Peaky Blinders 4.4 Review: “Like Entering a F***ing Threshing Machine, Mate”

Peaky Blinders

Yes, there are spoilers.

“It’s like entering a fucking threshing machine, mate.”

Alfie, it’s good to see you again!  You always manage to cut to the point.

Because that’s what “Dangerous” felt like:  a threshing machine.  Everything gets chewed up by the auger with the barley (since we’re apparently into home distilling now) being separated from the straw.  The problem is that there’s no progress:  The plot just churns and churns and churns.

Think about everything that just happened.  There’s the initial murder plot, which led to a sub murder plot involving Michael, which led to a sub-sub murder plot as Luca Changretta waited on a road blocked by an overturned wagon.  (Michael faced death in “The Noose”  before getting shot and almost dying. Actually, he’s still in the hospital recovering when he has his most recent skirmish with the Grim Reaper.  This seems a bit much.)  No worries!  We’re just getting started!

Then we have the cat fight.  Here’s May who deals with a snarky Lizzie, who points out Tommy‘s taste in London tailors, which is really about Tommy’s taste for wealthy widows.  So May decides to put Lizzie in her place by leaving Tommy a blank check for Grace‘s foundation.  So Lizzie decides to write it for £10,000.  And then Polly reads the tea leaves to tell Lizzie that she’s pregnant, presumeably with Tommy’s baby.  (If there’s an anti-Bechdel Test, this is it.)

Then we discover that Tommy is really into distilling gin — a recipe left from his father that is “distilled for the eradication of seemingly incurable sadness.”  (I’m pretty sure back in Series 3 that Tommy told his brothers the only skill they’d learned from their father was how to dress a stag, but hey, whatev!  Or maybe that’s the bathtub gin Polly refers to in Series 1 that provided the excuse for her children being taken from her.)  At least May has the good sense to leave Tommy and head back to her life, so chalk one up for her.  You go, girl!

(Perhaps Tommy’s making gin to cope with the loss of Greta DiRossi, that long, lost love who is completely missing from this episode.)

From Peaky Blinders Twitter

Jessie Eden gives a rousing speech before Ada shows up to make her an offer.  I liked the idea of the women taking a seat at The Garrison to do some business — the echos of Ada in the movie theater were nice — until she reveals that, really, this is not a negoitation so much as it is an invitation for a date.  But, hey, “There’s more than one way to achieve equality,” amirite?

Then we do some boxing (Goliath, anyone?) and have some clever banter with Alfie.  And then Tommy drives off with the Changrettas following him while Polly smokes and watches him drive off.

It’s too much plot.  Neither the stories nor the characters are allowed to grow.  (If you distilled gin with this much haste — and without juniper — it’d be vodka.)

Consider this contrast.  Take Arthur‘s early scene with Mrs. Ross, the grieving mother.  That scene worked — Arthur and Mrs. Ross were both reckoning with their histories, exploring how they’ve changed and stayed the same since the events of Series 2.  But here’s why it takes.  First, Paul Anderson is doing remarkable work, and part of why he’s able to do that, in addition to his skill as an actor, stems from the fact that he’s working with a three-dimensional character.  We get Arthur, and we get him because he is complex, and we’ve watched him grow and change.

Now, take Finn.  We’ve joked for years about the fact that Finn got to do very little, except pass along messages and leave the room.  As Arthur gave Finn the house in “Dangerous,” I thought, I wish we had a chance to know Finn.  In fairness, Steven Knight has tossed a few ideas at us:  Last week, Finn lost his virginity and wasn’t pleased about the arrangement; today, Finn confesses that he just couldn’t pull the trigger — “I’m not John,” he says — and Arthur tells him that he understands.  But Finn needs some time for us to get to know him.  What about a conversation with Isiah?  But that’s not going to happen because we’ve got to get moving.  There’s plot to cover!

I’d really like to see some significant screen time with Aberama Gold and Alfie Solomons.  Their brief time together was electric — Tom Hardy and Aiden Gillen.  But there’s no time for that.  We’ve got to keep moving.

Peaky Blinders

Last week, I wrote that I wasn’t sure Peaky Blinders would be okay without John — the brothers seemed unbalanced.  But that’s not quite right.  Here’s my new theory.  Peaky Blinders began with eight well developed characters:  Tommy, Arthur, John, Polly, Grace, Ada, Freddie Thorne, and Inspector Campbell.  The plot was careful and focused, and those characters grew, and we became attached to them.  As Peaky Blinders progresses, there’s less character development and more action, but in the meantime, we’ve lost those characters that made the plot work and engaged us as viewers.  We’re down to four developed characters now — Tommy, Arthur, Ada, and Polly.  In the meantime, we get more characters who are less developed — like pretty much every character in Series 3.  And the trend continues in Series 4.

For me, this echoes The Walking Dead, a show I once loved but eventually stopped watching.  The writers killed most of the characters I was invested in while endless, and increasingly inplausible, action kept grinding on — dare I say, “zombie-like?”  If developed characters can’t survive the zombie apocalypse, then what chance does humanity have?

I’ve been thinking about blogging about why Steven Knight needs a writers room.  Episodes like “Dangerous” reinforce that for me.  Closely tied to this is an Alan Sepinwall essay about why the episode as a unit of television is valuable — as opposed to the increasingly popular trend of seeing a television series as a 6-hour movie.  I mean, really, what happened in “Dangerous?”  What was this episode about?  How did “Dangerous” drive forward the overarching story of Series 4 Peaky Blinders?  Actually, what is the overarching story of Series 4 Peaky Blinders?

At one point, Uncle Charlie tells May of Tommy, “The man you’re waiting for doesn’t exist.”  “Dangerous” needs more characters that are compelling and do exist.  Right now, it’s got too much chaff and not enough grain.

Publication Date:  6 December 2017

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