There was never any doubt that Moriarty would return to Elementary. After leaving her fate open-ended, apprehended rather than killed, it was inevitable that she would reappear even before she started writing letters to Sherlock from prison. Showrunner Robert Doherty was openly telling reporters of his plans to bring back the character over the summer, and CBS didn’t even bother treating her return as a surprise, resisting a winter-finale cliffhanger reveal and instead promoting “The Diabolical Kind” as the return of Sherlock’s greatest love and greatest nemesis rolled into one.
Like most villains, Moriarty represents a threat, but the nature of the threat was uncertain leading into her return. Has she remained a criminal mastermind, operating her organization from behind bars? Has she become more sociopathic in her cell—or her warehouse art studio, as it turns out—and taken her obsessions with Sherlock and Joan to a dangerous new place? The episode starts out there, with Natalie Dormer picking up where she left off as Moriarty negotiates her way closer and closer to the case of a girl kidnapped by one of her former associates. As the criminals wait to hear from Moriarty, the episode could slip comfortably into the patterns of elaborate escape plans and diabolical scheming.
“The Diabolical Kind” isn’t that episode. The twist is that Moriarty’s subterfuge has been a means to an end, but a different end than Sherlock imagined: The kidnapped girl is her biological daughter, given up for adoption well before she met Sherlock, and her former associates are using Kayden as leverage against her. There are hackneyed elements to the twist—particularly the rushed exposition setting up the goal of the kidnapping plot, which would appear to exist solely to feed the series’ serial mythology (with both a “book of facts” belonging to Moriarty, and the idea that she had a mentor who contributed, both of which will surely recur in future storytelling). However, it’s a twist that works. It changes the meaning of the episode, while remaining consistent with the characterization and performances thus far. It explains why Moriarty reacted to the name of the kidnapped child, and why the men were waiting to hear from her, and why they would have her speak to Moriarty on the phone despite her adopted mother not being present. It also helps contextualize the slightly unhinged Moriarty, half-confident and half-desperate in her efforts to stay close to a case that could place her daughter’s life in danger.
It’s a rich ground for storytelling, but it’s also a practical effort to put Sherlock and Moriarty on the same level. In their previous encounters, the dynamism of their relationship came from how the Sherlock we had come to know weathered the shock of Moriarty’s identity: She was evil, she threatened his positive growth throughout the season, and it was ultimately the strength of his bond with Joan that allowed him to overcome his adversary. This threat remains in “The Diabolical Kind,” as knowledge of Sherlock’s correspondence with Moriarty leads Joan to question why he kept it a secret and how it has affected him emotionally.
However, as the episode progressed, this threat lost its antagonism, replaced instead with the threat of uncertainty. As Sherlock asks in his letter to Irene, “Have we simply failed to find the answers, or can they not be answered at all?” In the end, this episode would seem to argue, this is the threat of Moriarty. She is evil, but she is also human. That’s something that Sherlock has always known, and it’s been central to their correspondence, but it has on some level been a remnant of the past more than something we’ve experienced in the present. In “The Diabolical Kind,” we see Sherlock and Moriarty studying one another, each considering what the other’s behavior says about their own identities in light of their complicated relationships.
It’s a crackling dynamic, one that injects some real life into a show that has already been working effectively this season. In an interesting choice, the episode foregrounds the ties to ongoing storylines in the beginning of the episode rather than the end, as Gregson and Bell—along with Joan and Sherlock—appear in a montage over Sherlock’s initial letter to Moriarty. By placing the thematic statement up front, discussing how our search for unity is often what tears us apart, the episode prompts us to consider Sherlock and Moriarty’s relationship as a test of that theory. Are they a romantic couple trying to find a way to be together? Or are they rather two individuals who struggle to find themselves, and who use connections with others—whether romantic or intellectual—to puzzle away at their own selves? Moriarty would argue this is true, and even makes the case to Joan—who Moriarty has been painting in attempt to understand the woman who surprised her—that this is what Sherlock must see in their partnership. For Moriarty, a partnership is a mutually beneficial arrangement in which each party has a clear goal for which the other party can be used; she also imagines such arrangements to end as soon as that goal has been achieved.
It’s a simple piece of logic, but it’s too simple for Elementary. The show’s central goal with characters like Moriarty or Mycroft is not to develop clear dichotomies, but to trouble and complicate the basic humanity of its characters. Although her monologue offers lots of tidbits that can be followed up on in the future and developed into serial content, Moriarty’s greatest function is creating doubt and confusion for Sherlock on a day-to-day basis. Those letters may be tucked away in the beehives on the roof, but he has consistently refused to burn them, allowing Moriarty into his brain much as she has allowed him into hers (which, she argues, is what led her to leave her guard alive and resist escape).
“The Diabolical Kind” does not transform Moriarty into a consistent presence on the series, but rather reinforces how she will continue to linger even when she’s off-screen. Where other shows might rely on mystery or danger to sell a villain, Elementary settles on Moriarty as a threat to Sherlock’s certainty. Her past is itself a threat to Sherlock’s sense of self, but her evolution here is only more confounding, such that the search for answers remains as uncertain as it was before. As Sherlock says to Joan as he decodes the numbers in Moriarty’s message—not long after the NSA had done the same—“the woman is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma I’ve had sex with.” It’s a funny line, one of several in the episode, but like much of the show’s humor, it’s the surface of a much deeper insecurity. That insecurity is what will make Moriarty a valuable presence even in absentia as the season progresses—a force that can lead Sherlock and Joan to doubt the certainty of the situations they encounter in their work as consultants. It’s a psychological angle that has always been at the core of the series, and which is refreshingly dominant in what could have otherwise been a plot-heavy characterization for Sherlock’s greatest nemesis.
- I know it was necessary for the dramatic scene of Moriarty explaining the situation to Sherlock in a darkened, abandoned building as she sits bleeding amongst the bodies of the men she murdered, but that she could break out of her warehouse cell so easily is some television nonsense.
- In case you were wondering, given that I was, that’s Radical Face’s “The Crooked Kind” playing in the episode’s closing scene.
- We get a brief glimpse of Detective Bell on the range during the opening montage, which is an easy paycheck for Jon Michael Hill and a nice way of keeping another of Sherlock’s complicated relationships active in the narrative while the character is sidelined.
- Was the use of the paperboy as an informant of sorts a callback to the canon? It just seemed like Sherlock made a real work of it coming to the kitchen door, such that I wondered if it was signifying something particular.
- “You’re going to do that anyway”—Sherlock got many of the best one-liners in his exchanges with Moriarty, like “You look evil,” but I really liked this quick truth that he can’t use his correspondence as a bargaining chip given how meaningful it is to him as well as her.
- I also liked “I’m told you rely heavily on consultants.”
- Further Reading: Here’s some background on the “weaponization of the pastoral” and Robert Baden-Powell.
- Clyde Watch: Has anyone written any fanfiction about Miss Hudson feeding Clyde? Because I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.