Warning: contains spoilers for Peaky Blinders season six episode 3 ‘Gold’.
Is this what it takes for Tommy Shelby to learn that he has limitations? What a cruel humbling. Cruellest of course, for Ruby – an innocent victim of being the daughter of “a character in a novel” – and for Lizzie. Natasha O’Keeffe was stunning in that final monologue, collapsed in grief and rage. The women of Peaky Blinders – Ada, Esme and Lizzie – stunned throughout this episode. Talk about gold.
Take Ada, for one. Clearly, Tommy should leave her in charge more often. Ever since she rolled a pram into the middle of the shoot-out between their gang and Billy Kimber’s and told the men to go ahead and fire but she and the baby were going nowhere, we’ve known that Sophie Rundle’s character had swagger, but we’ve never seen so much of it in one go. ‘Gold’ luxuriated in Ada Shelby, showcasing her quick mind and dry wit in a series of great scenes.
The best, bar none, was Ada vs the fascists. Her absolute composure in the face of their obscene arrogance was so enjoyable that it might have been laugh-out-loud funny had these people not been plotting genocide. The raised eyebrow, the tennis-match-fast repartee, the careful containment of her utter revulsion… Ada had their measure, and was so far from being out of her depth in that Belgravia vipers’ nest that she made them seem absurd. These vain idiots? The bickering Mosleys and giggling Gina and lolling Jack are the kingmakers pulling the strings of world order? A sobering thought. Today, as then, I suppose.
Ada’s chemistry with just-Isaiah-who-is-keen-to-learn was a separate thrill. Michael’s former pal (played by Daryl McCormack since season five, previously Jordan Bolger) has never been been so central in a scene, and McCormack didn’t waste a second of it. If Ada doesn’t have him washed and brought to her London flat by the end of the season, then she’s not as much a Shelby as she seems. Kudos, as ever, to the costume department for wrapping Rundle in outfits that made it a requirement to strut.
At the Garrison, it was a different Ada – one who shared Lizzie’s grief, and her frustration at Tommy’s god complex. It’s just like Tommy Shelby to disappear from the mortal plain to walk among sorcerers and curses at a time of most need. As Lizzie said, not a normal man. Tommy’s long ceased thinking that the rules apply to him. While Lizzie gave Ruby his kiss goodbye, he was on a mountaintop ranting like King Lear and bargaining for his daughter’s life. He would make amends, and Ruby would be well. He would build a monument to the dead gypsy girl, and Ruby would be well. He would deal with it, and Ruby would be well. We saw how that went. Of course Tommy couldn’t strike a bargain with death. It was hubris from a character not in a novel, but in a Greek tragedy.
Tommy’s scenes with Esme were beautifully made. Outside the pages of Wuthering Heights, I’ve never seen an England like it. Howling wind and drifting smoke and vast stretches of mountain stone… Esme was right about them “going to a wilder place”, they may as well have ridden those horses into another dimension. The Gothic setting, atmosphere and glides into the Romani language made Tommy’s mystical quest totally immersive. As did the fantastic Aimee-Ffion Edwards playing wily Esme, one of very few characters unafraid of Tommy Shelby. As the only Peaky Blinder to have successfully escaped, Esme has a freedom and status that we’ve only really seen from Polly before. Who else could tell Tommy Shelby MP, OBE to sit his arse down, and he’d listen?
What Tommy learned from Esme – that the cursed sapphire he’d blamed for Grace’s death was indirectly responsible for Ruby’s illness, only confirmed what he already suspected: that this was all his fault, brought on by his bad deeds. When Grace reappeared last season as a vision beckoning him towards death, she told him “It wasn’t the blue stone, Tommy, it was you.” The man’s terrified of what he is and what’s inside him. Just listen to him muttering in that X-ray machine.
Back in the earthly realm, Arthur’s trip to Liverpool Docks started out like an old favourite – the big time Peaky Blinders boys swagger into town, all rock music and attitude. It didn’t end like that though. Stephen Graham’s new character Hayden Stagg appealed to the addict inside Arthur, promising him a path to freedom that didn’t involve being locked up like an animal, and it worked. For perhaps the first time in his life, Arthur Shelby didn’t choose violence. All the Shelby men are like spooked horses who kick the crate when they’re afraid, and Stagg was Arthur’s horse whisperer. Will Stagg deliver on his promise?
Tommy couldn’t deliver on his promise to Ruby. The question now is whether or not there’s a way back for the Shelby brothers? What’s next, redemption, death, or both?
Peaky Blinders season six continues on Sunday the 20th of March at 9pm on BBC One.