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Peaky Blinders: Mr. Jones

“We’re shooting a fascist tonight.”

This might be my favorite episode of Peaky Blinders. That’s an odd thing to say, perhaps, since it’s basically six core scenes followed by a catastrophe and a cliffhanger. But each scene is perfect, not only as a scene but in reference to so much that has come before and, I think, so much that Steven Knight is setting up for the future.

I went back and forth, and then forth and back, on how to structure this review. And I decided to take what seems like the easy way out: not a recap (at least, summary is not my goal), but a scene-by-scene breakdown. Doing anything else feels like a disservice to the nuance (and the final bombast) of this brilliant episode of television.

To begin, though, I should emphasize that there are some throughlines at work here: the theme of listening (or not listening), the way relationships come full circle (or to an abrupt end), and the perpetual search for the “black cat” traitor that has worried Tommy since the second episode of this season.

Tommy and Churchill: That old song and dance.

There's something delightful about how Tommy opens up around men he respects, specifically men who have earned his respect but have not engendered a sense of competition. We see it twice in this episode: first, in this opening scene with Churchill, and second, with Alfie.

At the personal level, Tommy asks Churchill for advice: sometimes, he doesn't see the point of carrying on. Churchill seems to understand depression without understand how unsatisfying creature comforts can be: "A tent, then a boat, then a house, now mansion. That's something, isn't it?" But for Tommy, is it enough?

At the political level, the decision to emphasize that Churchill is opposed to Mosley, and rooting for Tommy, provides an optimistic view of English identity. Churchill is an icon of heroism, and including his seal of approval on Tommy’s very off-books mission implies that England is inherently democratic and liberal. The Chamberlains and Mosleys, the Brexiteers and UKIP, are aberrations, not the status quo. This scene underscores that Tommy is not fighting alone. He is part of a historical continuum of liberal resistance to fascism—a theme that returns during the rally scene.

In this scene, Churchill sits behind Tommy’s desk. It’s a blatant power-play, but one that seems to fit Churchill’s personality (as portrayed in this show) and Tommy’s respect for that personality.

This sets up a contrast with the next scene, though: one of the few in which Cillian Murphy does not appear. In the Small Heath offices, the singer (whose name I never remember) sits behind Finn’s desk as they plot fixing various soccer games football matches. I mentioned in a previous review that Finn sitting behind the desk was significant, and now we see Singer in charge, controlling Finn in ways Finn doesn’t seem to understand.

The scene picks up again later with Finn spilling the beans about “shooting a fascist,” and Singer picking up the phone. Tommy has been searching for a “black cat.” The Churchill scene emphasizes that, although there may be shadowy elements (“the worst men in Westminster”) in favor of Mosley, the true English establishment is in support of Tommy’s plan. The Finn/Singer scene implies that the “black cat” may be Singer. But it also raises the question: who is he calling?

The Family Meeting: "Does your ambition have no limits?"

The highlight of this scene—which is really a sequence of scenes as people wander in and out of the Garrison—is Michael's bizarrely stupid plan to take over Shelby, Ltd. What was he thinking? His proposal was so obviously doomed to failure that I can't even imagine he expected it to succeed. He even called all the veterans in the room crazy.

After this sudden but inevitable failure, Michael and Gina decide they'll have to go with "the second option," the details of which are left unclear here, but which I assume is what they wanted anyway. Are we supposed to assume that Michael is the black cat? He's been even more of a cipher than usual this season, although Gina's motives aren't exactly opaque. All that is set-up for the next season, of course.

By the end of this scene, Tommy has laid out the whole plan for Mosley's assassination. In retrospect, this was a clue about how things would end. Typically, the show withholds information about what's really going on: think of the Russian jewel heist, the bait-and-switch of Arthur's death, and so on. In this episode, we know the whole plan, which makes the utter confusion of the rally even more disturbing. Tommy is as in the dark as we usually are.

The "Black Cat": "There is no item number five."

In the next scene, Tommy and Arthur deal with "Item Four" on the family meeting agenda. The core of the scene is Tommy's apparent discovery of the black cat: Mickey, the bartender at The Garrison.

This scene is the one that made me, the first time I watched this episode, finally start paying more attention to Arthur's emotional journey. After Arthur's failed suicide attempt in the first season, Tommy gave him the Garrison pub. It was a sign of trust and affection; Tommy wanted Arthur to know he was needed, and that he had responsibilities.

Season One: How it started.

Now, that trust has morphed into dependence. All these years later, Tommy distracts Arthur from his struggles by piling on tasks. But Arthur is falling apart—it's significant not just that this scene takes place in the Garrison, but also that the "black cat" (or at least one of them) came from inside the pub. Arthur isn't a traitor, but Arthur's pub is falling apart just as much as he is.

Right before Tommy shoots Mickey, Arthur says "the ceiling will be cheaper." Arthur is telling Tommy where to shoot—fixing the ceiling will be cheaper than fixing the mirror behind the bar, for instance. But it's also yet another example of Arthur aware of just how much damage will happen to a place with great symbolism for him, and only able to possibly mitigate it, not prevent it.

Not holding hands anymore...

After Tommy shoots Mickey, Tommy realizes his own hand is shaking. I mentioned in my review of the season premiere that Tommy tends to check his hands after committing violence (or blowing up landmines). Back in the season premiere, his hand didn't shake. Now, "like a real man," Tommy experiences a side effect of violence. It's a big character moment for him, one that demonstrates how his turn towards "good intentions" come with a renewal of real emotions.

But that's Tommy centering himself and basically ignoring Arthur, who starts to beg for help: "I'm fucking sinking here. You said there's an Item Five...We could go." Arthur is begging Tommy for help—something that's hard enough to do these days, and would be nearly impossible in 1929. He even phrased it as an action-item on a meeting agenda.

But Tommy, who spent a large portion of this season complaining that other people don't listen to him, decides not to listen to Arthur. Or rather, he decides not to care: "Arthur, there is no Item Number Five. Go and check that Polly is still on our side."

Season Five: How it's going.

This is so cruel. Just mean. How hard would it be for Tommy to listen, to help? Even to make some sort of promise that they'd figure things out after the rally? Instead, he gives Arthur yet another task and walks away to Margate.

Flashfoward to the final scene of this episode, as Tommy keeps asking "Who? Who?"--who's the person who tricked him, who's the person who ruined his plans? Arthur responds: "Don't worry, brother...Talk to me.” He does what Tommy refuses to do: listen and provide support. And I don't even think Tommy notices or cares.

Margate: "If this is hell, then it looks like Margate."

After the ultimate downer of a scene, a trip to Margate—a trip to Alfie Solomons—is a nice surprise. I love every part of this scene. Alfie is pure Alfie; if I quoted all the lines I loved I'd just be quoting the entire scene.

The meat of the scene, of course, is the idea of what comes next: Alfie is living in a sort of limbo (his doorstep reads "Lethe"), but he's aware he's going to an especially brutal hell. Tommy, on the other hand, is living in his own hell, as Alfie points out.

Alfie supports Tommy's plan to kill Mosley ("Well, I hope you do a better job on him than on me...really, was your mind somewhere else?"). He's obviously not the black cat, and, like Churchill, he's become something of an ally.

Oh, look! A ship!

He's also just a great character. I'm so happy to see him, so happy he is alive. I'm also curious about precisely how wacky Alfie is. In this episode, he almost breaks the fourth wall: the modern-day music, PJ Harvey in this case, extends from the Garrison scene into the Margate scene, but ends with Alfie raises the needle on his gramophone. Of course Alfie would be listening to PJ Harvey. Just like he had a vision of Tommy shooting his horse. Alfie also claims he is now worshiped as a god in the holy land. Alfie is a gift that keeps on giving.

In the interview I've linked to before, Steven Knight talked about Traveller spirituality and Tommy's visions of Grace as "it’s a different reality. He’s in between the real world and a different one.” Tommy may be in that interstitial world sometimes. Perhaps Alfie lives there all the time.

Tommy gets the last word in this scene: "I will continue until I find a man I cannot defeat." Whether or not he defeated Alfie is a matter of debate, but this is an interesting moment of foreshadowing, since Tommy is essentially defeated (however temporarily) at the end of this episode.

Polly's Resignation: "There will be a war. One of you will die."

Hot on the heels of Alfie's visions of Tommy's past we get Polly's visions of the future: she foresees a war between Tommy and Michael (I think—the pronouns are vague) but she's not sure who will win. Polly is sick of Tommy fighting, even though he says it's the only way to make people listen.

She has picked Michael's side, and she has Aberama (and all his kin) to draw on. A new black cat, I suppose.

This is Helen McCrory's last scene as Polly Gray, which breaks my heart. I'm pretty sure that a Polly/Tommy showdown was going to be at least an element of the sixth season, and I would have loved to see it.

Charlie: "Fuck family."

After a montage of Tommy reaching out to people who don't answer the phone, he winds up at the shipyard, talking to Charlie about how Tommy's mother died. There's a depressing sense of poetic justice here: Tommy refuses to listen, but feels no one listens to him. He reaches out for help and winds up finding it with the man who's been something of a surrogate father to him (his child's namesake) or at least a voice of reason.

Charlie, it turns out, was in love with Tommy's mother, who died by suicide. Charlie worries that "these things run in families," which helps explain his support not only for Tommy but also, in an earlier episode, for Arthur. Charlie isn't running things or calling shots, but he's always there when the Shelbys need him, and he seems to see their pain more clearly than anyone else.

Charlie gives Tommy two pieces of advice: to ignore his genetic predisposition to depression (phrased here as "fuck family") and to be aware of his "Gypsy" nature—he has to move around so the grief doesn't catch up with him. The final scene of this episode, when Tommy runs into the mist, sees Grace, and seems poised to shoot himself—it's all foreshadowed here, in Charlie's advice.

The Rally: "Blah fascism blah." (I'm not typing Mosley's nonsense.)

All of that brings us to the rally scene, fifteen minutes of exhilarating chaos.

Steven Knight features two songs by the punk band Idles over the rally: "Never Fight a Man with a Perm" and "I'm Scum." According to Wikipedia, "Lyrically, the song has been described a critique of toxic masculinity and a rallying cry for men to address the dangers of toxic masculinity and what it really means to be a man. Joe Talbot, the lead singer of the band, has described the song as a critique of masculinity."

This is a wonderful choice. The music is volatile, enraged, and engaging. The lyrics are an outright rejection of fascism and nationalism in both their 1930s iteration and the post-Brexit, post-Charlottesville world we currently live in. Most importantly, featuring anti-fascist punk over a fascist, anti-Semitic rally helps the show avoid glamorizing anti-Semitism.

This music also hints at the idea that although we are still fighting the same fights, there is a continuum of resistance from Tommy's actions in this episode to our present day, both from established forms of power (like Churchill in the opening scene) to engaged individuals (we see Polly and Alfie, for instance, listening to the rally on the radio) to the pointedly non-establishment cultural resistances like punk music.

The whole rally sequence is insane, but since I've gone on long enough in this review, I want to just hit the highlights: unknown forces ruin Tommy's plans. They attack Arthur, who survives, and Aberama, who doesn't. Jessie Eden winds up aware of the general plan, which I assume will be relevant in the sixth season. Mosley takes it all in stride—he seems to have no idea what's going on.

Barney the sniper is killed. "A little man," in Mosley's view. And perhaps in Tommy's.

When Tommy is counting down the Barney's anticipated shot, he hears Grace's breathing, a recurring auditory motif of this season. Tommy tends to hear her breathing when he is contemplating death and, of course, when he is hallucinating Grace herself, pushing him towards suicide. Tommy has made clear in the past—including in this episode—that he "has no religion." Does he think he'll be reunited with Grace in an afterlife? Or that she, at least, will be something like the "Lethe" of Alfie's house, allowing Tommy to forget everything he's been through? Does he just feel like the one good thing about his life is long gone?

By the time Tommy gets home, having utterly failed in his goal, I'm not sure even he could say. He wanders off into the mist, gun to his head, and that's where Steven Knight leaves it.


I’d originally thought I’d wind up my Season Five reviews with a separate piece on what I want for each character going into the sixth and final season. But then two things happened: I ran out of time, and I realized I’m not sure what I want for the Shelbys and their buddies.

Is there actually “a man [Tommy] can’t defeat”? Or is it not a man but a “message” (as Polly describes it) that he must rally against?

What would a happy ending for Tommy even look like? For Arthur? For Ada? Do I want them to kill Michael, or do I want Michael to find some sort of redemption? Is there any possibility of hope for any of these high-octane men of violence?

I’m in the odd situation, then, of having very few expectations for the upcoming season. I want it to be satisfying, I want some closure in some form. And I hope someone finally listens to Arthur.

Four out of four agenda items.

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


  1. It really was an amazing episode. I thought the Churchill meeting was the best scene all season. I also thought at first that Alfie was a ghost, like Grace.

  2. Ghost Alfie would be awesome in a very different way.


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