In any tellings, retellings or adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes character, Moriarty will always be showcased as counterpart to the Holmes character: whether it be an alter ego, a different side of the same coin, an antagonist or an image of who Holmes could have turned into. The Moriarty character is irrevocably linked with Holmes, a consistent foil in whatever means the story calls for.
The episode begins with the writers making sure we know what is about to follow with a voice over of Sherlock writing his newest letter to Jaime Moriarty. It reads:
“We have spilled much ink, you and I, in our discussion of human connection. And we are no closer to understanding than we were when the correspondence began. I often fear as if I’m standing on one side of a wide chasm, shouting across, and wondering if the response I hear comes from you, or if it is my own voice echoing back to me….
Nor would I persist against so many of my better instincts in this correspondence. I find you a challenge, one that in spite of all you’ve done continues to stimulate, and so the conversation, futile though it may finally be, continues, and we are left to wonder—have we simply failed to find the answers to the questions that preoccupy us or can they not be answered at all. Fortunately, for both of us, the world always presents the next diversion…”
We see shots of Joan on a date that she seems uninterested in, Captain Gregson looking forlornly at a picture from home and we see Detective Bell struggling at a shooting range. It’s a quick and effective way to pull the story together and make sure it’s at the spring board it needs to be for the remaining episode. It’s also a way to jumpstart where we are in Sherlock’s mindset. He’s admitting his inability to form a human connection like the one he and Moriarty (or in his mind Irene Adler) shared, so now he’s choosing to not try—choosing to focus all of his strengths on the cases at hand.
Which this week link back to Moriarty herself.
After a 7 year-old girl Kayden is abducted and her father killed, Sherlock and Joan arrive on the scene along with Captain Gregson and members of the police force where they receive a phone call demanding a ransom for the girl’s life. In the middle of this phone call Sherlock realizes that the voice on the other end is that of Devon, Moriarty’s previous right hand man and often her mouthpiece.
Sherlock tells Gregson that she may have some involvement in the case and he gets to organizing their meet up.
We learn that Moriarty is being kept in an abandoned warehouse, off the grid so to speak, to keep up maximum security. She and Sherlock reunite with distant glances and snide remarks, but the interest is there, on how the other is coping. All the while managing to antagonize each other, as her painted portrait of Joan hangs in the backdrop.
Jaime Moriarty tells Captain Gregson that she’s been scouring the papers and she has no idea what on earth could have caused their visit—she tells them that she’s done nothing.
Sherlock, believing her to be evil, doesn’t believe so.
Gregson tells her that the crime was committed too late to appear in the morning paper, so if she had nothing to do with it, she would know nothing about it yet. Sherlock tells Moriarty about Devon’s involvement and she says she’ll tell them all they need to know as long as she’s compensated for.
And that she is, and more than Sherlock ever would have liked, as he sees her being escorted into the station. She’s promised the government information as long as she can be a consultant on the case, which includes visiting the crime scene.
Joan agrees to accompany her and allow for Sherlock to stay behind and go over evidence, successfully separating the two to let Sherlock have some peace of mind and it also allows for one of the more riveting scenes of the episode.
It’s easy to forget sometimes while watching Elementary that Lucy Liu is a force of nature—remember her in Kill Bill?—but in Elementary she’s often delegated to acting out the reactionary aspects. She listens as Sherlock rants, she reigns him in, she’s bemused, frustrated, incredulous by the words that leave his mouth and while as a character she has her own agency she’s very much a supporting player as of late. Seeing her go head to head with Natalie Dormer is a treat: they’re both highly intelligent, they both are a strong presence onscreen and now they also both have ties to Sherlock, albeit in different ways.
Moriarty tells Joan that Sherlock kept up their correspondence because he is the only person in the world that understands her and who she is, just as she is the only person in the world who will ever understand the inner workings of Sherlock Holmes’ mind.
It’s an interesting note because as an audience we’ve gotten comfortable with the belief of Joan and Sherlock as kindred spirits. There is no romantic inclination between the two, but for some reason they compel one another which enables the partnership and the friendship they’ve created.
To hear it from Moriarty, this can’t be the case due to her and Sherlock’s link which separates them from the everyday folk.
Joan dismisses her and it’s later that evening that Sherlock concedes to Joan that she was right, like she is so often about such matters, about him being bothered by Moriarty’s appearance. He tells her that since he has managed to make such a comeback after having hit his rock bottom, he’d hoped that maybe there was a chance Moriarty would have had a metamorphosis as well.
Looking over evidence they realize a key bit about the case, which links back to a peculiar reaction from Moriarty earlier, through decoding messaging in the papers that had been delivered to Moriarty in her prison, she had been threatened. She was the victim rather than the architect of the scheme by Devon. The girl stolen, it was Moriarty’s daughter.
Moriarty has come to the same reaction at the same time.
She knocks out her guard and escapes and heads to the warehouse where she’s deducted that her daughter is being kept and quickly has two guards incapacitated and shoots Devon the moment she sees him. Dormer is chilling in this scene as she crouches over Devon and promises him a painful death.
Sherlock and co. arrive at the warehouse from which Moriarty had escaped from and notice her blood on the floor from where she had broken free of her monitoring bracelet. Sherlock is immediately concerned and it’s shortly after that he receives a call from Moriarty and she tells him where to find her. She says that she wants only him to enter, that the rest of the police can wait outside.
He arrives at the scene and sees her sitting at the center of her carnage. She has a moment of exposition where she tells him that by the obvious math he isn’t the father, and that quickly after her daughter was born she made arrangements to place her in another family due to her line of work. Kayden has now been moved again, into another family with no knowledge of her real mother.
This is truly a spectacular scene because for a moment, despite the evil she’s performed, you feel for Moriarty. Maybe it’s due to the talent that Dormer possesses that allows us to read undercurrents of her character’s emotions that aren’t simply at face value, maybe it’s because we realize that a few different steps could have led Sherlock into being the same person as Moriarty.
The chemistry between the two is utterly enticing and the scene is set beautifully, muted by the night setting, allowing only minimal light to silhouette the two’s faces and Jonny Lee Miller and Dormer play this scene with nuance—allowing the audience to feel their history, the trepidation at being around each other. We see Sherlock’s concern for Moriarty’s injuries and his hope when he says that she could have just run. Sherlock mentions how she didn’t kill any of the guards of where she had been held and she said she did that because she knew how it would look to him. In the back of his mind Sherlock still believes that her metamorphous is possible, in the back of the audience’s we wonder if she knows this and is simply playing with his head once again.
Sherlock half carries her out of the building and to the ready ambulance officials who take her away, away from him once again.
The episode ends with Joan asking Sherlock if he’s okay, after informing him that Moriarty is in a stable condition. He tells her yes, and thanks her for asking, a steady change from their relationship last year.
We don’t know if we can believe it as we for a moment wonder if he’ll burn Moriarty’s letters, only to see him hide them away once again.
“But the man had hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers.”
This is an excerpt about the Moriarty character taken from the Sherlock Holmes “The Final Problem”—a story that the writers admit to drawing influence from for this week’s episode, and it shows. In a way, as admitted by Moriarty, Sherlock and Joan are her final problem to solve, the one case she’s yet to crack and once she does, her work there will be complete. On the flip side, Sherlock’s final, lasting problem is in regards to his own feelings for her. There are great complexities involved in coming to adore someone only to find that she’s been lying to you the entire time, and then to find out that some of the dependency on their similarities still remains. Like Moriarty said, she gets Sherlock and Sherlock gets her, and with minds like theirs that’s a hard thing to come by and can be incredibly lonely. It isn’t the last case Sherlock will ever tackle, but it’s the one that haunts his being. Is he like the friends he has come to make, one made up of pre-conceived notions and calculated steps and words, or is he still doubtful about his place and feels more comfortable in the views Moriarty has set out for him.
The idea is of how similar Moriarty and Sherlock are—how either could have ended up on the other side of right and wrong. Moriarty has a brilliant mind and uses it for control. Sherlock has a brilliant mind and uses it to help. Both use their minds as means to escape.
It’s a beautiful dynamic that I hope is allowed to play out further down the line.
It was a great, fast paced return for the show, which is seeing the show reinvigorated and that’s an exciting way to start the year off.