For the next day in the “thirty days of Sherlock” challenge, I’m supposed to talk about my favorite minor character. Easier said than done, I’m afraid.
For some reason, I’m having a very hard time distinguishing between major and minor ones in this series. Obviously the focus of the show is on John and Sherlock, so intuitively at least, characters feel major if they are more involved in the lives and characterizations of those characters, minor if they mostly serve other plot interests. But it’s not always so straightforward. Mrs. Hudson, and in particular Sherlock’s love for and devotion to her, is a major key to understanding his heart, I think. So Mrs. Hudson feels like a key part of the show to me. But if you compare the number of substantive scenes she gets to (say) Sherlock’s sorta-kinda estranged brother Mycroft, she’s probably lose out on any metric you want to use.
So I’m going to jump the shark a bit here and talk about a character who’s definitely minor any way you slice it. I’m not sure I prefer him to Mycroft or Lestrade or Molly, but I also can’t quite make myself call them minor characters. I’m talking about the guy I affectionately call The American, from “A Scandal in Belgravia.” Specifically, the dufus holding the gun in this scene:
Belgravia is officially about Irene Adler, a dominatrx catering to Britain’s highest rungs of society who’s apparently collected a rich collection of scandalous photographs and state secrets from her clients. Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother, enlists Sherlock’s help to retrieve the photos from her. While Sherlock is at her house trying to figure out where the phone is, a gang of several Americans show up, gun-toting cowboys almost. They actually shoot out the fire alarm (John had set them off as a distraction) and try to force Sherlock to break into a safe and retrieve the camera phone where Irene has been storing the photos. It’s all very Dirty Harry and quite funny in its extremes. I still can’t hear the phrase “Vatican cameos without getting a bad case of the giggles.
Act Two avec l’American: the infamous and equally hilarious scene where the Americans attack Mrs. Hudson. I’ve shown the clip before but, again, it’s one of my favorite sequences in Belgravia, so I’ll just share it one more time:
The American suspects Sherlock has Irene’s phone, which for as-yet-undisclosed reasons they want quite badly. They’re willing to attack an innocent, older British woman because they think she knows where it is. As it turns out they’re right, but the American has no way of knowing this, nor does the audience at the time. So there’s something downright hilarious about watching Sherlock roll his eyes and knock him out with a head-butt and a can of spray paint, then throw him out a window in retribution. It’s almost a parody of how a Brit might think all Americans act. Speaking as an American who clearly has a thing for British entertainment and culture (LOTR, Harry Potter, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jane Austen, Sherlock…), it’s quite a bit of fun because it pokes at all the excesses of American politics, our hubris and overreach. And here’s this British civilian taking down one of the few American characters in such an outrageous way. Again. It works for the exact reason the Prime Minister’s speech in Love Actually always felt so gratifying, I think.
And then, as it turns out, the American is not a cowboy at all, or at least he’s one that carries a badge. He’s working with Mycroft on a special project to fill a plane with dead people, so as not to reveal the fact the British (and American?) government have cracked some terrorists’ encryption code without actually allowing them to kill a planeload of people. The American is FBI – a high enough FBI agent to be liaising with the man who Sherlock described as “he is the British government, when he’s not too busy being the Secret Service or the C.I.A. on a freelance basis.” But… he still leads gangs of men who shoot out fire alarms and beat up old ladies.
As an American, his character speaks oh so deeply to my frustrations with my own character. It’s just so overdone, seeing this character in action – something about it just leaves me grinning from ear to ear.
So that’s why the American is my favorite minor Sherlock character, at least of the ones who are undoubtedly minor and at least on days when I’ve rewatched Belgravia for the *mumbledy*-teenth time.
As a side note, Mycroft’s interactions with Sherlock here and in particular the way he reveals what should be confidential information in front of him. Wellingtonboots talks about some of these issues here. Personally, Mycroft’s actions throughout here are really only excusable for a person with his position if you think he’s treating Sherlock like a kind of quasi-agent, much as Lestrade gives him crime scene access. My personal hunch is Mycroft is trying to bring Sherlock into “the family business.” My hunch is a lot of Reichenbach relies on Sherlock doing this kind of work with Mycroft. Certainly the fact that the third series three episode is based on “His Last Vow” suggests Sherlock might be working more with Mycroft’s wing of the government. So it will be interesting to see how this all develops.