Brother Dear, Brother Mine: Sherlock

NOV / DEC 2014: BY CHARITY BISHOP

sherlockmycroft

I’ve adored Sherlock Holmes since childhood. I marveled at his genius and thought no one could top him… until I met his big brother, Mycroft, “even more brilliant” than Sherlock, but so lazy he never sets foot outside his club. Instead, he “occupies a minor position in the British government.”

Over the years, adaptations of the stories introduced Mycroft but didn’t explore him in depth other than as a condescending force in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, where he is a mastermind who constantly berates his little brother for his foolishness.

Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt took this antagonistic approach as their inspiration when writing Sherlock, a modernized adaptation that uses the source material as “inspiration” rather than direct influence. Incidents in the canon, conversations, chunks of dialogue, and names turn up with frequency, all tied to different problems, conspiracies, and solutions. The creators are fan boys and it shows, but out of all the changes made to the source material, I find Mycroft’s relationship with Sherlock the most interesting. He is the elder, more responsible, and more respectable brother, and he no longer occupies a minor position in the government—he actually runs it behind the scenes, employing dozens of minions to do his bidding, which allows him to turn up uninvited in times of duress at Baker Street.

If you take these characters at face value, both are rational to the point of utter coldness… but if you dig deep into them, you can piece together their stories from scattered references. Sherlock, the self-proclaimed “high functioning sociopath,” knows good and well that he isn’t a sociopath—he merely sees emotion as blocking reason and tries to convince himself that he has no feelings. This is blatantly untrue, both in his irrational decisions and in Mycroft’s constant reminders to reign in his emotions and abandon “sentiment.”

Mycroft presents himself as unemotional, yet on Christmas Eve, he abandons his country estate, changes into a suit, drives to London, and awaits his little brother in the morgue so he won’t be alone when he identifies the body of “The Woman.” Their relationship is fraught with conflict, a battle of wills and intellect as much as a sibling rivalry (“I am the smart one,” Mycroft asserts), but it is also how the brothers show one another affection. It isn’t expressed in kind words, but in banter and quips. Some of it is mean spirited, but the subtext is two brilliant, detached, and logical men trying to connect.

Under all his unrelenting superiority, Mycroft fears one thing above all else—that his brother will lose control of his emotions and act on them. And that is precisely what happens. Mycroft’s many predictions about Sherlock come true—his friendship with John Watson helps him but also endangers his brilliance. His friendship with John is Sherlock’s weak spot—and he is Mycroft’s.

Sherlock has always seen his big brother as an interfering force determined to shape him into a mold he doesn’t want to fit into; a man who confronts him with the accusation of “Redbeard” (the name of a lost family pet) to remind him not to be naïve and childish. Mycroft’s confession of “Your loss would break my heart” comes only hours before Sherlock makes a decision that will forever impact both their lives—and very nearly cost his life. Yet even in that decision is a subtle truth: Sherlock’s action was not simply to protect John, but also Mycroft.

The relationship between these two men is difficult to grasp—a brutal, unrelenting power struggle of defiance and mental barbs that allow for torture, humiliation, and cruel words, but if we look past the icy exteriors, we find the glorious truth: for all their many varied protestations, these brothers do in fact love one another. ♥

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!

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