James “Jim” Moriarty, BBC’s Sherlock
♦ BBC’s Sherlock Reichenbach Fall, S2:E3, synopsis/summary:
Jim Moriarty is a king among villains. And honey, you should see him in a crown. For proof of his dominance among antagonists, look no farther than The Reichenbach Fall episode, season finale to Sherlock’s second series. When I filled out the Villain Matrix, this episode held the most sway over my scoring.
Moriarty carries off three of the most daring crimes ever perpetrated: opening the vault in the Bank of England, killing Pentonville Prison’s security system, and…wait for it…wearing the English Crown Jewels. All are seemingly impossible accomplishments, but he nails them all out at 11:00. But after all this success, the bobbies storm in and arrest him without incident.
Sherlock is called to be a chief witness. Watch the episode to enjoy the master-class snark Sherl delivers. Throughout the trial, Jim is calm. He doesn’t even offer a defense. The verdict? NOT GUILTY, reached in 6 minutes. Not surprisingly, the jury found it in their best interests to deliver this judgement.
Free again, Moriarty drinks tea with Sherlock and taunts the detective. Jim claims he has a computer code “key” that opens “locked doors.” Nothing digital is safe – not bank accounts, not military secrets, probably not even social media. It was all an advertising stunt that he aimed at nefarious customers around the world. Then he brings up the mysterious, unnamed “final problem” while drumming his fingers on his knee. We get the classic line,
“I owe you a fall. I. Owe. You.”
Next up, the kids of an ambassador are kidnapped. The clues are footprints, a book of Grimm’s fairy tales, and breadcrumbs. Sherlock finds the kids slowly dying from mercury-laced candy. When the girl child sees Sherlock when she wakes up in the hospital, she screams. This plants a seed of suspicion in the police, which blossoms into them trying to arrest Sherlock.
During a cab drive home, Moriarty taunts Sherlock with a story about Sir Boast-a-lot, which plays on the rear seat vid screen. Sherlock jumps out. No shock, Moriarty is also driving the cab.
A man pushes Sherlock out of a car’s path, but when Sherl shakes his savior’s hand, bullets cut the stranger down.
Suspicions growing the cops want to question Sherlock, who’s found cameras in his house. Sherl refuses. The authorities issue an arrest warrant but botch taking Sherlock and Watson in.
Now fugitives, Sherlock and John track down a man named Richard Brook, who has been giving inside info about Holmes to a tabloid reporter. The story claims Sherlock hired him to play Moriarty. According to Brook, Sherlock orchestrated all the crimes he solved simply so he could appear to crack them.
Surprise surprise, Moriarty is Brook, or Brook is Moriarty. He plays his role to the hilt, pretending to be terrified of Sherlock and Watson.
Things come to a head when Moriarty and Sherlock face off on St Bart’s roof. Snipers on Moriarty’s payroll are covering the roof, as well as Mrs. Hudson, Greg Lestrade, and John. Sherlock wants everything to be clever, Jim says. “That’s your weakness.” There was no key. There were threats and bribes, the tried and true ways of getting illegal things done in a hurry.
In addition, it took only 24 hours to make the public and the police turn against Sherlock. All of this was Moriarty’s doing, orchestrated like a fine symphony. Moriarty is at first triumphant at his victory over Sherlock, but his euphoria nosedives into the concrete about 4 seconds later. The consulting criminal has no one left to outwit, no playmate to challenge. To make matters worse, it was all too easy. Sherlock was “ordinary” and “on the side of the angels” after all.
All that remains is for Sherlock to jump. If he doesn’t, his friends die. Moriarty will burn him either way. Sherlock however reveals that he can make Moriarty say the fail-safe that will call off the assassins. If Jim is alive, Sherlock can make him stop this. Moriarty responds by putting a gun in his mouth and apparently blowing his brains out. With him dead, the assassins will act unless Sherlock too commits suicide.
Watch the episode for the tear-jerking ending. Then watch the next Sherlock series* to see more of Moriarty.
♦ Analysis (focusing on The Reichenbach Fall, S2:E3 of BBC’s Sherlock*):
To understand how Jim Moriarty can help us succeed in life, we have to understand Moriarty. And in understanding him, we might just understand ourselves better.
We begin with Moriarty playing tourist at the Tower of London. He’s unarmed, save for earbuds, phone, and a wad of gum apparently the size of his fist, if I judge by the effort he takes chewing it.
With Rossini’s “A Thieving Magpie” streaming, he spreads his arms in front of the crown jewels’ display, basking in their/his glory. He’s got style, I give him that. On his phone, he activates three apps: a prison house, a piggy bank, and the crown. He smiles as alarms ring. A guard tries to usher him out, but Jim sprays him in the face with sleeping gas. While authorities scramble, Moriarty proceeds to write GET SHERLOCK backward on the glass. He sticks a diamond on the glass with his gum, then waltzes up and slams it with a fire extinguisher. Glass shatters. The cops find him sitting on the throne, wearing the royal attire and jewels.
The beauty of Moriarty’s plans is that just when you think you’ve gotten to the bottom of them and defeated him, you find a whole underground garage of plan. It usually involves the death of one of more people. Moriarty’s plans aren’t the average villain scheme involving stealing, destroying, or taking over something. Many of his plans exist for the sheer enjoyment of seeing Sherlock wrestle with them. This is Jim’s way of playing. He plays a version of human chess that involves real lives. His extraordinary ability to predict people’s reactions gives him the illusion of being all-knowing. Of course, he does know a lot.
Inside his head:
This episode gives us an unrivaled look at Moriarty’s brain. Hah, pun intended. Thus far we’ve seen his capabilities. We know he’s a spider at the center of a crime web. We know he’ll change his mind in a heartbeat. And we know murder is always an option on the table. Heck, the more people who die in ways that upset Sherlock, the better. But in this episode we see his driving motivation is to escape boredom. His deepest need is to find mental stimulation. “My entire life I’ve been searching for distractions.” Even more than he wants an equal to play with, he wants a superior intellect to die fighting against.
Wanna play a game?
Moriarty isn’t above taunting, though he disguises his taunts as clues. The fact that he leaves custom clues shows that maybe he subconsciously doesn’t think Sherlock is so intelligent, despite saying he and the detective are alike. Then again, he uses them to further manipulate Sherlock, so using them is almost a test in itself: will Sherlock realize the clues make him play into Moriarty’s hand?
The clue about Richard Brook leads Sherlock right to the reporter he spurned at the courtroom (watch the episode* for the buuurn). Who’s she harboring? Richard, aka Jim. He pulls off a performance that at first made me question if he really was Richard Brook! This is a Steven Moffat production, so everything you thought was true might not be. Here Moriarty is showing Sherlock just how easy it is to play with people’s heads. Give Jim a fulcrum, and he can move the earth with his little finger. More importantly, he can crush Sherlock’s life without breaking a sweat.
Good rivals are hard to find:
Thus far, no one’s been able to touch Jim. He’s orchestrated everything perfectly. Every. Single. Time. Sherlock is only “victorious” because Moriarty found it expedient for him to succeed. Heck, the only reason Sherlock is alive is because Moriarty thinks he’s fun. Life for Moriarty is like playing on Easy level with a character who’s maxed out his stats.
When Moriarty discovered Sherlock, the consulting criminal thought he’d found a match in the consulting detective. Even better, he’d found someone just like himself. Sherlock was bored with life, hungry for a challenge, and willing to go the extra mile – even sacrifice the extra life – to win.
Moriarty became obsessed with “the Holmes Boys.” This includes Mycroft. Mycroft brought up Sherl in the way he should go, meaning Big Brother is as intelligent or more so than Sherlock. But Mycroft isn’t about to go gallivanting across the countryside chasing criminals. He uses Little Brother as a hunting dog. Red Beard, Sherly, same thing. But Mycroft will play if the stakes are high enough.
Moriarty was so obsessed he went so far as to provoke Mycroft to the point of imprisoning and interrogating him. In typical mastermind fashion, Jim turns the tables. What’s amazing is that he does so to the most powerful man in the British government. Mycroft is used to pulling the strings and setting up the game board, so he’s caught off guard when someone out-puppetmasters him.
By the same token, Moriarty uses the fact that Sherlock is “used to” complex crimes to outmaneuver him. Jim relies on Sherlock’s love of the clever and complex to sweep the detective down the wrong path. The Holmes Boys’ “default settings” have always been their greatest strengths, but Moriarty knows how to turn them into weaknesses. This is an impressive feat, especially considering how genre savvy the brothers are.
He’s recognized their Achilles heel: pride. Granted, they have perfect right to an above-average level, considering they are so much better at deductions and just general thinking than most people. Sherlock practically revels in his ability, or at least wears it on his sleeve. Ever the traditionalist, Mycroft plays his superiority close to the vest. Still, that doesn’t keep him from flaunting his power by using cameras, technology, and unmarked cars to achieve ends that he could’ve done with a text message.
None of this escaped Moriarty. In the end, it was disappointingly easy for him to manipulate both brothers.
It’s not gambling if you cheat:
In The Riechenbach Fall, Moriarty plays his own form of the Xanatos Gambit: He hopes Sherlock will act in typical fashion, being an overachiever who shows off and makes rivals as easily as he drinks tea and about twice as frequently. If Sherlock doesn’t act in typical fashion (meaning he doesn’t solve the crime), Moriarty will get away with his “base plan,” be it smuggling, kidnapping, robbery, etc. This time Moriarty goes farther, turning everyone against Sherlock. Moriarty knows Sherlock better than Sherlock knows himself: the detective does care for the people around him, even though he claims to have no heart to be burned.
To Moriarty, other people are tools. Their deaths are either useful or meaningless, never tragic. “People die. It’s what they do!” He lacks relationship pressure points. For that matter, he lacks pressure points in general. His one motive, as mentioned above, is to be challenged – to escape soul-crushing boredom and futility. He is his own worst pressure point. He instigates every action against himself.
Continue to Part 2 to learn what the Final Problem is. Oh, and how Jim Moriarty can help us succeed in life.
♦ Further reading:
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