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Peaky Blinders: Season Three, Episode Three

“During a period of grieving some things were allowed to slip.”

Peaky Blinders has to walk a fine line: portraying violent, power-hungry men in a way that engenders empathy but doesn’t efface the horrifying nature of their actions. Or maybe that’s not the show’s fine line to walk. Maybe it’s mine.

The trend of PB-inspired haircuts in Britain bothers me, because the same haircut came to brief prominence in the U.S. with the fascist alt-right rally (and the murder of Heather Heyer) in Charlottesville in 2017. The way the show luxuriates in carnal violence bothers me as my country grapples, yet again, with systematic violence. The focus on male pain bothers me as our president encourages his followers to chant “Lock her up!” about the Michigan governor, whose kidnapping was plotted by yet another faction of the alt-right. The tradition of “Bad Fans,” a term created to describe the people who wanted to be Walter White/Heisenberg, troubles me—because I worry this show’s fans are often just as bad. And because I worry I might be one of them.

That is all a very academic way of saying that I feel guilty about how much I love this show. All those Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez movies from my formative years instilled a deep passion for cinematic violence. I just like it when things get bloody. But I worry that reviewing this show, writing about how well done it is, makes it seem like I’m advocating for violence in real life (which, so we’re clear, I abhor) when I simply enjoy the stylized violence of the completely fictional worlds I encounter on my television screen.

And part of the reason I love the violence of this show, from the sparks flying in the background of every Birmingham factory to the Shelby boys shooting off guns in the backyard of Tommy’s mansion, is that it’s all rooted in Cillian Murphy’s deeply charismatic pain.

Prior to Peaky Blinders, Cillian Murphy didn’t do much for me. I thought his character was rather blah (intentionally so) in Inception, and I’d completely forgotten he was in Nolan’s Batman movies. But it’s a testament to his acting ability that Tommy Shelby makes me want to don a duster and a newsboy cap in solidarity.

That doesn’t mean that I—or any of the characters on the show—think he’s doing a good job managing his life right now. He spends all night outside, staring into moody fires. He spends his days throwing small tantrums and giving orders, but forgets to remember he’s giving orders to people, not automata. It’s no surprise that those people are therefore jockeying for status among themselves. Their welfare depends on Tommy’s whims, and that means his mood swings throws everything into a tizzy. And that’s on top of all the struggles he had before Grace’s murder. (Let’s never forget Lizzy telling us that all the girls in the office think Tommy’s going crazy—and that she said that in the first episode of this season.)

The Shelby men seem to struggle the most. Michael’s shooting lessons were all macho posturing, and it looks like there may be a showdown among the illegitimate and legitimate businessmen of the Shelby Co. in the future. But there may be some tension between the brothers, too. Michael and Arthur were very uncomfortable with killing their former teacher. It was a line they didn’t want to cross, even though a wife-for-a-wife vengeance plot makes a kind of poetic sense. But maybe that shows how Tommy differs from his brothers: like a despot, he punches back twice as hard and keeps punching. Arthur and Michael just want to punch back and be done with it.

Meanwhile, we finally got a bit more of Polly’s backstory. She received no education, which is both horrifying (what were her parents thinking?!) and empowering (because she is so brilliant and knowledgeable). Her flirtations with the sexy painter—who really better not be a Russian spy!—were a delightful powerplay. Polly, like Tommy, cuts to the chase in her romantic encounters, doesn’t she? I wonder if it’s because they both spend so much time talking around the other problems that arise in their lives.

Bits and Pieces

• Scene of the Week: The beautiful conversation between Tommy and his son Charlie about how they’ll deal with the loss of Grace, in the caravan. Only seconded by the adorable scene of Tommy and Charlie playing together later.

• And thirded by the scene with the Russian nobility: Tommy figuring out who the real power player was, and then handing her a napkin hinting at secrets. So scheming!

• I love the subtle way this episode portrays the emotional support work that women do, without ever calling attention to it. Polly and Ada—especially Ada—are just there. Because that is what women do in times of trauma and grief. And it may work out for Ada, too, and her possible move to Boston, America.

• Tommy’s desire for closure about the “cursed” sapphire didn’t get him very far, did it? Murphy’s face communicated so much there: he clearly didn’t believe Madame Boswell but wouldn’t do her the disrespect of calling her out for lying.

• If Michael (younger than Tommy) and Arthur (older than Tommy, right?) both had Mrs. Changretta as a schoolteacher, didn’t Tommy as well?

• Arthur’s going to be a dad! That’ll work out just fine, I’m sure.

• Sexy Painter: “The second motivation is that I am planning to seduce you eventually and, please God, sleep with you.”
Polly: “How would that please God?”
Sexy Painter: “It would please me.”

• Tommy: “I forget who I am.” That’s really the problem, isn’t it? I wonder how much it will matter as we head into the second half of this season.

Although this episode was mostly about establishing the “new normal” of life post-Grace, and filled in just a bit of the larger Russian subplot, I still have to give it:

Four out of four members of the Communist party.

And now, some Queens of the Stone Age:

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

1 comment:

  1. I remember being shocked when I first saw this one that Grace was really, truly dead. And I know what you mean about the violence. This episode really made me uncomfortable.

    Loved the bit with Polly's dress. It's like that dress represented the person she wanted to be but knows she is not. Which of course carries over to the portrait.


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