I explore the very end of ASiB as Mycroft and Irene’s intricate, long ranging game of chess finally comes to an end. This meta is as much about Mycroft’s cunning as Irene’s brilliance.
- How Mycroft decided to use Irene – I doubt the she decided to have tea with terrorists
- Why Sherlock need not travel out of the country to rescue Irene
- Why Mycroft failed to stop him
- John and Mycroft in the cafe – a brilliant demonstration of manipulation, power and love Mycroft-style
As an aside I also examine Mycroft and Irene’s waiting game during the middle of ASiB and the real reasons Irene faked her death and gave Sherlock her phone.
Reblog if you like it!
Comments which are reasonable - welcome.
A Tea Party, with Terrorists
At the end of ASiB Sherlock demolishes Irene’s intricate plans with four taps on a keypad.
Irene’s Royal Flush, her winning hand, is unique access to her cameraphone. Without it, she has absolutely nothing to bargain with against the government.
She can still blackmail Mycroft with her knowledge of Sherlock’s involvement but it requires her admitting her own part in a huge number of illegal activities.
Of course, Mycroft chooses not to hand her over to the authorities – it would completely ruin his plans for a cover-up of his own failings in Bond Air.
Instead, we have to ask ourselves: how did Irene end up in the hands of those furious machete wielding terrorists?
I doubt she voluntarily met up with them for coffee.
I’m going to called them “terrorists” for want of a better word as they appear to have a nasty disposition for beheading people in front of a TV camera to create terror. She has evidently upset these people, not necessarily because of information on her phone, but because of who she was and what she represented.
I am certain that after Mycroft had analysed the content on Irene’s phone he must have figured out exactly who wanted her dead and why. He would also have to hand over the information to the Intelligence agencies for analysis. I am sure the MOD leak was already known and reported before Sherlock deciphered the email code so there is nothing particularly incriminating for Mycroft about this.
Given that Irene has information potentially damaging to his career (I explain in part 2 how Irene used Sherlock's involvement to "blackmail" Mycroft), Mycroft would also want to neutralise her as soon as possible. If he actually left her unsupervised, he could not be entirely sure she would not hand herself in and expose his failings in exchange for more lenient treatment or at least some degree of protection in prison. As the saying goes, “dead men don’t talk” and there is only one guaranteed method to silence Irene permanently.
Mycroft didn’t just let Irene wander off, he handed her over to the “terrorists”.
He would not actually want to get his metaphorical hands dirty by having Irene killed with his own resources. Why perform an unsavoury deed that has the potential to be traced back to him when he could kill two birds with one stone?
I think Mycroft informed the “terrorist’s” of Irene Adler’s location. He either struck some sort of deal with them or used this as a chance to build ties with the group in order to gain trust for infiltration. Using Irene as bargaining tool with the terrorists and the terrorists as his executioners for Irene is a very neat plan, worthy of the British Government.
It is also convenient way of getting rid of Irene without arousing too much suspicion. If the Intelligence Services stumble upon the fact that Irene was covertly dispatched on Mycroft's orders then they would understandably want to know why. Even MI5/MI6 not order assassinations on none priority, low threat targets such as Irene. Thus someone would have pick up on the fact that Mycroft wanted Irene dead and started to ask uncomfortable questions.
The Intelligence Services must have had their eye on her but not wholeheartedly. Remember, she might have been one of many potential leaks in the Bond Air fiasco. However once Mycroft assures them he has retrieved the information (and lied that she did not know its value), they would not exactly be jumping to her rescue against a bunch of terrorists, particularly if Mycroft has already informed them of his plan to use Irene Adler as “gift” to gain trust.
In fact he could earn some brownie points in the eyes of the Intelligence agencies by setting up this “transaction” so that they could use their agents to infiltrate the potentially dangerous group.
To him, she would always be the Woman
I believe that Mycroft had everything tied up at the end of scandal. It was not a pretty package and it did nothing to help his blood pressure but at least he could bury this particular fiasco with Irene’s demise.
However, Sherlock once again proves that nature abhors a well laid plan by rescuing Irene.
Side Note: Travelling to Pakistan
Many fan theories have spend a lot of time trying to work out how Sherlock slipped Mycroft’s surveillance and managed to get a visa to Pakistan/Afghanistan/other Islamic country.
I don’t think he went anywhere exotic – I think Sherlock didn’t even have to leave Britain (this does not mean the terror cell is in London, there is more to the UK than London!)
For anyone who doesn’t live in the UK or read the UK papers, you might not know that we have a lot of what the Daily Mail calls “home grown terrorism”. Britain is a proud home to a large Muslim population, the vast, vast majority of whom love this country and contribute a great deal to our culture, economy and community. However on the morning of July 7th 2005 four British Islamic terrorists killed 52 commuters in London using suicide bombs. MI5 were severely criticized for not devoting more attention to “home grown terrorism”. However they rightfully stated that it is almost impossible to put the surveillance in place to deal with this kind of threat. None of the four suicide bombers had a previous history of religious extremism and they had all grown up in the UK.
The “terrorists” we see at the end of ASiB do not have to be in a different country, they could easily be a “home grown” British group. Making extremist videos dressed like the Taliban is very popular with disenfranchised, disillusioned people who are using religion as a way of venting their anger at the word.
If they wanted to vent anger why didn't the terrorist set a bomb? Probably because this is their first emergence onto the terrorism scene and they are doing a homage video to established terrorists and stating they are admire their methods. However I think this video wasn't just a homage, it was an advert to foreign sponsors.
Extremist groups in the west are often funded by larger groups in the Middle East. However they need to "prove" that they are true fundamentalists. Irene Adler has hit the international headlines. She isn't just a single woman, she is someone that people in Britain and indeed around the world will recognise.
We must also remember in many countries around the world, Irene's overt sexuality and her bisexual activities would be viewed with horror, disgust and anger.
This execution isn't about Irene Adler's phone it's about what she symbolises - an independent woman comfortable with her own sexuality, clever enough to use it in a male dominated world. This is something that extremists just can't stomach.
Thus this terrorist group would gain a great deal of praise and, dare I say, kudos for killing Irene. I think this tape was destined for somewhere in the Middle East and then the sponsor would release it there without fear.
The terrorists could be identified through the video but as I said they tend to live in very tight knit communities that do not cooperate with authorities on principal. They do not fear getting caught, probably because the people in video are the most junior members, the naive young men who thing they are being glorified. The actual heads of the organisation are not going to appear and they have no fear that the deed will be linked back to them.
So if the terrorists were in Britain why does Mycroft tell John Irene was killed in Karachi?
Mycroft tells John that Irene was captured by terrorists in Karachi because this is the official MI5/Mycroft story. Mycroft knows that John wouldn't tell this to Sherlock but he isn't about to reveal the truth to John given that he is an ordinary citizen with no clearance. He also knows that Sherlock isn't going to boast about his rescue of Irene to John.
The official story would be circulated in order to pacify other foreign intelligence agencies, plus send them on a wild goose chase. They would want to question Irene as a matter of course and Mycroft cannot allow that.
Mycroft isn't going to tell the truth to the CIA because he doesn't want their interference in his plans. These terrorists, if they were in the UK, are a new breed, highly disturbing can easily cause fear amongst the population just by releasing this tape. This is not something MI5/Mycroft wants to hit the news, they want to keep this group low profile and quietly destroy them. If the foreign intelligence agencies found out, they will have a vital piece of information that can be released to cause public fear and distrust in national security.
If the “terrorists” were indeed based in Britain, Mycroft would easily be able to provide his own surveillance on the group to ensure that Irene did in fact die according to plan. However if he had to give them Irene as a gesture of good will in order to gain their trust, I imagine they are a very difficult group to keep tabs on in the first place. They may be hard to find or identify because they are probably a brand new group. MI5 may have a vague clue as to who is involved but they have no idea of the actual hierarchy or organisation. This is why infiltrating them might be very important to Mycroft and MI5. Therefore surveillance on the group might not have been particularly good in the period leading up to Irene’s execution.
This could be the reason why Mycroft did not see Sherlock’s dramatic rescue coming. He probably had the arrogance to believe that if he couldn’t find a way to infiltrate the group before, Sherlock would not able to do anything either. Additionally I think Mycroft failed to predict Sherlock's action because he has not realised exactly how much Sherlock has been changed by his experiences in ASiB.
Mycroft only sees a criminal who has betrayed and wronged Sherlock, a criminal who has treated Sherlock like a pawn and not an equal. He logically assumes that Sherlock would hate Irene. He doesn't factor in that Sherlock might have strong feelings of either love or just kinship with Irene, nor does he factor in that John's influences has led Sherlock to be a more moral person.
I personally think the rescue is an important moral milestone in Sherlock's emotional development as a character. He consciously decides that he does not want to be responsible for someone's death (however indirectly), even if that person deserves to face the consequence of their own actions.
He is able to forgive a person who has purposely used him to blackmail his own brother. A person who made him feel as if he was liked, accepted, admired. A person who then thoroughly betrayed him.
A Twisted form of Networking
I believe that Sherlock was more successful than Mycroft because he saw these “terrorists” for what they really were: criminals. Beheading someone in this country is a crime and in order to commit a crime, even for ideological purposes, you have to start thinking like a criminal. Additionally, unlike in lawless areas of the world or states that subtly encourage extremism, funding for terror is hard to come by in this country. The “terrorists” probably also have criminal sidelines in order to fund their training, equipment, staying ahead of MI5 etc.
Sherlock is extraordinarily good at catching criminals because he understands how these people think and react. Criminals also tend to know other criminals in a twisted sort of networking scheme. It stands to reason that Sherlock’s knowledge and possibly contacts in the criminal world would give him an edge on tracking down these people. I imagine it did not take him that long to find them – possibly with the help of a national homeless network (a source of information that MI5/Mycroft do not have).
Sherlock also has the advantage in that he doesn’t care about the aftermath of his actions. He doesn’t need to play cautious in case the group get spooked and disband; he only has one goal and not a long term strategy to rid the country of terrorism.
How exactly he managed to take the place of one of the terrorists during the execution is more difficult to explain. Extremism in this country is usually confined to very tiny groups of religious zealots who all come from the same area and know each other’s mothers. They do not just let anyone off the street into their secret club. The only thing I can suggest is that Sherlock did not infiltrate the group; he probably pulled a cartoon-esque switch between himself and the real guy behind a bush/truck/skip in the nick of time and attacked everyone before they realised what had happened. Sherlock is a pretty skilled combatant in an unorthodox way. We should remember that he managed to take on the Chinese Triad and take down a CIA agent.
He’s a Pirate
So a doctor and the British Government walk into a café…and screaming fans get this:
(I do not own this picture, all hail the artist!)
Side note – I know what you did last winter…
By choosing to meet in a café, I think Mycroft is subtly telling John that he did hear his remark “we could just go to a café”, which he said to the woman who was helping Irene.
John would not realise this reference immediately. It is the kind of creeping thought that eventually works its way to front of your mind and makes you shudder. Once he does understand, I imagine it must dawn on John just how omniscient Mycroft is. As Mycroft insinuates this in an overt and yet covert way, I think it makes Mycroft’s power even more disturbing to viewers and John.
In order for Mycroft to have heard John’s comment he must have either had surveillance on Irene Adler even after she faked her death or got the information from the woman “working” for Irene. I personally think it’s both.
Side note - Big Brother is Watching You
The Battersea power station scene takes place in a part of ASiB that I haven’t chosen to analyse yet, but I may do so in the future. For now I will just say that Mycroft may have become suspicious when Sherlock received Irene Adler’s phone. He must have had covert surveillance on her after Sherlock failed to retrieve the phone.
I imagine Irene is intelligent enough to realise that just because the overt attempts to repossess her phone have stopped, Mycroft and MI5 must still have her under surveillance. There is nothing she can do about this except try to convincingly fake her death, even then it is a gamble as to whether she could fool Mycroft. She might be able to change DNA records, convince the administration and devastate Sherlock but can we be so sure she convinced Mycroft?
I think, giving her phone to Sherlock was an insurance policy in case she failed to deceived Mycroft and MI5. This sounds very counter-intuitive but think for a moment, Irene is only of interest because of her phone. Once she relinquishes her phone, she will no longer have any protection but also she will no longer need much protection. MI5 and Mycroft are interested in one particularly piece of her data not in prosecuting/punishing/extracting vengeance on Irene. By relinquishing her phone she has successfully got Mycroft off her back at least temporarily because she no longer has what he wants. Remember the contents of the camera phone are unique; Irene cannot pose an immediate threat if Sherlock has her phone. Would MI5 pull their surveillance? No, put they would no longer devote the same resources as before because she is not a priority. MI5 is subject to budge and personnel restraints like any other government agency. This would make Irene’s life much easier whilst she plays the waiting game (more on what she’s waiting for later).
As to the other people who “hate her guts” so to speak, Irene must have calculated that the vast majority of them do not have Mycroft’s mental prowess or technical resources to work out Irene didn’t actually die.
Hence by faking her death and giving Sherlock the camera phone Irene effectively buys safety from both Mycroft/MI5 and her other enemies.
So why does Mycroft not immediately confiscate the camera phone from Sherlock?
I believe Mycroft was also digging in and playing the waiting game too. He is able to keep tabs on Sherlock much better than he can on Irene. Hence he is indirectly in control of the camera phone. He doesn’t bring the phone into the MI5 head quarters and have it disarmed/blown up/uncracked because he doesn’t want word to get out that Sherlock has possession of the phone.
Firstly, at this point I believe Mycroft has faith that his brother would be able to guess the code. There is no denying that there is an inherent connection between Irene and Sherlock. Even if they don’t think exactly alike, there is a kinship and understanding between them that would make Sherlock the best person to guess the pass code. We know that Sherlock doesn’t disappoint.
Secondly, Mycroft does not what to make a big noise about having the camera phone indirectly in his possession. The CIA and goodness know what other intelligence agencies might also be after the phone. Mycroft wants to be the only one in possession of the data once Sherlock cracks the code. He does not want British Government secrets and scandals landing in the hands of the CIA. Also the data may give Mycroft leverage over the Americans if Irene has as much sensitive stuff as we are led to believe. If Mycroft /MI5 bought the phone into Thames House and had it analysed to death, I have no doubt that the CIA at least would want to muscle in on the action. I imagine the CIA can be terrible bullies when they want something. Thus it is in Mycroft’s interest to make sure the CIA believe Irene is dead, so they won’t catch and question her. He can then send them on a wild goose chase after the phone because seriously, could they have imagined that Irene would leave the phone with Mycroft’s little brother?
By leaving the camera phone with Sherlock, Mycroft ensures that he has someone who is constantly working on cracking the code, without having to pay too much attention to that conundrum himself. He just has to play the waiting game just like Irene is.
Irene is waiting for something completely different. She is confident at this point that Sherlock cannot crack her phone. As she says in the end of ASiB, the six months of letting Sherlock hack away at her demonstrates to Mycroft that her phone is indeed unhackable, even if he let the technical goons at MI5 loose on it. This is in effect Irene signalling check in her elaborate game of chess against Mycroft.
Thus, Mycroft is keeping a discrete but not too costly eye on Irene, whilst Irene is savouring her partial freedom. They are both waiting to see what Sherlock will do, and both so very confident that they know what the outcome will be – until of course, Sherlock proves that nature abhors well laid plans and knocks their chess set right off the table.
Back to Battersea power station – the woman who assists Irene, I believe is either working for Mycroft or gets captured by MI5 at some point. This might be after Irene is shipped off to the terrorists and Mycroft is doing a cleanup/debrief whereby he dissects all the threads of Irene’s game plan. The woman in question must have relayed the scene faithfully to Mycroft.
Mycroft’s subtle and yet blatantly obvious hint to John that he knows even this innocuous remark about cafes is a power play on Mycroft’s part. A firm reminder that despite the damage Irene managed to create (Sherlock must have told John later) Mycroft is still all powerful.
And Back to Speedy’s Café before the tea gets cold…
I like the scene in Speedy’s café but for a lot more than just “Sherlock wanted to be a pirate”. Mycroft demonstrates the delicate art of manipulation wonderfully in this scene.
He is the one waiting for John in the rain outside the café. The fact that Mycroft has come in person signifies how important he regards this conversation with John. He has specifically chosen a setting that is not intimidating and that John is familiar with.
He has already put John a little more at ease but also pressed the importance of his visit. In a way I think meeting in a café (You don’t smoke – I’d usually frequent cafes) makes John feel at least a little sympathetic towards Mycroft, he appears under emotional stress, and also a tiny bit guilty because John feels like their usually imbalance in power has shifted to favour him.
Then Mycroft pulls the rabbit out of his hat – he makes John picture a tiny Sherlock running around dressed as a pirate.
I believe this is all a ploy (but the information is true). Mycroft chooses to reveal this piece of information to make John feel even more empowered. He has surrendered a precious memory to John and now John is indebted to him. Mycroft has a great grasp of John’s character and knows exactly how to play his heart strings like a harp.
Now that John is both empowered but also indebted to Mycroft – the master manipulator gives him a proposition and puts the responsibility squarely in John’s hands.
John’s conscience simply doesn’t allow him to use the power he has been given to hurt Sherlock, and by extension Mycroft. He is cleverly manipulated into telling Sherlock the lie Mycroft has sold him.
So why does Mycroft want John to lie to his brother? I don’t think it is because he is ignorant of the fact that Sherlock rescued Irene. He might not have been quick enough to predict or prevent the rescue but he is intelligent enough to figure out who ruined his convenient plan.
I can think telling Sherlock about the witness protection program is a way for Mycroft to say “I know Irene is alive and we draw the line here, you are not to see her again and in exchange I will not pursue her in vengeance.”
This is why Mycroft brings up the witness protection program to signify that Irene is now safe from him because he's not going to pursue her any longer. The secrecy of the witness protection program also signals to Sherlock that Mycroft does not want Sherlock to ever see Irene again.
I think at the end Mycroft is offering Sherlock a truce, a peace treaty. He's saying "I'm not going to pursue this woman because I can see how much she means to you". Sherlock has risked his life to save Irene, Mycroft is respecting his choice. Hence the witness protection lie has nothing to do with plausibility it is to say that Irene will be safe from Mycroft as long as Sherlock doesn't see her again.
I personally also like to think of Mycroft letting Sherlock keep the phone as his way of saying“I had faith in you, brother and you didn’t let me down.” He let Sherlock spend months working on Irene’s phone because he believed in Sherlock’s prowess, and letting Sherlock keep the phone is Mycroft indicating that he is never wrong about Sherlock and that his faith in Sherlock may be tested at times but it will never cease.
Other part in this Meta Series
This is a collection of essays about all the wonderful, deep, moving and sometimes chilling characters in Sherlock.