Thursday, May 18, 2023

Moriarty in the Middle

Once upon a time, Sherlock Holmes had a series finale.

Of course, this was in December 1893, when the word "series" didn't mean television, baseball, or even a definition of what was happening in The Strand Magazine at the time.

"The Final Problem" was, however, for all intents and purposes, the series finale to the Sherlock Holmes series of stories, and it was a pretty cool one. Sherlock Holmes, master detective, faced his evil opposite, Professor Moriarty, master criminal. And like a true positive and negative charge, they cancelled each other out, both gone forever in a tale that just might have been a little too short for all that it truly deserved.

But then the series got rebooted. 

Like everything else where popularity and potential cash flow lure everyone back to the table, Sherlock Holmes came back for a second series. We don't think of it that way now, at our current distance from the thing, but our predecessors and those alive at the time, often saw pre-Reichenbach and post-Reichenbach Sherlocks as two different entities. And there is a distinct difference in the level of the tales if one divides them at that point. Sequel serieses are never quite the same.

In the middle of all that, we find Professor James Moriarty, the criminal genius who never fully got to live up to his full criminal superstar potential. Killed almost as soon as we met him, his absence mourned in later tales, but never truly facing off with Sherlock Holmes, even when he supposedly took Holmes down with him. Instead of being a rising threat throughout a series, culminating in a fantastic climax, poor Moriarty gets to be the ghost story told at the campfire in many ways, always seen through someone else's telling of his tale.

No one suffers from pasticheurs unable to recreate the original Canon magic as much as Moriarty. The market is there for him. Every creator that decides to attempt to jump the Reichenbach canyon like an old-time motorcycle daredevil sees the potential in him. And yet he remains, Moriarty the Unfulfilled, Moriarty the Over-Used, inspiring cats in musicals and latter villains of all stripes. Simply because he came along in the middle, for a creator that saw him as an escape hatch.

The irony of how we're missing "more" in Moriarty is palpable. 

Moran, Mormons, Morgan, Morecroft, moors . . . it's almost like his creator wanted Mor-ish darkness to pervade the series. (Let us raise questions about Morstan and Mortimer and the evil they bring!) But Moriarty himself just never gets what he truly deserved.

Too bad, Moriarty. Too bad.

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