“The other one…” — a Sherlock theory

May 29, 2014 Sherlock (BBC), Sherlock Holmes, Steven Moffat 10

Last weekend, I finally watched the last Sherlock episode of Season 3. I loved it! So many feels… OK, if you’ve seen it you know exactly what I mean. You also know what happens at the very end of the episode, right? The thing that leaves us with a big question?

Well, I have a theory. A really way-out-there theory, except I think it fits the series as well as Moffat’s M.O.

Don’t read any further unless you’ve watched both Season 2 and Season 3.


No? Okay, then. Here goes:
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page: At the very end of “His Last Vow”, someone hijacks all the TV screens in Britain and plasters a single photo on them: Moriarty’s smirking face, with the voice-over “Did you miss me?” This causes Mycroft to abort Sherlock’s exile into a doomed undercover spying job, and bring him back to solve England’s problems yet again.
My daughter Robin came up with the theory, and it’s a good one, that Mycroft set up the Moriarty photo in order to keep Sherlock in England and out of jail. It makes sense; it’s the sort of thing Mycroft might do, and it does happen literally 4 minutes after the plane takes off (which is rather suspicious timing, if you ask me.)
But I’ve got a wilder theory, and it hangs on several points: 
  • Moriarty killing himself at the end of Season 2 doesn’t seem quite in character to me.


  • In S3E3 (“His Last Vow”), after Sherlock’s arrest, an official suggests that Mycroft is acting out of brotherly sentiment, and Mycroft retorts, “Don’t be absurd; you know what happened to the other one.” 
  • The Holmes parents seem to be quite affectionate and pretty normal, barring the mother’s formidable intelligence (also mentioned in the same S3 episode.) So why are both their sons so messed up psychologically? Both try to avoid any outward show or even inner acknowledgement of the softer emotions, like affection or compassion. Yet Mycroft has an odd compulsion to protect his younger brother.

So here’s my idea: Remember how in “Reichenbach Fall”, Moriarty created a false identity, the actor, as part of his plan to scam the world into believing that Sherlock was a fraud and there was no real Moriarty? But Sherlock (and we) knew better. And Sherlock was able to defeat Moriarty’s play to force Sherlock’s suicide by faking his own death.  

Well, what if the guy we know as Moriarty really was an actor? A very good one, of course, and one primed and well rehearsed for each situation — while the real mastermind was behind the scenes, directing the action. The actor wouldn’t have known he would die, of course; he would have been told the gun wasn’t loaded, or was loaded with blanks. Or maybe he did know, and the mastermind  knew his pressure point (sort of like Magnusson) and could force him to play the role right to the bitter end. Either way, this scenario would leave the mastermind alive at the end of Season 2, his real identity unknown. We already know from events in Season 2 that the mastermind (whether “Moriarty” or someone behind him) is a tech genius — he hacks TVs in “The Reichenbach Fall”, for example — so he’d certainly be able to pull off the incident at the end of Season 3.

So who is the real mastermind? How about a third Holmes brother? One they never talk about, because he was psychotic or a true psychopath and had to be institutionalized… but not before causing significant emotional damage to middle brother Mycroft and the younger Sherlock. Mycroft may have suffered most, both because he spend more years being tormented by the older brother, and because I suspect that’s when he began trying both to protect Sherlock and give him the tools to survive. It would explain a lot about the brothers’ relationship (see my third point above), as well as their reluctance to spend time at home. 

It would also explain Mycroft’s cryptic comment in S3E3 about “what happened to the other one” — a comment made, I would point out, in the context of a conversation about his brother Sherlock.  The implication is that there is another brother.

Of course, this theoretical older brother must have gotten out of the asylum years ago… perhaps by faking his own death. At any rate, the remaining brothers clearly think him either dead or completely out of play, because it doesn’t seem to have occurred to either Mycroft or Sherlock in Season 2 that their psychotic brother could be involved. (Obviously his name isn’t Moriarty.)

A couple of other points:
  • The guy we knew as Moriarty spent quite some time being interrogated by Mycroft and his people. He would only talk to Mycroft, and only if Mycroft gave him tidbits about Sherlock. If he was acting a part, and gathering information for a third Holmes brother — well, the theoretical older brother certainly would have known that Mycroft’s curiosity and thirst for information could be manipulated that way. And he would have wanted as much information on Sherlock as he could get, because Sherlock was probably younger than 10 when Eldest Brother was locked up. Eldest Brother doesn’t know enough about Sherlock to predict him.
  • Why would the guy we knew as “Moriarty” have played that role for so long, even to the point of being held and interrogated (and none too kindly at that)? Well,  cops and covert agents go undercover for things they believe in, or to protect something they love. It’s not out of the question that Eldest Brother found someone he could manipulate, or someone with a pressure point he could use to coerce them. Or even another psychopath, whom he could convince it would be fun.
  • If the real mastermind is a psychopathic Holmes older brother, it also explains both his brilliance and his obsession with Sherlock.
  • Food for thought: Where did Magnusson get all his information on people? Particularly on Sherlock — he had a ton of weaknesses listed for Sherlock. Could he, too, have been manipulated, his addiction for information fed by Eldest Brother?
  •  And how fortuitous that Mary Watson is an assassin. Mary will be able to take the shot that Sherlock won’t — a shot to kill his eldest brother.  (I give credit to my daughter ‘Robin’ for pointing out one!)

I’m still refining this theory. There are a number of details I need to work out. But I really think it fits both the facts as we know them from the show, and the minds behind the show itself. For instance, Steven Moffat is notorious for never really killing off major characters (and I think Moriarty certainly counts as that.) I’m told that in Doctor Who, Rory dies repeatedly – but somehow, he’s never really dead. And Moffat loves major plot twists and surprises, as anyone who watches Sherlock knows. Bringing back “Moriarty” – or the sick genius behind the “Moriarty” front — would be totally in character for Moffat.

What do you think? Am I totally out to lunch, or does this make a kind of sense? I’d love to have your thoughts.


ETA (1/05/16): Having watched the recent Sherlock special, “The Abominable Bride”, I didn’t see anything in it that contradicts my theory, and there were a few moments that could conceivably support it. I’ll have to go back and rewatch the whole series, at least from Season 2, and then watch “The Abominable Bride” again and see if I can refine or further support my theory with that episode in mind.

10 Responses to ““The other one…” — a Sherlock theory”

  1. Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic

    Wow! I think this does make a lot of sense, Lark. I love this series and they definitely have lots of twists and turns! I can’t come up with anything better than your theory. I just wish they would film this series faster.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      I’m glad you like my theory! And total agreement here about filming speed… but they have to work it around Cumberbatch’s and Freeman’s film schedules, so I guess we should be grateful they keep the show going at all.

  2. Berls

    I couldn’t read your post because I haven’t seen ANY Sherlock yet (there’s just not enough time!) but I’m glad you’re excited and liked it so much 🙂

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Definitely don’t read it until/unless you’ve seen all the episodes, because there are major spoilers. And I completely understand about not having time to watch; I’m not watching any number of shows people tell me I should try. But if you can find the time, Sherlock is really worth it! And it’s short – just 3 one-and-a-half-hour shows per season, so only 9 episodes so far. Much easier than trying to watch all of Doctor Who, for instance!

  3. Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous

    Ooh…I have no idea if it’s true, but it’s fascinating, and I would love to see another Holmes brother!

    Rats, I was totally emotional stable about this cliffhanger, feeling very patient and not at all anxious about an answer (unlike Season 2!!!!) but if I keep *thinking* about it…!