Yes, there are spoilers.
And so ends Peaky Blinders, Series 4.
Here are a few initial thoughts.
I’ve been hard on Peaky Blinders this series, so let me begin by pointing to a few moments I really liked.
Wow. Just wow. The scene with Tommy and Alfie on the beach — and Cyril (who’s a good boy?). I loved everything about that scene. Margate looked so different from the usual Peaky confines that it set the viewer up to expect something very different, and it delivered. The light was different, the atmosphere was different, and Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy brought everything to that moment. The story finished Alfie’s character in an emotionally satisfying way. In that moment, two complicated men whose lives had intersected came to a final climactic moment, and that moment was true to both of them, down to Alfie’s asking Tommy to take care of Cyril and Tommy declining. (He does, after all, have his own history with dogs though I was hoping he’d decide to adopt Cyril.) Alfie revealed his cancer diagnosis, the results of the war, but he was utterly Alfie, fearless in the face of death. In the tradition of one of the most famous World War I survivors, Ernest Hemingway, Alfie stared into the darkness, created what order he could, and then controlled his fate as much as he was able.
The second scene I liked a great deal was Tommy’s breakdown. That one worked for me, and Cillian Murphy was doing the kind of work that leaves us in awe. I liked his performance, the cinematography, and the overdue return of Radiohead with “Pyramid Song.” (I’ve so missed Radiohead.) Beyond that, it showed that Tommy has a complicated interior life. He may survive bullet wounds and head injuries, but he is still battling his demons. We haven’t really seen this side of Tommy since his Series 1 opium addiction, but I thought this worked.
Additionally, Helen McCrory continues to show what a compelling character Polly is. She understands Tommy because she was surviving her own trauma in the first episode of Series 4. And she finds the answer in family and their Romany heritage. “We live somewhere between life and death, waiting to move on, and in the end we accept it. We shake hands with the devils and we walk past them,” she says. I’ve thought Polly’s character has soared in this series, and that scene reinforced it for me.
Much of “The Company” felt like tying up plot lines, which is, I guess, the point of a series finale, but in this one, we would finish one story and move on to the next — there was so much to get through because Steven Knight has been generating plot lines with abandon.
Maybe I’ve watched too many Rocky movies, but the fight scene didn’t work for me. I found it to be like the big gun fight last week: It took a lot of time and looked great, but in the end, it did little to drive the story forward. (Frankly, I’d rather have more time with Alfie and Tommy on the beach.) Was anyone surprised that Bonnie won? Right. So why did we do that?
I’m a serious fan of Paul Anderson, but the “Arthur is dead” story was problematic. Yes, there’s a symmetry with John’s death, but given that we never saw the body, did anyone think Arthur wasn’t alive? It’s Danny Whizbang all over again. (“May we all die twice.”) I just kept seeing Glen on The Walking Dead. Don’t yank my chain unless there’s a good reason for it. I’m glad Arthur will live to do what Arthur does for another series, but this dues ex machina was a bridge too far.
Similarly, the final scene with Luca Changretta was anticlimactic. This is the big bad, right? We’ve been terrified of him for the entire series, right? We’ve spent five episodes building to this moment, right? This is it! Or not. Maybe it’s the certainty that Tommy always “has a plan.” Maybe it’s knowing that Peaky Blinders will be back for another series. Maybe it’s a writing problem. But Tommy solved the problem of Luca Changretta by talking with Al Capone and paying his henchmen more? Uh, no.
Maybe it’s because of the contrast of Tommy’s scene with Alfie, but that one worked because these two characters have, well, character. Luca never got there.
A number of things really bothered me, but I want to focus on one: Jessie Eden.
When we learned that Jessie Eden would have a role this series, I was ambivalent. On one hand, this is an early feminist organizer, a significant historical figure. The thought of Jessie getting serious screen treatment was exciting, in part because her story is especially relevant today. On the other hand, given Steven Knight’s track record of writing women on Peaky Blinders, I was worried. Jessie Eden becoming Tommy Shelby’s boy toy would be problematic.
Her character in Series 4 has been uneven — she needed more time. In 4.6, Jessie doesn’t even appear until there are fewer than 10 minutes left in the episode — that’s how rushed this was. But there she is, yielding to Tommy’s charms to the point that SHE SELLS OUT HER MOVEMENT. Last week, Ada joked that Tommy would “save the world with his cock.” Turns out, she was right, and one of the most important advocates for workers, a woman ahead of her time, is reduced to a sex toy to further Tommy’s ambition. In 4.1, she’s ballsy enough to use the men’s lavatory; in 4.6, she’s been put in her place.
In the final scene, the triumphant moment when Tommy, now ready to infiltrate government, holding baby Ruby with a glowing Lizzie (eyeroll) at his side, walks down the stairs leading his family, as a stunned Jessie looks on. He has, after all, outschemed the communists. Then Laura Marling‘s cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” begins playing.
It’s gorgeous — all credit goes to Marling. But if you’re going to play one of the most important protest anthems of the American anti-war movement, you’d better have your ducks in a row. And in this case, they’re not. At all.
As an American, protest has been a big part of my life for the last year — and in this, I am not alone. While any Dylan song is a rich vehicle for interpretation, the most common for “Hard Rain” is that Dylan was commenting on the Cuban Missle Crisis. Here’s what Dylan said in a Nate Hentoff interview, “Every line in it is actually the start of a whole new song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one.” Given the state of the world right now, we’re talking about missles again — and it’s terrifying. In other words, the context of “Hard Rain” is significant, more so today. What it’s not is cheeky background music
I participated in the Women’s March last Janurary as did women around the world. It was a formative moment for many of us, and the #MeToo movement, which will reshape America, wouldn’t have happened without the Women’s March. Today, a Republican Congress passed a profoundly regressive tax cut that some economists say will take us back to pre-Gilded Age levels of economic inequality.
So those causes that Jessie Eden fought for? Some of us in America are thinking about them a lot. They’re not just interesting historical anecdotes for Tommy Shelby to show how clever and manly he is. I see nothing self-conscious or parodic. This is trolling.
For me, the problem is that my world has changed quite a lot since Series 3. A year ago, this might have bothered me less. But I’m different now. Next year, I’m attending another protest march in January, and if Robert Mueller gets fired, I know where my protest location is. My heart’s with the workers, not the owners (even if they’re so unbelievably clever and sexy — dare I say “cocksure?” — that they manage to seduce not one but two women within the space of two episodes!).
If you’re going to use Jessie Eden and Bob Dylan, do your homework.
Grace and Alfie, wherever you are, I hope you’re drinking rum together and enjoying some fabulous conversation.
This Steven Knight interview with Entertainment Weekly is instructive:
Knight hopes the six-episode season leaves viewers feeling one thing, if nothing else.
“Shocked,” he laughs. “Deeply shocked. Hopefully, deeply, deeply traumatized. No, what I try to do is make surprises genuine, rather than set up the surprise and then pull the trigger. The ending of season 4? I defy anyone to guess what’s going to happen. It’s a surprise of a different kind.”
Oh, so the end of Series 4 was about shock and trauma. Not about story, not about character. But SURPRISE! Didn’t see that coming, did you? Ol’ Steven Knight fooled all of us!
Actually, I’m going with a different feeling: disappointment.
Publication Date: 20-21 December 2017
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