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Peaky Blinders: Black Tuesday

"The Peaky Blinders are coming! The Peaky Blinders are coming!"

The 1929 stock market crash is probably one of the few things most Americans are taught, and bother to remember, about the economy in our history and social studies classes. As a child of the 1980s who came of age in the 1990s, I remember being shocked at how dramatically personal the crash was. Even at my mediocre and deeply conservative middle and high schools, the teachers were willing to make clear what they preferred, when discussing other historical moments, to leave opaque: People died. They died because of money.

Now, having lived through a few recessions, one of them “Great,” I’m far more cognizant of the way we are all subject to and participants in a radically inescapable capitalist labyrinth, but any reminder of the chaos of Black Tuesday still astonishes me. It was so much, so fast. And we know now exactly how long it took us to recover.

That this season begins with a title card that explains it is Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, is itself significant. Peaky Blinders has always incorporated global politics, from the Russian Revolution and Irish independence to the calls for a general strike and rise of the automobile. But those political and economic moments have always been a part of Tommy’s plan. He has managed his small corner of those events; he is not managed by them.

While Tommy did see the crash coming (of course he did!), he wasn’t able to convince Michael (acting as the Peaky Blinders attaché to America) to pull their money out. For the first time since the Great War, Tommy isn’t able to finagle his way around history. He only hears about it after the fact, when Arthur delivers a newspaper—coincidentally, right after Tommy has shot his beloved horse.

In a recent interview promoting the upcoming sixth season of the show, Steven Knight explained how important horses are for the show’s symbolic imaginary:

In series two, Tommy’s got some medicine and somebody says ‘That’s for horses’ and he says ‘I am a horse’ and in a way, he is. It’s about him wanting to escape in the way of the horse, not having the intricacies of being human but running out there, that’s what he wants... Good and bad, right and wrong seem to be blurred in Tommy’s world because he blurred them himself. He does bad things, he does wrong things. But there’s the black horse and the white horse. In other words, ultimately there is good and bad, there is right and wrong, there is life and death. They represent the idea that somewhere there is some certainty. For Tommy, that’s as close as it gets to religion.

The death of the horse and the stock market crash lead to Tommy screaming “What do I have to do to make people listen to me?” It’s a fascinating question, since this entire show is about how many people do listen to Tommy, even when they don’t know why they should (morally) or when they’re forced to do so (by order of the Peaky Blinders). Not to mention that he’s an MP!

But Tommy’s sense of powerless in this episode sets up the key tension of the season, in which Tommy seems to be subject to forces beyond his control, rather than subjecting others.

I’ll talk about British politics more in later reviews, so I’ll just mention that here, we mostly get a sense of tawdry “business as usual” for various ministers (they all seem to be former cavalry, which means Tommy hates them on principle even when they aren't pedophiles), and a quick glimpse of Oswald Mosley, who isn’t just tawdry but is also an outright fascist. Tommy is also shipping military supplies to India, which may or may not ever be relevant beyond the purpose of showing the "military-industrial complex" preceded Eisenhower's use of the term.

That’s a whole constellation of struggles: Charlie tells his father that he's "not God"; even Finn doesn’t listen to Tommy; there's Michael’s sudden but inevitable betrayal; politics are disgusting; Tommy’s plan to kill pedophiles doesn’t net as much profit as he’d hoped; fascists are coming yet Tommy’s still plotting to take down the communists; the “Angels of Retribution” are claiming they haven’t even heard of the Peaky Blinders; a journalist is coming ‘round, claiming he’s heard a lot more. Perhaps the Shelbys aren't really "flying above the rules" like Polly said.

Meanwhile, Arthur is... well, he’s Arthur. His attempt at a speech at the board meeting was, like all but one of Arthur’s speeches, absolutely hilarious cringe comedy. Lurking behind his role as the perpetually hapless clever slave is some real emotional tension, though. He tells Linda: “I know who I am, and I’m all right with it. I can live with it... I want you to be able to live with it.” But I’m not sure Linda can, and I’m not sure Arthur can, either.

His mustache lends him strength and dignity.

And Ada is pregnant. I loved the various reactions to this news: Tommy talked about how it’s 1929, for goodness sake, and nobody cares about who the father is. Arthur did a spit-take. Polly was Polly. And Colonel Younger is the father, which means not only will Ada’s baby be mixed race, but that Tommy will have a family tie to British intelligence.

Distilled for the Eradication of Seemingly Incurable Sadness:

• Tommy: “Sometimes, death is a kindness.”

• Ada: “Holy fuck, so now your business is improving the world?”

• Ada, again: “No one is gonna hang you, Tommy. You’re gonna hang yourself.”

• Polly in Monte Carlo. And then in those sunglasses. My goodness, Helen McCrory was gorgeous.

• Tommy in his glasses... not bad, either.

• I rewatched all of Peaky Blinders recently and have really fallen in love with Arthur’s hidden depth. Paul Anderson does a wonderful job of balancing despair and gleeful violence and physical comedy and emotional nuance. There’s a scene at the very end of the season—just a moment within a scene, really—that breaks my heart.

• The first time I watched this season, the only good reviews I could find were at The Guardian. The comments section was convinced, utterly convinced, that the show had only hired Anna Taylor-Joy to draw in the American audience. Newsflash to our mates across the pond: you have wildly misunderstood the American infatuation with British culture.

I have no idea how to rate this episode, which is good in all the ways Peaky Blinders is always good, but which mostly sets up stuff that comes later in the season.

So... four out of four Cyrils the dog. The horse didn't make it, but at least Alfie Solomons' dog did.

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


  1. It's been awhile since I saw this, but I remember being totally surprised by the stock market crash, maybe because I wasn't tracking the show chronologically. And I remember being happy about the dog. Not so happy about the horse, even though it was obvious symbolism about their dead fortune.

  2. What I love about S5 is Grace is back but I really hate Tommy an Lizzie that I'm almost stopped watching the show.


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