This review contains spoilers.
When Curly told Tommy it was bad luck to have killed a stag, it wasn’t just gypsy superstition talking. Stags are symbolically linked with Christ in Catholic art. It’s fitting then, for an episode framed by religious acts—Polly’s confession, Tommy’s forced act of contrition—that the beast died on Good Friday.
The Easter Sunday resurrection however, looks like it’ll belong to Tommy. Series three now having reached the traditional point at which Tommy Shelby survives a beating so brutal it’d kill any other man (with two more series confirmed, what else could happen?), we left him blind, bleeding and at death’s door.
But still swinging punches, as is the Shelby way. Before letting Ada call an ambulance, Tommy launched a desperate counter-attack on the Economic League. He told the Soviets of the plot to provoke them into an act of war, hoping to avoid sacrificial lambs being made of the Peaky Blinders.
Now he doesn’t know what to expect and neither do his enemies, which is exactly how we like it.
This was a thrillingly good episode, made up of stand-out scenes: Polly and the girls’ rock-star strut, the mad Russian, whip-smart Linda playing an expert hand… The whole thing was a tug of power away from Tommy, who was chastened and belittled by rebellious women before being beaten like a dog by devilish men.
The chastening came courtesy of Linda, whose shrewd mind Tommy recognises as a match for his own. By not letting him smoke in her house, she must be the first woman to refuse Tommy “bent over a desk” Shelby something he’s wanted in an age. Whatever lip service she paid to it being Arthur’s decision during that tea party negotiation, it’s obvious who’s in charge. To get Arthur, Tommy first needs her consent.
The picture Linda painted of a golden life in California doing the Lord’s work and swimming in the ocean left you with the unshakeable sense that Arthur is doomed. It felt like the equivalent of the young soldier daydreaming about buying back the family farm as the first shell whistles into view in a war movie. George talking about his and Lennie’s bright future as he raises the gun. Rizzo Ratso dreaming of Florida oranges on the back of that bus. Will Arthur really be allowed a Californian escape? Can his soul be saved to the point of absolute redemption?
Can any of their souls be saved, for that matter. The voice inside Polly’s head condemns her. She might have staggered into that church under the illusion of freedom, using “the name’s Shelby” as a skeleton key to open locked doors, but she went into the confessional like she was on rails. Her Catholic upbringing led her there to unload a burden her inner morality couldn’t square. You can commit a just murder and not be damned, she believes, but killing a priest will always be a sin.
It all rests on the line drawn between illegality and immorality, a theme of episode four. For all their criminality, the Shelbys are a principled lot. Or at least, like any well-written villain, they’re skilled at bending their principles to excuse their criminal behaviour. Tommy mitigated the act of killing the stag with the justification that he “treated it with respect and the spare meat will go to poor people”. Polly mitigated the act of murdering Major Campbell with the logic that he was a bad man who hurt her. The priest deserves to die because he’s evil. The factory robbery is being done for “bad people”. It’s one last job to set them up so they can finally go straight.
The loopy Duchess is right, the Shelbys break the law but obey the rules because they’re led by fear. If they were truly free, they wouldn’t need to invent justifications for what they do. She’s also right that it’s all down to class. Had he been born lord of the manor, Tommy would feel his privilege was a God-given right. Because he fought his way out of a slum and into that big house, he’ll never truly inhabit it.
And his servants, used to fulfilling the imperious whims of the aristocracy, won’t truly submit to his timid rule. Mary followed the Duchess’ instructions rather than seeking his because of “the way she said it”. It makes you wonder who else’s authority Mary would take over Tommy’s. A charming priest, for instance? After being hoodwinked by Grace in series one, perhaps Tommy’s old blindness to the threat represented by the women close to him might be back. Let’s keep a close eye on Mary.
Series three has put the Peaky Blinders in the most fascinating position yet: out of their comfort zones. Setting their story against an international background of political and social revolution (please let Polly’s pissed bullring speech be a DVD extra) only brings the simmering discontent and rebellion within their ranks all the more alive. Glorious stuff.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.