This review contains spoilers.
Tommy Shelby wins. That’s what happens in a Peaky Blinders finale. He spends six episodes playing dangerous games against deadly foes, and then right at the end, his strategy comes through, he steps out of the grave he’s been digging for himself, brushes off the dirt and moves up to the next level. Even when his whole family was carted off to prison, it was all part of Tommy’s scheme, because in a Peaky Blinders finale, Tommy Shelby wins.
Not this time.
This time, Tommy left the series exactly where he started – in a field holding a gun to his head, tormented by betrayal, suicidal urges and no bugger listening to him. There was no victory, only loss (of Polly, of Michael, of Aberama), and no bested enemy. Mosley was alive, nothing had changed, and nothing, as Tommy kept repeating, made sense.
That, at least, is the dull literal reading. And whatever else Peaky Blinders is, with its curses and ghosts and prophetic dreams and symbolic omens, boringly literal it ain’t. On a material level, this finale may have stopped Tommy in his tracks, but on a spiritual level, he’s going places.
Over the first four series, we watched Tommy amass godlike power and wealth. He was able to do it because the War had arrested his humanity and set him apart from ordinary mortals. Seeing as Greek myth keeps cropping up this series, we might call him a Brummie Icarus – with every series, he flew higher. Tent to narrow boat to house to mansion… it’s been a straight ascendance.
This year was Tommy’s crash down to earth, and the start of a new climb – an internal one from deity back to person. Look at what he told his brother holding out his hand after shooting Mickey dead, “Fucking hell, Arthur, shaking like the hand of a normal man.” Tommy and his conscience are coming back to life, with all the pain, fear and frustration that involves.
Mr Jones brought its own frustration. It was more a ‘part one’ than a finale. Exhilarating but unsatisfying, it left the story in the middle, unresolved and in need of a ‘part two’ that’s over a year away at the earliest. While we wait, we’ve been set some conspiracy thriller homework: who scuppered Tommy’s plan? Discuss.
The options for the man Tommy can’t defeat: football fixer Billy Grade, would-be usurpers Michael and Gina, the Chinese, the Italians, the Billy Boys, the Titanic gang, the UVF, Special Branch, British Intelligence, Section D, the Angels of Retribution, Aberama Gold, Alfie Solomons (resurrected!), Winston Churchill, Mosley, Tommy himself and, why not, Cyril the dog. Peaky Blinders is doing a ‘who shot Mr Burns?’ mystery, and between now and next series, we’re all invited to place our bets.
One long shot bet from fans paid off in the finale with the glorious return of Alfie Solomons, now living out his afterlife in the underworld/Margate (see the ‘Lethe’ floor mosaic in his house? A river of Hades is just what he crossed to come back from the dead). Tom Hardy’s such enormously good value in Peaky Blinders that making him mortal would have been a terrible waste. He’s one of only a handful of actors in this show able to draw focus from Cillian Murphy, and far too good to lose.
Sadly, Neil Maskell as Winston Churchill (the Utopia actor unrecognisable under a face-load of prosthetics) in that opening scene didn’t have Alfie’s gravitas or presence. Tommy and Churchill’s dealings go way back, but their first on-screen meeting didn’t quite come off or have the impact required after such a long courtship.
Much better were the scene in which Michael and Gina staged their coup (the family meetings this year have all been a treat), and Mosley’s chilling fascist rally. Both sequences were dramatic achievements, crammed with characters we care about, energy, action and high tension.
The rally was a particularly intense watch, even with the fore-knowledge that Sir Oswald Mosley wasn’t assassinated on the stage of the Bingley Hall in 1929. (Timelines have been shifted for the sake of drama – in real life Mosley didn’t speak at the Hall until 1934, and it was his 1931 address at Birmingham’s Rag Market that ended in clashes between stewards and anti-fascist protestors.) With a double-bill of Idles on the soundtrack and chaotic movement everywhere you looked, it was a masterful build-up that was stopped prematurely short. Last series’ finale ran out of plot ten minutes before the end; this one could have done with taking up the extra.
It was a heady, chaotic series, with multiplying plotlines and more enemies than we could count, in total contrast to the neat, simplified threat of Luca Changretta and his men in series four. This run both started and ended with Tommy in crisis, overruled and facing usurpation – but at some point in between, he changed. Tommy Shelby’s conscience blinked back to life and made him want to choose good over greed. Whatever next?
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, The Shock, here.