Unpopular Opinion (Spoilers for Elementary Finale)
I mean I’m never here to blindly defend my faves, and I think your point is valid and important to discuss; villain!Irene doesn’t happen in a vacuum free of societal context. But I feel like ultimately this argument disregards a lot of what this adaptation does to dismantle the idea that Sherlock was ever that unbeatable or perfect to begin with. This Sherlock is surrounded by people who question him, who challenge him and prove him wrong on a near-weekly basis. He’s forced to acknowledge and respect the superior skills or insights of others all the time. His colleagues and his sponsor, two of whom are PoCs, and of course, his partner. There IS a non-villainous woman (of color!) in his life who bests him in large and small ways every day. And yes he does come out on top of Moriarty in the end, but the whole point is that he didn’t and couldn’t have done it without Joan.
If it weren’t for Watson’s existence I wouldn’t be saying this, because while I loved the twist it does suck that Irene was rolled into another character, but I think there’s something interesting about, in this adaptation, making Irene Adler an idea(l), a fiction, just one of the ways that Holmes’ conceit (and the idea that there’s one woman, superior to all those ~other women of course, who can get the better of him) is dismantled. His conceit is his downfall.
This is why I have literally ZERO problems with Irene Adler and Moriarty being one and the same in the context of Elementary. (I don’t like the idea that Irene has been somehow consumed or rolled into Moriarty btw. She was still everything contemporary versions of Irene Adler have been to Sherlock Holmes. Why is the construct of Irene automatically less valid than the construct of Moriarty? Why see Irene as not existing instead of seeing Moriarty as an extension of Irene especially when we know that there was something genuinely real about Irene and Sherlock? Do we believe that “Moriarty” is any less of an alias than “Irene” was?)
The original conceit of Irene Adler, being The Woman, the single female that “predominated and preclipsed the whole of her sex” is wildly misogynistic. It’s a reflection of Holmes’ misogyny and it becomes even moreso in the contemporary interpretations of Irene where she is also the only woman worthy of having a meaningful relationship with him. It presents her as a special snowflake above and beyond all other women and in terms of her as a romantic partner — regardless that it wasn’t that way originally it’s certainly become part of the mythos — it makes it extremely easy to make Irene into nothing but an extension of Sherlock.
Elementary’s very premise in which it is Joan Watson instead of John Watson subverts that, but by making Irene and Moriarty the same person it keeps the fact that she does have special significance to Holmes without dismissing all other women in existence, and simultaneously completely tears down the manic pixie dream girl undertone by revealing that she had depths and breadth beyond what Sherlock could ever imagine.
I don’t think partially disregarding Irene being victorious in the end (because she WAS victorious over Sherlock; she DID beat him; she didn’t beat Joan) remotely undermines that at all especially given, as mentioned, this Holmes was never on the pedastal necessary to make that so hugely significant in the first place.