This episode was a treat. You know the discussion we have had about not caring about the case so much as the relationships that interweave through the show? Well, this one provided that in spades, all thanks to the reappearance of Mycroft Holmes, played by the lovely Rhys Ifans, who we met in the season premiere. The delicate balance that is the Holmes/Watson relationship is emphasized as a third party is introduced and lets the viewer know that while aspects of their partnership are strong, it’s still a work in progress.
The episode begins at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. In previous episodes, Holmes has made his contempt for the gatherings and the participants known, but this time, it’s different. This time, when the speaker asks a question about the craziest thoughts about their disease, Holmes blurts out that he wonders if he shouldn’t have been born in another time. The reaction of the rest of the meeting attendees indicates this is the first time they’ve ever heard from Sherlock. He goes on to say that because his senses are especially keen and we live in an age of so much distraction, cacophony, and information, drug use was his escape. He wonders if he lived in a “quieter time,” would he be an addict at all? Another addict speaks up, asking if he wants to live in ancient Greece. (Sidenote: If I’m not mistaken, isn’t cross-talk banned from AA and NA meetings?) Holmes likes modernity, so ancient times are out. Another, more familiar voice, suggests maybe he would have been more at home 200 years ago (incidentally, it’s around the time Arthur Conan Doyle was penning the original Sherlock Holmes). That voice belongs to none other than Mycroft. (Sidenote 2.0: Is it explicitly stated that family members are banned from meetings? Even if it’s an open meeting?)
This sends Sherlock into a tizzy and he flees the room, where he finds Watson waiting for him. She’s surprised to find Mycroft there. He’s asking if Sherlock was being genuine or if he was just winding them up (I think he was genuine). There’s an awkward little moment with Watson and Mycroft that’s cute and indicative of something that will be revealed later. Mycroft is in town because he’s opening a new restaurant in Tribeca and also because he has a case for Sherlock involving “an old friend.” The new restaurant location is suitably hip and he wants it to be fresh and new and blah, blah, blah. The really interesting part is the mutual friend whom Mycroft wants Sherlock to help — Nigella Mason aka Mycroft’s former fiancee and the one Sherlock slept with to reveal her true nature (in Holmes’ words a “social-climbing trollop”). Awwwkwarrd!
Over a tense early dinner, Mason reveals that after her engagement with Mycroft ended, she married and subsequently divorced a marquess (mid-level nobility between an earl and a duke). She has retained her title of marchioness, though she no longer retains her husband. In the settlement, she also retained the ownership of a stallion, Silver Blaze. She fell in love with the horse, along with her husband’s stable manager, Dalton. Though Silver Blaze can no longer race, he’s proven quite profitable as a stud. Mason charges hundreds of thousands for his “services.” The horse is stabled in Ulster, and a few nights ago, when Dalton went to give him his medication, he confronted a man trying to break into the stables. The burglar promptly shot and killed Dalton. He was chased by Dalton’s companion, but got away. The burglar left behind a bag that included a syringe full of poison for her prize stud. Mason would like Sherlock and Watson to find her lover’s killer and would-be horse poisoner. As a viewer, I would like to point out that this scene should be a master class in how to act when the primary focus isn’t on you in a scene. Sherlock’s expression during the entire conversation is priceless — a combination of petulant child and overprotective brother. His expression gets better when Mason lets it slip that Mycroft had leukemia, a fact he never told Holmes.
I am sincerely sorry for your troubles = I love you (Sherlock Holmes subtext)
Later, at the brownstone, Sherlock wonders why Watson is so stiff around his brother, but she changes the subject to Mycroft’s illness. Doesn’t he feel angry, hurt, or sad about it? No, Sherlock is just annoyed that his brother’s spiritual awakening is tied to an illness. How cliché! Mycroft chooses that time to appear in order to apologize. Though Mycroft followed the familiar narrative to a spiritual awakening, he points out that the familiarity makes it no less real. An addict is much the same, as he points out. Despite a sibling being the best option for the needed bone marrow transplant, he was stubborn. Mason helped organize the search for the donor. If they help her with this case, it will prove that the brothers have put the whole mess behind them. Or Sherlock can just pretend it’s another case. I do love that Mycroft knows exactly how to play Sherlock.
At the stables, Watson and the Holmes brothers question the local sheriff about the murder and break-in. Dalton had arrived with a friend to tend to his horse and after Dalton was shot, the owner of the stables heard the gunfire and pursued the suspect towards a treeline that opens up into a clearing. However, when the owner got to the clearing, the suspect had disappeared. Turns out the guy hid in a tree while his pursuer ran by. Luckily, the bark reveals the perpetrator’s fingerprints and the fact that the killer is missing the ring finger of his left hand. At the station, it’s discovered that the fingerprints are tied to mass murders ordered at the request of a drug cartel and carried out by an assassin named “El Mecanico.” He’s been pursued by authorities for years. Thankfully for purposes of moving the plot along, the gunman dropped his bag. The bag contains a map of the area that reveals pen impressions of the number 2501. Coincidentally, that’s the number of Mason’s suite, which means she’s a target. She subsequently gets shot at, but survives.
So why would a drug cartel want a mid-level English noblewoman dead? It all links back to Silver Blaze, of course. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the scene in which Mycroft takes over the brownstone kitchen. The subsequent dinner is gloriously awkward. I think Sherlock is trying to let Mycroft back into his life, but he’s just too suspicious, especially with the subtle awkwardness between Watson and Mycroft. There is still a bit of the sensitive, slightly overdramatic schoolboy in Sherlock. Mycroft brings it out in him in abundance. Mycroft is the calmer and dare I say it, more logical brother. The subsequent dinner is ruined when Sherlock keeps pointing out the tension in the room. Mycroft leaves in a huff and Watson reveals that YES, she slept with Mycroft in London. Big deal. Of course it’s a big deal to Sherlock.
Anyway, as the dinner scene plays out, Sherlock has figured out that the kingpin of the cartel, Joaquim, is an avid horseman and owns stables in New Jersey. One of his mares bred with Silver Blaze, producing a healthy colt, which was then subsequently sold to a stable in Long Island. It’s curious that Joaquim’s stable would sell the offspring of two prized horses, so the trio head out to Long Island to investigate. The scene is reminiscent of a family heading out to visit grandma with Sherlock in the back seat, acting as the child with too many uncomfortable questions and Watson and Mycroft as the parents who hope that if they ignore him, he’ll shut up.
At the stables, they meet Nutmeg, the offspring of two highly prized race horse, except he’s not really. The little guy wasn’t sired by Silver Blaze, Sherlock deduces from the way the horse’s hair falls. That is the reason Joaquim wanted Mason dead. She passed off another horse as Silver Blaze, cheating the drug kingpin out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The real Silver Blaze dropped dead not long after the divorce and his brother was brought in as a replacement since they were almost identical. Apparently, it’s the mare that is scrutinized in the breeding process, not the stallion. So, patriarchy extends into the horse breeding world. Awesome. Joaquim intended to poison the impostor and then kill Mason and her boyfriend because it’s really not a good idea to cheat a drug kingpin.
After this revelation the case wraps up fairly quickly. The only witness to the murder is missing his left ring finger, so he must be “El Mecanico.” They follow him and arrest him as he is about to complete his contract on the marchioness. He’s arrested, but his fingerprints don’t match those found at the scene. So he’s not El Mecanico. But wait! He somehow was able to fake his prints by chopping the hands off of a homeless man . He uses those prints when he kills, so he is the assassin. Case closed.
What is even more fascinating than the resolution of the case is the fallout over the revelation of Watson and Mycroft’s tryst. Sherlock is still acting weird and in a conversation, Sherlock reveals that he can’t put the whole deal into context. This could easily be read as jealousy, but I think it’s fear. Holmes and Watson have a very unique relationship, and I think Holmes is afraid that the intimacy and balance they have achieved will be shattered if Watson becomes more deeply involved with Mycroft. The new dynamic freaks him out a bit.
As for Mycroft, I can’t get a real fix on him. He does genuinely seem to want to repair his relationship with his brother. When he asks Watson to be his companion for the opening of his restaurant, it’s because he wants to get to know the woman who has changed his brother for the better. He hopes they can become friends as he thinks she’s an extraordinary woman (damn right she is). I can’t tell if Watson harbors any real romantic feelings for Mycroft, so I’m interested to see how this relationship develops.
The closing scene is of Mycroft and Sherlock at the restaurant as they meet with the marchioness and tell her that she is safe and that she must repay the victims she scammed. Mycroft then tells her to piss off so he can have coffee with his brother. As it’s just the two brothers now, Sherlock puts forth the terms of conversation, which include no talking about the holidays or their shared past. Mycroft accepts these terms and defers to Sherlock. What does he want to talk about now? Where does that leave them?