Though Elementary isn’t one of my regularly reviewed shows, I thought I’d make an exception due to the new year (Happy New Year!) and the return of Natalie Dormer’s Moriarty in tonight’s “The Diabolical Kind.” Though the episode dipped into one of the police procedural’s favorite tropes, the abducted child being held for ransom, its real focus was on Moriarty who came aboard as a consultant when it became clear her former lieutenant was Kayden’s kidnapper. Victim of the week, seven-year old Kayden Fuller was originally presented as just another kid being held for ransom in a detective show. The audience cared about her because she’s a little kid who didn’t deserve to be kidnapped, but that’s the extent of our investment in her (which is still a pretty strong motivator in procedurals because most people don’t want to see anything bad happen to cute kids). But Kayden and her abduction were overshadowed by Moriarty and the affects of her presence on Sherlock and Joan. Particularly in the beginning, this was to the episode’s detriment, only being solved by the twist: Kayden is Moriarty’s daughter.
Moriarty’s inevitable return was a surprise to no one, but the circumstances surrounding her reunion with Sherlock and Joan, and the way it all ended, was a bit different from what I’d anticipated. “The Diabolical Kind” began with hints that Moriarty was planning an escape and had specifically orchestrated Kayden abduction to do so. The episode could have gone a different route that many a procedural have before. Perhaps Moriarty had maintained her criminal enterprise while imprisoned, maybe she’d become more dangerously obsessed with Sherlock and Joan and was planning revenge, or maybe she was just looking to escape and was going to use her new role as consultant to do so. Instead, Moriarty’s intentions were far more benevolent and focused on the protection of her daughter.
Though at times the episode seemed a bit too rushed in its exposition, particularly leading up to the reveal of Kayden as Moriarty’s daughter, it was an enjoyable hour after an uneven season. Though the brief hiatus certainly contributed to my enjoyment of the episode, also a factor was the return to Sherlock’s mythology and deviating from the case-of-the-week format a bit which is when Elementary often succeeds. The show did fine work with Sherlock and Moriarty last season so it was nice to see that the writers haven’t lost their touch there.
The relationship between Sherlock and Moriarty is one of the most interesting points of the show as both are aware of the limits in their relationship with one another but also know how flexible those limits are. Sherlock’s very aware of Moriarty’s evil, just as Moriarty is aware of Sherlock’s alliance to the side of good, but they continue to write letters. Their intellectual and emotional connection transcend their respective moral codes. However, they both have the habit of chalking their interest in one another up to scientific interest and study. Eventually Sherlock stopped pretending his interest in Moriarty was strictly scientific and admitted to Joan that he still felt lingering affection for Moriarty – or at least for Irene.
As Joan said, Irene doesn’t exist. She was a fabrication Moriarty used to entice Sherlock, but she wasn’t real. But surely some parts of her were real, which may have been the biggest purpose of “The Diabolical Kind” – not to show that Irene was just as real as Moriarty but to show that Moriarty is human. Therefore Moriarty is capable of great monstrosity and great benevolence. Though the episode could have veered too heavily into attempting to make Moriarty more “acceptable”, it didn’t lose sight of her role as an antagonism, constantly shading her and her motives in obscurity and question. Rather this episode was an exercise in how Moriarty could use her skill for the more charitable purpose of rescuing her daughter. Though Moriarty has lamented emotional attachments and the ways in which they make people weak, she is emotionally tethered to Kayden hence Gasper targeting her in the first place. When Sherlock spoke of his wish of seeing a different Moriarty, this was his glimpse of one.
Just as Sherlock has come a long way from his days as an addict, he believes Moriarty can also be changed. I’d argue that “The Diabolical Kind” isn’t a showcase of a “good” Moriarty but one who can be both a villain and have interests outside of murder. Just because Moriarty has a daughter she wants to protect doesn’t mean she isn’t the same criminal genius who is facing multiple life sentences if the authorities ever get their cases together. The question I had at the end of the episode was whether or not Sherlock would be able to see the difference, and by the end of the episode I still wasn’t sure.
I’m more sure that Joan realized it. She’s always been a more objective lens when viewing Moriarty and isn’t hindered by the romantic feelings Sherlock still harbors for her. Joan’s ability to remain unswayed by Moriarty and her role in putting her away last season, interested Moriarty so much that she’d spent a large amount of time considering Joan and painted a portrait of Joan to show for it.
Though Sherlock and Moriarty are definitely the focal point, Elementary doesn’t steer away from showing the ways in which Joan is also very much involved in the Moriarty mythology as well. Where Sherlock and Moriarty originally existed only to one another, with everyone else operating as intellectually inferior white noise, their connection has widened to include Joan who now has her own relationship with Moriarty to refer to. And both have a relationship with Joan and are interested in her intelligence, that doesn’t come at the expense of emotional attachment and feelings.
Against Moriarty’s better judgment, she’s being influenced by Sherlock’s letters, and Sherlock’s said more than once that he credits a lot of his progress with Joan’s arrival in his life. Elementary has demonstrated the ways in which she’s provided an honest response to Sherlock’s less stellar qualities and encouraged him to change. Now Sherlock’s progress is rubbing off on Moriarty. In an indirect way, Joan is shaping Moriarty as she has Sherlock which was perhaps most apparent in Moriarty’s scene with Matou (in which Joan’s portrait dominated the background) before she incapacitated him but kept him alive, a move very uncharacteristic for her.
Or perhaps I’m just very good at making everything about Joan Watson.
This episode could have ended with Sherlock burning Moriarty’s letters, but instead saw him returning the letters to their hiding place in the beehive. If “The Diabolical Kind” had gone the route of emphasizing Moriarty’s evil, it would have made it easier for Sherlock to let go of her. Instead, it reiterated their connection to one another though this time not based only on their shared intellect but on their growing recognition of other people in their world such as Moriarty sparing all the good guys and focusing her wrath on the bad ones and not fleeing custody after rescuing Kayden. This small shift in their relationship keeps it alive by altering it just a bit and not deviating too much.
“The Diabolical Kind” dipped its toes in Moriarty’s potential as an ally for Sherlock. Though she’ll never be an ally in the way that Joan, Gregson and Bell are, Moriarty does have the ability to be a help to them. With the past hint of a different Big Bad on the horizon who’s working with Mycroft, Moriarty has potential for playing a more helpful role and with her certainty of her eventual freedom, it’s unlikely this will be the last time we see her.
Despite Moriarty’s potential as an ally, she’s also always fighting her own battles. The entire episode saw her not helping the NYPD, but pursuing her own routes of saving Kayden which happened to involve the NYPD. It’s more likely than not that the next time we see Moriarty she’ll be pursuing more nefarious means. She’s a villain after all, and Sherlock has never been more off his game than when he’s faced with Moriarty so there’s a question of what his response will be to a more threatening Moriarty after seeing a Moriarty who was capable of, and willing to kill for, love. Joan had to step up and stop Moriarty once before, and if Sherlock remains hindered by his feelings for his nemesis, she might have to do it again.
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