This was the first time I’ve felt a little anxious over the course of Yuukoku no Moriarty. It was the weakest of the first four episodes to be sure, but that doesn’t concern me so much. Ebbs and flows are natural in any series, though the best ones obviously limit the lows. My worry is that what we see here becomes a recurring pattern. A cartoonishly evil aristocrat (in this instance the Viscount of Belfour) is set up as the villain of the week. James shows up and finds a way to kill him without anyone getting caught and calls it justice. The end.
Moriarty the Patriot is touted as a political thriller, with Moriarty (whether it’s James or Albert that’s the titular figure is still unclear) acting to undermine the British class system. It may very well be that, but what we saw in this episode – which was a rehash of the first – is not. It’s a kind of “eat the rich” revenge porn that picks on easy targets and paints a picture in black and white. I certainly won’t dispute that there are and were plenty of evil aristocrats, but revenge killing viscounts and earls isn’t really a political act – it’s just vigilantism and murder.
The Viscount of Belfour’s offense is certainly an egregious one. When his gardener Burton and his wife Michelle bring their ill son to the manor, begging to see his doctor because the village doctor is away, he callously refuses. Might this happen in the real world? Sure – but it’s more likely to be a plot device. Most nobles would simply let the doctor treat the child, as is more or less implicit in the social contract between a lord and his subjects. But if he’d done that you wouldn’t have had a story, so Belfour refused – and did so in the most obnoxious and arrogant way possible.
Enter James (having dropped the William, at least for now), newly arrived in Durham to teach at the university (as the “real” James Moriarty did). He quickly gets wind of what’s happened thanks to a coincidental meeting with Michelle, and soon enough has taken it on himself to play God. While I have considerable sympathy with James and Albert’s position on the nobility and Victorian class structure, an episode like this does a lot to make James a thoroughly unsympathetic character. And I don’t think that’s to the benefit of the series going forward.
As to the murder itself, it’s a rather elegantly simple plan involving grapefruit – though it relies on Belfour conveniently having a bad heart (I’m also unaware of any interaction between grapefruit and quinine but I suppose you wouldn’t want to give people ideas if there was). The moral of the story, I suppose, is to never invite a supervillain over for tea (never mind his brothers). Belfour certainly is a bad man but this whole thing plays out rather broadly, and doesn’t make for very effective storytelling.
For me, there are basically three routes this series could go with James. He could be a terrorist, an insurgent, or a serial killer. The first two options are much more interesting – especially the second – but based on episodes like this one you’d worry it was going to be the third. But the signals are overall mixed, so we’ll just have to wait and see. The other niggle I have is Louis, the sum of whose participation in the narrative as an adult so far has literally been to be James’ tea boy. Not every character has to be crucial but if he’s going to omnipresent, I’d love to see Louis take on an identity of his own. Again, there’s still plenty of time.