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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Peaky Blinders recap: series six, episode five – an explosive return to form | Peaky Blinders

The series got its swagger back in the nick of time. Here’s your breakdown of the penultimate ever episode, The Road to Hell …

Terminal Tom was man on a mission

After last week’s shattering diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumour, Thomas Shelby OBE MP (Cillian Murphy) had nothing to lose. His in-built deadline had given the conflicted gang boss renewed purpose. He spent this propulsive episode striding from meeting to meeting, taking care of business. The show roared back to form in his newly turbo-charged wake.

First stop was Chinatown, where, with the aid of a ticking briefcase bomb (where’s Vicky McClure’s “Expo” team when you need them?), he instructed the Chinese cafes to stop selling opium or he would have the entire neighbourhood demolished. By order of the Peaky Blinders? Nope, “by order of the Birmingham urban district council”.

Neatly done – but not as neat as Tommy’s timing, as he dropped the bomb into the canal with seconds to spare. Pause … wait for it … ka-boom. Not a real bomb, you say? An explosive return to form, only five minutes in.

Meet Duke the artful dodger

Consider yourself one of the family … Tommy’s light-fingered son, Duke (Conrad Khan).
Consider yourself one of the family … Tommy’s light-fingered son, Duke (Conrad Khan). Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions

Next came a clan meeting in the Garrison Tavern over a full Shelby breakfast (Irish whiskey and cigarettes, obviously). Fans had been wondering where on earth the youngest sibling, Finn (Harry Kirton), had got to, since he has been only fleetingly sighted this series. Now, we found out – marrying his sweetheart, Mary (Abbie Hern). Finn still didn’t get any dialogue, though. Perhaps wedlock has worn out his vocal cords.

Main item on the agenda? The introduction of Tommy’s long-lost son, Erasmus, AKA Duke (Conrad Khan). Tommy’s wife, Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe), simmered with fury about their deceased daughter, Ruby, seemingly being replaced so swiftly. Cracks between the couple are widening, not least because Tommy hasn’t told her about his plans – or even his health condition.

As for Duke, he doesn’t drink, read or write, but he does pick pockets. “We’ll need Curly and a strong rope to break this one in,” noted Arthur (Paul Anderson), approvingly. Duke didn’t take to working in the betting shop – too many people, too much violence – so Tommy sorted him a job at the salvage yard. “I have a future for you, Duke,” said Tommy, understandably preoccupied with his own legacy. Someday, Duke will take care of the dark side of the family business, Tommy’s younger son George the light side. Until then, keep a close eye on your wallet and watch.

Arthur’s Linda-shaped salvation

In an effort to get his big brother straightened out, Tommy had been in correspondence with Arthur’s estranged wife, Linda (a welcome return for Kate Phillips). Now, he made her an offer she couldn’t refuse – a donation of £10,000 to her Quaker missionary foundation in return for reconciling with Arthur.

Deal. She was willing only to help Arthur down the road to redemption, not sleep with him, but Blinders can’t be choosers. Linda came back and led Arthur through a prayer, although the devout doofus barely managed to stop himself swearing. A-fookin’-men.

Stephen Graham was back and bristling

Tommy’s packed schedule continued with a visit to Liverpool docks and union convenor Hayden Stagg (Stephen Graham). He paid Stagg for the “care he took” over Arthur’s comradely addiction pep talk, but reminded him he was still due a beating for stealing from the opium stash. Fearless Stagg barely batted an eyelid.

More pressingly, there was business to be done. A shipment of submachine guns was arriving for the IRA. Stagg would unload and store them. He was handed a bullet with his name on it, just to keep him in line. Now that Tommy was dealing with Boston, he was considering rerouting his supply line through Liverpool, rather than Belfast. Such a shift had the potential to make Stagg a rich man.

He took this news with his usual stoic stillness, noting that Tommy was “an ordinary, mortal man” – echoing his own words from last week. Stagg possesses the uncanny ability to see inside the Shelbys’ heads. He’s magic, that Stephen Graham. But is Stagg a powder keg waiting to blow?

Sleeping with the enemy

Tommy (Cillian Murphy)
On his last legs … Tommy (Cillian Murphy). Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions

On the promise of securing the Guinness Trust’s support for charitable housing along the canal, Tommy met Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson) on his family’s old narrowboat in Solihull. The toxic toff had been making eyes at him all series and now made her lascivious intent clear: “Oswald has fucked your wife … It would be only fair.” Well, since you put it like that.

They took her chauffeur-driven Rolls to a nearby hotel, complete with purple bedsheets, for passionate sex that contrasted starkly with Tommy’s more perfunctory marital duties with Lizzie. Anyone else reminded of Ada quipping “Tommy Shelby is going to stop the revolution with his cock” two series ago? Mitford said it sealed their political alliance (“the English aristocracy’s way of shaking hands”), but spitefully used it as leverage to lord it over Lizzie.

When drunken, brash east-coast crime kingpin Jack Nelson (James Frecheville) dined with the Shelbys en route to catch his steamer home, Mitford and Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin) gatecrashed to say their goodbyes. Nelson, a presidential envoy, had been reassured of fascism’s rise across Europe, building bridges from Washington to Berlin, via Dublin, London and Rome. The two-week visit had changed the course of history, boasted Mosley.

When Mitford gloated that she had “sampled” Tommy, Lizzie left the table, humiliated, but with her dignity intact. Poor bab. I would love to see her sock Mitford on the nose before the series is out. The vile couple told Tommy that Lizzie’s past meant she wasn’t a suitable wife. To his credit, he defended her, replying that she doesn’t deserve a man who consorts with “fuckers like you”. Well said, but his marriage still looks in jeopardy.

So does his life. Tommy is heading to Canada to collect the $5m payment for his opium shipment. But don’t worry; cousin Michael (Finn Cole) “will be there to watch his back”. With friends like these …

Nelson got Billy by the balls

Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson) and Billy Grade (Emmett J Scanlan).
What a bloody mess … Arthur and Billy Grade (Emmett J Scanlan). Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions

At last, Finn spoke – bringing Arthur a problem about a football referee who refused to match-fix. When they summoned the reluctant whistleblower for a spot of intimidation, he didn’t bow to pressure. Trying not to bloody his hands, Bible-bashing Arthur bullied the former footballer Billy Grade (the luxuriantly bearded Emmett J Scanlan, another first-time appearance this series) into garrotting him. With the resulting arterial spray, Billy was blooded as a Blinder.

While a shaken, naked Billy washed off the evidence at the local baths, he received an eye-watering visit from Nelson – who was also handy with a garotte, only preferring to aim lower. He knew Billy used to be an informant – likely the “black cat” traitor who leaked the assassination attempt on Mosley. On pain of losing his unmentionables, Grade grassed for Jack. The Americans planned to kill Tommy. It was Billy’s job to give up Arthur. This was our first real glimpse of Nelson’s ruthlessness, leaving things tantalisingly poised for next week.

What’s more, Nelson had just the man to do the deed. In the closing scene, vengeful Michael was visited in jail by a priest with a question. “The grey man” in his prison scrubs answered in the affirmative: “When I’m released, it is my intention to kill Tommy Shelby.” As his mother, Polly (flashbacks of the mighty Helen McCrory), foretold: “There will be a war in this family and one of them will die.” Not long until we find out which.

Line of the week

“It would be nice if just one thing could happen in Birmingham that wasn’t our fault.” Ada, have you learned nothing these past six series?

Anachronistic soundtrack-spotting

The show was back to its strutting, stylised best with that opening sequence set to Lawman by the Irish punks Gilla Band. Other belters included Marilyn Monroe’s One Silver Dollar, soundtracking Mitford’s arrival at the barge, and Thom Yorke’s Unmade during Tommy’s hallucination. But the tune of the week was undoubtedly Patti Smith’s bravura cover of Red Right Hand, recorded specially for the show.

Notes and observations

  • Last week’s gunned-down Gypsy curser Evadne Barwell (Gwynne McElveen) was atop the pile of people Tommy killed. Did you recognise any others?

  • As well as Tommy guns, Thompson submachine guns were nicknamed Chicago typewriters, due to their use by Prohibition-era mobsters. They were indeed shipped to the IRA via Liverpool.

  • Birmingham City only won 1-0 at home on two occasions in 1934 – against Blackburn in the league and Charlton in the FA Cup. I wonder if either was the rigged match in question.

  • Next Sunday’s feature-length finale clocks in at 81 minutes. “We were like, fuck the 10 O’Clock news,” says the director, Anthony Byrne. “It’s such a Peaky thing to do for the last hurrah. It’s the 10.22 news for one night only.”​

The end is nigh. By order of the Peaky Blinders, please share your thoughts, theories and grand finale predictions below …

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