Andrew Scott’s Jim Moriarty made his triumphant return to Sherlock on Sunday night, stepping out of his helicopter to the strains of Queen’s I Want To Break Free and onto a beach on the island of Sherrinford, home to the cream of the criminally insane.
Moriarty wasn’t an inmate, though – he’s too smart to be caught doing anything illegal – he was a “Christmas present” for Sherlock’s sister Eurus, Sherrinford’s most prestigious inmate.
Five minutes unsupervised with Moriarty was all she requested in return for using her superhuman powers of deduction to help Mycroft pinpoint a string of planned terrorist attacks.
It was unclear at the time what she wanted Moriarty for but we found out later in the episode that one thing she had asked of him was to record various video messages that she would use years later in the deadly Crystal Maze she had designed for Sherlock to solve.
“Moriarty recorded lots of stuff for me,” Eurus told Sherlock. “His brother was a station master, I think he was a bit jealous.”
Sherlock Holmes fans will recognise that as a reference straight from the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, where Moriarty’s brother is said to have had the same occupation, but it was also a bit more literal than that as our own Moriarty had great fun shouting “All aboard!” as each of Eurus’s puzzles began, and then transforming himself into an unhinged ticking clock as the seconds counted down towards their deadly denouements.
“Tick-tock! Tick-tock!” If someone hasn’t already turned that into a gif, I will.
Sadly, those recordings were made half a decade ago and, as Sherlock co-creator Steven Moffat confirmed at a screening of the episode, Moriarty’s subsequent suicide on the roof of St Bart’s Hospital in The Reichenbach Fall was exactly what it seemed.
“We didn’t lie,” said Moffat. “He’s dead. He’s actually dead. Gone.”
But all this raises some interesting questions. We’re told that Moriarty’s visit took place on Christmas Day five years ago. If we assume (as seems to be the case) that the events of Sherlock unfold across approximately the same timescale as the series itself, that means Moriarty’s meeting with Eurus happened six and a half months before he shot himself and Sherlock made the death-defying leap that followed (we know this from the date of John’s blog entry, 16th June, and a news report he posted saying it had happened the day before).
Moriarty knew that Eurus was intending to one day use the recordings he had made in a game she had constructed for Sherlock. If his attempt to force the detective to commit suicide had worked, it would certainly have thwarted her plans. Perhaps Moriarty was just being a spoilsport – he is an evil genius after all – or perhaps he already realised that Sherlock had set up everything he needed to fake his own death and would be back to tangle with his sister in the future.
But if so, why did Moriarty kill himself? As far as we know, it was a spur of the moment decision made when he realised it was the only way to ensure Sherlock wouldn’t be able to call off the hitmen who had their sights trained on his friends and were waiting for him to jump before they laid down their weapons.
We know Moriarty was bored with a life full of ordinary people, that “staying alive” was his final problem, so maybe he simply had a death wish.
But what if he – like everyone else who spoke to Eurus – came under the influence of her subconscious powers of persuasion. What if Eurus ‘re-programmed’ Moriarty using subliminal tricks just like she did the governor and staff at Sherrinford. And what if everything he did after seeing her – possibly including recording those messages and sticking a gun in is mouth and pulling the trigger – was down to her influence.
Of course, it’s also possible that Moriarty and Eurus agreed on a plan together, that his suicide was his own decision but that everything that lead to his final showdown with Sherlock – breaking into the case that held the Crown Jewels, his arrest and acquittal, his plot to discredit Sherlock – was a joint effort with Eurus, who was acting as puppet master to her brother in a complex strategy that, five years later, would eventually lead him to her.
Now that really would be playing the long game…