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Peaky Blinders: The Noose

“We’re not the Peaky Blinders unless we’re together.”

I have good news, bad news, and very sad news. But first, I want to talk about Breaking Bad.

Early in the first season of that show, nascent antihero Walter White must decide whether or not to kill someone. He makes a pro/con list, with “Judeo-Christian Morality” on the “con” side. It’s a striking example of a man realizing he is divorcing himself from traditional morality. Or, to be more precise, it’s him realizing that was never really his morality in the first place.

I would argue that Walter White didn’t become a bad man (represented in the show by the cognomen Heisenberg). He uncovered his true, Heisenbergian, self. (You can fight me on that in the comments if you want.)

But I continue to resist that same interpretation of Tommy. Even though we’ve seen him slide all the way down the ladder of decency, I don’t want to see him—to see this show—as a bad man coming into his own. I still want to believe that Tommy is, somehow, faking it. Even to himself.

However, this episode, like the previous one, makes it hard for me to hold onto the possibility of Tommy’s redemption. It’s not just that he betrayed his family. It’s the little moments, like how he treats Lizzie. Or his casual cruelty to Jessie Eden (who is real and sounds awesome and he called her sweetheart). Or the way that he outsources his son’s Christmas gifts to Lizzie. Tommy’s relationship with his son was supposed to be his saving grace, right? But he's not just pragmatic anymore. He's a dick.

There’s a bigger question here. Perhaps more than one. Am I inclined to root for Tommy’s redemption simply because of the skill of Cillian Murphy’s acting and Stephen Knight’s writing? Am I influenced by the knowledge that Knight had always promised he knew how the show would end, so I hope we're on the lowest ebb before we arc back up again? Do I wish we could get a prequel of romantic, innocent, socialist Tommy before the Great War? Is Knight messing with me, especially with Tommy’s sudden condescending dudebro mentality towards Jessie Eden, whom he’s spoken of with admiration before?

This episode—indeed, much of this season—makes it hard for me to hold onto that hope, though. Even Tommy, speaking to Michael about a Shelby Family Christmas, says “there’s nothing to go back to.”

The Good News: “Oh, my giddy heart.”

The Shelby clan got a truly last-minute reprieve in an opening sequence that was as shocking as the final scene of the previous episode. Arthur, Michael, and John shouting at each other and asking where Tommy was (and Polly, alone in a women’s prison, praying quietly) was almost too tense to bear, and it’s no surprise that each of them winds up radically altered by what Tommy has put them through.

Polly went full Dostoevsky and has become deeply attuned with the spirits. Her version of Roma Catholicism has popped up now and again. The drugs are certainly making things more vivid.

New papa Arthur has gone completely pastoral, living in an Edenic wilderness, cultivating his garden, and messing around with geese and chickens. (I love, love, love Linda’s influence on Arthur and the way she is both so scheming and yet so correct. Sometimes cars do attract ambitious men, after all.)

Michael is pretty much the same, burying his trauma in drugs and amorality. He scares me more than ever. He does seem to care about Polly, which is good, I think.

And John is living a gangster’s paradise: shooting pheasants with a pistol in a disorganized house as Esme resists making amends. I love Esme as much as I love Linda, and I think she would make an excellent star on The Real Housewives of Birmingham. She was so turned on by John carrying all that firepower. “Father Christmas,” indeed.

The Bad News: “You know what the black hand means.”

Of course, none of that lasts for long, because the sins of the past can’t be cleansed by a near-death experience. The Italians: Remember them? Remember how Tommy killed Mr. Changretta? The letters each Shelby gets, which none of them really notice at first, is such a sneaky way to build dread. It’s weirdly even more effective on rewatch, and I love how the shot of Tommy opening his mail mirrors the framing of the last shot of the previous season, with Tommy standing all alone:

Ada running around as the Shelby family simultaneously prepares for Santa (he gets cupcakes and whiskey in Britain, not cookies and milk) and prepares for war was somehow both comical and heartbreaking. We’ve seen Ada holding the family together before, and now she’s doing the emotional labor required by Tommy’s emotional abuse.

That’s not enough, of course. This episode treats Tommy’s brutal butchering of the faux assistant as a violent climax, right up until the actual violent climax of mafia gunmen hiding in a haycart and simply destroying John and Michael. How many times did they get hit? Is it even possible to survive that many gunshot wounds?

And will this be the thing that makes Tommy finally feel regret and maybe do something about it?

The Very Sad News

Helen McCrory, who will always be Aunt Polly to me, passed away in mid-April of this year of cancer. She was wonderful, and I hope she is at peace.

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

1 comment:

  1. Welcome back, Peaky Blinders reviews by Josie!

    I kept some notes from my initial watch last year. That was a lotta blood. Loved the red hand thing. And I thought, it's way past time to lose a cast member -- it's such a violent show. But two? Gasp out loud.

    RIP Helen McCrory. Aunt Polly is one of the best things about this series.


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