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Peaky Blinders: Sapphire

“Not yet. Not yet.”

“I am a mortal man.”

Maybe I should give up on reviewing Peaky Blinders and switch to something just as dramatic but less deadly, like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, because I don’t know if I can handle another episode so obviously distilled out of seemingly incurable sadness.

Although PB is always, always the Tommy Shelby show, Natasha O’Keefe’s Lizzie was the stand-out character for me in this episode. She’s always been so stable compared to the other characters, especially her always-boiling husband, and Ruby was the only biological family she seemed to have.

The funeral scene broke my heart, especially when I thought "the door of that wagon won’t be big enough to fit a coffin” and then realized that it was big enough, because the coffin was so small. Lizzie went through every emotion here and throughout the episode, from rage to caretaking (especially the way she put her arm around Charles) to absolute despair (comforted only by a horse).

Many fans of the show love Tommy and Grace, and they were a romance for the ages. But, perhaps because I’m an old lady, I’m more interested in marriages that aren’t fated, love-struck, perfect matches. I’m interested in the people who form a partnership, who take care of problems together, who are there for one another even when it seems like giddy love takes a backseat to other problems and, perhaps, even other forms of love.

But Tommy outright fails as a husband here, leaving his wife alone—trusting his young son to be there for her!—and instead going on a mission of vengeance against the Travelers he blames for Ruby’s death. C’mon, Tommy.

It is keeping in character, but still quite frustrating, for Tommy to attempt to lose himself in work and vengeance. Isn’t that what this entire series is about—a man who deals with trauma by power-playing deadly games of one-upmanship or straight-up killing?

Tommy does want to be good (which makes Lizzie ask “What’s this ‘good’ you want to do?”) but he also wants to be distracted so he doesn’t, as Francis the housekeeper puts it, “shatter.” He keeps putting off a real reckoning with Lizzie and with his own grief.

For that reason, the last-minute reveal of Tommy’s tuberculoma feels as surprising as Ruby’s death (This is how Tommy dies?) and like a metaphor for grief itself. It’s the thing you didn’t notice, or the thing you chose to ignore, that will do you in.

If you’d told me, before I started watching this season, that Tommy dies of a tumor, I would have laughed. But Ruby’s death changes the game, since it feels so real and so uncontrollable. And it feels like poetry, I suppose, that the one thing Tommy can’t beat is the thing inside of himself. (I still hope it doesn’t end that way.)

Poor Arthur, poor Arthur. This episode looked, at first, like a real turning point for him. At the funeral, when Tommy asked Arthur to read the eulogy, Arthur said no. It’s the first time, I think, that Arthur has ever refused to do something for Tommy that decisively. It’s remarkable, not because it shows Arthur growing a backbone, but because it shows that Tommy has pushed Arthur to the absolute breaking point.

Arthur is usually able to push through his own misery to take care of Tommy, but now, struggling with withdrawal and Ruby’s death, he simply can’t do it. (At the end of the funeral scene, as Tommy stalks away with the wagon blazing in the background, you can catch a glimpse of Arthur collapsing in the upper-left screen.)

That rejection made the scene between Tommy and Arthur in the wine cellar all the more meaningful. In the Season Five finale, I talked about the symbolism of hand-clasping between the two brothers, from the iconic Season One shot (when Tommy gives Arthur The Garrison) to the end of the fifth season, when Arthur asks for help and Tommy just angrily gesticulates in his general direction before denying him any assistance.

Steven Knight and director Anthony Byrne return to that imagery in the cellar, as Tommy cheers Arthur up by telling him what Tommy only now seems to have realized: Arthur has always sacrificed himself for Tommy and the family. He has always let Tommy win and enabled those wins. He has always been the last man foolishly standing and fighting for the wellbeing of others, even since they were kids on the narrow boat.

I teared up a little.

This is the absolutely necessary turning point in their relationship, the moment at which Tommy sees Arthur not as a convenient co-dependent puppet but as a man who has made specific choices out of love (and not a little trauma). Tommy also realizes just how much he owes to Arthur (quite a lot), which means that, although this conversation sounded similar to previous “Buck up, brother” scenes from the past six seasons, it’s really the first time Tommy has approached the conversation as occurring between equals.

But since this is the last, deadly season of Peaky Blinders, the next time we see Arthur he’s collapsing in an alleyway with two handfuls of heroin.

Seriously, Steven Knight, can’t you leave us with a shred of hope?!

Keeping Up with the Shelby Clan

• I forgot to mention Tommy’s dinner with the fascists! They are the usual blend of buffoonery (Mosley), simpering snobbery (Mitford), nationalist-fascism (Captain Swing), and “It’s Catholicism; men do what they want and women do what they’re told” (the Kennedy stand-in).

• I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust these fascists.

• I also don’t trust Gina Grey, but neither does Tommy, so at least we’re on the same page there. Michael continues to lurk in the background like a Chekhov gun. I wonder when he’ll go off?

• Tommy has a replacement son? What…what do I say about that? Anyone have any ideas?

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

1 comment:

  1. That was quite an episode. The murders at the camp. All of the unfamiliar mournful music. The brothers in the cellar. Tommy burning Ruby's chair. The heil Hitler moment. The final scene where the backlit Tommy actually said to the doctor, "You look like death" before the doctor told he was going to die.

    That replacement son thing was so weird. I don't know how having a son he never knew existed could possibly help Tommy, but I'm sure the plotline will go somewhere.

    That actually sort of happened to me. A year before my sister's death -- she was the only sibling I grew up with -- I was contacted for the first time by four older half-siblings I had never met. I had known they existed but had no idea where they were. I did develop relationships with the four of them and it did help somewhat with my grief for my sister. Not that anyone could have ever replaced her.


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