When I first watched this episode, I didn’t even believe Sherlock saved Irene in front of the terriost executioners. I thought it’s not possible to break into their camp and disguise to be one of them, not mention take Irene out of there. But if it’s just Sherlock’s imagination, his laughter before murmuring “the woman” would make no sense.
After I have watched this episode, like, a thousand times, it suddenly occurs to me that the rescue scene is totally real, and makes a lot of sense. At the pool scene, Moriarty would definitely shot Sherlock and John if there wasn’t the call that distracted him. And that call, ladies and gentlemen, was from Irene Adler herself. So Irene literally saved Sherlock and John’s asses. When Moriarty left them, Sherlock said “Someone changes his mind, question is, who?” Then the rest of this episode didn’t mention this call at all, but we all know Sherlock would not easily let it go. Maybe he found out the caller was Irene, probably sometime after the I AM SHERLOCKED confrontation because that’s when Irene told him Moriarty helped her and that would inspire him. Then he decided to return this big favor.
So, Sherlock did it and succussfully rescue her.
And people who believe Sherlock loves Irene and there was a shag after the rescue can suck it. That means you, Cumberbatch.