This second episode was a lot better than the first. Peaky Blinders still has many flaws which make it unworthy of the very high praise it has been receiving, but hopefully the show is on an upward curve.
The improvement in the show came mainly from Tommy’s intelligent scheming, which was fun to watch. He started a conflict with a rival gang all as a ploy to bring a major player in the gambling market – Billy Kimber – onto his side. His gambling trick from the last episode also paid-off as his much hyped horse finally lost a race, and he brought Inspector Campbell to heel using a neat manoeuvre – threatening embarrassment and a public order headache for the policeman’s superiors – before offering him a deal he couldn’t refuse.
Not everything is going right for Tommy though. His communist friend got his sister pregnant, and proposed to her, vowing to stay in the city against Tommy’s wishes. ‘What do you think he sees in Ada?’ Tommy asked his aunt. ‘He sees guns and ammunition and glorious revolution.’ Inspector Campbell doesn’t look like a problem resolved either; if anything, Tommy’s proposed truce has wound him up more, and he gave his barmaid spy instructions to find the stolen guns at all costs.
Peaky Blinders is definitely improved then, but a lot of the show’s flaws from last week remain. The dialogue can still be really tortured at times. ‘Look at this: a prescription for Ada Shelby,’ a policeman said at one point to an empty room. ‘She’s the sister of those peaky blinders,’ a woman later said for the benefit of the particularly slow viewers of the show.
The characters are also straight-up speaking exposition in a really forced way. ‘Yeah your best mate in school, the man who saved your life in France,’ Ada said at one point. ‘Holy shit, it’s Bill Kimber,’ a barman said at another. The problem with such obvious exposition is that it’s unnatural and when it happens the people in the show become obvious, artificial characters; deliverers of exposition and nothing like real people. It breaks your immersion in the show.
As does the directing, which is borderline ludicrous at times. There were five slow motion scenes in this episode, to add to the three from last week. At this rate, the final episode will have every character moving as if through treacle. They’ll need to make it five hours long.
The music is also really jarring. Three separate White Stripes songs? It, again, breaks your immersion in the show if you start wondering why the director loves The White Stripes so much. Or just Jack White in general, considering there was also a Raconteurs song. Maybe he moonlights as Jack White’s agent.
Then there are the characters, none of whom are particularly engaging. Tommy is smart, yeah, but beyond that there’s not much there. He is so, so serious. There is no humour in his character at all. ‘It’s not a good idea to look at Thomas Shelby the wrong way,’ he said about himself at one point. It’s hard to think of a likeable character in fiction that would talk about himself in the third person in such a serious way.
It’s dangerous to have a central protagonist who is that humourless, and if he continues like this the show could end up with a massive personality void at its centre. Tommy has rightly been compared to Boardwalk Empire’s Jimmy Darmody, another serious and quite plain character (at the beginning anyway), but Jimmy was not the main protagonist in that show, it was Nucky Thompson, who is very engaging and enjoyable to watch.
Billy Kimber, who showed up at the end of this episode, was more appealing though; an animated and egotistical racist. ‘You’re the oldest, you’re definitely the thickest, so you must be the boss,’ he said picking out the Shelby brothers one by one. It was refreshing to see a character cut through the oh-so-serious, gritty atmosphere in the show. As a result, I’m a little more optimistic, about the characters and about the show as a whole. On the BBC’s The Review Show, while discussing this show, one of the panel argued that if we go back to the early seasons of celebrated American programmes, we’d find many flaws similar to Peaky Blinder’s. I disagree with that, and think this show is a long way short of the US drama it seeks to imitate, but I agree that it needs time to find its feet. It’s too early to write it off.
- Those Jack White songs in full: Black Math, Little Room, The Hardest Button to Button by The White Stripes, and Blue Veins by The Raconteurs. Those Nick Cave songs in full: Red Right Hand; Brother, My Cup Is Empty.
- There was a nice shot of Campbell before his meeting with Tommy, looking very small in front of a giant painting. A not so good shot from the same scene: Campbell barely visible with Tommy’s blurred shoulder taking up 70% of the screen.
- The Guardian published a pretty decent, critical review of this episode.