Peaky Blinders: Season Three, Episode Two

“You chose not to listen to Mr. Apologize or Mrs. Compromise.”

You know things are bad when Arthur’s the voice of reason.

I’ve really enjoyed rewatching Peaky Blinders for review. I binged it so quickly the first time ‘round that I remember seasons, not episodes. And by the midway point of rewatching this episode I was mentally composing an opening joke about how nobody seemed to enjoy their tea, and a hilarious Princess Bride reference describing Tommy’s current debacle.*

Then Tommy gave Grace the sapphire, and I sat up straighter. This happens already? They’ve only had two episodes of married life! She gets shot now?!

Seen in that light—the 20/20 of television hindsight—this episode is one long snowball turning into an avalanche. John’s hotheaded response to the Italians, perhaps inspired by his continued affection for Lizzie. Arthur and Polly’s attempts at apologies and compromise. Tommy, still trying to hold himself above it all, playing with his son and showing him the goldfish in the horse troughs.

That incipient avalanche feels, at time, a bit over the top. The scene with John and Polly, where John’s state of mind was indicated through a few Dutch tilts, was too much. Tommy moving his chair to put his back to the Evil Priest felt like something no one would ever really do. It was stagey rather than realistic. Tommy even yelled in a library, which made me hate him a little. (Let’s not forget he also spends a scene in prison using magic to tame a vicious dog.) And the dissipated Russian aristocrats feel—and will continue to feel, throughout this season—like parodies rather than people.

Yet, although some of the direction was melodramatic, there are a lot of bad elements at play this season. The Russians are brutal, willing to do anything to protect not just their families but their entire lost way of life. (Thanks a lot, Lenin!) The so-called “Economic League” or “Section Five” is this season’s version of Campbell’s Red Right Hand: well-connected players willing to do anything to protect someone’s vision of what British and Irish life is supposed to be. Even the Italians are starting to tug on their leash. Tommy’s trapped in the middle of all of it, no matter how much time he spends at his absurdly large estate.

Now, please indulge me as I describe my behind-the-scenes thought processes perhaps more than I should: I’ve been listening to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series as audiobooks as I go on my daily sanity walks. I’ve read the series approximately one million times, but the audiobook format makes me notice different things. And the day after rewatching this episode, I was treated to a miniature speech from Eddie Dean (a gunslinger about to defeat some child-killing baddies) about despotism. I won’t quote it in full—audiobooks are terrible for finding quotes—but it boils down to one key line: a despot is someone who, if you punch them, they punch back twice as hard. And then they keep punching.

That description of despotism, right or not, describes Tommy’s approach to the Italian Issue in a nutshell. He thinks an apology is inappropriate, that John’s escalation was an appropriate action. Or, as Tommy says in response to Polly’s perfect question of why: “Because we fucking can! And because we can, we do. And if we lift our heel off their necks now, they'll just come at us.” Tommy’s aggression is motivated by fear but also by opportunity and habit.

The problem with Tommy’s decision and John’s way of putting it into action is that violence really does beget more violence, and the world of Peaky Blinders is filled with petty despots. (John slicing open Angel’s face was gruesome even though we didn’t see all the details. The sound effects were enough. More than enough.)

That despotism makes Arthur’s struggle more poignant. Neither the characters nor the show take Linda, his wife, too seriously, perhaps because she feels transplanted from a moralizing nineteenth-century novel. But she’s not wrong. Arthur, like all the Shelbys, is faced with a choice every day about whether to use their power for good (or at least, not-bad) or to maintain their brutal despotic reign over most of England. Arthur’s torn between family and morality, especially after the brutal hand-to-hand combat with the previous episode’s Faux Russian.

Tommy isn’t torn, because he still sees his violence as for his family. And, as Moss says, he “seems to enjoy the sport.”

And that brings me to Grace, Tommy’s new bride and longtime love. It’s a testament to Annabelle Wallis’s portrayal that I remembered their marriage lasting longer. Grace’s ease and chemistry with Tommy makes their relationship feel real, not idealized. They had little moments of coziness and little agendas for keeping one another happy (like how Tommy didn't let on that he knew most of her guest list already). Grace and Tommy were at the middle of their story, not the end.

That makes the end of this episode all the more tragic: Tommy’s despotism and violence bring the shooter to the gala. The sapphire the Russians gave him—one with a “Gypsy curse”—result in Grace taking the bullet. That violence makes Arthur break his vow once again. The last shot is of him about to smash a crystal bowl on someone’s head.

Random Thoughts:

• That Princess Bride joke? Here it is: “In this episode, Tommy violates the Birmingham corollaries of Vizzini’s classic rules for life: Never get involved in a land war in eastern Europe, and never go up against the Italians when love is on the line.”

• The butler’s interactions with the Russian duke were hilarious. The maĆ®tre d’s face when Tommy mentioned his name was equally funny.

• I’ve got a whole rant about the portrayal of Irish-American gangsters and lowlifes in American film and television that I won’t bother to get into here. But I can’t quite pin down the socio-political context of this BBC production’s view of Ireland in this era. Campbell was undeniably a villain, but what are we supposed to do with this Evil Priest? Does the conflict feel so distant that it’s basically an anything-goes situation in terms of modern treatment?

• So, it’s Mrs. Duchess Romanov who’s the real power here, right?

• No Curley this week, so I’ll just mention that Finn, who rarely gets to do anything, is permitted to stay in the family meeting. And he gets a little “Aha! I did it!” look.

Quotes:

• Warehouse Foreman: “I’m only doing this for the safety of my family.”

• Ada: “No, you can’t [tear a page out of this book]. It’s the property of the people.”

Three out of four bowls of caviar.And I'll let Radiohead take over from here:



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

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

I'm finding it difficult to comment about Peaky Blinders. It's so bizarre and complicated, especially the political situation, and the violence is often so shuddery that I've been watching while trying to keep some emotional distance.

That said, I found Grace getting shot after they freaking just got married to be completely unexpected. Like, what? And that cursed sapphire was so immense that it seemed impossible that it could be real.