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Peaky Blinders: Season Two, Episode One

“’Til the danger passes? That’ll be the bloody day.”

Two years after the events of the Season One finale, and the Shelby gang is on the rise. Is it any surprise that this episode starts off with not just one bang, but two?

As season openers go, this one didn’t live up to the series premiere, but it didn’t need to. Whereas that episode had, as Heather pointed out, beautiful visual symmetry to enhance the charismatic cast, the second-season opener only needs to remind us where we’ve been, show us what we missed, and give us a bloody and delightful glimpse of where we’re going.

But about those bangs: woah! The gunshot we heard at the end of Season One wasn’t Campbell shooting Grace. It was Grace shooting Campbell (and good for her). What could that mean for Tommy, who pretends to have forgotten her?

The second bang is perhaps more interesting. Two women dressed in widow’s weeds push prams to the door of the Garrison and set off a bomb. It’s “Irish business,” as Tommy later described it to his brothers. A faction of Irish nationalists are working with Campbell to rope Tommy into doing their dirty work, including assassinations.

There’s a lot to unpack here—the “Irish business” seems to never quite go away, no matter how much Tommy wants to forget Grace and, presumably, Campbell himself—but I’m most interested in the way that both of those bangs are generated by women: Grace and the two Irish women.

In fact, most of the first half of this episode focuses on the challenges that the various women in Tommy’s life present. Not only Grace, but Lizzie, who wants Tommy to start being her boyfriend, not her john. She gets a compromise when he offers her a job she can do upright.

And Ada, who pushes back against Tommy’s capitalism while mourning her husband. (And how fascinating is it that she hates that he owns four Bugattis, but doesn’t seem to hate the violence he uses to get those flashy cars?) Her refusal to stay in Tommy’s territory puts her at risk, but it’s hard to blame her for wanting to get away.

Polly, too, is torn between grief (for her missing children) and her role in Tommy’s life. She wants more of a say-so in Shelby, Ltd. She worries about the consequences of Tommy’s actions. And she is, as always, willing to give Tommy more pushback than anyone else.

Except Esme, perhaps, who vacillates between identifying as a Shelby and using her outsider status as a justification for rebellion. She could be a paper-thin character, but Esme has a lot to work with in this episode: her desire to get out of the industrial wasteland of Birmingham, her fear for the consequences of expansion, her passionate marriage, her moment of sisterhood with Polly, and her strong code about not revealing secrets. A lesser show wouldn’t manage to cram that much complexity into a season. Peaky Blinders does it in a few short scenes.

Given all of Tommy’s woman troubles—some of which he doesn’t even realize are troubles yet—it’s no surprise that he needs a boy’s night in the big city. And given Tommy’s predilection for living in the “soldier’s moment,” as he described it last season, it’s not surprise that he wants an Arthur who is “fast, not slow.” That is: violent, not mellow. And violence, of course, is what we get.

As impressive as the nightclub scene was (a bit more on that below), most of the violence was all sizzle and no steak. As Tommy pointed out, there were no officers, just lieutenants. The Peaky Blinders wanted to make an impression—just as Tommy did with the racehorse in the series premiere—to set up a longer con down the line.

Where will that con take us? Sabini resents the Northern invasion and strikes back quickly. Solomon telegrammed an offer to “break bread” (which we’ll soon see is precisely how Solomon would phrase it; the man loves old-fashioned language). And Campbell is operating behind the scenes, trying to use Tommy for his own political vendettas and to curry favor with Winston Churchill.

Of all the villains in this show, Campbell is the most unnerving. But we can talk more about that in a later review.

Scene of the Week:

• The obvious choice would be the balletic fight scene at the London nightclub. But I prefer the young boy leading Tommy through the labyrinth to the meatpacking warehouse. This show’s grim urban claustrophobia is phenomenal, and its sense of bodies in space and in motion is gorgeous.

Random Thoughts:

• Halfway through this episode, I realized I really want Sunbunny to watch this show so she can give us a review composed mostly of Lion King gifs.

• Although we still have Nick Cave’s excellent “Red Right Hand” for the theme song, this episode started with a delightful gem from PJ Harvey: “To Bring You My Love,” and also had a fun remix of her “Down by the Water.” This is the music of my teenage years, so I love it. Old Millenials FTW, and you can check out the song below!

• How do you connect with the Irish nationalists who just burned down your bar? Simply wander into an Irish pub in Birmingham until an errand boy takes you to a meatpacking warehouse, and Bob’s your uncle.

• I’ve been living la vida quarantine in pajama pants, but Esme’s eyeliner and Polly’s necklaces made me think about wearing real clothes again. Don’t worry, it’s just a passing fancy.

• Ever since I decided to review this show, I realized I needed to say something very important, so I’ll say it here to get it over with: the Shelby boys all walk like they’re wearing cement deodorant.

Favorite Quotes:

• Tommy: “In these times of hunger and hardship, business is surprisingly good.” (This was my second choice for the lede quote.)

• Irene O’Donnell: “In all the world, violent men are the easiest to deal with.”

• Tommy: “"He comes in last in every race, poor boy. Poor boy if the race is important."

• Tommy: “This company is a modern enterprise and believes in equal rights for women.”

• Polly: “Your mother said, ‘It’s his cleverness that’ll kill him.’”

I’m not going to rate these episodes, since this show is almost consistently perfect and would therefore consistently earn four out of four Small Heaths. (There is one season where that’s an exception, but we’ll get there when we get there.)

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

1 comment:

  1. Ever since I decided to review this show, I realized I needed to say something very important, so I’ll say it here to get it over with: the Shelby boys all walk like they’re wearing cement deodorant. Lol.

    This one nearly waltzed over the line as far as my personal violence quotient is concerned. I'm talking about the end with the knife and the mouth, omg. But all of the plot threads with the women, fascinating.


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