By now, it’s expected that the climax to a season of Peaky Blinders will include no small amount of off screen wheeling and dealing in order to get the Shelby clan out of hot water. This time around it was the incompetent vendetta of Luca Changretta and his mostly mustachioed band of merry men determined to set Tommy Shelby and the rest of his family to boil. And just as has been done in seasons past, Tommy allowed his adversary the chance to think he’d won, accommodating the matchstick-chewing Mafioso‘s thirst for revenge, before executing a remarkable about-face by taking Alfie Solomons’ cynical words to heart, understanding that the big will always beat the small.
On paper, the conclusion to ‘The Company’ may have seemed like a retread of seasons past – especially from a structural point of view – but the familiar aspects of the Shelby family’s uncanny ability to surprise their enemies (and the viewers) by calling in favors or forging an unexpected alliance without anyone being the wiser still makes for an entertaining conclusion. As a series, Peaky Blinders is defined by the familiar rhythms of its storytelling much more than anything else. Like the frequent use of ‘Red Right Hand’, the show makes use of patterns and repetitions in such a distinct manner that doing without would render the series something other than Peaky Blinders.
So, even though it was clear from the get-go that Tommy had not, in fact, lost two brothers in a single season, and that mad dog Arthur would return with a vengeance at the most dramatic moment possible, the old Peaky Blinders spark was still there. More so than outwitting their enemy by simply pulling a fast one and convincing the fine people of Birmingham that the smoke from a frequently used clearing was a burning caravan containing Arthur’s recently garroted corpse, Tommy, Polly, and yes, even Arthur, pulled a long con that, lack of onscreen evidence aside, might be their shrewdest maneuver yet.
The downside to getting in touch with Alphonse Capone and cutting the legs out from under the Changretta family business, while its members were otherwise preoccupied with chasing Tommy through bricked tenements and presumably shooting blanks, is that it renders Luca an ineffectual villain. There is a sense this may have been intentional; an American charging into a foreign country, guns blazing, and blind to matters back home isn’t the best look, and as such this particular foreign invader wound up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
And that’s often the hitch when a vendetta is the mechanism driving the plot of an ongoing series. There are expendable characters like John, who went out in a hail of gunfire to open the season and set the stakes, but the shocking high of that particular low point soon wore off. There was a brief moment where it appeared Polly had made a deal with a heavy-handed devil to save the life of her son Michael, but even that turned out to be yet another trick up the Shelby family’s well-tailored sleeve. It all adds up to a series of components that are thrilling in the moment, but in the end the sum is not necessarily greater than its parts.
To counter this, Knight usually offers a little something extra, a tease about what’s to come or a twist from so far out of left field that it ostensibly recalibrates the season and the series before fading to black. Season 3 ended with Tommy’s shocking betrayal of his family, sending them to prison and opening the door for a hangman’s noose to be fitted around their necks. More so than recalibrate the season, Tommy’s twist made for a compelling cliffhanger, one that forced the season 4 premiere to adjust accordingly. The same is essentially true of the denouement in ‘The Company’; after dispatching Luca, and having a final heart-to-heart with Alfie Solomons – one that turned out to be Alfie’s long con for ending his own life – Knight set his sights on a bright future for his characters, seeing a bookmaker and part-time Gin distiller turned legitimate businessman become a member of Parliament.
Tommy’s turn toward politics happens rapidly and ends unsurprisingly in his favor. The shot of Tommy walking triumphantly with his family, holding the child he fathered with Lizzie, after winning the election in a landslide is about as cynical a look as Peaky Blinders has ever dared exhibit. The show’s darkness typically comes in the form of its almost gleeful approach to short-fuse bloodshed and the consumptive ferocity of its capitalist characters, but Tommy’s entrance into government would be beyond the pale were this season not released in 2017.
It creates a fascinating conundrum for the viewer as the series enters into what may be its final season: after four years of rooting for these particular bad guys to win, the Shelby family is poised to bring their brand of corruption to a new level, furthering a the sort of institutional decay they’ve profited from time and time again. If season 5 really is the end of Peaky Blinders, then season 4 has set it up in such a way as to make some viewers question whether or not they really want to see the criminals at the heart of the story emerge victorious.
Peaky Blinders season 4 is available in its entirety on Netflix.
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