One of the last times that I was talking to my fake baby-sister Kara she had asked how Sherlock could have survived jumping off the roof of St Bart’s hospital. Time passed, but I remembered that she had asked while I was watching the last episode today, so I’m writing a kind of walk-though for the last 20 minutes of the episode that *should* explain it well enough.
While the audience is figuring things out as the episode unfolds, it is important to remember that we are talking about Sherlock Holmes. To set all of this up, the viewer first has to recognize that Sherlock starts to plan the end of the episode after he and John leave the reporter’s apartment. To be more clear, at the moment that Sherlock leaves to find Molly at the hospital and Watson leaves to confront Mycroft. It was during this dialogue that Sherlock realizes that the last act of Moriarty’s plan is for Sherlock to commit suicide.
Realizing this, we now jump ahead to Sherlock getting rid of Watson by having someone fake a paramedic call. Moriarty is waiting on the roof because Sherlock texted him the exact meeting place. So we end up on the roof, and Moriarty states that he has spent his entire life looking for a distraction from ordinary people, and expresses his disgust that Sherlock turned out to be another boring, ordinary person. Two things here. First, Moriarty is doing the typical evil genius thing and monologue-ing here. Secondly, he is playing to another bad-guy stereotype by being the lonely genius who creates havoc to try and force an equal to find him (V’ger from Star Trek The Motion Picture, Samuel L Jackson in Unbreakable, etc). Anyway, since Moriarty is monologue-ing a bit here you have to assume that Sherlock is interrogating him as well. From some carefully worded questions, Sherlock realizes that there is no code – at least not a computer code – that runs the world. Since they didn’t come out and say it, however, it should be pointed out that the code that allowed Moriarty to do all of this things is IOU. He did give the code to Sherlock in the apartment – verbally and left written in the side of an apple. It also appears as a reminder throughout the episode. By pulling all of these various strings, all of the crimes in the series were because these baddies all owed something to Moriarty. The cab driver needed Moriarty’s money. The Chinese gang needed assistance to set up shop in London and get their item back. So on and so forth. But Sherlock knows that there is no code. If he can manipulate everyone’s cell phones in the very first episode, how can he not decode binary? He can’t not.
Back to the episode, Moriarty tells Sherlock that a need for everything to be clever is Sherlock’s weakness. While this is true, remember that being able to pull every string and know the outcome ahead of time is also a weakness for Moriarty (the spider reference from the trial earlier in the episode). Hold on to that one.
Sherlock feigns realizing that Moriarty’s plan is for Sherlock to commit suicide – again, he figured that one out the night before. Sherlock wasn’t lucky in choosing a tall building. He choose a building he had intimate knowledge of and was able to set up the mechanisms of his plan. Sherlock looks over the side of the building – to the viewer, it appears that he is contemplating the jump, but what he is actually doing is checking on the progress of his plan. Timing is crucial for him here. While he is looking over, note that there is a rectangular pattern in the bricks below.
Just as a fun thing here, as Watson calls a cab notice that the graffiti on the side of the building is “IOU.” Moriarty was quite the smart ass; while he was taunting Sherlock with his threat of owing him a fall, he also pretty much gave the code to the assassins for free – they just didn’t realize it. Again, he isn’t in it for the money. It’s about the game.
Back to the rooftop interrogation (complete with tough guy holding Moriarty over the edge of the building. Can you imagine Cumberbatch dressed as Batman right now asking Moriarty “WHATS THE CODE!?!”) Anyway, Moriarty admits that he has people following all of Sherlock’s friends. It’s important for Sherlock’s success now to see if Moriarty is on to him. He names Watson, Mrs Hudson, and Lestrade, and Moriarty gives away too much by saying that there will be 3 victims. Molly was left out, which goes back to what she was saying about her not counting or mattering. Sherlock of course went to her for help because she is the person that even he would overlook, which leaves her free to secure a look-alike body, a truck, etc. Moriarty also lets slip that he can call off the gunmen (of course he can; they owe him), which was more for the sake of the audience. Sherlock drives the point home by exploiting Moriarty’s weakness – not knowing what would each strand of his web is capable of. Sherlock points out that Moriarty’s life is a weakness that Sherlock can exploit (“I don’t have to die if *I’ve got you.*”) Which is some nice theme conclusion from earlier in the episode when Sherlock states that you cannot kill an idea once the seed has been planted in your head. Moriarty is now doubting that he can live and still win. There was also some nice book-ending right here – Moriarty yelling “What’d I miss?” mirrors the scene in the first episode where Sherlock asks Watson the same thing in regards to Watson’s brother actually being his sister. Which reminds me; you got the reference with the burnt gingerbread man, right? The part at the end of season 1 where Moriarty says that he will burn Sherlock? The show seems like it was written so that they could have ended it after the second season if they needed to. Insert trope of crazy bad guy realizing that he isn’t alone, blah blah blah. Anyway, Moriarty realizes that he underestimated Sherlock and that he has to die to stop Sherlock from winning. When they are close together and Moriarty goes to shoot himself, notice that Sherlock pushes away instead of trying to stop him. If Moriarty living was the only way that Sherlock’s friends can live, and we know from previous episodes that Sherlock is an expert at hand-to-hand combat, then Sherlock could have saved Moriarty if he wanted to. But this ties it up so much neater. Sherlock just has to act shocked, since he knows from the monologue that Moriarty’s people are watching.
Now that we’ve covered how Sherlock defeated Moriarty, we can move on to faking his death. As Watson arrives by cab, Sherlock calls him and directs him to turn around and stay on the other side of the low, red brick building. After all, Watson is not safe if he acts in a way that suggests he knows Sherlock is alive. He instructs Watson to tell everyone he was a fake, and names Mrs Hudson, Lestrade, and MOLLY. It’s another clue for the viewer, and also a small way which Sherlock can show off that he out-smarted Moriarty. He goes through the phone call suicide note to help convince Watson that Sherlock is jumping, and more than likely to also cover his bases – if his apartment was bugged, why not his phone? He instructs Watson to keep his eyes on Sherlock – which is similar to a magician saying abracadabra. Watson is not paying attention to things on the ground right now. There’s the jump, but from Watson’s viewpoint he can’t see Sherlock hit ground. The viewer sees a body hit, but we’ll get back to that. As Watson runs around the building, there is a red truck with what appears to be dozens of bean bag chairs in the back of it that starts to pull away. Just then a bicyclist runs into Watson, and he hits his head very hard. So hard, in fact, his vision is blurred. This is by design. Just as Moriarty had henchmen, Sherlock has his army of helpers. They’re the same, remember? Someone had to place the fake paramedic call to Watson earlier, as well. Now that Watson is emotional AND impaired, how can he make a proper ID of the body? Of all the people present, Watson was the only person who could look at the body and see that it wasn’t Sherlock.
But wait, what happened? Simple. The truck parked over the white outline, which Sherlock must have calculated was the furthest distance that he could jump outward from the building. Sherlock jumped onto the bags, and someone threw the re-purposed dead guy over the side of the truck. That’s it. I’ve seen posts with people theorizing different ways he survived the fall, but here’s the beauty of it; it’s simple. Moriarty’s claim that Sherlock needs everything to be clever was wrong, or perhaps Sherlock was more able to adapt and change is methods to catch Moriarty off guard.
So there you have it. One of my coworkers theorized that Sherlock was working on how to fake his death from the beginning, and pointed to the head in the fridge which Mrs Hudson mentions again at Sherlock’s funeral. I would have to go back and watch them all to check on that. I did enjoy a fun moment that was probably unintentional; Watson says that Sherlock was “the most human” and gets choked up, which is the line that Kirk choked up on when Spock died at the end of Wrath of Khan. Cumberbatch was then signed to play Khan in JJ Abrams’ remake. Just a bit of fun.
Oh, and if you hadn’t got the IOU thing, it’s one of the last things Watson says to the gravestone. “I owe you so much.”