I have watched all the seasons of Sherlock (the BBC one) and am still a little confused as to what did Moriarty meant when he talked about "The Final Problem". What is/was the final problem? Is it simple that Sherlock had to stop Moriarty always or that Sherlock had to die so that it is proof that Moriarty was the better amongst them? I just want to be sure.

Sherlock: So how are you going to do it? Burn me?

Jim: Ah, that’s the problem, the final problem. Have you worked out what it is yet? What’s the final problem? I did tell you... but did you listen?

I also think that his ringtone "Staying Alive" gives away the final problem which is that they both cannot co-exist. Is this correct or are there other streams of thought? Also, if Moriarty is alive then should "The Final Problem" would still refurnish?

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    I thought it was just a homage to the last short story of memoirs of sherlock holmes "The Final Problem"
    – Dredd
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 0:26
  • Well, Jim welcomes the girl on the plane, as well as Sherlock, John, Mycroft and us the audience to the Final Problem in The Final Problem.
    – BMWurm
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 22:05

3 Answers 3


Firstly, it was the title of the original short story written by Arthur Conan Doyle. As you may or may not know, contrary to what most modern adaptions of Sherlock Holmes show, Moriarty only ever appeared in a single Sherlock Holmes story, called 'The Final Problem'.

Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to kill off his detective with this story (more info can be found here: how-sir-arthur-conan-doyle-tried-and-failed-to-kill-sherlock-holmes). Effectively, the Final Problem was just that - the final problem Sherlock Holmes had to deal with. Moriarty was invented as a mastermind so brilliant that he matched Holmes' intelligence. Their final showdown took place at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, with both characters dying (until Conan Doyle bowed to public pressure and brought Holmes back).

Therefore, with that original story in mind, it seems obvious that the TV series wanted to reference it as much as possible. However, given your question is specifically about the TV series, you might be interested in this discussion over at the Sherlock TV Series page: What is the "final problem", which is full of opinions discussing exactly what you've just asked. A particularly interesting interpretation is provided by one of the users, who cites the following two reasons as being his understanding of the 'Final Problem':

1. Staying alive without dying of boredom

The tea party at 221b Baker Street in 'The Reichenbach Fall' isn't the first conversation between Sherlock and Moriarty on this subject. Several phone calls and remarks in 'The Great Game' (though through a 'stolen' voice from Moriarty) about the puzzles hint at this:

LESTRADE: Why would anyone do this?

SHERLOCK: Oh…I can't be the only person in the world that gets bored.

VOICE OF HOSTAGE AT PICCADILLY CIRCUS: This is about you and me … because I'm bored … we were made for each other, Sherlock.

VOICE OF OLD LADY HOSTAGE: You are enjoying this, aren't you?

JOHN: So why is he doing this, then? Playing this game with you. Do you think he wants to be caught?

SHERLOCK: I think he wants to be distracted.

JOHN: Oh…I hope you'll be very happy together.

2. Staying number one (Moriarty more than Sherlock: "…you should see me in a crown!" - Sherlock's deerstalker isn't exactly a crown…)

'The Reichenbach Fall', rooftop

JIM: Here we are at last – you and me, Sherlock, and our problem – the final problem. Stayin’ alive! It’s so boring, isn’t it? … It’s just ... staying … All my life I’ve been searching for distractions. You were the best distraction and now I don’t even have you. Because I’ve beaten you. It was easy. Now I’ve got to go back to playing with the ordinary people. And it turns out you’re ordinary just like all of them.

Earlier, at the pool scene, Jim isn't quite sure yet whether to destroy Sherlock (and John) right away or just send them "a friendly warning" not to be in his way any longer. He admits that he has enjoyed "this little game of ours". Fortunately the ringtone postpones his decision: "Wrong day to die…!"

Jim knows that killing Sherlock will destroy the basis for an interesting life in the future. A boring life for him isn't worthwhile. But it is also not acceptable for him to be beaten.

Solving these two problems at the same time is his dilemma. The only way out he sees for himself is his suicide. The only satisfaction he has is that he is convinced that has destroyed Sherlock's reputation and life as well.

Whilst you are free to peruse the link to the site I provided, the two reasons cited by this user completely sum up the situation as I see it - although it is obviously open to interpretation.

  • Boredom can surely be a problem, but how is it a final problem instead of just a problem? - Death, either his or Sherlock's, would be a final solution, but again, why is the problem final?
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 0:32
  • You could say that it is the Final Problem because they can't both coexist. For them to live without boredom, they must do what they enjoy. For Sherlock, that's solving crimes. For Moriarty, it's causing havoc, by causing crimes. The Final Problem is that this cannot continue (brings in the whole Stayin' Alive ringtone too), with the solution being the death of one of them. However, I would caution against reading too much into the EXACT wording, largely because Moffat went out of his way to use it simply because the original Conan Doyle story was titled that way. Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 0:38
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    Why can't they coexist? Moriarty keeps commiting crimes, Sherlock keeps trying to put him behind bars. Keep trying to outsmart each other would solve their boredom. - Yes, Moriarty and Holmes being at odds with each other is a problem, but that alone can't make it a final problem (criminals are obviously always at odds with crime solvers). There is no reason to kill one another, unless they want a final solution.
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 1:09
  • 1
    @Oliver_C: I do get what you're saying. My way of looking at it is that for them to keep playing this game, the stakes get higher and higher. Moriarty will perpetrate worse and worse crimes until Sherlock puts him behind bars, probably for life. Either that, or Moriarty will win and kill Sherlock. Either scenario would result in the end of their "game", making it the final problem. But all your comments are totally valid and I do think, as I said a few times, it's just a complete homage to the original story. I like your question - it's definitely made me think and want to rewatch the episode. Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 14:24
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    It's strange that in the TV series, Moriarty doesn't consider Mycroft to be an equal, potential nemesis, and thus another way to stave off boredom. In the Conan Doyle canon, Moriarty wouldn't have known about Mycroft, and Mycroft doesn't go outside anyways. Mycroft is much, much more active on TV, and they meet and interact at length (in a flashback) in The Empty Hearse. I would think that Moriarty would take the Holmes brothers together as the subject of his "final problem".
    – jscs
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 17:10

Actually, I think that the final problem that everybody has to face in The final problem is:

What is good, and what is evil?

First, we witness Eurus questioning what is good and what is bad in an old interrogation tape:

EURUS: Am I being punished?

THERAPIST : You've been bad.

EURUS: There's no such thing as bad.

THERAPIST : What about good?

EURUS: Good and bad are fairytales. We have evolved to attach an emotional significance to what is nothing more than a survival strategy of the pack animal. We are conditioned to invest divinity in utility. Good isn't really good, evil isn't really wrong, bottoms aren't really pretty. You are a prisoner of your own meat. Why aren't you? I'm too clever.

After that, everything that happens during Eurus' "game" forces everyone to do choices with unclear moral consequences, like

is it right to shot a man to save his wife?


what is the right choice, try to save the girl on the plane at any cost, or try to prevent loosing many more lives and guide the plane to crash avay from the city?

And again

was it right for Mycroft to bring "gifts" to his sister, just to be able to exploit her being "very smart"?

I also think that Dr. Watson reference to being soldiers that must take hard decisions to do the right thing references the real final problem:

Can anyone really tell if an action is entirely good or bad, even when that action is done with the best intentions?


Based on the conversations between Sherlock and Moriarty, the final problem may be "staying alive" when there is no distraction. Not getting so bored Sherlock does too many drugs or kills himself. Without Moriarty, there is no one to really challenge him. Really hope they aren't going for anything too final in the upcoming season.

  • 1
    Thank you for assisting the community. Ideas for framing an answer may include describing your sources along with a synopsis of what they said, and/or adding links to the resources and visuals you’ve found. I hope you enjoy participating.
    – John
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 21:41

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