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Peaky Blinders: Black Shirt

"One last deal to be done...And then we Peaky Blinders rest."

Those two quotes featured prominently in the promotional materials for this last season (and a pending movie!) of Peaky Blinders. They're dramatic, they're foreboding, they evoke "retirony" and emphasize the wheeling-and-dealing gangster plots that gives this show its glossy, bloody sheen.

But I would argue that these quotes, stylish as they are, are distractions from the real meat of this episode and (minor spoiler) the season as a whole: that family and love are what matter. The Shelbys matter, not Shelby Co., Ltd. Caretaking matters, not one last deal but the hard work of sticking with the people who have stuck with you.

Some of that is me getting ahead of myself. (I have seen the whole season.) But the flashiest scene in this episode—the fascist gala—underscores this tension, allowing the viewer to realize what Tommy doesn't yet understand: if you put deals above people, you wind up with nothing left.

Don't get me wrong: that gala is such a fun set-piece. Oswald Mosley demanding different footlights. Diana Mitford, his paramour and future wife, telling him he looks "absolutely terrifying, my love." The blackshirts acting like overeager evil Boy Scouts. It's like Steven Knight is saying: "Wow, imagine a politician who is more concerned with looking powerful than with doing anything good with their power. Imagine a politician's fans wearing clothing to indicate which side they're on. Just imagine how silly that is!"

But the party has other remarkable moments. I mentioned in my review of the first episode that this season has quite a few odd directorial choices. The decision to spotlight Diana Mitford as Tommy looked at her—and vice versa—evokes both the glamour days of Hollywood films and, for me at least, Twin Peaks. I think we can say that Diana Mitford is this season's Big Political Bad more than Mosley, eh?

Diana Mitford is Evil and Mean

The party also gave us the only substantial scene with poor Arthur, who is an absolute wreck. He's "rag and bone," says Tommy, and that's accurate: Paul Anderson looks just horrible. (He looks so bad that I checked his Instagram. He looks fine there. I'm pretty sure it's makeup. Or really intense Method acting.) Maybe Tommy's emotional bribery to contact Linda if Arthur stays sober will work. Maybe.

As great as the Tommy/Arthur stuff always is, I did love Johnny Dogs acting as the voice of sanity throughout that entire scene. The shirt-swapping was hilarious. His disgust at fascists, pseudo-fascists, and the whole shebang was even funnier.

That fight scene wasn't bad, either. It's obviously our latest entry in what we might term "Covid-inspired stunt fighting," since the use of silhouettes probably allowed the fighters to wear masks, but it worked. I chuckled a bit, too, when Arthur dove into the melee and promptly went down, forcing Tommy to get involved and smash a few heads to protect his brother. Arthur, getting involved in an utterly random fight. Tommy, putting "saving Arthur from himself" on his list of tasks for the evening. A typical night out for the Shelby clan.

But...wait. I'm getting distracted here. Distracted by the gorgeous clothes and mordant humor and appealing violence—all those things that make people do crazy stuff like hold Peaky Blinders themed weddings. (!)

What matters—what I'm trying and struggling to get at—is that the fascist rally/party/thing is about how those elements are distractions, just like Mosley's spotlights are meant to hide his lack of substantive, non-evil political planning. Distractions from how much help Arthur needs. Distractions from how Tommy and Lizzie's marriage is on the rocks, from Ruby's illness, from the things that really ought to matter more than one last deal.

Because, although Ruby's results were clear at first, it's obvious by the end of this episode that she is both sick and haunted. She's coughing blood and hearing voices. She's drawing what appear to be the Roma equivalent of Baba Yaga. As Magritte pointed out in a comment, this season focuses a lot on Roma spirituality. I'll be curious to see where this goes.

Meanwhile, Tommy is also...really ill? Having more PTSD flashbacks? Seizures? He vomited outside of the hospital and had an "episode" (for lack of a better word) in the bathtub. We got shots of him in the tunnels, we heard Grace's breathing. But Tommy is many years sober, so it can't be from withdrawal. What's going on?!

We don’t know yet, but Alfie Solomons might provide an answer. Alfie, still “dead,” has gotten really into opera. It reminds him of the screams of the Italian soldiers he bayoneted during WWI. This scene, which is as perfect as all Alfie/Tommy scenes, is delightfully meta, as when Alfie speaks for Steven Knight: "I need a fucking final act. Just a final act for my opera."

Last season, Steven Knight gave Alfie a brief moment of breaking the fourth wall (with PJ Harvey on the gramophone). Now, he’s letting Alfie speak for the show, and the process of creation, as a whole. If Alfie coming back to “life” is the one last deal, I’m in favor of it. If that "final act" winds up as deadly as I fear, well...we'll see.

And Now, This: The Irish Question

Alfie: "The Irish have always been difficulty. They have for about fucking 700 years...And there it is, you know, the Irish Question. How come you can remember so much about what happened 200 years ago, but you just can't remember what fucking happened last night."

It’s really not important, but I have a few things to say about this. First, this is hilarious. Second, this season is bizarrely anti-Irish. Third, the fact that I'm weirdly upset by this season's anti-Irishness is indicative of how appropriate the joke is (you can't tell from my pen-name, but I’m of Irish extraction). Fourth, this is not the first time the “Irish Question” has come up: in the fifth season, Mosley asked Tommy what he thought of the Irish Question, and Tommy said he’d never been asked it. I guess he still hasn't.

Fifth, the timeline Alfie offers here is a bit ahistorical: although the English did absolutely start colonizing Ireland in the 1100s, it's only been in the past couple decades that scholars have really pinned that date down as the start of the colonizing, rather than in the 1300s (look up the Statues of Kilkenny!) or even in the early modern era (Cromwell, etc). For more on this change to our contemporary understanding of the history of Ireland, see Thomas Bartlett's Ireland: A History (2010).

And who said TV wasn’t educational?

Distilled for the Eradication of Seemingly Incurable Sadness:

• So, Tommy is doing deals with the fascist-leaning wing of the IRA in order to facilitate a deal between the Boston Irish and the Irish Irish, all with the goal of giving Alfie Solomons an American ending to his operatic life.

• Tommy's "circle of fascism" is actually pretty accurate, and very much echoes some elements of Richard Overy's Twilight Years: Britain Between the Wars book, which I mentioned in one of the reviews from last season. Both fascism and socialism center the state; the key difference is that in fascism, the individual serves the state. In socialism, the state serves the individual. (One of these, by the way, is better than the other.)

• Ada says that, when she and Tommy were young, their dad sent them to the Garrison pub to bring back bear: "We were so little it took two of us to carry one bucket." In the previous episode, Ada said, about Arthur, "it's like a leak without a bucket." Clearly, buckets are the Symbolism of the Week.

I love this episode as much as I love the entire season, but it's so completely about setting up (and knocking down) some of this season's themes and characters that it's hard to say too much. I'm not really rating this season, but if I did, I'd give it three out of four operatic final acts.

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

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