Catching up on my Baker Street Babes podcasts this morning, I was really struck by a discussion recorded at 221B Con called "From Baker Street to the Holodeck." The point which really caught my attention was a part of the discussion that involved Professor Moriarty's appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I'd kind of forgotten about Nex Gen Moriarty, who is actually one of the most interesting Moriartys that's come along in the last hundred and twenty years of Moriarty. The Professor is a pretty tricky bastard of a character to work with -- so little is given of him in "The Final Problem," and what we get there are things like:
"A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers."
In other words, he's just evil. Evil, evil, evil, and very, very good at it. And once we're calling things "evil," all critical analysis seems to go out the window. Our brains like the easy binary route, on/off, black/white, good/evil . . . instead of actually thinking about things sometimes . . . and Moriarty plays to that inclination: Sherlock good, Moriarty evil. 'Nuff said.
Over the years, many a writer has tried to get behind the man behind the evil. John Gardner worked to make him a functional crime boss. Nicholas Meyer cast him as a harmless mathematics tutor with poor choices in dating. Michael Kurland kept him a criminal mastermind . . . but a criminal mastermind who fought evil.
We've seen deliciously evil Moriarty, so-so criminal Moriarty, ex-girlfriend and mother Moriarty, oddly ethereal Moriarty, younger Moriarty, and Moriartys I can't even wrap my head around . . . which is kind of the problem.
We don't really know Moriarty. He comes from an outside, alien place many times, and we aren't meant to relate to him. Yet he's made up up the same basic components we are, and we should be able to find a place of empathy with him at some point. Some of the better versions of him have done pretty well with that, but most times? He's just a hard main character to write and make him true to what we know of him, yet someone we relate to.
In reconsidering all of the alternate Moriartys I've seen and read over the years, I'm starting to think we haven't found our defining Moriarty yet. Everybody has a favorite Holmes, the guy who is the Holmes to them, but a lot fewer folk are emphatic about Moriarty. Which is why I don't think we've had our ultimate Moriarty yet.
Will we ever? Is Moriarty someone, by his very nature, that we're never supposed to get behind, even if he's fun-crazy and funny and likes disco? Do we just need somebody to be the bad guy, that we have an excuse not to even try to relate to? Could be. The ancient animal wiring in us all is something we trip on all the time, rationalizing along the way.
Still, I would like to see a Moriarty that sets the bar for all other Moriartys to come one day, by giving us an understanding of the guy that we never had before. A Moriarty where we're just a little sad to see him inevitably go off that cliff in Switzerland, and maybe hope he survived.