It lies with me to tell for the first time what really took place between Professor Moriarty and Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
Those words end the introductory paragraph of 1894’s The Final Problem, the story wherein Arthur Conan Doyle attempted to kill off Sherlock Holmes as he valiantly went up against the man whom literary history would dub his greatest nemesis, Professor Moriarty. Interestingly enough, Dr. Watson mentions a few sentences before that the professor’s brother, a Colonel James Moriarty, “recently published” a defense of his brother, but now Watson feels that he must set the record straight. Perhaps this is why so much has been made of the relationship between Holmes and Moriarty: they’ve always been the focus of dueling narratives, of different people trying to get to the bottom of what they insist is the “real” story.
Obviously the “real” story is what Arthur Conan Doyle left us, since Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character. (Sorry guys, but it’s true.) Even discounting the urban legend of people throwing garbage at him on the street after he killed off the great detective, Conan Doyle was willing to kill off Holmes in order to write something else, and we have to assume that was originally intended to be the definitive narrative: Holmes’ death. But the thing about beloved characters is that they rarely stay dormant for long; even if Conan Doyle had not changed his mind/given in to pressure about reviving Holmes, someone would have taken it upon themselves to give us another version of what happened.
The one Moriarty the Patriot presents us with is one that suffers a bit from some manga chapters not being adapted, because we don’t have as firm a grasp of Will and Sherlock’s friendship or even of Will’s relationship with his brothers, Louis specifically. But it’s also one that the series has done a credible job of building towards, from hints about MI6, discussions of privilege and what that means, and, of course, plenty of fire. And like with some of the other scenes and elements of the series, the fire the show uses is real: according to an article in the Adelaide Advertiser (which nicely has back issues scanned online), “a fire of immense proportions…raged upon the boundaries of the city” on May 6, 1889. There are some differences, of course, at least one of which is the timing; the real fire started at 4 am and burned until 7:30 am, which doesn’t fit what we see on the screen. But it’s still a very nice touch that works with the story’s moving of the famous Reichenbach Falls confrontation to a London Bridge under construction. That, too, works well, because the Moriarty established by the series wouldn’t leave London for his final showdown, especially not after he took such pains to make everything a show.
One of the surprising places where this last episode succeeds is in making us feel the sense of loss and frustration that the characters are experiencing. Holmes, unsurprisingly, feels very ill-used by Moriarty, who right up to the very end makes the other man dance to his tune. But what’s interesting is that even though Will is still planning to die, it’s clear that he no longer really wants to. He’s just so committed to his course of action that he believes that the world would be better off without him; he’s established enough cause to force people to work together, gotten rid of some very bad actors, and now he thinks that the world will turn better without him in it. He’s even certain that Louis will be fine now, because he’s surrounded his little brother with others who can help him along. The only thing no one truly needs anymore is William himself.
That brings us to the most interesting aspect of this episode: the way it frames Holmes and Moriarty’s relationship. Milverton may have figured out how to outwit Moriarty and force him to speed up his timeline, but it’s Sherlock Holmes who really changes Will’s plans. If there’s one thing Will regrets, it’s what he said in his letter – that he didn’t get to be better friends with Sherlock. He clearly never expected the other man to reciprocate the feeling, and that moment that Holmes jumps from the bridge after him and is reflected as a bird in his eyes is surprisingly powerful. Even when Albert joined the family (so to speak), William was still the brother in charge of everything. But Sherlock’s actions tell him that he doesn’t have to be the only one anymore, that he can change his plans and not resign himself to darkness.
And that brings us to the end. It’s not quite all’s well that ends well, because Albert, Louis, and John are all still hurting. But everyone is moving forward, as we can see symbolized in Louis tucking his hair behind his ear and letting the world see his scar. And Will and Sherlock begin an international game of cat and mouse, following the actions described by Conan Doyle in The Adventure of the Empty House when he revived the character – Sherlock running around Europe. In the book, he does it to avoid Moriarty’s cronies, who suspect that he’s still alive. In the show, it’s much less sinister – a chance, at last, for two friends to finally be together.
If we don’t see an increase in Sherlock/William doujinshi soon, I shall be very much surprised.
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