WARNING: this review contains spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 of series 4
In episode 2 of Peaky Blinders‘ fourth series, the Shelby family face dark times. How dark? The familiar chime of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ is replaced as the theme tune, substituted for his song ‘The Mercy Seat’, which is sung from the point of view of a prisoner awaiting execution.
Some of the Shelby family escaped execution at the hand of the state at the beginning of the series, but now they have a Sicilian vendetta being waged against them and the mafia offers no last minute reprieves.
Following the delivery of Luca Changretta’s ‘black hand’ message to the Shelbys, the Italian/American gangster made good on his threat with an attack against the family leaving John Shelby (Joe Cole) dead and Aunt Polly’s son Micheal Grey (Finn Cole) seriously wounded. Tommy draws the family back together, bringing them home to the Birmingham streets where they own every cobble and know every face.
Even with a truce declared between the family, they are not at full strength. They have lost a brother, Aunt Polly is suffering the effects of a nervous breakdown, and Arthur Shelby needs more than a new haircut to show his head is back in the game. Recognising this, Tommy goes outside the family for support, enlisting the aid of Aberama Gold (Aidan Gillen). This move is not universally appreciated – Gold leads another Romany family but one that is feared in their own community for their history of stealing and cheating their own people.
Despite the action and violence, the standout scenes of this episode generate white-knuckle suspense not with flying bullets, but with words. Steven Knight writes terrific dialogue and characters that keep bringing in A-list acting talent.
In one, Gold attempts to intimidate Tommy buy trying to buy Charlie Strong’s ironworks. The situation is resolved in electrifying fashion when Tommy suggests a modest wager. Heads, Gold gets the yard. Tails, Tommy has sex with Gold’s youngest daughter. Gillen narrows his eyes and rolls all the sibilants in his dialogue like a hissing serpent about to attack. Has Tommy signed a deal with the devil?
Tommy fares less well when he comes face to face with Luca Changretta. The two men spar only verbally, but Changretta easily parries every strike and seems able to anticipate every feint. Brody goes to the full Brando here, the toothpicks he constantly chews on seem to be formed from the scenery he is chewing up. The scene ends with Tommy saying “welcome to Birmingham Mister Changretta.” The game has just begun.
If all this sounds loaded with machismo, it is more complex. While Tommy rules the Shelby family as a patriarchy, he is diminished without Aunt Polly’s support. Tommy suffers the same hot-headedness that afflicts all the Shelby brothers. He needs Polly’s cooler and more analytical point of view.
It has been distressing to see Polly suffering mental health issues, induced by her near execution, in this series – but she emerges strengthened. Helen McCrory is always a joy to watch, and one has to wonder: will we ever see Polly take control of the Peaky Blinders?
Did you tune in for Peaky Blinders series 4 episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!