This review contains spoilers.
The Shelbys shouldn’t throw parties. Someone always ends up getting shot.
That opening showing Tommy walking head-down through factory smoke and fire-bursts made this week’s episode feel much more on-brand than the last. Thomas Shelby is back in his comfort zone, the scene announced. Coercion, intimidation and slow-motion stalking are the air he breathes. Scared? He doesn’t know the meaning of the word.
It didn’t last. By the end of the episode Tommy was back to being terrified. What a final moment that was, not only for the cliff-hanger, but for the damn style of the thing. As the camera tracked backwards from Tommy screaming for an ambulance, the wide shot was gloriously choreographed. Arthur and the boys kicking seven shades out of the Italian assassin, a statuesque Tatiana surveilling the chaos, Polly slo-mo running in that Parisian couture gown… there was violence and beauty everywhere you looked.
For years, we’ve watched Tommy make the first moves and use his considerable nous to turn doomed situations in his favour, now series three finds him on the back foot. In the pocket of eccentric Russian aristocrats, a sadistic priest (Paddy Considine playing a properly nasty bastard) and The Economic League, he’s no different to the victims the Shelbys menace into cooperation. Like that Lanchester Factory foreman, he’s just trying to protect his family from those higher up the rungs.
And his position from those lower-down. As Game Of Thrones keeps telling us, conquering is one thing, ruling is another entirely. The presence of displaced Russian aristocrats in Peaky Blinders is an ambient reminder that rulers can be deposed. Now that the Shelbys “own the city”, they’re the establishment in an age of revolution.
Having won their territory, two of the Shelby underbosses seem to have lost their taste for battle. Polly, who breathes out sense like air, and Arthur, who’s been reading his New Testament, both urged caution. Had their advice been heeded, Grace wouldn’t currently be bleeding out on a ballroom floor. “If we can, we do” proved a dangerous philosophy. ‘And if you do, so will they’, was fate’s retort.
Unless—ha!—Grace being shot was the work of the gypsy-cursed sapphire.
Only a drama with such a mythological approach to story could get away with including a plot-point straight out of a Boys’ Own Adventure story. Anywhere else on TV and you’d be laughed out of town, but the world of Peaky Blinders, with its cartoonish Russians and evil priests, is just heightened enough for it to work. Tommy’s instant panic about in the curse reinforced his paranoid state to us. Underneath his impassive composure, the man’s a mess.
Not least because, as Sgt Moss suggested, Tommy does enjoy the “sport” that precipitated the counter-attack. His two eyes-for-an-eye attitude put a bullet in the woman he loves and a crematory card under his son’s pillow.
Decidedly not enjoying the sport nowadays is Arthur, seen symbolically trying to wash the blood from his hands in one scene. Giving Arthur God is the best dramatic choice this series could have made, if only for the work it’s pushed Paul Anderson to do in the last two episodes. For all its riches, Peaky Blinders sometimes lets itself down by making its characters unnecessarily speak what’s in their head. Polly repeating “a woman of substance, a woman of class” as she admired herself in the mirror is a case in point. Helen McCrory and the rest of the leads are quite capable of revealing their characters’ inner workings without the need for handy captions. It was satisfying then, that when Arthur sat at the head of his table contemplating his “paperwork” and stirred with conflict, he didn’t breathe a word. Nor did he need to.
It’s a bleak outlook for Tommy at this point. The fate of his happy little family hangs in the balance. His charity foundation has yet to open and it’s already been infiltrated by an upper-echelons paedophile ring, he’s once more at war with the Italians, and the Russians are planning to dispose of him as soon as those tanks are in their hands. He must be feeling nostalgic for the good old days when his enemies were simply night terrors and a Daily Mail-reading Ulsterman.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.