After a very short hiatus, our favorite detectives are back and confronting their main nemesis from last season. Yes, Jamie Moriarty, played by the absolutely exquisite Natalie Dormer, is back and generally making things a bit more cloudy than usual. The basic framework of the episode revolves around the kidnapping of a young girl from a wealthy British family, presumably by some of Moriarty’s old associates. Within that framework, we see a continuation of the themes of the first half of the season: connection, vulnerability and the question of if one can truly know another person, and how that knowledge affects the choices one makes.
Watson is heading out to meet a guy she met at a dating site with the requisite enthusiasm of someone who is just tired of putting forth the effort. Holmes appears as if he will be spending some time with his bees, but within one of the hives is a box containing letters from Moriarty/Irene. Apparently, Holmes has taken Moriarty up on her offer to engage in a correspondence. Holmes is waxing poetic about the idea of connections and the lengths we’ll go to make them (like subjecting ourselves to online dating) and how that can tear us apart. The montage of Holmes’ closest associates as he narrates the letter is surprisingly effective, showing Gregson contemplating his wedding photo and Bell trying to regain use of his arm (and the only time we see him for this episode). The most profound image is that of Moriarty/Irene contemplating an enormous portrait of Watson she has painted from memory. I’m pretty sure the moment will be dubbed in fandom as, “The face that launched a major ship.”
The detectives are called to the scene of the kidnapping of the young girl, Kayden Fuller, and it’s not long before her abductors call, tell the police not to muck everything up, and demand $50 million. The voice on the other end of the line is familiar to Sherlock; it’s the voice of Moriarty’s associate who posed as the criminal mastermind before her true identity was revealed. Fauxriarty, as Holmes calls him. Assuming that Moriarty has found a way to communicate with her criminal network, the pair head to her holding facility after Watson gives him a dressing down about communicating with her. Hello, criminal mastermind.
Holmes is disturbed to discover that his nemesis isn’t in a maximum security prison, but in a warehouse facility on a “black site,” a place that is not officially supposed to exist. In exchange for her knowledge and contacts, Moriarty has been granted special privileges, like not being held in a tiny cell and having access to paints and canvases and certain newspapers to keep her entertained. Holmes is skeptical on how they can keep Moriarty contained, but her warden, Ramses Mattoo, assures him he has it under control.
The moment that the three are reunited is just mind-blowing. The look on Watson’s face when she sees the portrait says it all. The sass from Holmes and the way Dormer plays Moriarty/Irene as if she has an obsessive schoolgirl crush on Joan was perfect. At this point in the episode, you don’t know where her motivations lie and that’s half the fun. The shade Joan throws Holmes after it’s revealed he’s been discussing her (mis)adventures in online dating was just begging to be .gif-ed.
Moriarty: You look a bit tired.
Holmes: You look a bit evil.
Moriarty: Joan! Of course, Sherlock’s told me you’re doing well. Although, I’m sorry to hear your efforts to find a soulmate haven’t been fruitful.
Moriarty knows who the kidnapper is and could give the detectives his name, likeness and likely associates… in exchange for some favors, naturally. It’s the favors that lead to Moriarty’s release from the holding center and into the police station, despite both Watson’s and Holmes’ protests. Mattoo reassures them that she has a tracking device implanted, they have stun guns set at 50,000 volts and she’s wearing special handcuffs that can shock her remotely. Meanwhile, the kidnapper is trying to earn the trust of his young victim by offering to teach her cribbage when one of his lieutenants interrupt him and saying the boys are getting jumpy, but they’ll hear from Moriarty soon enough.
Moriarty gives up the name of the henchman, Devon Gaspar, former black ops and a person the UK government denies exists. Moriarty has drawn a very good likeness of him for the police and now thinks it would be helpful if she accompanied Joan to the crime scene. I find Moriarty’s obsession with Joan equal parts disturbing and fascinating. It’s clear that Moriarty is trying to understand the woman that brought about her downfall, while at the same time rattling her cage and enjoying it immensely. It’s a cat and mouse game, but with Joan’s obvious disdain for Moriarty, it’s a bit hard to tell who is the cat and who is the mouse. They’re both trying to get a handle on the other for their own purposes: Moriarty to figure out how Watson gained a prominent place in Sherlock’s life, and Watson to understand why Moriarty continues her correspondence with Holmes.
Back at the brownstone, Holmes is occupying himself with busy work while the sketches go out to the whole of the NYPD. It’s time for a heart-to-heart. Watson understands that Sherlock still feels a connection to “Irene” because she was the love of his life. But Irene is Moriarty and that’s never going to change. Instead of acknowledging how right she is, Holmes simply turns back to his case files.
A pair of beat cops come across a man stumbling through a park, presumably drunk, after receiving a call. As one of the cops approaches the man, he turns and shoots him while Gaspar takes care of his partner. They grab the cop’s phones and find their pictures, which had been sent to all NYPD officers. Apparently, they mean something important to our villains. Before Gaspar can reveal anything, his accomplice is shot by one of the police officers and he flees after killing the cop himself. While examining the shooter’s body at the morgue, Gregson wonders aloud why the kidnappers didn’t just lie low until they got their money. Holmes figures out that Moriarty’s sketches were meant to send them a message, buried in the sketches. The only way to obtain them was to ambush the officers.
Of course, Moriarty used the sketches to send a message using a technique invented by a British officer in the 1900s, a “weaponization of the pastoral.” Holmes is fed up and simply wants to know her endgame. He’s interrupted by a call from Gaspar. He knows Moriarty has been working with them, plus, Kayden has been asking to speak with her mom. Before Gregson can tell him Mrs. Fuller isn’t there, he puts the girl on the line and she cries out for her mother before the phone is taken away. There’s a shot of Moriarty’s face and she looks pissed; pissed enough that Watson takes note of it. Holmes is over it all and tells Mattoo to take her back to her holding cell.
Holmes decrypts the message like everyone knew he would; they are coordinates leading to a remote island off the coast of Norway. What Moriarty has there, no one can be sure and even Holmes admits he cannot discern her motives:
The woman is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of an enigma I’ve had sex with. I would be lying if I said I was the strongest assessor of her motives at this point.
Holmes is waiting for a paperboy to bring him copies of the New York Ledger from the last two weeks, (a nice little nod to the original canon), the only newspaper Moriarty had access to during her incarceration. She couldn’t send messages, but she could have received them. As the papers arrive, Joan asks if he noticed Moriarty’s face during the phone call. She recognizes the look as she’s been on the receiving end. She looked like she wanted to kill him.
Back at the shipping yard, Mattoo and Moriarty talk. She’s annoyed with having to keep those bracelets on and, oh, by the way, she’s figured out 17 different ways to escape. Mattoo doesn’t seem impressed since he’s only come up with ten. Meanwhile, Holmes is able to decipher the message to Moriarty and discovers she’s not the mastermind of the kidnapping plot, but one of its victims. The last part of the messages reveal that Kayden is Moriarty’s daughter.
Moriarty is explaining to Mattoo that glass makes a poor conductor of electricity and most of the jars her paints come in are glass (seriously, who gives glass to a criminal mastermind? Rookie move). All she would need to do is shove one between the shackles and her wrists, which would probably hurt, but oh well. She then proceeds to incapacitate Mattoo and escape, presumably to rescue her daughter. Later, when Watson and Holmes meet with Gregson in Moriarty’s “cell,” he tells them Mattoo is still alive, which is curious. It would be easier for Moriarty just to kill him.
As Kayden and Gaspar play cribbage, Moriarty storms in and kills everyone except Gaspar. He tells her to go ahead and kill him. While Holmes is still at the shipyard, he gets a call from Moriarty, asking to see him. She gives him her location, telling him he can bring the police, but they have to wait outside.
When Holmes arrives, he finds Moriarty sitting among the bodies of the kidnappers. She confirms that Kayden is her daughter and assumes that Holmes has done the maths and concluded that she is not his offspring. She had an indiscretion at the start of her career and knew that she was not cut out for motherhood and placed her child with the Fullers. Gaspar found out somehow and used the information against her. The island off Norway is simply a vault containing seeds to repopulate the fauna of Earth should a catastrophe happen, plus a dossier on interesting facts on certain people, one only Moriarty can discern. She simply needed time to rescue her daughter while Gaspar was distracted. She admits Holmes’ letters had meant the world to her and has influenced her decision making. Is that how he learned to become “one of them?” Learning to care how one’s actions were seen by another? Holmes still isn’t sure he is one of them and the conversation is left at that. He gets Moriarty outside to get medical treatment.
The episode ends with Holmes contemplating his letters with Moriarty, as if he’s about to throw them into the fire burning in the living room. Instead, he places them back in his beehive, presumably to hold onto another connection he’s made. This episode has been a study in how our different connections can help and hinder us and the ways our decisions ARE influenced by those we love or at least admire.
One big quibble I have with the episode: I don’t mind that they have tried to find ways to “humanize” Moriarty, though I would have preferred she remain diabolically evil. It’s how they’ve chosen to humanize her by making her a mother. It’s such a tired trope and plot device. Also, it doesn’t quite make sense that someone of Moriarty’s inclination would carry a pregnancy to term when an abortion is readily available to someone like her. I am annoyed that the only way for us to connect with a female character is in the context of motherhood or in a relationship with a man. I know that slash ships in fandom can be problematic in their depiction of queer relationships, but I would love it if they made Moriarty a canonically queer character and one that is obviously in love with Watson. Natalie Dormer is a fantastic actress and I would love to see her unleashed in a truly villainous role.
So, we will be back to our regular slot on Saturday. Until then, please discuss the episode in the comments. I would love to hear what all of you thought of the episode and particularly of the revelation of Moriarty’s past and some of her motivations. See you next time!