Episode four opened with a rival gang robbing the peaky blinders’ betting operation. It was fun and thrilling, but ruined a little by a plot contrivance that had Tommy leave only one person on guard at the exact time the rival gang attacked. What an unfortunate coincidence, eh?
At the time of the attack, Tommy was busy dealing with the romance issues of his little brother. This little B plot actually worked out okay in the end, but for the bulk of the episode it was completely uninteresting because we have no idea who Tommy’s brother is. I didn’t even know his name until I purposefully listened out for it (it’s John, incidentally). And thematically, and in terms of Tommy’s characterisation, we have already seen all these beats before from the storyline with Ada and Freddy; that is, Tommy being controlling and refusing to let his family govern their own lives.
The dialogue this episode was still a little blunt and obvious in places, for instance Tommy telling a kid he ‘should never pretend to be me,’ and at another point speaking out loud to an empty car that his brother was a better man than him. We get it; Tommy doesn’t like himself. You can stop spelling it out.
For most of the episode though, the dialogue was an improvement on the series so far. In one scene, a boss of a rival clan pointed out to Tommy that he was boasting about betraying someone and ‘in the same breath…asking me to trust you.’ And in a scene between Tommy and Inspector Campbell, there was some nice lines, like Tommy telling the policeman that a British communist ‘has snow on his boots, and all you need is a shovel.’
That scene in general was good, as Campbell took the upper hand, telling Tommy that if he doesn’t get the guns soon he will lose his job, and there will be nothing holding him back from getting brutal revenge on the peaky blinders. Tommy has been lacking a competent and intimidating antagonist, so hopefully Campbell will increase as a legitimate threat from here on out.
Back with John – the little brother – and Tommy was illustrating how inappropriate his choice of fiancée was. Tommy is pretty devious though, and it turned out that he was breaking up the relationship not for his brother’s welfare, but because he had married him off to a member of the rival gang, in order to end hostilities. I’m not sure how realistic this is – forced, political marriages of convenience between gangs in 20th century Britain – but it was a fun twist, and a good bit of characterisation for Tommy, conveying how ruthless he is willing to be in order to further his ambitions.
What wasn’t so good were the scenes this episode featuring Grace. It started well, with the waitress/spy quietly finding out where the stolen guns were stashed, by subtly grilling Arthur about the peaky blinders’ criminal operation. But then Tommy told her: ‘Arthur says you’ve been asking questions about our business.’ Tommy also knows that Grace lied about her past, lied about working in pubs and lied about being a catholic. And yet he has just given her a promotion. In the final scene in this episode, Freddy was arrested after a tip-off about his location from Grace. Tommy must know at this point that someone is talking to the police. I wonder who?
There is two ways this can go. As pointed out by a reader in the comments of my last review, Tommy might be aware of Grace’s real allegiances and is manipulating her, something which will be revealed later in the series. Alternatively, Tommy has no idea, and If that is the case then it’s really bad writing. A barmaid appears out of nowhere, lies repeatedly about her background, is one of the few people aware of Freddie’s location before his arrest and, despite there clearly being a spy in the peaky blinders, Tommy is completely trusting of her? For the sake of this show’s credibility, Tommy needs to either be on to Grace already, or he has to work out who she is next episode.
- There was a complicated, Mousetrap of a plan this episode by Ada, Polly and Tommy that involved getting a communist arrested so he would reveal to the police Freddie’s location. Thing is, Ada could just pass the location on to the police herself. Why all the intrigue? I’ll forgive it for now though, because a lot of the other scheming in the series has been good.
- A reminder – because I had to go look it up myself – of what the deal Campbell and Tommy have between each other: Tommy will give Campbell the guns once he has ‘achieved what [he] set out to achieve’ ( from episode 2) and ‘when [his] business with Kimber is done’ ( from this episode). He’s keeping them for now in order to prevent Campbell from arresting him. I’m not really sure what Tommy’s end game is; what’s to stop Campbell arresting him once he’s handed over the guns?
- The show is still trying too hard to be cool in an HBO drama kind of way; the episode started with a random black preacher with dreadlocks appearing on screen for all of 10 seconds. Peaky Blinders sometimes feels like a parody of US television.
- There was also some more nuance-lacking WWI stuff: cigarettes that ‘smell like Gallipoli’ and repeated mentions of the war.
- I liked the scene of Freddie running through the streets to find Ada. It was nicely filmed.
- Music from the episode: I Fought Piranhas by The White Stripes; Broken Boy Soldier by The Raconteurs; and Clap Hands by Tom Waits.