Peaky Blinders series 5 episode 5 review: what century is it anyway?

When it comes to politics, Peaky Blinders shows us that there’s nothing new under the sun. Spoilers ahead in our review…

This review contains spoilers.

5.5 The Shock

Never mind Barney Thomson, Polly’s a crack shot with that Derringer. She disarmed Linda with a single bullet that skirted major organs or arteries and left the victim fit to drive home the next morning. Send Pol after Mosley with a gun and she could take him out with one hand while lighting a cigarette and applying lipstick with the other. No need for big bang Wednesday. 

Peaky Blinders does love big bangs though. Fire, bullet shells and debris are all part of the aesthetic. The show’s taste for pyrotechnics reflects how, in their heads, the Shelby men never really left the battlefield.

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That subtext became text again this series as Arthur went full Scarface in the London docks attack. Ranting about being a “very capable soldier,” he unleashed his rage on the unseen enemy in a rock music frenzy of bullets and screaming that culminated in the latest airing of his sweary catchphrase.

Arthur’s salvation having driven away with a bullet wound in her arm and an Old Testament curse on her lips, it feels worrying like the end for the oldest Shelby brother. Where can he go from here? After Linda left, Arthur appeared to shrug off concern for his mortal soul and revert to spitting, prowling mad-dog type. That scene on the docks felt like a rehash of the character’s greatest hits, as if series five is gearing up to say goodbye, and not as a magic trick this time.

Speaking of fake-outs, reports of Linda’s death had been greatly exaggerated (by me, a sucker who’s never met a TV trap she didn’t giddily fall into). Some makeshift surgery in an intense five-minute scene filmed impressively as one continuous shot, and Kate Phillips’ character lived to quote scripture another day. Something says though that unlike Finn, she won’t be wearing her first bullet around her neck as a souvenir. 

Linda may have lived, but Colonel Ben Younger wasn’t as lucky. Thanks to Tommy’s extracurricular espionage, Younger fell foul of either Section D, or Special Branch, or his own employers in the Intelligence Service. Either way, he’s another Shelby paramour gone. Aberama and Gina should be worried – those two are on borrowed time.  

Section D, Special Branch, the intelligence service, the Metropolitan police, the Billy Boys, the IRA, the Chinese, the Italians, Oswald Mosley, communists, fascists, a ‘black cat’ family traitor … Series five’s rogues’ gallery is feeling like series three’s – overpopulated. How is Tommy supposed to fight ten enemies at once, especially while his own head is intent on doing him more damage than most of them put together? And how are viewers supposed to keep up? 

At least the chief baddie is easy to discern. He’s the narcissist on stage giving a different kind of pyrotechnic display. Mosley’s anti-Semitic diatribe, calling upon “hard-working men” from “the heart of England” to ignore the fake news media and take back control from the financial elite was a chilling thing to hear not just for the last century but for our own, which was obviously the point. In matters of politics and hatred, Peaky Blinders teaches that there’s nothing new under the sun.

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(Symbolically, where was the Shelby family while the establishment was licking up Mosley’s hate speech? On the outside, where they always will be.)

Sam Claflin capably walked a fine line in that performance, making Mosley’s power as a speaker clear while only just holding back the ugly, spitting devil behind his words. (See his arm outstretched a couple of times in a proto-Nazi salute.) Measure the character’s “Tommy Shelby: man of the moment” speech against the contempt he showed for his evening with “a bunch of fucking gypsies”, and it’s clear that Mosley thinks he has everybody fooled, especially Tommy. He tells Lizzie that her husband has been seduced as she once was, entirely forgetting that his night with Lizzie had nothing to do with seduction and everything to do with transaction.

Tommy’s plan for Mosley is more than a transaction; it’s a moral duty. Before he was killed, Ben quoted Ada as saying “Perhaps at last, Tommy Shelby has actually started to believe in something.” It certainly looks that way. Can Tommy’s newly awakened conscience – the one that paid for poor Peter to have the funeral of a little prince – make a bad man good? 

All that, plus a car bomb, a prison break, a cyanide capsule, an assassination plot, Ozzy Osbourne singing War Pigs, yet another betrayal, seven tonnes of opium and every gang in the country descending on Birmingham for their cut. This series simply doesn’t know how to do things small.

It’s going to be a busy finale, brother.

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, The Loop, here.

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