Peaky Blinders Series Six Episode 1 Review: A Dark New Dawn for the Gang

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Two and a half years have passed since we last saw the Peaky Blinders blackmail, racketeer and murder their way to respectability in interwar England and now they’re back – although at their lowest level.

The final episode of the fifth series saw an assassination of fascist leader Oswald Mosley foiled, several Blinders eliminated in the melee, and Tommy and Arthur hastily retreating to regroup. Enraged, Tommy puts a gun to his head to get it over with.

The questions fly faster than during a confrontation at Watery Lane: who denounced? Did Mosley figure out Tommy’s plan? Where can the Blinders go from here? And who exactly pays his dry cleaning bill?

With the first episode of the show’s series finale finally released, we take stock of all that and more.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Aftermath of the rally: someone claims responsibility

The new season kicks off with a bang – literally – as we pick up where we left off with Tommy (Cillian Murphy) gasping after his carefully laid plans for Mosley go awry. He pulls the trigger (gasp!); it’s empty. In a rare display of clarity, brother Arthur (Paul Anderson) had the good sense to empty the room on returning from the rally. But his long-suffering wife Lizzie (Natasha O’Keefe) hears the click and emerges from the mist to lash out at his cowardice. Same, Lizzie, but what’s the point of kicking a dog when he’s so far away? All the while, a soundtrack of anxious breathing heightens feelings of claustrophobia – if you’re looking for a soothing weekend viewing, try Bob Ross’ Joy of Painting on iPlayer instead.

Natasha O’Keefe as Lizzie Shelby

/ BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd./Matt Squire

The faint sound of a ringing phone brings Tommy home. It’s Captain Swing (Charlene McKenna), the IRA leader we briefly met in S5, calling for unfriendly conversation. She claims responsibility for thwarting Tommy’s plan; larger forces want Mosley alive. Why exactly is on a need-to-know basis, and poor old Tommy isn’t on the list.

The Dead: Body count sucker hits the Shelbys

She’s got another bomb, just in case Tommy hasn’t hit his torment quota for the day. They send the slain Peaky Blinders home so they can be properly buried, and three bodies line the driveway, wrapped in white sheets. We already know two of them: Barney (Cosmo Jarvis), the former army sniper shot dead in the searchlight booth, and Aberama (Aidan Gillen), stabbed before he could avenge his son.

The third is Polly Gray, the Shelbys’ beloved aunt, and Tommy’s true right-hand man. There’s been a lot of speculation about how writer and creator Steven Knight would explain the absence of Helen McCrory, who played the Shelby matriarch before her death last April, and this outing seems plausible. You can pinpoint the exact moment Tommy’s heart breaks when Captain Swing’s words ring in his ears: their deaths are his fault “because you still don’t understand your own limits.” The heel of the IRA boot rests firmly on Tommy’s neck.

Funeral of a gypsy queen ignites the embers of a new family feud

BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect/Robert Viglasky

Polly is sent off gypsy queen style, cremated in a stately black and gold caravan. Michael Gray (Finn Cole) is back with his slippery wife Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy), the flames of his mother’s funeral pyre burning brightly in his eyes as he swears revenge on Tommy (this lot has no learned anything?). It doesn’t look like it’ll take long: Tommy has had more than his fair share of loss, but this time it looks like a light has gone out permanently.

Tommy goes on a business trip

Four years pass and we find a Tommy sans Arthur during a brewing storm at the French outpost on the island of Miquelon, just off Newfoundland, a place so pitifully dark it makes it look like his OG stomping grounds of Small Heath, Birmingham, Bahamas. It’s the day before Prohibition ends, and he’s away on business. “Someone can die,” Tommy warns the Resident Gendarmerie ominously, but probably no trouble since it’s not on Zoom.

Tommy Shelby in the days of wellness gurus?

/ BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd./Matt Squire

The local barflies almost incur this wrath when they take umbrage with Tommy’s request for plain water at the bar where the meeting is taking place. He hasn’t had the sauce since Polly’s death. “Since giving up alcohol, I’ve become a calmer, more peaceful person,” he said in a measured tone as he fired warning shots at the wall and the stray pigeons. Ladies and gentlemen: Tommy Shelby, wellness guru – apart from incessant smoking, of course.

The big problem: a new drug route

Another thing he hasn’t done in four years is come face-to-face with Michael, but today the cousins ​​are sitting with some South Boston crooks (namely Michael’s uncle , powerful South Boston gang leader Jack Nelson) to discuss a drug deal.

The island of Miquelon, “an island without morals or opinions”, is beyond the reach of US and Canadian law, making it perfectly placed to transport illicit goods – yes, they still trade the purest heroin than Shanghai has to offer. It helps that Tommy has friends there, relationships forged in the trenches of WW1 (honestly, it’s a miracle the Allies won at all. For a fee, they’ll turn a blind eye to the boats hauling opium to Boston, whereupon Uncle Jack can hold his end of the bargain and pump it into the veins of freshly minted junkies across the U.S. Assembled costumes want to seal the deal with a small drink , but Tommy rejects alcohol: “Whiskey is just fuel for the noisy engines inside your head”, he says philosophically.They sneer, but Tommy has the last laugh, revealing a rat in their operation in the spirit of “corporate hygiene”: it turns out to be a bomb that ruffles more feathers than the mangy pigeons in the bar downstairs.

World’s Worst Santa Award goes to – Arthur Shelby

BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd./Matt Squire

Back at the Shelby farm, Lizzie throws a Christmas party before she and the kids, Charlie and Ruby, join Tommy across the Atlantic for a wholesome Canadian vacation. Arthur does his best to traumatize the children with a twisted version of Santa Claus: he’s been on four years since Polly’s disappearance, leaving Ada to try to fill her shoes, but she, too, is treading water, rudderless. Lizzy guesses, “No more Polly, no more whiskey – no more Tommy”.

Michael is nicked, Gina throws a party

After the meeting, Tommy denounces the American border control on the drugs in Michael’s briefcase. He is gassed and faces a ticked off Gina who visits him in the slammer. Believing it to be the rat his cousin had warned him about, he urges her to know when Uncle Jack will get him out but Gina is elusive. It looks like Michael is behind bars for the foreseeable time, especially with a woman who seems so indifferent to his incarceration. The honeymoon period is well and truly over.

Gina seems indifferent to the incarceration of her husband

/ BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd./Matt Squire

Tommy issues an ultimatum

While eating prison oatmeal, Billy no-mates Gina throws a party for one at her golden mansion when a visitor comes calling – it’s the relationship she loves to hate, Tommy. She smiles when asked for an answer to her drug proposal, but her nerve quickly dissolves when he reveals who really got Michael arrested. It was, he explains, to force Uncle Jack’s hand; Will he use his influence to free his drug-dealing nephew and attract outrageous headlines, or risk his reputation in South Boston and lose control of his business? If he’s not playing ball, Tommy has another buyer lined up: Jack’s enemies, the Jews of East Boston, led by none other than the Solomons. It’s only a matter of time before the indestructible and endlessly watchable Alfie (Tom Hardy) returns for one last bloodshed.

Ruby’s disease is a nightmare for Tommy

In addition to getting sober, Tommy started caring about the few members of his family who still talk to him. He rings the doorbell and finds that his daughter Ruby, who’s been on a rampage with the Johnny Dogs kids, has a fever and Lizzie can’t get on the boat as planned. His paternal concern escalates into full-blown superstitious panic when he hears that his baby girl is not only raving ominous phrases in Romani, but has also had visions of a green-eyed man. Did she inherit Polly’s eyesight? He certainly seems to have started a fire under Tommy, who orders Lizzie to keep her out of school, away from the horses, and hang a Black Madonna around her neck – presumably standard procedure before Calpol’s invention. He’s so shaken up that he considers getting the first steamer back, but not before a quick stop to see Michael.

The end of Michael Gray?

Anxious to close the deal, he offers his cousin $5 million to handle the drug shipment. Michael goes back four years to spit out the words of Captain Swing of the IRA: “You didn’t learn when my mother died at the hands of your ambition, you didn’t learn your limits.”

Tommy shoots the last arrow by telling him that Uncle Jack has bought five boat tickets to England: for him, his wife, his mistress, the son of President Roosevelt (mysterious) and Gina. But not Michael, suggesting he intends to let him rot in the gash.

Will Michael be left to rot in an American prison?

/ BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd./Matt Squire

Verdict

If the past nine years and 30 episodes have taught us anything, it’s that starting a new season of Peaky Blinders is like starting a mystery project on the needle – nothing really makes sense yet and it there are a lot of things to sort out. But I’m not worried: Knight has the form to simmer things to a boiling crescendo and we’re only at the very beginning of the series’ curtain call.

The first episode is all about setting the stage for what’s to come, and while I could have done with a little less recapping in the character dialogue – it was rather forced for someone who obsessively reviewed the five seasons in the space of a week – these are definitely useful clues for anyone with a life.

It’s hard to know what to make of the new faces: we’ve barely heard or seen anything from Captain Swing or Uncle Jack, but if he looks like his niece, he’ll be wrong.

As for little Ruby, what tikna mora, one of the Roma phrases she utters feverishly, that is to say? Is there a Rosetta Stone for this? One thing is for sure, it must be serious to entice Tommy to bring the first boat home. Is the green-eyed man a premonition or a depiction of something sinister? And where does the character of Alfie Solomons and Stephen Graham fit into all of this?

Peaky Blinders continues Sundays at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer

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