Photo credit: BBC
“I’m not God. Not yet.” It’s in the final stretch of last night’s episode of the hit BBC series, Peaky Blinders, that Tommy Shelby shows the true extent of his insatiable appetite for power. The sophisticated gangster has come a long way from the lowly streets of Birmingham since we first had the displeasure of meeting him way back in season 1. He’s amassed an incalculable wealth, gained through his legitimate (and illegitimate) businesses, been elected as a Labour MP (supposedly to allow him to leave his life of crime behind) and also has everyone from the east coast of America to the halls of Parliament fearing the very mention of his name.
At least, that’s everything that we thought he had prior to the season 5 debut entitled, ‘Black Tuesday’. Because now it’s all gone.
The episode picks up two years after we last saw the Blinders, on 29th October 1929; the day of the Wall Street Crash. The Shelby empire, like others who have invested in the stock exchange, suffer a major financial blow. This is in short down to Michael who, after going against Tommy’s wishes, keeps the company shares on the market long enough to be dragged under. At the same time that this is happening, we are shown the Blinders carrying out a hit on a notorious child trafficker in London. Despite being warned by Tommy not to attend, Finn Shelby accompanies the enforcers and is later non-fatally shot as a result. It is from this point on that Tommy Shelby feels like he no longer has control over those around him; his underlings are disobeying him at every turn. This is an interesting take as the gangster has always been someone who relishes control. Maybe the old ‘intimidating psychopath approach’ isn’t what it used to be.
Another interesting development hinted at in this episode revolves around a possible future conflict between Tommy and his loyal brother Arthur. Following his appointment as an MP, Tommy has given up control of his rackets to his older brother to allow him to keep his hands clean whilst he is in the public eye. This arrangement does not sit well with Arthur’s wife, Linda, as she feels that she and Arthur are being side-lined and have been given a raw deal. During a scene between the pair, Linda pleads with Arthur to take advantage of Tommy’s current financial situation however, at the moment, it seems that Arthur has no intention of betraying his own blood. I reiterate ‘at the moment’ because I for one have long wanted to see Arthur and Tommy face-off against one another. Ever since I first saw Arthur make an appearance on the show, he has always struck me as being a villain-in-waiting. Yes, he has a loyal, caring side, but he is also a murderous sociopath who acts on nothing but impulse. And after all, let’s not forget that he is the older sibling who has, for the past four seasons, taken commands from his kid brother; something that he is surely tired of by now. Is anyone else sensing a fredo-style betrayal here or is it just me?
If Tommy’s domestic life isn’t going too swimmingly following last night’s episode, then surely his newfound political life is? Well, no. Not really. You see, upon being appointed one of the highest seats in the land in an effort to escape his criminal past, Tommy has now become a hired hitman for the morally questionable lords of Westminster. It’s a classic, ‘out of the pan and into the fire’ moment. Furthermore, his allegiances to the Labour party have drawn an opposition journalist to his doorstep who is interested in delving into his criminal dealings and slandering his name. The final scene in which the ill-fated journalist visits Tommy Shelby is full of anticipation and dread. Deep down we know that the freedom writer isn’t getting out of this alive. And sure enough he doesn’t.
The show has done an excellent job in highlighting the hypocrisy of Thomas Shelby’s appointment as an MP for the Labour party. Whilst his party stands for free speech, he silences his opponents with deadly force. Whilst they promote the rights and privileges of industrial workers, he has, on more than one occasion, exploited them for his own personal gain. Tommy Shelby isn’t too dissimilar to a fascist dictator and the idea of placing him under a liberal banner just cements my theory that making him an MP for the Labour party originally started as an inside joke on the writer’s part.
The performances however remain the strongest aspect of the series. Cillian Murphy still plays Thomas Shelby like a man who is tired of the world. He expertly wears the character’s grief and pain on his person at all times like invisible shackles that are constantly pulling him down and draining the life from him. Paul Anderson was a definite standout in this episode as he continues to play Arthur as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As a viewer we always get the sense that Arthur never really belongs in the professional world (no better personified during a scene in which he outright curses during a company board meeting) and is a character who tries his best to hide who he really is under the flash suits and slick hair. The question is, how long can he keep it up? Helen McCrory is also back playing the dominant, take-no-shit Polly Gray. McCrory is always a joy to watch on screen as she blends cold and sinister with love and affection and then spits it back out at you. Any scenes involving Murphy and McCrory are also always a great watch just for the chemistry that the two actors have together.
Unlike the one at the beginning of the episode, ‘Black Tuesday’ shows that there’s still some life in the old horse yet. It’s a strong opener that throws us right back into the dysfunctional world of the Shelbys and sets up lots of intriguing plot lines that have the potential to really change the landscape of what has come before and stop the show’s formula from going stale.