A little Tom Hardy goes a long way.
So when he turns up at the end of this week’s Peaky Blinders to talk gin, piss, and boxing, he reminds you that it’s here, not in his own project Taboo, that Hardy really belongs. In the seven minutes of screen time he has he commands attention like the blare of the car horn that announces him. He’s also part of the finest exchange of dialogue in the history of the show:
‘Who the fuck are you?
‘Who the fuck am I?’
‘Who the fuck is this?’
No wonder fans were clamouring to have him back. His brief return is everything you expect of his loquacious rum baker Alfie Solomons: brutish, cheeky, and so eccentric that he pushes against the carefully manicured aura of cool and seriousness that the show now creates so effortlessly. It’s just the odd spark needed to carry the episode to its ominous end.
We begin ominously also, though to be fair, when don’t we in this show? A trap is laid for Arthur in the shape of a party with beer and sandwiches, and the mother of a boy who Arthur killed. The Blinders are one step ahead (which is amazing, considering the amount of slo-mo walking they do), and ready to take a pot-shot at the Mafia assassins they expect to turn up. Except it’s a trap, a decoy, and it’s actually Michael who’s in danger.
It’s a supremely tense opener, with the kind of high stake and edge-of-seat anxiousness usually reserved for closer to the end of an episode than the start. And it reaches a magnificent, breath-holding crescendo as Luca put a gun to Michael’s forehead. I’ll be honest, I was expecting blood.
But no, it’s another warning from the Changrettas; a message to Aunt Pol that she’d better not be mucking them about with her deal, because they certainly aren’t messing around. After I pointed out last week that it doesn’t seem like Luca’s had little to do but talk, it’s good to see him getting his hands dirty and being part in another Mafia cliché, the roadside ambush. Honestly, there’ve been so many already, we should’ve made bingo cards. It’ll be no surprise if the head of Tommy’s horse Danger ends up on a pillow.
The meat of episode 4 is a study of Tommy. Last week the show’s eyes lingered on Arthur a little longer than anyone else but now the gaze is turned to its razor-cheeked anti-hero. Every conversation causes him reflection and reveals a little more about his inner workings. It makes you realise that, despite being the protagonist, we never get close to Tommy. Like every other character around him, we’re kept at arm’s length.
And then someone turns up he’s willing to open his arms, and his trousers, to. Mrs May Carleton (a cut-glass Charlotte Riley) returns after her brief cameo the other week, this time for something more substantial.
‘Nothing seems to change you,’ she says of Tommy. And she’s right. How much has he really changed in four series and nearly a decade? How much has been willing to change, even after all the losses and victories? Far from being a criticism of his character’s growth, it’s a reflection of his strength, and all the emotional compromises he’s had to make to stay strong.
He’s still a man who deals in horses and boxing and bootlegging, all while keeping one eye out for the next armed enemy. He’s just better at it now. Like he tells the foreman, ‘I’m just an extreme example of what a working man can achieve.’
A working man who – if Aunt Pol’s tea-leaf reading are still up to scratch – might be becoming a father again. Pol tells Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe) to stay off the whisky and start on the stout, a subtle hint about getting more iron in her diet (expectant mums were once encouraged to drink stout for the extra vitamins). Might it be another little Tommy?
If it is, the kid may grow up without a dad.
Tommy’s time seems up, as he leaves Michael and is pursued by a grocer’s van filled with Tommy Gun toting Italians. I mean, we know it won’t be his end, but you’ve got to suspend your belief that this show would kill off its core character and invest in the story.
Still, if they did kill him off, there’d be plenty more room for Tom Hardy…