Peaky Blinders: Season Two, Episode Three

Arthur: “Kids these days.”
Tommy: “They didn’t fight, so they’re different. They stay kids.”

We might as well call this one “The Ballad of The Digbeth Kid.”

This episode opens with wide-eyed children watching a violent magic lantern show as a man is garroted behind them. Entirely without dialogue, this scene epitomizes the theme of this episode: the way that the gangster mystique appeals to the young and the naive—and the way that the mystique is only a paper-thin veil hiding the brutal, deadly reality.

Digbeth Kid, with his toy gun and belt made by his sister and his mom, loves Westerns and likes to claim he’s been arrested. Pop culture in the age of mechanical reproduction has made gun violence seem appealing. Given the economic hardships of 1920s Birmingham, as well as Digbeth’s lack of literacy, it’s one small step to applying for a job with the Peaky Blinders. And from there, a few miscommunications and one gang war later, it’s no step at all to Digbeth the Kid dying in jail as a pawn in Tommy Shelby’s expansion game.

He’s not the only dead youngster this week, of course. The mother of the boy that Arthur beat to death in a boxing match in the previous episode comes to pay a visit. “He was a boy who got into a ring with an animal,” she says, “Somebody has got to stop you people.” She’s not wrong, is she? But Peaky Blinders—through characters like Campbell and the Birmingham police sergeant—suggests that those whose job should be to stop men like Tommy Shelby are, in their own way, just as bad, corrupt, and likely to get others killed.

Polly wants Michael to avoid all this. Her maternal love, and the joy she feels at getting him back, mean she wants him to avoid the fate of the Digbeth Kid and Arthur’s anonymous victim. But Polly also wants him to avoid a fate that may be, in her mind, worse than death. She wants him to avoid becoming a Shelby. Becoming a Peaky Blinder, that is, the kind of man who might live through it at the expense of innocents.

Michael has a dark streak, though. He hates his bucolic village upbringing. He can handle a shoot-out just fine. Like Digbeth, he is drawn to the glamour of violence. Unlike Digbeth, he is drawn to the reality of violence, too.

Tommy says this made it obvious that Michael is Polly’s son, but I wonder what Polly really wants. She’s comfortable with—and capable at—being a gangster, but she’s also proud of her lovely suburban mock Tudor house, complete with maid. Does she want to get out of the gangster life? Does she feel like she has no choice? Is it impossible, at some point, to imagine a totally different world for herself?

Even if Polly does want to get out, though, Michael will probably drag her back in. I should be blunt: I don’t trust the kid. Too cold. Too inclined to neg Polly. All of the times he seemed to be putting her at her ease, as when he told her she’d get used to having a maid, he also drew attention to what she’s most self-conscious about: that she is culturally of a lower class than he is, courtesy of his adoptive mother. Oh, and Michael is willing to use the word “Mum” to manipulate her into doing what he wants. What a brat.

There’s an element of dishonesty there that we don’t see with the other Shelbys, too. Tommy schemes, for sure. And he dissembles, telling the bursar at the horse auction that he’s in “imports and exports,” which is a loose interpretation of the facts.

But he’s also honest when it matters, and with people he respects or cares for, as when he tells May Fitz-Carlton “I do bad things.” He sees that she’s drawn to his gangster style, and he doesn’t beat around the bush. (I also suspect that there may have been a double meaning in their conversation about mating his filly and her stud, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.)

I wonder how May would feel about Tommy if she saw the showdown in the auction theater? If she faced the harsh reality of a gun fight and Arthur’s fists and blood everywhere? “Don’t get blood on the kid [Michael],” said Tommy. As though that’s the real problem.

Scene of the Week:

• The magic lantern show at the beginning of the episode was beautiful. It’s hard to go wrong with Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and a PJ Harvey cover of “Red Right Hand.” Oh, I think we found our song of the week, too!

• (Tommy flirting with May as Arthur does his best to put a wrench in the works was a runner-up.)

Random Thoughts:

• I love how Tommy takes people as they are. The Digbeth Kid was a holy innocent, but Tommy didn’t tease him: he admired his toy gun and let him make his own mistakes with full knowledge. Tommy’s also kind to Curly. Should he protect people like Curly and The Digbeth Kid? Why doesn’t he?

• The first time I watched this episode I had to Google the “Black Country” to see if it was a real placename or just a mean nickname. It is a real name, and according to Wikipedia the Black Country earned its name either from industrialization or the coal present there. Sounds lovely.

• The Netflix recap of this episode says “After joining London crime boss Alfie Solomons in a business venture, Tommy worries that Alfie’s newly revealed hostility could pose a problem.” Really? I mean, sure, but that’s not a very accurate summary of these 59 minutes.

• I think it’s actually more interesting that Tommy is warring with Sabini by gumming up how Sabini has rigged the races and the betting.

• Campbell has a horror of being seen as ridiculous. That he fights back against it by telling people he’s not ridiculous is, in fact, ridiculous.

• Tommy Shelby, if Curly has a bad feeling, trust the feeling. My goodness!

Quotes:

• Tommy (to Michael): “I’ll bet you’re glad to be back.”

• Tommy: “You’re young, so you think what we do is all right. It’s not all right. People get hurt.”

• Ada: “It’s men like you we’re fighting.”
Tommy: “Well, anyway. I was just passing. Thanks for the tea.”

• Charlie: “This isn’t business. This is bloody work. Cigarettes and booze is all right. But this manufactured stuff, it’s heavy. I’m not even sure it’s stolen.” (This made me chortle.)

• Tommy: “Scudboat, you and one of the boys, break a couple of windows, get yourself arrested.”
Scudboat: “Instead of breaking a window, can we pinch a car? Everybody else is getting a car. I’m still on a bloody donkey."

• Tommy [to May]: “Oh, I do bad things. But you already know that.”

I’m starting to regret my decision not to rate these episodes, since Charlie’s “teddy-bear’s fucking picnic” would make a lovely rating system. Four out of four, of course, with huge props to showrunner Steven Knight, who penned this episode and knocked it out of the park with the dialogue.



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

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

It's so sad, and not just the sad end of the innocent Digbeth Kid. Polly dreamed of finding her children again, and one is dead and the other might very well be a nightmare. Michael has accidentally fallen into what he seems to have wanted, a life of crime, and now he's using her. Wow.

I liked the way Thomas looked at what's her face and said, "I will consider you." All sorts of double entendres come to mind.