorts of classified information”). All Sherlock has to do to ensure his fugitive status is send a message to “the British Government” as soon as Lestrade leaves.
When Sherlock comes back from the dead in season 3, he will be able to argue that he was acting lawfully in escaping a wrongful arrest. No one was hurt as a result of his actions, and his “hostage” is not going to press charges, so the detective is unlikely to serve any time for running away from the police. CCTV footage will prove that he wasn’t in Surrey at the time of the kidnapping.
In Kitty Riley’s apartment, Sherlock doesn’t deny any of Richard’s accusations. The only thing he does during his entire encounter with Richard is deliver a believable performance of a man losing his grip.
After leaving Kitty’s apartment, Sherlock finally realizes what his nemesis has planned for the grand finale.
He immediately ditches John, secures Molly’s help, and then undoubtedly contacts his brother – Molly might write up a fake death report, but Mycroft is the one who can clear the whole street and make sure that no one accidentally witnesses a giant inflatable rubber ducky (or a mattress, or a garbage bin, or a net) that Sherlock lands on. When John confronts Mycroft in the Stranger’s Room, the detective has already informed his brother that he’s going to have to fake his suicide. Mycroft never intended or dreamed for this to happen, and he is well aware of the heartache this is going to cause Sherlock’s only friend when he says, “John… I’m sorry.” He apologizes to John, not to Sherlock.
Richard thinks that everything is going according to plan, and so his guard is down. This is a perfect opportunity for Sherlock to lure the consulting criminal into a trap – all he needs is an excuse to invite Richard to “come and play” on the hospital rooftop. And what better excuse could there be than having Richard’s key code that the consulting criminal “might want back”? Sherlock is playing ordinary, so he needs something that would look like a computer code to an ordinary person. He texts John and tells him to come to St. Bart’s, counting on the doctor’s “average mind” to help him come up with a key code that only an ordinary person could come up with.
Sherlock: “The computer code is the key to this. We find it, we can use it. Beat Moriarty at his own game. He used it to create a false identity, so we can use it to break into the records and destroy Richard Brook. Somewhere in 221B, somewhere on the day of the verdict he left it hidden.”
John: “What did he touch?”
Sherlock: “An apple, nothing else.”
John: “Did he write anything down?”
Even an ordinary person wouldn’t mistake Richard’s IOU carved into an apple for a computer code, so Sherlock doesn’t mention it to John.
The doctor can’t think of anything, but as he’s thinking, he taps the table with his fingertips. This is when an idea pops into Sherlock’s head – a binary code. Sherlock texts Richard that he found the key code, but his message doesn’t specify what that key code is: “Got something of yours you might want back.” If Richard wants to know what ordinary Sherlock believes to be the key code, the consulting criminal will have to “come and play” on St. Bart’s rooftop.
Sherlock has done everything to appear ordinary, and Richard doesn’t think twice about letting “ordinary Sherlock” choose the place of their final act – he even compliments the detective’s choice of a tall building. But Sherlock isn’t ordinary, and Richard walks right into a trap. As was already argued in the crackpot theory, Sherlock has to understand that after he jumps, it will take the consulting criminal mere seconds to run to the rooftop’s edge and see a giant inflatable rubber ducky, Mycroft’s people taking away the said ducky, and a team of skilled make-up artists at work. Sherlock can’t fake his suicide if Richard is standing on the rooftop with him, so he is obviously counting on the criminal to be already dead by the time he jumps. He can’t kill Richard (if he does, he won’t be able to cherish it for very long, as their encounters tend to be observed by Richard’s snipers). Sherlock’s fake-suicide plan can only work if Richard kills himself before Sherlock jumps. That means the detective knows that his nemesis will be more than happy to commit suicide if given the right incentive. How does he know it?
He knows it because he has worked out not only the consulting criminal’s real identity but also what his “final problem” is.
What’s the final problem? Richard did tell Sherlock.
“You need me, or you’re nothing. Because we’re just alike, you and I.”
Richard says that Sherlock is nothing without him – but he isn’t just talking about Sherlock here, is he? He and the detective are “just alike,” after all. What Richard is really saying here is that they are nothing without each other. If Richard kills his “best distraction,” he will have to go back to playing with the ordinary people. The criminal is bored of staying alive, but if he dies first, he is convinced that Sherlock will be equally bored to death. They are, as Richard puts it, “made for each other.” When one of them finally beats the other, the winner will have no one interesting to play with anymore. This is their final problem. The obvious solution is for them to die together.
And isn’t that what almost happens at the end of “The Great Game”? Richard can easily walk out of the building and then have his snipers shoot Sherlock, John, and the Semtex jacket. Instead of having them killed, however, the bored criminal walks back inside, announces that they “can’t be allowed to continue,” stands right next to the bomb, and gives Sherlock a choice to either detonate it or be killed by snipers. He and Sherlock are having a staring contest for several moments, and Sherlock’s finger is on the trigger the entire time. Irene’s phone call can’t be something Richard planned in advance, not unless he considers the detective a coward. If Sherlock pulled the trigger a second earlier, or if Richard didn’t get a more interesting offer, it wouldn’t be a “wrong day to die.” He would go out with a bang, taking Sherlock with him. The two of them would die together, at the same time, in a magnificent explosion. Look at Richard at the end of “The Great Game” – the whole place is about to blow up, and he is smiling. This was going to be his grand exit, Verdi-style.
But if dying together is what Richard really wants, then how does Sherlock know that the consulting criminal won’t just bring another bomb to St. Bart’s rooftop, turn off his phone just in case, and kill both of them, like he almost did in the pool scene?
It’s clear that Richard is not going to bring another Semtex jacket to Sherlock after all the trouble he went through to ruin the detective’s reputation. He needs Sherlock to commit suicide and die in disgrace. But I think it’s more than that.
Richard doesn’t want to die together with boring, ordinary Sherlock.
In “The Great Game,” Sherlock solves all of Richard’s puzzles, proving himself to be the consulting criminal’s intellectual match. In “The Reichenbach Fall,” however, Sherlock plays the part of an ordinary doofus. He never solves Richard’s riddle. He never figures out what the final problem is. He believes that a couple of simple lines of computer code are going to crash the world. In Richard’s eyes, Sherlock has turned out to be a fraud.
“All my life I’ve been searching for distractions, and you were the best distraction, and now I don’t even have you because I’ve beaten you. And you know what? In the end, it was easy. It was easy. Now I’ve got to go back to playing with the ordinary people, and it turns out you’re ordinary, just like all of them.”
If Sherlock let Richard know that he “guessed” his name, the consulting criminal would kill both of them and solve their final problem. But if Sherlock is ordinary, if he is not Richard’s match, if they were not “made for each other,” then dying together has no point. Richard is utterly alone in the world. There is no one like him.
But he still has to complete his grim fairy tale.
Sherlock helpfully provides Richard with a solution on how to make him jump: “I don’t have to die if I’ve got you.” If Sherlock hasn’t got Richard, the detective will have to die.
Richard still doesn’t seem keen on dying together with “ordinary Sherlock,” so the detective looks his nemesis in the eyes and delivers the following: “I am you. Prepared to do anything. Prepared to burn. Prepared to do what ordinary people won’t do. You want me to shake hands with you in hell, I shall not disappoint you.”
Richard isn’t immediately persuaded: “Nah. You talk big. Nah. You’re ordinary, you’re ordinary, you’re on the side of the angels.”
But Sherlock says all the right words: “Oh, I may be on the side of the angels, but don’t think for one second that I am one of them.”
Richard looks into Sherlock’s eyes and sees the same genius and the same madness there that the criminal mastermind sees in himself. Because despite Sherlock’s “ordinary doofus” act, they are just like each other. Richard studies Sherlock’s eyes carefully. Then, he starts smiling.
“No, you’re not. I see. You’re not ordinary. No, you’re me. You’re me. Thank you, Sherlock Holmes. Thank you. Bless you. As long as I’m alive, you can save your friends. You’ve got a way out. Well, good luck with that.”
Richard kills himself thinking that Sherlock will follow him moments later. Even though Sherlock couldn’t guess his name, they do belong to the same species. Richard saw it in his eyes. They are just alike, he and Sherlock. They began together as children. And now, they are ending it together. No one will have to go back to playing with the ordinary people. No one will be left alone. As far as Richard is concerned, their final problem is solved. I think he dies happy.
Sherlock continues to act until the very end, since he knows that Richard’s snipers are probably still watching him. He came to the rooftop with the intention of driving Richard to suicide, so his panic isn’t real, and neither are his tears. When Sherlock gives a signal to Mycroft (who I hope to see behind the wheel of that truck) and his people that he is preparing to jump, he makes it look as if he’s reaching out to John. It’s really brilliant – what the law has gained the stage has lost.
Instead of opposing the criminal mastermind directly, the Holmes brothers figure out Richard’s next moves, get him to lower his guard, and then strike him when he least expects it, using Richard’s own force against him. I suppose you could call it “a bizarre system of Japanese wrestling.” Intellectual baritsu.
All screencaps are from this beautiful site. The “Rumpelstiltskin” fairy tale, Janus, and theater masks are public domain images from Open Library, Wikipedia, and Pixabay, respectively.