This review contains spoilers.
The thought that all hell would break loose at Epsom racecourse looked a tantalising choice of concept for the final episode of Peaky Blinders – and so it proved in a fitting and rip-roaring finale to the second series.
Much like last week, the finale fires out of the starting gates (pun fully intended) with a stylish opening, Tommy writing a confessional letter to be sent to the New York Times in the event of his death. It does an effective job of presenting the scattered state of the Shelby clan, while showing Tommy’s anxiety about the assault on Epsom. It is a measured opening for an episode that fires on all cylinders.
Tommy’s highly orchestrated machinations pay off for the Shelbys, appearing to overcome Sabini’s bookies and outsmart him through an uneasy alliance with Tom Hardy’s Alfie Solomons. The one scene Hardy has in the finale, a dangerous battle of wits with Cillian Murphy’s Tommy, is incredibly entertaining stuff. His performance has hardly been one of restraint or nuance, but Hardy has been a great addition to the cast. Considering there are so many characters to juggle and plotlines to wrap up, the story feels streamlined and easy to follow, and that is the hallmark of a top writer in Steven Knight. Not a moment is wasted in terms of furthering the plot, establishing character or mood.
Choosing Epsom as the main setting for the episode proved to be a masterstroke. The finale is a feast of noise and visual splendour throughout, making for a great spectacle fitting for a series that consistently makes such a stylistic impact on screen. It really shows off the wonderful set design, costumes and direction that is a hallmark of the series.
A scene that sticks in the mind is the final confrontation between Major Campbell and Tommy. A packed bar clears as the tannoy announces the start of the race, leaving just Tommy and Campbell alone, both stood proudly at the bar. It is a scene that represents everything the show is about: terrific acting, great cinematography and choice of shots, and wonderful dialogue. As usual a petty need to one-up each other bubbles underneath a fervent exchange. It offers an intriguing analysis of their relationship, and lays bare the emotional scars left by Grace during the first series.
A strong theme for the episode is the sorrows suffered by the women connected to Tommy Shelby. Be it the heartbreak being suffered by May Carleton and Grace, or the objectification of Polly or Lizzy, these women get a pretty raw deal. All of them are strong characters though, and in a series you would have thought would be dominated by male actors, they make their mark considerably. It is great to see a series like Peaky Blinders give these female characters such a central role in a frantic finale.
Considering the hatred Tommy and Campbell share for each other, it was surprising that Polly would be the person to shoot Campbell. Whether he is dead or not is left ambiguous, much like the ending of the first series. Yet it would be an appropriate ending for Campbell that Polly, the woman he forced himself upon in such a disturbing fashion, should be the one to serve him his comeuppance. Polly’s line “Don’t fuck with the Peaky Blinders” has to be one of the most satisfying character moments on TV this year.
Despite the action-heavy nature of the finale, such character moments are given the appropriate space to breathe and be satisfying. Tommy’s exchanges with Campbell, Alfie Solomons and May, and Polly confronting Major Campbell are all great moments in a wonderful episode of television. The highlight for this writer though is the scene where Tommy faces certain death. Having achieved all his ambitions, he faces his execution with a mixture of bravery and regret. The scene is at odds with the rest of the episode with its quietness, and has the patience to unfurl and let Tommy enjoy what he believes to be his final cigarette. It may have been predictable he would survive, but it is handled superbly.
Kudos to everyone involved in the second series of Peaky Blinders. It gave viewers another enthralling journey into the world of the Shelbys, while continuing the brave visual direction taken in the maiden series. With several plotlines left open for further exploration in the next series, it will feel a long wait until the return of the Blinders.
Read Tom’s review of the previous episode here.
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