two very important relationships in sherlock’s life are illustrated wonderfully with just a quick look into his mind palace. let’s look at sherlock and mycroft, and sherlock and john, and what each of them means to him and his genius.
the mayfly case is examined twice: on the night (and morning after) the stag do, and then again at the wedding. during the first instance, it’s just another case, albeit a likely hungover one, so it’s business as usual, even if it leaves sherlock flummoxed. we’ll get to that in a minute.
at the wedding, as sherlock is reviewing the information again, someone appears to him in his palace, seemingly unexpectedly.
first, let’s look at how the shot of that is done:
it’s of mycroft, towering above him in a judge’s seat, beginning to guide his little brother in the right direction in a very matter-of-fact, holier-than-thou way. he looks tense and dominating.
mycroft is standing above sherlock…
and a smaller-looking sherlock is looking up at him - and to him. looking to his brother for help. it may be a conditioned response because mycroft was likely the only one a younger sherlock could try to confide in, so his subconscious defaults to him and his genius in crisis.
as the scene with the two of them unraveled, i got a very strong impression of an older brother instructing, not guiding, his younger sibling. as a younger sibling, i remember looking up at my older siblings as they taught me things, usually cruelly or with an air of contempt, like they knew better than me, and i took it in because, well, they were older so they knew better, right? and i could all too easily picture a younger mycroft telling sherlock what to say and having him repeat it back - “what do we say about coincidences?” “the universe is rarely so lazy” - and sherlock really internalising it because his brother is the closest thing to a friend he has, even if he’s a pushy know-it-all, and he wants to impress him.
but then we see this present day, grown sherlock reject his mind’s projection of mycroft because even if mycroft was there to “help” him he doesn’t do it constructively. sherlock even hits himself, actually hits himself, to snap out of it and to find his focus. he rejects the notion that his brother, high and mighty, is still his guidance. you don’t guide someone who knows what they’re doing and is just a bit lost by leading them. they have the lead; they just need a small nudge in the right direction. you’re not in charge; they are. in this setting, mycroft is in charge. sherlock doesn’t like that and doesn’t need that from him.
so, he needed an urgent intervention from someone to get back on the rails, but when his usual sos doesn’t work, to whom does he turn?
back to the day of the case and out of the recollection of it, sherlock has a guide in his palace with him then, too. he’s physically there in the room with him and interjects and disrupts him just a bit, but his voice and self is welcomed there and sherlock interacts with him in a quiet, explanatory way. he doesn’t get the answer right away, but that person is enough to keep him calm under the pressure without adding pressure like mycroft does, which is why we see sherlock slap himself and then do this:
he chooses that person. he chooses john. he ignores an age-old default and chooses john because john keeps him calm and has kept him calm for almost four or five years. it’s like he said: john keeps him right.
remember how mycroft was looming over sherlock, making him feel small and forcing him this way and that because he thinks he knows best? that that’s how sherlock’s desperate mind internalised his brother? john doesn’t do that. when john is his guide in his mind palace he asks questions to help steer sherlock straight but he always lets him steer. he doesn’t do it himself.
so we have mycroft above sherlock in the mind palace at the wedding. but originally - and after rejecting mycroft - sherlock had john there, and where was john? not above sherlock, standing stiff and firm, but…
right by his side. hands in pockets, very relaxed, merely curious. he’s not dominating like mycroft. he’s a steady force of reassurance and someone to bounce ideas off of. mycroft, on the other hand, transforms those ideas into something and forces them on sherlock. but john will throw them back with little add-ons that sherlock can scrape off it he wants to, and he’s always ready to catch more.
we all know how vital john is to sherlock. so why would sherlock’s subconscious or sherlock himself choose mycroft over john in his mind palace? childhood conditioning? maybe. because he thinks his brother is the only one he has again? perhaps. but he’s an adult now. he’s had john for a time and john is better for him than mycroft. so why wouldn’t it automatically be john by his side, offering suggestions and trying to remember the details for him?
could it be that sherlock is trying to let john go, trying not to need him even in his mind palace? yet he comes back to him anyway because he needs john to keep him right. he needs him. needs him like he needed mycroft for years and years, except john doesn’t make him feel stupid or inferior, he makes him feel smart and in-control. when there’s an invisible man with an invisible knife, when there’s an elephant in the room, when the game is on and sherlock needs an assistant, he needs to feel smart and in-control and no one can offer him that like john watson can.
he can let go of his older brother and his superiority, but he can’t let go of john and his equality and acceptance and conductivity. and he might not believe it now, but john can’t let go of him, either.