REVIEW – Peaky Blinders, S5 EP 2, ‘Black Cats’ ★★★★

Photo credit: BBC

During the height of the Roman Empire, the Emperor would have complete control over his kingdom and all of its people. He would have vast armies at his disposal and would own great swathes of land stretching from the coasts of Britain to the sands of Egypt. He was, in every sense of the word, the ruler of the Ancient World.

However, there was one caveat.

You see, as there were no democratic elections, nor would any Emperor ever dare ponder the idea of relinquishing their title, the only way for someone to take power from them was to take it by force. This made Emperors paranoid. They would constantly question the loyalty of their subjects and look for threats even where none existed.

As we saw in Monday night’s episode of Peaky Blinders, aptly titled, ‘Black Cats’, Thomas Shelby is an Emperor who fears that someone will take his power from him. But is he looking in the right place?

In my previous review, I suggested that Arthur would be the one to try and snatch Tommy’s crown from him (and still do) but now it seems that a new contender has been thrown into the ring. After Tommy receives a phone call from suspiciously concerned members of the IRA, it is revealed that, whilst traveling back from America, Michael may have been conspiring with a notorious Glasgow gang known as the ‘Billy Boys’ to overthrow him. The kingpin’s paranoia takes hold and, upon Michael’s return to Birmingham, Tommy essentially ostracizes Michael from the family. Whether guilty or not, I’m sure this is the last thing that Michael was hoping for considering he’s already fallen from Tommy’s grace twice before; once for betraying him to Luca Changretta in Season 4 and then again when he lost all the Blinder’s money on the stock market. I am absolutely certain that Michael is innocent, but you can be sure if he wasn’t family he’d be somewhere at the bottom of a river by now.

As if to add to Tommy’s paranoia and fear of losing control, we also find out that Linda and Lizzie are plotting to make some sort of move against him. Both women see that Thomas is set on a course for his own destruction and that the Shelby Empire is beginning to crumble. Linda is also still begging Arthur to assist her but it seems that Arthur is having none of it (give it time). What the power play of the two femme fatale’s will be still remains to be seen but this is a clear sign that even those closest to Tommy no longer consider him a threat.

The gradual decline in Thomas Shelby’s mental state seems to be emerging as the main focus for this season. The showrunners of the hit BBC drama have never been shy about highlighting the extent of his deteriorating psyche, but never before have we seen it leave the once suave, cool-headed anti-hero so completely vulnerable. On two occasions now, Shelby has been an inch away from taking his own life. The first incidence occurred when he held a gun to his head straight after shooting his own horse in Sunday night’s ‘Black Tuesday’ and the other occurs in this latest chapter when he dares himself to set off a landmine. It’s a sad tale of a man who has given everything to own the world but doesn’t have enough life left to live in it. It’s also a tragic reminder that no matter how great the victory, Thomas Shelby will never feel at peace.

Turning our attention now to the big bads of this season, the aforementioned “Billy Boys” are the newest moustache twirlers looking to take a slice out of Tommy’s turf. After leaving an effige of Tommy nailed to a cross outside his country estate and surrounding it with landmines (thereby almost inadvertently blowing up Tommy’s son) the anti-Catholic movement, led by Jimmy McCavern, ambush Aberama Gold and his son Bonnie whilst they camp. The latter is brutally beaten and hung on a cross similar to the one found on Tommy’s grounds. McCavern then remorselessly executes Bonnie whilst Aberama can do nothing but look on. Actor Brian Gleeson, who portrays the Scottish mob boss, brings a very blunt and aggressive attitude to the role, one that will marry up well with Tommy’s cold and calculated persona when the two inevitably come face-to-face.

The “Billy Boys” are not at all fictionalised and are in fact cemented in 20th Century British history. The organised crime group ran a large part of the east end of Glasgow between the 1920’s – 1930’s and their leader, Billy Fullerton (who Jimmy McCavern is based on) had links with Sir Oswald Mosely, the far-right leader of the British Union of Fascists.

Speaking of Oswald Mosley, the slimy, self-entitled politician approached Tommy this week asking him to make contact with an undisclosed group in Belfast. The reason for this was never discussed but we can all safely assume that Mosely will be looking to use Tommy to meet his own nefarious ends. Sam Claflin, who plays Mosley, does so like a classic Bond villain. He relishes any opportunity to act as the superior douchebag and does so with a punchability I’ve not seen in a long time.

Black Cats’, as well as introducing us to new foes, shows us just how far down the rabbit hole Tommy Shelby has fallen. His deteriorating mind is solely focused on self-preservation and the list of those he trusts is getting shorter by the episode. It will be interesting to see who will be the one to drive the knife into his back however my money is still firmly on Arthur. Et tu, brother?

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