The Problem of Mycroft

A quick thought on last night’s Elementary. Specifically, the final scene with Mycroft as portrayed by Rhys Ifans.

I really like Ifans. I’ve watched and enjoyed a film I was certain I wouldn’t like — Anonymous — purely because of Ifans. I think he has great rapport with Johnny Lee Miller. I have absolutely no problem buying them as brothers.

But he hasn’t struck me as Mycroft. Until last night. And, specifically, the final scene, alone in The Diogenes.

For those not playing at home, Elementary‘S Mycroft is a restaurateur and a leukemia survivor. He had come to New York City to bond with his brother, with whom he’s had a terrible relationship, and open a new restaurant, The Diogenes. Neither of these struck me as “right”; I felt that Elementary was, in this case, trying too hard to differentiate itself from Sherlock, and what we’ve had in his two previous appearances was a character with the same name but none of the same attributes as the Canon Mycroft.

In the episode, Mycroft delivered a message to Sherlock from their father (who hasn’t been named, but I’ll call Siger because of William S. Baring-Gould) — Siger expected Sherlock to return to London, and he was in danger of being cut off if he didn’t.

Sherlock hems and haws throughout the episode, and interestingly we get an explanation for why Elementary‘s Sherlock has focused exclusively on murders; he turns down ordinary cases so he can work with the NYPD. (This addressed one of my long-standing problems with Elementary; the Canon Holmes took all sorts of cases because they engaged him, from missing persons to purloined papers, and murder was only one small part of that. The Elementary Holmes seems stuck in a murder-rut.) In the end, he gives Mycroft a letter for Siger that lays out why he intends to remain in New York, whatever the cost.

In the final scene with Mycroft (which may be the final scene of the episode, come to think of it), we see Mycroft alone, in The Diogenes. He takes the sealed letter out of his jacket. He looks at it. He tears it up. Which had me yell at my television, “No, Mycroft! How could you?”

And then he calls someone.

They have a conversation. It seems that it’s not Siger that wants Sherlock to come home after all. Rather, Mycroft is working with someone to either 1) get Sherlock out of New York or 2) get Sherlock back to London. And since this attempt to pry Sherlock out of New York failed, there will be others.

Now, the way I immediately read this scene was, “Oh, damn, Mycroft is working with the season’s Big Bad. Or possibly Moriarty.” Which would be interesting; I like Natalie Dormer’s interpretation of Moriarty on Elementary.

But then I said, “No. Just no. No Evil Mycroft. No Evil Mycroft!”

Then I realized that was the point. I think we’re supposed to think the former — Mycroft is working with nefarious persons to get Sherlock to London — and I’ve no doubt that when he reappears (February sweeps, almost certainly) we’ll see something happen that makes us question Mycroft’s loyalties. But there’s no basis at all for Evil Mycroft in the Canon. Then I remembered that Mycroft has been playing a subtle game with Sherlock, to get Sherlock to do something he doesn’t ordinarily want to do — move back to London — but would if coached in the right way. First, he’s offered his old digs on Baker Street, and Sherlock rebuffs that. Then, he’s told their father will evict him from the Brooklyn brownstone and evict him. Again, Sherlock rebuffs this. This time at least, Mycroft’s subtle coaching didn’t work.

And this sold me on Rhys Ifans’ Mycroft.

This is who I think Mycroft is. The Canon Mycroft is, in Holmes’ words, a minor government functionary who is occasionally “the British government.” The Elementary Mycroft is working for MI-6, his chain of restaurants around the world give him reasons to travel, and he’s trying to get a valuable asset back to the UK that he can use very unofficially. It’s important to remember the dinner conversation, where Mycroft mentions that Sherlock would have gone back to working with Scotland Yard. This would put Sherlock in a position to work on cases that have bearing on Mycroft’s (deep undercover) work for MI-6. After all, who looks for a spymaster in a restaurant? This would be more in keeping with the Canon Mycroft, someone who appears to be very unimportant in the grand scheme of things but who actually has great power and influence.

I know, I’m theorizing well in advance of the evidence and that invariably biases the result. I know that I’m out if we get Evil Mycroft, because that’s a change too far from the Canon. I know that I want Elementary‘s Mycroft to be more like his Canon counterpart, and thus I’m twisting what little we know to make that fit.

I want to be right.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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