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Peaky Blinders: The Shock

You know things are bad when a Radiohead song pops up mid-episode rather than at the end. Let’s take it one step at a time: the political, the personal, and poor Arthur.

“Things might change. Maybe they already have.”

Fake news. Global elites. The heartland. The economy. America Britain First! Oswald Mosley’s speech hit all the major beats of anti-Semitic nationalism in a time of massive wealth inequality. Steven Knight obviously also wrote it with Brexit and Trump in mind, and he nailed the combination of grandeur and a pretense of victimization: Mosley rallied against “the little calculations of little men”—the “swamp” that persecutes true Britons and prevents them from achieving their inherent greatness.

I don’t want to spend too much time unpacking Mosley’s politics, because... well, we know this tune, don’t we? Some of the lyrics may change but we can all hum along.

What’s most interesting here is how Knight portrays the reactions to Mosley. Most of the ballet attendees found his speech thrilling. But Aberama hates it. Lizzie, Polly, and Tommy stood outside the tent, looking in. Oswald took over their party and made it his little rally; we, like our protagonists, could do nothing but stand and stare in shock.

Later, Lizzie tells Tommy that Mosley is evil. Lizzie also tells Tommy that she knows he (Tommy, not Mosley) wants to do good. Younger wonders if Tommy has re-discovered his belief. Ada said the same thing. I’ve mentioned in these reviews that I am not convinced by Tommy’s turn towards the good in this season, and I think Steven Knight may have realized that there just hasn’t been enough time to really trace Tommy’s personal arc bending towards justice. Lizzie and Ada aren’t just telling Tommy how he is feeling. They’re telling us.

Am I convinced? Not entirely, but perhaps that doesn’t matter: Tommy now has good intentions. So, that’s what we’re working with. I accept it, and I’ll stop complaining about how we got there.

I do want to mention one more thing, though: in his chat with Jimmy McCavern, Tommy mentions Alfie Solomons as a possible “man in the south” for Mosley. Tommy is obviously sussing out whether or not Jimmy McCavern knows Alfie is dead (he does). But this also clarifies for us that Oswald Mosley isn’t partnering with Tommy Shelby, OBE and MP. He’s partnering with Tommy Shelby, criminal mastermind.

“The consequences of good intentions.”

Having established that Tommy now has good intentions, we’re left to grapple with what that means: consequences. Colonel Younger is assassinated by... British Intelligence? Section D? Fascists, basically, operating within the government. (It goes all the way to the top!) (Oh, wait, that’s not funny. It actually did go pretty far up, back then.)

Tommy says “we are now Section D,” by which he means, I think, that he and Younger are a secret governmental organization just as much as Campbell and the Red Hand were in previous seasons. Tommy also reminds Younger that they are soldiers, and that they need to be “unafraid.” But he also resists hope (calling it wrong), and Younger’s death seems to bear that out.

I mentioned in an earlier review that this season highlights the good deeds that Tommy and Shelby, Ltd. do for children, most of which was set-up, I think, for the collateral damage of Younger’s assassination: a young boy of ten dies in the explosion. Tommy wants to fight for the little guy, the “little men” that Mosley blames, but Tommy is also aware that it’s often the little guys that get hurt. (Here, too, I’m too aware of what the show is trying to communicate; I can see the stitching in the cloth.)

That makes me wonder about the sniper, Barney, that Tommy recruits from the asylum. He’s precisely the sort of man that Mosley wouldn’t care about. But is Tommy saving him or setting him up for failure? Tommy did offer him a cyanide capsule, and Barney refused to take it, “because one day things might change.” Barney, despite being stuck in a straightjacket, trapped in an asylum, hallucinating rats... Barney still wants to live.

Tommy does not.

I think I was wrong in my previous review: Tommy hasn’t been toying with a bullet all this time. He’s been toying with that capsule. And in this episode, he started his car even though he thought it might explode. There’s some tension here: Tommy may have good intentions, but he also has a death wish. Is this a “one last good deed” kind of thing?

“It would have been a kindness.”

Poor Arthur. This episode makes clear that he really does love Linda, although it also made me wonder if they’d ever had a truly happy moment together. I’m glad Linda is okay. I’m glad she is leaving and taking their child. And I’m so sorry for Arthur, who wishes he were dead and wishes he’d really left the family to save his marriage. (This makes his speech at the end of Season Four—when he proudly and eloquently declared that he wasn’t going anywhere—incredibly poignant).

When Arthur is freaking out in the opening scene, Tommy tells Arthur he has to pull himself together because he needs him. At the same time, Polly tells Arthur that Aberama wants Arthur as his best man at their wedding. No one is addressing Arthur’s emotional needs; they’re just playing on his naturally co-dependent nature to take him out of himself. But distracting someone with tasks is not even a coping strategy, much less the support he so badly needs.

Later, when Arthur and Linda finally break up, Arthur’s body language is that of a wounded child. I was reminded of Heather’s review of the first-season episode where Arthur re-encounters his father and is swindled by him: “Art Jr. turns into a small boy again,” says Heather. Paul Anderson echoed that body language here. In defiance of Freud, Arthur married not his mother, but his father, or at least someone he could disappoint in exactly the same way he disappointed his dad.

By the end of the episode, Arthur, yelling at Jimmy McCavern, says that his Very Large Gun “is my dad! This is my dad!” Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes a machine gun is this week’s Most Obvious Symbolism. Poor Arthur.

Distilled for the Eradication of Seemingly Incurable Sadness:

• Polly casually smoking a cigarette while Linda lies bleeding on the table is peak sangfroid.

• Linda’s dress was gorgeous. I mean, all the clothes on this show are gorgeous. But that dress was extra-gorgeous.

• Tommy’s proof of a connection between McCavern and Mosley disappeared in the explosion that killed Younger.

• I forgot to mention the seven tons of flour, didn’t I? As Curley points out, though, that might not be flour.

• Although I’ve found Tommy’s shift towards anti-fascism unconvincing, I have no reservations about Arthur. “I hate fascists,” he says. “Always have done.” And for some reason—despite Arthur’s utter lack of politics, or perhaps because of it—I completely believe it.

Tommy ends this episode with a mission statement: he’s going to assassinate Oswald Mosley. I wonder how that’s going to turn out?

Four out of four swans.

Bags of flour. Or possibly, not flour.

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

1 comment:

  1. It feels at this point like every decision is a bad one. And that Arthur keeps becoming ever more unbalanced.


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