Tommy Shelby is dead!
No, no, not the one that looks like a skull stuffed into a gym sock. The goaty one.
The ceremonial sacrificing of the four-legged ‘Tommy Shelby’ for Passover (seems to come earlier every year, dunnit?) is the red flag to signal a full-blown revolution against the Shelby clan’s power; a swift and crippling blow by the combined forces of Campbell’s police and Sabini and Solomon’s gangs. It was always going to happen, and we all saw it coming, but still…it makes for one hell of an opener.
Battle is waged on all fronts: financial, physical, but most notably sexual. All is made unfair in love and war. Amid the fisticuffs and bloodshed and swearing, the most arresting and devastating weapon is sex, which unfortunately means that women are treated as collateral damage. Women in Peaky Blinders, in case you’d forgotten, are the bits in between the blood and muscle and whisky.
Helen McCrory’s razor-sharp/hammer-blunt Aunt Polly has always been the most formidable female; the sweary breath of fresh air blowing through the sauna atmosphere of testosterone and cigarette smoke. She was the unassailable matriarch in Season 1, and while she’s softened in Season 2 with the arrival of her son Michael, she’s still the only woman – the only person – willing to hold a gun to Tommy Shelby’s head. She’s an Alpha-woman.
So it’s a shock when she is raped by Major Campbell. And it is rape, rather than some sexual favour to gain leniency for her son. Mercifully, – perhaps even surprisingly – Peaky Blinders handles it far more sensitively than it does with other acts of violence (don’t know about you, but I still see Harold Hancock’s throat, grinning at me like a clown’s mouth, when I close my eyes at night). But it’s still more shocking than any of the show’s cartoonish blood-letting has ever been.
Engaging in consensual sex to piss off Campbell, Tommy enjoys a reunion with his ex and Campbell’s 2am bed-frame trembling fantasy skirt, Grace (Annabelle Wallis). ‘I hate reunions’ he tells her, yet he takes a self-masochistic pleasure in this one.
Is he using her or does he still love her? Is there a point to Grace being brought back to the show, other than being something Tommy can use to rut against and antagonise Campbell with in their ongoing war? It’s a bit of everything.
There’s the sense of the guy who wants to impress his ex (taking her to meet THE Charlie Chaplin, the biggest star of the era) and at the same time throw a huge middle finger in the face of every other chap who fancies her. She’s just a handy piece to move across the battlefield. And then fuck. Feminism hasn’t made it quite as far in 1920s Birmingham as the gangs have.
And yet, despite the damage, Tommy still wins and lives to fight and shag another day. In a beautifully structured scene he outmanoeuvres Campbell on a personal and intellectual level. It’s petty, but if you believe in Tommy as an anti-hero, then it’s a satisfying victory. And, so long as you’re not a goat, that’s as much of a win as you can claim this week.
Airs at 9pm on Thursday 30 October 2014 on BBC Two.
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