Warning: contains major season five spoilers.
The very first image you see in Peaky Blinders season five is a lone green weed growing in a field of mud. In most dramas, that’d be a symbol of rebirth and recovery – a representation, say, of Tommy Shelby’s gradually returning conscience years after war blasted it to pieces. Peaky Blinders though, isn’t most dramas, and in the season finale, the symbol is revealed to have darker meaning. Identifying with Tommy Shelby as a fellow WWI soldier, Winston Churchill says that whenever he hears British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley MP speak, he can see “the green shoots of another war growing up around his feet.” That would make the lone green weed fascism – a regrowth yes, but of violence and not hope. Season five shows Tommy’s attempt to pull that weed up by its roots, and how deeply those roots reach through the British establishment.
From this side of WWII, viewers know that Tommy’s strategy against Mosley, fascism and the threat of another world war is doomed to fail. What we don’t yet know – and the real question of season five – is whether Tommy is doomed along with it. Will he survive his death-wish, and resist the forces both real and metaphysical that are trying to destroy him? The season’s last image is of Tommy screaming and holding a gun to his head. It prompts the same question we ask of the character every season: how’s Tommy going to get out of this one?
With the sixth and final TV season imminent (a feature film is also planned for 2023), here’s what you need to remember from last time.
Michael, Gina, the Wall Street Crash, & the takeover bid
Tommy – of course – saw it coming, but the October 1929 stock exchange crash took everyone else by surprise. Michael (who’d been banished to the US two years earlier as punishment for not warning Tommy of the ambush he thought his mum Polly was plotting with Luca Changretta that turned out to be a ruse she’d plotted with Tommy) disobeyed Tommy’s orders to cash in the Shelby Company investments and lost the family hundreds of thousands of dollars. That left Michael on Tommy’s shit list, even before the IRA told Tommy that his nephew was plotting with a Glasgow-based UVF gang to take over his empire and divvy up the spoils. Michael denied it, but Tommy never trusted him again. In season five, Tommy was plagued by dreams that a “black cat” was coming for his crown, and suspected Michael was the traitor.
Rightly, as it turned out. Tommy initially told Michael to earn back the money he’d lost through management of the Shelby Company’s coal haulage business – really a front for their new and highly lucrative trade in Chinese opium. With dollar signs in their eyes, Michael and his new, pregnant American wife Gina came up with a proposal to pay the original board members off and take over the company, expanding into Detroit, New York and Boston, home to Gina’s bootlegger family. The Americans didn’t want to deal with “an old-fashioned, back-street razor gang”, said Michael. They wanted the next generation.
Tommy rejected the proposal and fired Michael, leaving Gina and Michael to “the second option”, which was stage the coup anyway, against Tommy’s will. The battle lines have been drawn for season six.
The failed assassination of Oswald Mosley
In the House of Commons, real-life racist, anti-Semite and fascist Sir Oswald Mosley recognised Tommy Shelby’s talent for speaking as the voice of the people, and approached him to make an alliance. Mosley was launching a new political party – the British Union of Fascists – and wanted Tommy to rally his troops in the Midlands. Tommy publicly agreed to an alliance so that he could spy on Mosley’s sedition and sell his secrets to British Intelligence (as he’d also done with Communist activist Jessie Eden, whose plans Tommy sold in exchange for lucrative military contracts). Winston Churchill though, recognised that Tommy wasn’t only in it for the money; he was also motivated to stop Mosley’s gypsy and Jew-hating ideology from infecting the country.
Mosley treated Tommy like dirt throughout their dealings, humiliating his wife Lizzie when he realised he’d paid her for sex back in her nightclub hostess days, insulting his gypsy family and forcing him to hand over Peaky Blinders racetracks to Jimmy McCavern, Glasgow UVF leader. In a bid to take over Peaky Blinders territory, McCavern and his Billy Boys had planted landmines outside Tommy’s house and murdered Aberama Gold’s boxer son Bonnie. Tommy’s alliance with Mosley forced a truce between the Peaky Blinders and the Billy Boys, who teamed up on the opium supply deal. (A strategy by Tommy to get hard evidence of the connection between Mosley and the Scottish criminal gang in the form of a cheque guarantee that he could feed to his Intelligence sources.)
After a performance of Swan Lake at the Shelby house, Mosley made a rapturously received fascist speech on stage. That’s when Tommy decided to have him assassinated. Tommy broke out old PTSD-suffering army sniper Barney Thompson from his asylum and set up a plan for Thompson to shoot Mosley while on stage at a fascist rally. Aberama Gold had permission to kill Jimmy McCavern after the shooting. Tommy would then run the British Union of Fascists himself, neutering its hateful power from the top.
On the night of the rally, the assassination plot failed when Thompson was executed by a mystery gunman, Arthur Shelby was attacked (but survived) and Aberama was stabbed to death. Somebody had betrayed Tommy’s plan, but who?
Polly, Arthur, Ada and Finn
In season five, Polly was torn between her son and her nephew. Tommy let Michael back into the Shelby Company in exchange for Polly’s yes vote on the opium deal, but it didn’t lead to peace. Polly foresaw a war between the two men, in which one of them would die but she didn’t know which. That, and her upcoming marriage to Aberama Gold, prompted her to resign from her company treasurer role. With Aberama murdered three weeks before their wedding, season five left Polly alone. Tommy had promised to ‘do what he needed to do’ with Michael, but stopped short of saying he would kill Polly if she chose to side with her son.
In April 2021, acclaimed actor Helen McCrory died of cancer, leaving the Peaky Blinders cast and crew bereft, and a question mark over the future of Aunt Polly’s foundational role.
Arthur’s wife Linda started season five frustrated that he was being used by Tommy as the nominal Shelby Company director to keep MP Thomas Shelby OBE’s nose clean, but had no real power. She gave Arthur an ultimatum and left him, returning to the Quakers. After the Billy Boys killed Aberama’s son, Aberama sought revenge in Glasgow and Arthur was forced to follow him there, join the fight and bring him home.
Later, Oswald Mosley told Arthur his spies had seen Linda with a Quaker man, so Arthur beat the man half to death. Linda then turned up at Lizzie’s birthday party with a gun, ready to kill Arthur in revenge, but Polly shot her first. Linda survived the bullet, but drove away promising never to see Arthur again. After that, Arthur went on a “Fuck Linda” campaign of drinking, cocaine and violence, insisting that he was enjoying his freedom.
Ada was Tommy’s right-hand woman in the sale of Communist secrets to British Intelligence. She’d been sleeping with Intelligence agent Col. Ben Younger, and found herself pregnant by him. Younger was killed in a car bomb planted by unseen character ex-UVF mercenary Paddy Rose, leaving Ada’s biracial baby – a daughter, predicts Polly – fatherless. It’s not known who paid Rose to plant the bomb, which also killed a young local boy, but the evidence Tommy had gathered against Mosley was destroyed in the blast. It could have been Younger’s Intelligence bosses, Special Branch, Tommy’s season three enemies Section D, or the IRA.
Youngest son Finn was properly initiated into the Peaky Blinders in season five. He took a bullet in a Chinatown raid, was almost killed by an assassin, and was given control of the track betting scams. Finn got stuck in to whiskey, ‘snow’ and women, and befriended ex-footballer Billy Grade, who’d been strong-armed into the gang by Arthur to provide intel on the gang’s new football fixing racket (another attempt to restore the coffers after the stock exchange crash). Reluctant at first, Billy got into the swing (being left by his wife in the process) and in the finale, was seen reaching for the telephone when Finn accidentally let slip Tommy’s plan to “shoot the fascist”. Who was Billy calling – Michael? Section D? Special Branch? The IRA? And did they foil the assassination?
Tommy, Grace, the death wish, and Alfie Solomon
Tommy’s mental health reached its nadir in season five. Now the Labour MP for South Birmingham, married to Lizzie and raising their daughter Ruby and his and Grace’s son Charles in a grand house, he became plagued by visions of his dead first wife. Grace appeared to Tommy on multiple occasions, urging him to give up on life and join her in death. Of all the struggles Tommy fought this season, his own death-wish looked the most likely to kill him. Suicide, he learned from Uncle Charlie, was a Shelby family plague that had killed both his mother and his grandfather.
Tommy fought off other ghosts from his past by having a Times reporter who was sniffing around his Small Heath days killed. He joined forces with another ghost when it was revealed that Alfie Solomon hadn’t been killed at the end of season four, but was living in Margate and willing to help Tommy’s plan to kill anti-Semite Mosley, for the right price. Tommy self-medicated with his old friend opium (provided as part of the Peaky Blinders’ deal with supplier Brilliant Chang), but became increasingly paranoid and unpredictable as the season went on.
Tommy told himself he was spying on Mosley purely for the business opportunity, but really, he was answering a deeper instinct – one that told him to stop Mosley’s brand of evil because it was the right thing to do, not just the profitable one. After Tommy and Arthur murdered Mickey Gibbs, the barman at the Garrison Tavern (who’d been informing on the gang to its enemies and who’d facilitated the murder of Colonel Ben Younger), Tommy’s hand shook “like that hand of a normal man” – signifying that all of the trauma and emotion he’d shut down since the war were coming painfully back to the surface.
As Ada told Ben, “Perhaps at last, Tommy Shelby has actually started to believe in something.”
Peaky Blinders season six starts on Sunday the 27th of February at 9pm on BBC One in the UK.