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Peaky Blinders - Season 4 - Roundtable Review: "Vendetta"

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Steven Knight's British gangster drama Peaky Blinders recently wrapped its fourth season in the UK airing on BBC Two (all four seasons are as of the publishing date available on BBC IPlayer) and with the season having just aired in its entirety on Netflix in the US, there was no better time to get stuck into an analysis on this explosive season. This article was co-written by Milo (MJ), Marko (MK) and Beth (BW).

1. First off, What are your overall thoughts on the season?

Milo (MJ): Peaky Blinders is one of my favourite shows and I was really excited to see where it would take us this season after the cliffhanger ending that it left us on at the end of Season 4. And it really delivered, proving to be suitably intense and unpredictable from the word go. Would the Shelbys meet their end within the first five minutes of the first season? There were so many story arcs that the show tackled in this season it almost became hard to keep track of them all - whether it was the vendetta with Luca Changretta and his Italian allies that resulted in the shocking death of John Shelby or Lizzie Stark's short lived romance with Tommy, there was so much going on. A different show might have struggled to manage all that was going on here but Peaky Blinders managed to live up to its expectations incredibly well, meeting them and never letting up. Season 4 might be one of my favourite seasons of Peaky Blinders, but it's hard to tell. There's a fantastic level of consistency that few other shows have been able to manage, and the way all the various plot threads tied together and overlapped was done with great effect. The high stakes nature of unpredictability was there from John's death, and it gave the lingering feeling that nobody was safe for the entire season, making tense encounters like Tommy's showdown with Luca at the start of episode nine all the more gripping, as you never knew who was going to come out on top.

Marko (MK): I really loved this season. It was so well paced, so eventful. The writers really packed so much story into these 6 episodes that it was a thrilling ride from the first minute to the closing. Also Cillian Murphy once again delivered a breathtaking performance, dude deserves some accolades for this one.

Beth (BW): Peaky Blinders delivered once again. We get six episodes a season and they are all quality. I felt that the main story was a great way to show consequences for what the Shelby family does. I also loved that they returned to where it started and the season was spent there. There were so many dynamic moments that had me running the gambit of emotions. John dying was very hard to watch, I knew once they introduced what the season would be about, that one of the brothers would die but having it be John was devastating to me. I will miss Joe Cole on this show.

2. We had three new main cast members join this season. What are your thoughts on Aiden Gillen's Abrema Gold, Adrien Brody's Luca Changretta & Charlie Murphy's Jessie Eden? How Did Changretta stack up against the memorable antagonists in the show's previous seasons?

MJ: All three new cast members were fantastic additions to the show. Aiden Gillen is most recognisable for playing shifty, untrustworthy characters like he had on Game of Thrones and The Wire in the past and his character of Abrema Gold was very much another shifty and untrustworthy character to add to his CV. I kept expecting Gold to end up betraying Tommy at some point and was kind of disappointed when it didn't happen. But all the same, I enjoyed the dynamic with Polly that Gold brought to the show, and the series dealt with his involvement well, giving him the opportunity to return in Season 4. Charlie Murphy's Jessie Eden was actually based on a real life historical figure of the Communist party, and I really liked how they factored her involvement into the show, which has been known to borrow from history in the past - hell, the Peaky Blinders themselves are based off a real gang. Bringing Jessie Eden into the game allowed Tommy to find out what side of the class war he was on, dealing with the matter of a revolution in Birmingham and the UK brought about by his actions. Of course this is where the fact that it's a historical drama kind of spoils us - we know that the Communist revolution will not be successful - but that doesn't make Jessie's storyline all the more exciting, even if most of it felt like a set up for season five.

I mentioned Changretta briefly in my answer to the first question but I must say how good of an addition he was to this season. Adrien Brody brought an excellent, scenery-chewing role to the table with an axe to grind and the fact that it looked like he was in control for much of the season really helped make it seem like Tommy was backed into the corner. The blood feud added an exciting and tense dynamic to the show that kept things very personal, and it was almost a shame to lose an actor as talented as Brody at the end of the season.

MK: I really loved this season. It was so well paced, so eventful. The writers really packed so much story into these 6 episodes that it was a thrilling ride from the first minute to the closing. Also Cillian Murphy once again delivered a breathtaking performance, dude deserves some accolades for this one.

BW: Adrian Brody’s Luca Changretta was a fantastic foe for Tommy, and the best one he has gone up against in my opinion. It was the first time I have seen Tommy truly shaken and scared by an adversary. I am not sure if that is because of Charlie and knows he is all he has, or Luca really made him fear for him and his family. Perhaps it is a combination of both. Aberama Gold was interesting and I spent two episodes trying to place the actor until I realized he played Little Finger on GOT! Jessie fell completely flat for me. I did enjoy her scene in the bar with Ada and the fact that she was a catalyst for us to get a little insight to Tommy before the war.

3. From the returning cast, which actor delivered the standout performances for you this season?

MJ: I know it sounds like an obvious pick, but this was Cillian Murphy's year for me. He's been an incredible actor from the very beginning and he put in another top notch performance here that not only bettered but surpassed most of the best actor performances on shows that were nominated for the Emmys last year - it's absolutely criminal that this show isn't talked about as being a major contender. I also really liked Helen McCroy's terrific performance as Polly Gray. Sophie Rundle also excelled as Ada in her brief role this season too, her main scene with Jessie Eden were great and I kind of wished Ada had more of a role to play. And of course Tom Hardy as Alfie Solomons was as brilliant as ever, but I'll get onto that later.

MK: As earlier mention, Cillian Murphy knocked it out of the park. I really love his acting, everything he does works so well. The small pauses he takes, the tone of his voice, his body language and just overall expression are simply fascinating. Besides Cillian, Helen McCroy was impeecable as always.

BW: Cillian Murphy is always the standout to me and this season was no different. I said it earlier this week; he can say so much with just his eyes. Cillian just draws me in and doesn’t let go with his screen presence. Tommy’s breakdown was a masterful performance and it baffles me that he has never been nominated for this role by the major award shows.

Finn Cole as Michael impressed me as well. I thought when Tommy found Michael it would just be for Polly to have closure, but Michael stuck around and has become integral to the Shelby Empire. Finn does an excellent job showing that although this life is in Michael’s blood, he was raised differently and it gives him the unique ability to be rational, which Tommy relies on. I really hope this isn’t the end of Michael being on the show because he was trying to protect him mom and was in a tough spot.

4. One of the season’s main storylines saw a clash between Tommy and Polly. Were you convinced that Polly had betrayed Tommy to Luca Changretta or did you think that there was more to it? How did you think that the show handled the direction of the relationship between both characters this season, especially with the fallout from last season?

MJ: I was blindsided by it completely, and I feel really stupid for allowing myself to be tricked. The show gave us a couple of red herrings this year and this was something I wasn't expecting. Was Polly really going to betray Tommy? Had there been that much bad blood between them? Obviously it was all part of a ruse, but it really allowed the audience to see the best out of Helen McCroy, whose character had a terrific performance. I think we were all breathing a sigh of relief when it turned out that Polly had helped orchestrate an ambush that would lead Changretta and his men into a trap in episode five.

MK: I was really convinced that Polly switched sides. Kudos to Helen for that, but the writers did an excellent job in creating a rift between them and Polly needed some fresh meat, and Luca seemed very fresh to me. Lol. It was very well build up, also the inclusion of Michael into the story was a very smart move. I was very happy I wasn't right though. The Peaky Blinders are a strong bunch.

MK: Tommy and Polly have always had the most complex relationship on the show. In a way it reminds a bit of Jax and Gemma from Sons Of Anarchy with less co-dependency. When it comes to Michael, Polly will do anything and everything to ensure that she does not lose him again, so yes, I thought she had indeed betrayed Tommy to save Michael and threw in Arthur and Finn because they had lost John and she wasn’t ready to lose more. I was angry at first but put myself in Polly’s shoes, she and her son were almost hung in the beginning of the season because of Tommy’s actions to protect and keep his family close. I think this storyline between Polly and Tommy was a way to keep last season’s cliffhanger in the forefront and remind us that the family felt betrayed even though they had moved on to fight Luca. As we saw in the first episode, Michael was at a loss for how to help Polly from spiraling even further and Tommy knew how to handle it, which Polly saw right through. They are the leaders of the Shelby clan, so of course they will clash on how to keep them safe but as we saw, they will always put issues aside for the greater good.

5. Are you happy with how the show resolved last season’s cliffhanger?

MJ: It was an excellent way to start the season - I loved it. Whilst the end of Season 3 was a bit frustrating especially given how long we had to wait for Season 4, the resolution was more than satisfying. Seeing the characters on the edge of the noose - before they were ultimately saved at the last possible moment, allowed for the show to start in a tense and exciting way that it very much continued with over the entire season.

MK: Yes and No. It was probably the only weak part of the season. Think the writers slightly regretted Tommy betraying his fam so they went with the quick way out and focused bit more on how it affected the family instead of how it got resolved.

BW: This was the one part of the season that bothered me but as I said above, they did keep the running thread of Polly’s anger toward Tommy. Last season, I did not see what Tommy did coming so I thought the show would spend a little more time resolving it. I understand that with only six episodes a season, it may be a little hard to spend time fleshing it out fully, but I wanted a bit more. I will say the opening scene with all of them heading to the gallows made me hold my breath.

6. What was your favourite episode? And likewise, your least favourite, if there is one? And how would you say this season stacked up against the previous ones in terms of quality? An improvement – more of the same – or a disappointment?

MJ: The problem with picking a favourite episode (and by extension, a least favourite episode and series), is that the show is too damn consistent to decide on an episode that would get the nod. There are were all moments of brilliance in every individual episode, and but I think for me, my money has to go on a 4.05 "The Duel" as a favourite episode. It's just so damn good. The opening showdown between Changretta and Tommy was fantastic from start to finish, really well directed with so many great moments. I also liked the finale a lot too, but I'll get onto why later. It's definitely one of my favourite seasons so far I think - but I would have a hard time ranking them as they're all spectacular for the most part.

MK: Episode 6 was certainly my favorite. It had so much drama and action and the Shelby's taking out Luca was just priceless. The freakout was perfect. Least favorite I wouldn't say there is one, the episodes were all good, not a boring moment in the bunch. Comparing to other seasons I would say it is on par with season 3, which was my favorite to this point.

BW: My favorite episode was six. Peaky Blinders always brings it in the finale and this was no different. The cards they have been holding all season are revealed and there are always unexpected twists and turns. The sequence at the end with Tommy being isolated with no fire to put out is something I have wanted to see. Everything that has happened to him and that he has done came rushing in and it was too much to take. His face when he saw Charlie watching him was devastating. The Arthur fake out was also well done in its execution. We also learned that Tommy is now a father to a daughter, so there is finally a new generation of Shelby women.

My least favorite was episode one mainly because Tommy was so isolated from his family. He was off his game and it showed when he didn’t vet the culinary staff that turned out to be moles for Luca.

I would put this season up in my top two with season one still being my favorite. The performances and story were next level, which is refreshing because as a show ages it often loses its spark and that is not happening here.

7. Peaky Blinders is a show known for its anachronistic soundtrack. What was your favourite music moment this year?

MJ: There were plenty of good music moments from this season of Peaky Blinders and it's easy to see why when you have the former bassist from Pulp, Antony Genn as your music supervisor. From the moment we saw Yak's Alas Salvation introduce us to John's life in the country and the song choices that followed just continued to get better and better - different versions of familiar songs like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' performance Live From KCRW of The Mercy Seat played when John and Michael are both shot, and repeated later in episode two, and of course it's not Peaky Blinders without Red Right Hand, so a special nod goes to the excellent version by Iggy Pop and Jarvis Cocker that played in episode five where Tommy was being hounded by Luca. It's also worth mentioning how great the late-game addition of Laura Marling's music was - we got to see not only her take on Red Right Hand in episode six, both versions recorded for the show itself, but we also got to see Saved These Words, and last but not least - one of the best songs that the show has used so far, her stellar cover of Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall. All of these music choices fit the show really nicely, and I'm hoping we get to see more of the same next season.

MK: Devil Inside Me from Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes during Arthur's fight in the factory. It was just so energizing and powerful.

BW: I love this aspect of the show. The music is always on point for the scenes and I hate to make another SOA reference but the way they re-work songs reminds me of something that they used to do. My favorite moment was the remaking of ‘Red Right Hand’ in the beginning of episode five when Luca and his men were following Tommy to ambush him, and likewise when they had another version during the opening of the finale. When I think of Peaky Blinders I think of that song.

8. Tom Hardy’s Alfie Solomons played a small but crucial role this season, ending with his death at Tommy’s hands following his betrayal. Will you miss Alfie’s character? Are you happy with the direction he took? If you could have two dream actors join the cast next season – who would they be and what roles would they play?

MJ: Alfie Solomons has been one of the most entertaining TV characters around since his introduction and that's in no small part thanks to the brilliance of Tom Hardy's scenery-chewing performance that helped him steal every scene he was in. Knocking it out of the park from the word go, I loved his meeting with Luca - and the way he revealed that he understood the language that they were speaking in at the end was a nice touch when you considered that they were underestimating him - it was no surprise that I was hoping against hope that it would all be another ruse and Alfie wouldn't betray Tommy, it would be another fake-out. But apparently not - and Alfie got the bullet in one of the ways most suiting of his character. All signs did point to his death this season, especially in his meeting with Tommy at the start of episode six - but his character went on a high note that assured he will be missed by all.

Ever since Al Capone was namedropped in the finale of Peaky Blinders I would have loved to see an appearance, no matter how small, by arguably the most infamous gangster in American History. Yes, that would mean treading a bit too close into Boardwalk Empire territory, a show that Peaky Blinders has been compared enough as it is, but can you imagine how great it would be to see Stephen Graham portray the role one more time? It's not like he hasn't worked with Steven Knight before, on Taboo. If not - I'd like to see someone like Vincent D'Onofrio take the role of Al Capone. It may be typecasting - but I really did love his take on The Kingpin in Daredevil, and were he to play Capone, it would be legitimately terrifying.

MK: Losing Alfie is a big thing, but I understand that Tom can't do more and is expensive for the show. His performance though was on point. He is such a complex character and proved it with every scene he was in. He is player and betraying the Shelby's is just another buckle on his belt. Loved the showdown between him and Tommy, it was beautifully shot and the boys delivered as always. Who would I want to join? That is a tough one. I would love for Hayley Atwell to be part of the show, would be nice to see her go head to head with Tommy.

BW: Tom Hardy as Alfie is one of my favorite recurring characters. When I saw him pull up in that car this season I was so happy. I will miss Alfie, especially his speeches that seem to make no sense when they start, but make perfect sense by the end and I loved that even in his impending death, he still tried to do that. I am not surprised by his betrayal though; he was always out for himself and this time was no different.

Here I go on my SOA obsession again but Charlie Hunnam would be a great ally in some capacity for Tommy next year. I would want them to work together and not against each other for a common goal. Tommy Flanagan who is an SOA alum played their father, so it is not too far fetched for me to dream cast Charlie.

Since this show has no problem pulling in big names, I think Liam Neeson could be an amazing foe for Tommy next year.

9. The show ended its season by providing another fake-out with Arthur’s “death” and Tommy using his influence as a double agent to become a MP. Did you like how the show wrapped up Season 4 and where can you see it going in the future?

MJ: You can fool me once, Peaky Blinders, but you can't fool me twice. I was kind of expecting Arthur to return despite the way it was filmed to make it look as though he was killed off in the finale, and the show did a fantastic job in how it was executed. Just because it may have been a tad predictable doesn't mean that I didn't love every second of it, especially seeing how cocky Luca was in those moments beforehand. The fact that Arthur was the one to deliver the final end to Luca was all the more satisfying - and yes, it may have been a deus ex machina, but it was one of the best executed deus-ex machinas I've seen in a while. The whole finale, seeing Tommy manipulate the government into becoming a Labour MP was executed really well here, and that final montage of him winning the vote was pulled off so well it's one of my favourite scenes of the year. I loved the Laura Marling song choice, I loved how it brought the Shelbys back together, and it really set the stage for Season 5. Hell, it could have almost been a series finale in itself, with the show ending on an unexpectedly happy ending compared to the Season 4 cliffhanger.

MK: They really got me with Arthur's fake death, cause after John I wasn't putting anything besides them, but the election part felt a bit rushed to me. I mean they could've done a whole season about Tommy moving into political waters and winning the elections. But obviously they creatively felt they wanted to drop right into the major league political games. I am intrigued to see what they have in store for season 5.

BW: I really liked how it wrapped up because it adds a new layer and trouble with Tommy winning that job. For better or worse we saw that he needs to lead this family in new directions, so this will open new stories for that. I have no idea where they go and I like that.

I was not fooled about Arthur for the simple fact that we already lost John, so there was no way Tommy would be left with just Finn by his side, even though he officially became a Peaky Blinder.

10. And finally, is there anything else you’d like to add that I’ve missed above?

MJ: I covered most of what I wanted to say about Season 4 above. However, I thought I'd mention that I got the chance to visit some of the filming locations that the show has used in the past midway through the airing of this season, in the 1920s Black Country Living Museum of Dudley. It was fantastic to see the museum itself as well as plenty of the filming locations which come in the form of plenty of authentic period buildings, as well as the canal itself that had been used multiple times over the series in the past. It's well worth the visit if you're ever in the area - and you can read more about what was used for filming locations in previous seasons here. Season four details will be uploaded soon.

MK: I have to say that I did enjoy Arthur more this season, usually he is way too much to handle for me. I loved Lizzie being more incorporated into the story and her jealous act was priceless. Besides this I have to say I really love this show and am thankful that it on air. Hopefully it will get more recognition worldwide.

BW: Excellent job with the questions Milo, these were really fun to work through! I would only add my pitch if you are reading this for pure curiosity (sorry for the spoilers). Please give this show a chance. If you love complex family dynamics, outlaw characters and fantastic writing than you should definitely give this show a chance!

Peaky Blinders Seasons 1-4 are available on Netflix in the US and are currently on BBC IPlayer in the UK. Did you enjoy Season 4 or were you not too keen? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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