When it comes to Sherlock's villains, Moriarty is king. And honey, you should see him in a crown. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Reichenbach Falls, he intended Moriarty's downfall to also be the end of the famous detective. Fans (thankfully) had other ideas. But after so many adaptations and retellings of the same story, does the character still have the power to surprise us? Warning: spoilers ahead for the Guy Ritchie films, Elementary, BBC Sherlock, and of course the original stories.
Yeah, I still have nightmares about that hook. Played by Jared Harris, Moriarty strings Sherlock up on a hook embedded in his shoulder while singing along to Shubert and planning to profit from mass murder during the impending World War. It was the most gruesome scene in Game of Shadows, and the horror movie quality of the cinematography lended it an extra amount of shock value. By merit of being based in the same time period, the Guy Ritchie films are able to follow the original stories without needing to mldify the plot for a midern setting. While there's some hints at a crimimal mastermind in the first film, the second one is where Moriarty is revealed in full force. While those who are familiar with Doyle's stories might have anticipated the outcome of the film (especially after seeing that elegant shot of the waterfall before the characters converged for their finl showdown), the journey the characters took to arrive there was suspenseful enough to surprise even the most jaded of Sherlockians.
I know we all wanted to see more of Moriary, but something tells me we should have been careful about what we wished for. During the season 3 finale of Sherlock, Moriarty's face was plastered all over England, suggesting that our favorite psychopathic murderer will be back, despite what we saw at the end of season 2 (as John said: "he blew his brains out"). That seems like an impossible death to fake, and since the showrunners tiptoed around Sherlock's grand escape, one has to wonder if they'll take the noncommittal route with Moriarty as well. Unless... did they tell us the truth after all?
Okay probably not. Probably. So, while BBC Sherlock seems to have deviated from the original stories, it miht take more than a little fanservice to earn our trust. One fake suicide we might be able to hand-wave away but two? Especially after all their promises about how it 'would all be explained' (and it was, in the most disingenuous way possible). I'm more likely to believe they were making out on that roof.
"I'm saying I'm better", very subtle there CBS. Okay but to be fair, Elementary's season one gave us kne of the best television twists of the decade. First, we find out that Irene Adler, a woman that Sherlock loved (perhaps the only person he ever loved before he arrived in New York) is dead. THEN we find out she was murdered, and Sherlock has the chance to catch her killer. EXCEPT, nope, the serial killer that supposedly assasinated her and drained all her blood? Turns out he was incarcerated when she died, so her killer is still at large. Until she's found alive. Moriarty, who has been toying with Sherlock for months, leads him to her. It seems her death was faked by a DIFFERENT criminal.
The magic of all this is that they really sell you on it. You believe that Irene was introduced just to be fridged (more on that here). Then, you believe that Moriarty was using her to remove Sherlock from the equation, since his work with the police was interfering with a covert crimimal empire. By the time Natalie Dormer walks onscreen, gun in hand, the audience is ready to be blown away by the fact that SHE IS MORIARTY. Can you tell I love her? The writers were very clever about this. They took two characters we know from the canon, and used our expectations against us. Moriary has always been a man. Irene has always been 'the woman' (and recent adaptations have in some ways been less progressive than the original). Elementary wouldn't have been the first Holmes adaptation to fridge Irene- that dubious honor goes to the Guy Ritchie films. But they are the first to cast a woman in the role. This wasn't just shocking. This was mind-blowingly good television. And it just goes to show we can still find something surprising about classic stories, even if we think we've heard it all before.