Now that “The Empty Hearse” has premiered in the U.S., I can now talk about the biggest answer to the biggest question of the BBC Sherlock series:
Just how did Sherlock fake his death in “Reichenbach Fall”?
(And just as an FYI, there be spoilers ahead from “The Empty Hearse”!)
After two years of discussions, research, theories, and just plain head-scratching, fans of Sherlock were finally going to get the answer as to how the clever detective managed to survive jumping off the roof of St. Bart’s and surviving it. In “The Empty Hearse”, we go through a few of Anderson’s (and Anderson’s club of Sherlock believers) theories, but in the end Sherlock explains to Anderson the steps he took to manage his survival. He jumped, his helpers set the stage, he landed on a big airbag, and the rest was pretty much Oscar-worthy acting. Anderson, in the end, doesn’t believe it, as there is no way that Sherlock would ever tell him the truth and it has too many variables (just how did he know John would stand at that spot?) for it to be believable.
In the end, the “big reveal” of Sherlock’s plan left many happy-they had their answer in what Sherlock revealed or they were content that the show primarily focused on the “why” of the Fall instead of the “how”. But for other fans, they were left feeling like Anderson-was it really as simple as falling into an airbag and putting on a production? Was everything really that staged? And just how did Sherlock fake his death? Was the big question really answered?
As someone who is still planning a plot reveal in my own story, I’m debating with myself on whether I should explain the “how” of the reveal. Do I want to be helpful to my audience and provide them closure to a question they’ll undoubtedly want an answer to? Do I want to keep everything hidden and leave them trying to figure out the “how” in the end? (This sounds fun, mwa ha ha ha ha! Just kidding.) Or do I do a little bit of both like how they did in Sherlock? Provide some closure, but leave it open enough for those not pleased with the reveal to still have their own theories?
I’m not going to lie-I’m in the camp that actually enjoyed “The Empty Hearse” and its treatment of the Reichenbach jump. I’m content with Sherlock’s explanation to Anderson as what really happened, although I think the first Fall theory with Sherlock and Molly is probably my head-canon (ha ha). Regardless of my reaction, though, seeing “The Empty Hearse” and reading fan reactions on forums afterwards made me realize that the audience of a story are a lot like the characters on Sherlock. When a pivotal question or plot point happens, some are like Anderson: they want closure-they want to know the how of the plot. Some are like John: they aren’t as concerned with the how so much as they want to know why. Some are like Lestrade or Mrs. Hudson: they don’t mind not knowing how or why-they’re just glad the story got resolved. Finally, some are like Sherlock: they’re writing the story and they know everything, and all they can do is smile.