Yes, there are spoilers.
There’s a lot going on in “Heathens,” the second episode of Peaky Blinders Series 4. Here are a few preliminary thoughts. I have some other things I want to write about later.
“We’re Going Back”
I’ll just say it: I liked the return to Small Heath.
It’s interesting to see these characters we’ve been with for four series returning to their home. Steven Knight has said repeatedly that Peaky Blinders is about whether these characters can ever truly escape where they’re from, and “Heathens” begins his exploration of this theme. When Tommy Shelby, OBE, stands at the window of his childhood bedroom (smoking, of course) while his son sleeps in his old bed, wrapped in a home-sewn quilt, Knight’s thematic focus becomes clear.
Similarly, when Polly says, “I never thought my high fucking heels from Paris would be stepping through the horseshit of Small Heath,” she cuts to the point. And while this is clearly the Shelby family’s stomping grounds, things have changed. Small Heath Tommy would never have allowed Luca Changretta to get into his office; OBE Tommy has become complacent. So their return isn’t seamless.
In addition to Small Heath — and when do we get to see The Garrison? — there are the old hobbies. The Shelbys are betting on boxers again, with Alfie Solomons getting a shoutout, and Tommy is still training horsers, with May Carlton making an appearance to pick up a horse to train. Charlie and Curly are still tending the boatyard, and Tommy still walks around men working with fire, though now, he is their employer rather than a neighborhood boss.
Added into the familiar, however, is the new. Aberama Gold is so beyond the rules that even Johnny Dogs questions the wisdom of bringing him in. (And can I make a request now for a new Peaky Blinders series, In the Kitchen with Johnny Dogs?) Jessie Eden questions Tommy’s authority. And Luca Changretta brings with him the New York Mafia.
Let’s hear it for the family meeting in “Heathens,” which is a very careful revision of the family meeting Tommy calls in 1.1. His suit is much the same, he stands in the doorway again, and I’ll have to check, but Polly’s dress in “Heathens” is very similar to the one she wore in the first series. This scene illustrates how much has changed: Now Linda has a seat at the table (and Arthur is getting his authority back); Finn is allowed to vote; Lizzie has a vote (when did that happen?); and Polly, who deferred to Tommy earlier, emerges as his equal. Esme, who voiced her enthusiasm for chickens back in a Series 2 family meeting, is gone, having taken her children on the road with the Lees. This strikes me as a pivotal scene.
I liked, too, that we were finally given some background information. Tommy explains how “In the Bleak Midwinter” became a Shelby mantra, and he finally describes his mother a bit. These kinds of details round out the story.
I’m really taken with Series 4 Polly. I understood in “The Noose” that she had had her own near-death experience not unlike those her nephews survived in World War I. This week made her new perspective explicit. In addition, she has fully embraced her Romany heritage — take the scene where she sees a hand holding Michael; while others worry about Michael’s survival, she dismisses the doctors’ assessments. Michael will live: She’s seen it.
In addition, she’s still buying Cunard tickets, this time for herself and Michael. (I get the sense that Michael is humoring her now; they’ll never leave Small Heath. Michael’s resemblance to Tommy in the hospital is clear to the point that he demands a cigarette.) Polly is playing her own game here, and I like it.
I’m just waiting until that moment when she bobs her hair.
(I’ve blogged here about Polly in Series 1-3.)
As I wrote here, his character never had the kind of focus that it needed, but no one rocked a peaky cap like John did. I liked his funeral, a vikingesque pyre in a caravan with his war gear displayed beside his body.
When Aberama Gold mentions that his grandfather and Tommy’s rode together, I was reminded of the Series 1 scen — one of my favorite moments — when Tommy says to John, “Now what would our grandfather say, eh?” after John reveals that he’d gotten a license. Tommy then mimicks his grandfather, and John laughs. “You always used to do voices when we were kids,” he says. “Yeah, well, we’re not fucking kids anymore,” Tommy answers. Again: They’ve all changed.
(Note: As Joe Cole told The Metro: “It was something we’d planned a while back. I felt I’d explored John as much as I could and it was the right time for him to die. He was a character who is most alive when he’s fighting, so that exit scene was the best way for him to go.”)
Knight is, I think, really focusing on his female characters this season, and I haven’t decided yet how successful he is. (I’ve written here about my frustration with Knight’s treatment of women.)
Ada has assumed a position of authority, and her communist past will be a plot point this series. (Sophie Rundle tweeted last week that she gets to wear gorgeous coats this series, and I must agree. We may need a Twitter poll at the end of the series to rank them.)
Esme curses Tommy, which he takes serious given that her words echo in his head, and leaves, taking back the life she has longed for. (At least we got to see her in one scene where she’s not drinking.)
Lizzie is still a mystery to me.
And May Carlton is back. I’ll just say it: What a terrific look! I’ve never been #TeamMay, but she looks fantastic. And I was glad to hear that she continued training horses, a job she loves, while showing some disdain for Tommy. Let’s just hope she doesn’t hop into bed with him the first moment they’re on screen together. And I appreciated her conversation with Curly, two people who know horses. (Second Peaky Blinders spin-off request: Horse Training with May and Curly.)
Then there’s Jessie Eden. I have hope for Jessie, I do. She tries to show compassion for Tommy after John’s murder, but he’s not interested. And so she uses her power to undercut Tommy’s. I’m eager to see where this leads.
Finally, I have to mention Grace. I liked the fact that she gets a shout out at the end of the episode when a bitter Tommy tells Arthur, “It’s like Grace. They’re just gone.” I wondered if this weren’t a bit of a message to #TeamGrace folks: Grace is gone. But I decided that was too cynical on my part; rather, I’d like to think Knight is (finally) developing Tommy’s relationship with Grace, which was largely missing from Series 3.
(InTheBleakMidwinter has just blogged this post about S1 Grace as opposed to the treatment she gets later it’s very smart and worth your time.)
The Look & Sound
I am really taken with the production of this series. It’s self-conscious in terms of revisiting ealier scenes and places from Peaky Blinders. But the scene with Tommy and Luca was very Godfather. Adrien Brody’s ability to look right, the moment when he stands partially shadowed by the window blinds, the moment when he holds open his suit, both to show he doesn’t have a gun and to establish his familal relationship with his uncle, that really worked for me. And, of course, there’s the deliberate way in which he lines up the bullets.
The music hasn’t quite hit me yet (I miss PJ Harvey and Radiohead) although I very much liked Nick Cave’s “The Mercy Seat.” I thought that was a wonderful moment that was absolutely perfect.
I’ve got more I want to say, but I’ll save it for later posts.
Publication Date: 22 November 2017
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