Peaky Blinders: Season Three, Episode Four

“You shouldn’t have killed the stag, Tommy. Bad luck. Bad luck.”

This may be my favorite episode of Peaky Blinders. Perhaps that’s why it has taken me [checks site] nearly four months to review it.

Or perhaps what took me so long is the sheer amount of stuff that happens here. The hunt at the beginning. The women on strike. The sheer insanity of the duchess and her power over the servants. The beating. The end. These are some of the show’s most iconic moments, and they’re all crammed into 54 minutes.

Having already lost his wife, Tommy has now lost his father. The way he communicates that to his brothers is heartbreaking. These are emotional men, but not emotive, and they nearly break their badass stiff upper lip when they contemplate their father’s passing and, more importantly, all the abuse he inflicted on them. “His name dies with him.” Amen to that.

The stag, shot on Good Friday, symbolizes Jesus but also Tommy himself. Or what Tommy asks of others. Or the position that Polly puts him in. Or foreshadowing about the fate of Tommy’s plans (which Arthur calls out explicitly). Or the doomed priest (as Tommy says to the duchess.) It’s a messy symbol, in other words, and I like polysemy, so the stag makes me happy. Even as it makes me worried, since, as Curly points out, killing a stag is bad luck.

(Tommy, how many times do I have to tell you to listen to Curly?! He is never wrong.)

Polly’s actions here—if we’re going with the whole Good Friday imagery—evoke Judas, who betrayed Jesus for money. Here, Polly betrays Tommy (and his plan to kill the priest) for…what? Absolution? Revenge? Genuine religious devotion? Every word she says sounds earnest, but she also flaunts her family connections (“The name’s Shelby”), perhaps not just to get a chance at confession on one of the only days when there is no confession. Technically, the priest shouldn’t have said anything, of course. But why would Polly trust anyone in Birmingham, when everyone is on the make, including, as she knows, at least one priest?

Polly’s not the only member of Team Shelby who feels resentment. The ladies resent being asked to work while the men play in the woods, and I love every moment of the scene in the betting office. Lizzie resents being treated like a sidepiece. Polly resents being denied agency. Esme resents every part of her life. Even Arthur’s wife Linda gets a few jabs in: her role is my favorite, the way she plants the seeds of insurrection and watches them flower as the women go on strike. Do I love Linda’s oddly moral manipulations? Yes. Is their slow-mo walk iconic? Yes. Do I wish I’d seen Polly at the rally? Also yes.

But the women going on strike shows us just how tenuous Tommy’s position with his family, friends, and allies is. Back in the season premiere, before Grace’s death, Lizzie told us all the girls in the office are concerned that Tommy has gone crazy. He is putting too much trust in others to trust him as much as he trusts himself. And do any of the boys really think that this whole “one last job” thing is for real, for any of them? (And did any of you think of Ocean’s Eleven as the job got increasingly ornate?)

There was nothing of the casual, charming crime of that movie in the last quarter of this episode, though. The beating of Tommy is so insanely violent. In the previous episode, I mentioned that I was uncomfortable with both the level of violence on this show and how much I often enjoy its stylized glamor. But there was nothing arty or glossy about what they did to Tommy. It was painful to watch him treated like that. Painful to watch him barely holding himself together. Painful to watch him refuse medical treatment.

And, most painful of all was watching him never stop doing what needed to be done. With a cracked skull and internal bleeding, he still made his way to the Russians. He debased himself with the act of contrition in front of them at the priest’s bidding (although that may be an attempt to clue the Russians into just how malevolent Section D is). And he even made it all the way to Ada’s house in London to tie everything into a tidy bow.

I can see why Tommy’s gang is so loyal. He doesn’t ask any more of them than he asks of himself. But I wish he didn’t ask that of anyone, including himself. The physical agony and ego damage show Tommy at his lowest.

Like I said, Curly was right.

Four out of four polysemous stags.

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

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

(Pulling out my notes from watching PB3x4)

I so agree that Tommy was amazing in this one. I was freaking that he was doing all that with internal injuries and a fractured skull, simply because he knew he had to.

And everything with the women was just so great. Polly, you're so smart -- how could you be so stupid? Priests are people, after all.

It feels like Linda has stolen Arthur's soul and taken it to a better place, but better place or not, she still stole it.

Loved the review, Josie.

Josie Kafka said...

It feels like Linda has stolen Arthur's soul and taken it to a better place, but better place or not, she still stole it.

Beautifully said.