wellingtongoose (wellingtongoose) wrote,

Enigmas in Sherlock Part 2 - Irene's Royal Flush

Most fans have analysed the Holmes Brothers on Bond Air and the wonderful scene at the manor from an emotional point of view.

I examine what actually went on between the lines during Mycroft and Irene’s confrontation. Analysis of the scenes shows us intricate plots and delightful cunning from Irene and Mycroft that was only hinted at in the script.

  • Why Irene Adler had to get Sherlock to solve the email code and so long after she first received it
  • What Irene had really been planning when she came to see Mycroft on the plane
  • Why Irene gave Moriarty all the credit
  • Why Mycroft was prepared to give her a queen’s ransom (and it’s not because he loves Sherlock)
  • The CIA man – a really bad agent deserved a good analysis.

Please read Part 1 first for detail on Mycroft's background.

Reblog if you like it!



The Bond Air Fiasco is an extremely interesting scene because the most important events have happened entirely off screen and are never made clear. When we witness the aftermath of the debacle, it is like assessing a natural disaster without knowing whether an earthquake or a tsunami just ripped through.

However there are some logical deductions we can make about the real action in ASiB and this will help us read between the lines of Irene and Mycroft’s confrontations to really understand the full extent of her power play.

The plans for Bond Air probably required the collaboration of several foreign Intelligence agencies as well as MI5/MI6. However it is primarily a British operation and controlled by MI5. It is therefore MI5 who would have recruited Mycroft into the project and it is to MI5 that Mycroft is ultimately responsible. He is not a member of the Intelligence Services (for why read part 1), he is their consultant in times of crisis. Therefore each “case” Mycroft takes is entirely dependent on the good will of MI5/MI6 and I will guarantee that they are much less tolerant about “screwing-up” than the Metropolitan Police. Mycroft’s relationships with the Intelligence agencies are potentially delicate because he is an outsider who is often given enough power to order very senior people around.

When Irene uses Sherlock to decode the leaked email, she has basically gained the rope with which to hang Mycroft.

A Royal Flush

Irene has amassed a huge amount of sensitive information on her phone. After being threatened by the CIA, it must have become very clear to her that she needed to get out of the game. I believe that the second CIA raid on her house was enough to convince her it was better to quit whilst she was still alive. At this point she probably has no idea of the true significance of the email on her phone – Jim Moriarty hadn’t figured it out either which is why he recommended Sherlock. However she is a wonderfully ambitious character and Irene wanted to depart in style, billions of pounds worth of style. Irene wasn’t working for Jim Moriarty; she was looking for a lucrative way out of a sticky situation. They both used each other to implement their own individual plans (more on this later)

Sadly Irene could not have predicted the volatile genius of Sherlock Holmes.

A short analysis of what happened on that plane using a terrible poker analogy:

When Irene walks onto the plane and casually threatens to reveal Sherlock’s role in the leaking of the Bond Air plans, she is not showing her “Royal Flush”. She has already won the hand by retaining possession of her phone (and all its potential for blackmail) but she knows that Mycroft can still try to cut his losses as any good poker player would. In this situation he still has the advantage because she can’t walk off with the winnings just yet because she needs Mycroft to “cash in her chips” i.e. extract the money she wants from the government. Therefore it is in Irene’s best interest to make sure that Mycroft is fully motivated to help her.

Irene and Moriarty wanted Sherlock to decode the email for very different reasons. Moriarty was convinced that only Sherlock would could figure out the code (because he obviously couldn’t) and not realise the significance of it. He wanted the information to sell to the terrorists and as a play to draw Mycroft’s attention. Irene already has Mycroft’s full attention. She needed Sherlock because only with his involvement would she be able to force Mycroft into helping her get away with a Queen’s Ransom.

She planned for Sherlock to decipher the email some time after he is officially off her case in order to ensure that automatic suspicion is thrown on him. Irene needs to make sure that she is the only person besides Mycroft and John who know about Sherlock’s involvement in solving the code. Of course others may speculate but they will not have any proof because Sherlock had been officially taken off her case months ago, so there is no logical reason why he would ever see her again.

Sherlock’s involvement is in effect Irene’s insurance that Mycroft will cash her chips in and not defraud her on the way out.

The two most important things about blackmail are that the information used remains secret and that public knowledge of the secret is more damaging to the victim than acquiescing to the demands. There is always a fine balance between squeezing enough out of the victim and squeezing so hard that they decide it is better to just reveal everything. If the latter happens the blackmailer looses everything.

Let us look more closely at the exact nature of Irene’s hold over Mycroft. We can see his face crumple as she casually threatens to “tell your masters that your greatest security leak is your own little brother”

Mycroft knows that Irene has him by the throat at this point but I think many fan theories actually miss the real reason why he is terrified.

He is not terrified of shadowy “masters” waiting to tear him or Sherlock to pieces. In the first part of this series I discuss why Mycroft’s Masters are actually career politicians like the Home Secretary/Prime Minister. Mycroft is the shadow British Government but he does still nominally answer to the politician in charge. I imagine he has no problem manipulating their minds to his own ends.

He is also not worried about Sherlock being charged with breaching the Official Secret’s Act.

Side Note – the Official Secrets Act 1989

Most of the clauses only apply to government employees/intelligence servicemen and government contractors. You do not have had to sign the Official Secrets Act in order to be prosecuted under this law but you can only be prosecuted under the most serious clause if you have signed the contract. Any Crown Servant or contractor who leaks/publishes information against the public interest which is “damaging” can be arrested and prosecuted.

However only one clause 8(5) applies to the public and that is the publication of unauthorised disclosures. This is primarily used to prosecute journalists (somewhat unsuccessfully) for publishing state secrets.

Sherlock could not have known the importance of what he was revealing to Irene Adler. He is neither a servant of the Crown nor a government contractor by the time that he decodes the email. He certainly didn’t boast about it on his blog/sell his story to a newspaper. Additionally he never signed the Official Secrets Act and the consequences of his actions were entirely unintentional.

Technically there are no grounds for arrest or prosecution in this situation. 

The blame in this scenario lies with Mycroft Holmes for letting a member of the public with no official clearance to become involved in such a delicate matter. Mycroft does attempt to warn Sherlock off the case after he discovers she had more than just compromising photos but the fact remains that he introduced Sherlock to Irene outside official channels and this resulted in a huge security leak.  

Any enemies intent on destroying his career do not need to drag Sherlock into the resulting political fray. They have enough to deal a huge blow to Mycroft and trying to accuse a civilian of making an honest mistake takes a lot of legal manpower.

Mycroft is frightened on Sherlock’s behalf but only because if he is removed from his position, he would no longer be able to watch over his younger brother.

If knowledge of Mycroft’s indirect involvement in the Bond Air Fiasco gets out, there would not be precedent for a legal trial but his relationships with the Intelligence agencies GCHQ/MI5/MI6 will be damaged beyond repair. This piece of knowledge is Mycroft’s kryptonite

Side Note – The “CIA” guys


It is not true that only Irene and Mycroft know that Sherlock decoded the email. The American man standing by the Jumbo Jet evidently knows exactly what Sherlock has done. He could only have been privy to this fact because Mycroft told him. At the start of the scene only Irene, Jim and John knew that Sherlock had cracked the code. Mr. American would only be able to find out otherwise if he bugged Sherlock’s house (there’s no evidence that he did). Why would Mycroft incriminate both himself and Sherlock to a CIA man?

I think Mycroft informed Mr American because he is one man who cannot incriminate Mycroft or Sherlock without making himself out be utterly incompetent in the process. He personally fails to retrieve the vital camera phone more than once and he is consistently outsmarted by two civilians with no special training. Not to mention that one of his team died during his attempt to extract the cameraphone at Irene’s house.

Whilst some of Bond Air’s failure can be laid on Mycroft’s shoulders (more about this later) much more responsibility lies with the MOD who leaked the email and the CIA agent who failed to retrieve it. This is great humiliation for the CIA and his competence as an agent will be called into question anyway.

If the information gets got out that Sherlock decoded the email and figured out the plan, it would add more oil to Mr American’s professional pyre. Sherlock was only able to retain the cameraphoneto decode the email because he outsmarted Mr American. Therefore Mr American has even more incentive to cover up Sherlock’s involvement than Mycroft does.

In a strange distorted way he and Mycroft are allies linked by the common goal of trying to cover up the giant mess they have both made of the situation. Whilst Irene has power over Mycroft, by revealing the full extent of what happened when Mr American failed to retrieve the cameraphone, Mycroft has power over Mr American. I have several ideas about what Mycroft does eventually use him for which I will explain in Part 3.

So So Scandalous


Becoming a powerful figure in the government gains you as many friends as enemies. Mycroft is not going to be short of enemies both within the Civil Service and the Intelligence Services. The same hostility we see from the Met police towards Sherlock may be present in a more subtle form in Mycroft’s dealings with the Intelligence Services. Although he performs an admirable role, there will also be some resentment towards his status as an outsider, particularly if he has to step on many toes to get things done.

The failure of Bond Air is catastrophic for Mycroft’s potentially delicate relationship with MI5/MI6.  They are not legally obliged to consult him and he is offering them a service rather than being their commander. Mycroft’s Intelligence/national security work may only be one sideline in his overarching career. I imagine there are plenty of diplomatic nightmares and military conflict waiting to erupt that also require his attention. However I believe that Mycroft considers his work with the Intelligence Services of the upmost importance. He is keeping Britain, and by extension his little brother, safe. The obsessive care and protection he lavishes on Sherlock may reflect his attitude towards the entire country.

Therefore if word got out that Mycroft was responsible for the failure of Bond Air, he could lose the trust of government agencies he’s worked hard to build. His detractors would have the perfect excuse to start placing sanctions on his activities or halt his career altogether.

Ultimately it is the politicians who can assist or destroy Mycroft in this situation. MI5 is directly answerable to the Home Secretary and Mycroft must have had her blessing or at least her tacit tolerance in order to operate in the first place.

However politicians always fear scandal and Irene Adler is well equipped to unleash the greatest scandals in British history. Prime Ministers inevitably come under a lot of pressure and scrutiny from political parties, press and the people when there are scandals, even if they are not personally involved. Therefore Irene has calculated that if she can force Mycroft into discussing her “ransom demand” with his political masters, she would be able to walk away with everything she wants relatively unscathed.

What is she actually threatening the government with? We know she’s threatening to expose Mycroft’s poor judgement to MI5 but she can’t use Bond Air as an example of the blackmail material she has. If she’s to keep Sherlock’s involvement secret, she needs to pretend she doesn’t know the email’s significance. She must be threatening to expose other scandalous rather than national security information.

Why does she need Mycroft as a messenger boy?

I think there are two reasons: firstly, she is very reluctant to actually publish the material she has on her camera phone because blackmail only works if the content stays secret. Once she airs the dirty laundry she will never be able to use the material for blackmail. Instead of fear, her victims will simply despise her and she does not need more enemies right now. She cannot phone up the Prime Minister and threaten to expose a scandal because he might just call her bluff. Secondly, she might have access to Royals and celebrity novelists but it does not mean she has anything personal on a Cabinet Minister. She cannot personally pressurize them, nor does she have the direct access to the people in power. Therefore she needs someone who has influence over the people in power to bargain for her.

Her threat to expose Mycroft’s part in the Bond Air fiasco is the ideal incentive for Mycroft to argue hard on her behalf. It is in Mycroft’s best interest that MI5/MI6 never get the chance to interrogate her. Therefore he would also be heavily invested in making sure she is never criminalised for her actions and that she disappears quietly overseas where the government cannot reach her.

As the dialog suggests, Mycroft does not have the power to authorise such a large payment but given his superb powers of manipulation, I have no doubt he would be able to sway the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary into agreeing.

Mycroft’s official line would be that Irene Adler was threatening to expose several scandals of unimaginable magnitude that would directly damage the reputation of the government both at home and overseas.

In the future, he might be able to spin the episode so that it looks like he saved the government from a major scandal, for which the politicians should be immensely grateful for. He is a master of manipulation after all. He could then reassure his intelligence partners that Irene did not know the actual importance of the email she copied because there would be no conclusive evidence the leak came from her phone. In any given intelligence operation, particularly one as big as Bond Air, there can be any number of security leaks. It may be difficult to prove that the fragment of the MOD email was the actual leak responsible. Additionally the MOD man may have shown this email to any number of women he was trying to impress.

If all goes to plan his relationship with the government agencies will remain intact. Although questions will inevitably arise about Bond Air no one would be able to pin point Mycroft as the sole culprit. Mycroft may come out from this debacle with his political masters more indebted to him than before.

This is the closest to a win-win situation Mycroft and Irene can get.

Jim sends his Love


Many fans have pointed out that Irene credits Jim Moriarty for her plans and this makes her a weak character.

Well of course she would credit Jim Moriarty! She is an incredibly clever woman and they were her plans that we see being played out during the episode. Everything that has led to the climax on Bond Air and the Holmes estate is the product of Irene’s plans. The results directly benefited Jim Moriarty as well, but the climax of the Bond Air fiasco is all about what Irene wanted.  

Irene credits Jim during her confrontations with Mycroft because even though she has “won” she does not want Mycroft’s entire wrath being directed at her in the aftermath. She might have gained several billion pounds, but money cannot buy immunity from Mycroft’s obsessive need for revenge if the situation came to that.

By dragging Jim Moriarty into the fray, and making sure that Mycroft knows Moriarty is at least partially responsible, she is deflecting attention away from herself. This is the most brilliant part of Irene’s strategy. She makes a huge demand of Mycroft but it is not something that he absolutely cannot afford and she gives him a relatively secure way out of her trap with enough leeway to recover his reputation fully. It has all the hallmarks of a genius negotiator and strategist. Irene has just outsmarted the British Government and that is not a good position to be in because Mycroft would never let her rest in peace.

She has to make sure that Mycroft understands Jim Moriarty is the inventor of this brilliant plan and she is just the typical greedy woman who went along with it. In a male dominated society, men sadly find it easier to swallow defeat by another man than being outsmarted by a woman.

Irene has played her hand perfectly…

…until she got SHERLOCKED. 

Other Parts in the Series

Part 1 - James Bond was a Civil Servant Too...

Please take the time to leave a comment! I love hearing feedback and having discussions!

Tags: character: irene adler, character: mycroft holmes, character: sherlock holmes, meta: irene adler, meta: mycroft holmes, meta: sherlock holmes

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