Yes, there are spoilers.
In a promotional interview, Steven Knight made clear that this series would see the Shelbys returning to their roots. Consider a key moment in the preview video: A bespectacled Tommy Shelby looks out a window and says, “We’re going back.” The ambivalence is palpable. Indeed, “The Noose” is carefully constructed on the tension between the present and the past, between actions and their consequences.
As Cillian Murphy noted in an interview:
We’ve thought a lot about the violence. . . . Steve said early on, there is always a consequence for the violence. The characters fucking feel it. Not always immediately. But when Tommy gets injured, he fucking gets injured. In series two, he’s in hospital for a prolonged period of time. These characters, for them, violence is a form of expression. That’s the way they’re made, that the way the First World War formed them and these men, that’s the way they express themselves. And that’s the way they are. You have to take it seriously… and not be flippant about it. It’s not like a movie where you’re shot and [then] you’re back.
After the tense prison opening, which I found visually stunning and emotionally tiresome (C’mon: They’re gonna to live. It’s the beginning of the first episode), a year later on Christmas Eve in 1925, Peaky Blinders finds a shattered Shelby family. Michael is still doing accounting for the business (though using cocaine in a manner that would make Arthur proud; rather than dulling World War I PTSD, Michael is staving off nightmares from his near-death experience). He worryies about Polly, who has left prison addicted and talking to spirits. (I liked Helen McCrory’s performance a great deal though I hope we see resiliant Aunt Pol again soon.)
Arthur, Linda, and young Billy have settled into a rustic country life with Arthur keeping the chickens he teased John about in Series 2. Linda keeps Arthur emasculated: He can’t carry a gun, and she refuses to allow him to open a garage. But the biggest give away is that always dapper Arthur has let his peaky cut grow into a ragged mess and put away his well cut suits. (Here’s a great piece by Esquire‘s Sam Parker on Arthur’s “laid-back country look.”)
Down the road, John and Esme (who is always drinking now) are living the rural life as well. I must say that John hunting with his dogs was an image I enjoyed.
John, Arthur, Polly, and Ada keep up with each other while Michael is the go-between for the brothers and Tommy. They are enraged at Tommy who allowed them to get so close to the hangman.
Ada is back to her Series 1 ways: well dressed and running the Boston office. That she gives Arthur a gun (and he gives her a basket of eggs as a cover) is not a casual decision. In this way, Knight is deliberately revising scenes and lines he has used before to define characters.
And then there’s Tommy, now OBE, who’s a regular at a Birmingham hotel where he’s familiar with the staff and going through an array of sex workers. Cillian Murphy slides easily into Tommy’s character as he explores a new kind of grief moored in the loss of his families. He has given in to a disciplined pleasure of women and whiskey sours. (The contrast with Michael’s less-controlled cocaine use is marked.) Lizzie still works for the company and speaks candidly to Tommy (or maybe it’s just an excuse to provide exposition). And while he appears to be devoted to Charlie, the fact that Lizzie buys his son’s Christmas gifts underscores that fatherhood isn’t natural for Tommy.
It’s clear that “The Noose” is about setting the table for the action that will follow this season: The family is fragmented; Charlie Murphy makes her entrance as labor activist Jessie Eden; Luca Changretta makes his full-on gangster appearance. (I’ve gotta say that I do like how Adrien Brody rocks a fedora.)
The Christmas Eve black hand card is a reminder of a different kind of “family,” a mafia family with its own norms. And the use of a black hand, surely an echo of Nick Cave’s “red right hand,” brings back the Shelbys shared Romany heritage, a link magnified through Polly’s speaking with spirits.
But it’s also clear that “The Noose” marks a reset for Peaky Blinders. Steven Knight is returning to the setting and themes of the first series — hopefully in a parodic way. As someone who was pretty tough on Series 3 Peaky Blinders, I feel like I need to give Steven Knight a chance.
While Grace is dead, I was grateful that her presence survived — indeed, it was stronger here than it was in Series 3. Her pictures are on Tommy’s desk. When he and Charlie leave the house, Charlie reminds his father: “Mummy!,” prompting his father to take Grace’s picture with them. (Thank you, Charlie!) In that way, Knight has underscored that her presence was important in the evolution of these characters. In addition, the war with the Changrettas began as the result of Grace’s murder, so in that sense, we are again seeing that actions have consequences.
Jessie Eden’s entrance is not unlike Grace’s back in Series 1: The camera follows both women as they enter an environment controlled by men. A key difference is that Grace was covert, hiding her identity; Jessie is upfront and outspoken, embracing her power. Let’s hope that Jessie Eden‘s character has an existance beyond her willingness to warm Tommy’s bed.
I was sad to see John’s death — surely, even a miraculous Shelby male can’t survive all those bullets. But as I wrote earlier, John’s character always lacked direction. That said, we’ll always have John Boy and his dogs, Esme, and all those children. (I’m willing to bet, though, that Michael survives. Late in the episode, Michael utters a key line: “We’re not the Peaky fucking Blinders unless we’re together.” It’s a character-defining for John in Series 1; in the context of this episode, however, it takes on new meaning.)
I thought Peaky Blinders 4.1 looked great (thank you, David Caffrey!), and the soundtrack absolutely worked for me. Tommy Shelby may have glasses, another reminder that actions have consequences, but by the end of the episode, he’s killed Antonio and has blood on more than his hands, which takes us back to the meat locker in Series 2. (The Eagles aren’t really a Peaky Blinders kind of band, but I kept hearing Glenn Frey’s “Lyin’ Eyes”: “Still the same old girl you used to be.”)
So the Shelbys have again been forced back together through violence and grief, and Johnny Dogs is, again, cleaning up the bodies.
I’m ready for Episode 2.
Publication Date: 15 November 2017
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