Yes, there are spoilers.
Opium was essentially used by people who were trying to alleviate acute pain and that seemed reflective of the tone of the first series. The second series was cocaine reflected by the wildness and the madness of the early 1920s. People were revving it up and getting into gear. In the third series I think it is power and the effect that has on people; how they respond to it and how intoxicated they can become as a result of it. Even though the other drugs are still around in series three, it is more of an existential thing for Tommy.
In the first two series of Peaky Blinders, the fifth episodes were always my favorites. That’s when we watched the relationship between Tommy and Grace move forward, and it always provided the table setting for the finale in episode 6. The approach in Series 3 is a bit different given that Grace is dead. (More on her appearance in a moment.) Instead, this episode is about how the characters cope with pain.
It begins with Tommy being in literal pain as he recovers from his brain fracture in a hospital. And the use of David Bowie’s “Lazarus” is absolutely perfect in terms of its sound, content, and place in Bowie’s canon. Tommy is taking morphine, and the parallels with his use of this drug with the opium of Series 1 are clear given the flashbacks. In addition to dulling his physical pain, he is attempting to stop his emotional pain as well.
Three times, we watch Tommy dose himself with morphine while holding a cigarette, so he’s clearly making a choice. However, he chooses to stop using morphine when waking up with Charlie one morning, just as he stopped using opium in Series 1 after finding John trying it. He pours the morphine down the sink. Escape is over. Tommy Shelby is back.
The other addict on Peaky Blinders is Arthur. This season, we have watched him battle old demons with some success. Knight has said his drug of choice this series is religion, and it seems to be working for him. Indeed, Paul Anderson has had a terrific outing as we watch Arthur careen between his old behavior and his new self. He is visibly agonizing over this decision.
Alfie Solomons brings this home in his conversation with the brothers. We watch Arthur struggle to assert his new self, and he does by accepting Alfie’s apology. And then, Solomons speaks the truth: “But I was wondering, how does that work for you on a day-to-day basis, considering your line of work, mate? Cos I hear you’re a right fucking nuisance with it. You see, all I’m saying is that every man, he craves certainty. Don’t he? He craves the certainty, even if that certainty of yours., right . . . ? Well, I mean, . . it’s fucking fanciful, mate, in’t it?” To this, Arthur answers, “I’m Old Testament.” Aflie replies, “You now have the finished article right there, don’t you? See, that man, right, he will murder and maim for you with God on his side.”) This cannot continue for Arthur.
Then, Tommy, Arthur, and John go to an orgy with the Russians — well, actually, they’re casing the palace. The orgy is extra. Although there are moments of humor (Arthur: “Made in fucking Birmingham!”), it’s difficult to see much joy at this party, and the dark lighting and the smoky atmosphere add a sense of hopelessness. John gets into the spirit of the event; Arthur finds himself drinking and having sex with a maid, angrily removing his wedding ring; Tommy goes with Tatiana to a dark place, carrying a bottle of something and staggering from the drink.
Alfie foreshadowed this moment when saying to Tommy there were rumors in London that he talked with dead people. Tatiana takes this to a new level. She continues to tell Tommy that he misses Grace as he becomes increasingly emotional. Then comes the most halucinatory moment: Tatiana introduces him to khlysty while Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” plays. That is, by nearly suffocating him, she becomes Grace’s ghost, in the Russian tradition of widows grieving for their husbands killed in war. On one hand, Cillian Murphy’s acting is stunning: We are watching Tommy Shelby collapse from grief. On the other hand, the scene itself is bizarre and not especially satisfying for those of us disappointed by Grace’s death. After Grace’s death, having Tatiana stand in as her surrogate is tasteless at best. Does it work for Tommy? Who knows? After the moment ends, Tommy puts aside the bottle and seems to return to himself. But this is a weird scene in a weird episode.
As the sun comes up, the Shelby brothers leave after a successful night of carousing. “We’ve had worse nights,” Tommy tells John and Arthur, who is clearly still grappling with guilt.
I find myself sharing the backseat of the car with him. In Episode 5, I was supposed to have a good time. Instead, I’m just disappointed.
Publication Date: 3 June 2016
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