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Peaky Blinders - Black Day - Review

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The long-awaited return of Peaky Blinders started with some tragic news that we were made aware of going in: Helen McCrory, Polly Gray herself, had sadly passed away. Such a loss is deeply tragic and it was interesting to see how the show would deal with the loss of arguably its beating heart and most human character, and it does so admirably – crafting a bittersweet, brilliant tribute, both in story and without – ending the episode with no music in a show as loud as Peaky is telling, and the funeral where Michael and Tommy draw lines – Michael outwardly telling Tommy that he’s responsible for Polly’s death to his face – sets the status quo for the last outing of Peaky Blinders - at least on the small screen.

Smash cut to several years later after the consequences of the failed attack on Oswald Mosely are dealt with. In France, the days before the collapse of the prohibition – Tommy Shelby wanders into a bar and orders water. He doesn’t drink alcohol anymore – and the French barfly stereotypes on the Miquelon Island – outside of American and Canadian law - present take their anger out on him from the get go. Tommy proves almost instantly that he hasn’t lost his touch, before Michael walks in to conduct business. Both sides have a rare mutal interest – the Americans aren’t impressed by Tommy’s “poetry”, but Michael knows Tommy all too well – but not well enough apparently, as not only is he rattled by Tommy’s claim that there’s an insider among his ranks feeding information to the law, he’s also shoved in jail after another tip. Michael it seems, is still very much out of his league.

This was a quieter, more subdued season premiere than before – the lack of Nick Cave noticeably present as the soundtrack switches to a sombre tone. The episode plays out like a horror movie, the circling atmosphere catches Tommy at his lowest point, on the ground, taking the coward’s way out, saved only by the substituted bullets that Arthur took out before they reached their destination. Who is the man Tommy cannot defeat was the big answer lingering over Season 5’s finale? And questions are still being raised and answered as the episode progresses – Mosley was kept alive for an unknown reason of yet and with the losses of Aberama (Aidan Gillen) and Barney (Cosmo Jarvis) also ringing true – it’s a Black Day indeed, but above all else, Polly Gray’s absence is felt everywhere – and Tommy’s heart breaks upon the discovery of the body. Arthur has become a hollow shell of a man, back in his old ways again, failing to arrive on Christmas Day dressed as Father Christmas to give the Shelby family children presents. Ada tries her best, but she’s no Polly – and with Polly’s absence a chasm is left.

Into the void a new threat steps – Jack Nelson, a powerful Boston gang leader. We don’t meet Nelson in this episode but we’re already well acquainted with his company, Michael and Gina. Gina walks into another encounter with Tommy scarred by the last – the devil, she calls him, but there’s a hint of chemistry there – Anya Taylor-Joy bringing the same energy that she brought in Last Night in Soho to the table. Michael believes that the rat Tommy warned him of is the reason why he got caught – but Gina isn’t so sure, and takes it up with Tommy when he shows up – it's rare to find Michael in a bad place like this but more telling is that Gina doesn’t really care about the fact that he’s locked up at all – the two characters are clearly no longer in their honeymoon period. Gina’s cool rapidly slips away from her when Tommy raises the possibility of another buyer for his drugs – the east Boston Jews, who he has a familiar contact with in the eyes of the Solomons led by Tom Hardy’s patriarch Alfie.

It’s a fascinating stakes-raising of a premiere, but then – just when you think you know where it’s going to go Peaky Blinders throws another curve at us and hits us with a revelation: Ruby has a fever so she couldn’t catch a boat to Boston, and is rambling phrases in Romany – having visions of a man with green eyes. Polly’s sight was often a topic brought up in the past but may rear its head again in Ruby – but it’s enough for Tommy to be on ever-watchful alert. He gives Lizzie some warnings, telling her to hang a black Madonna from her neck, and says he’ll be on the next steamer back – incredibly shaken. This is Tommy back – scared – and more worried than ever.

The final curve ball that should put Michael’s power grab on hold for now is also made: Uncle Jack has abandoned him and chosen the President over Michael – and by extension, Tommy – offering him, the president’s son, Gina, his wife and mistress back to England – and maybe, back to Small Heath.

The soundtrack is sparse but brilliant – a touch haunting in places and the usage of Joy Division only amplifies this, much has been made of Peaky Blinders’ music choices only being allowed to be chosen if they have that rebellious, Peaky vibe – and Joy Division very much has that. There couldn’t be a better example of a series fully in command of its understand of music to its identity right now – maybe with Euphoria as the possible exception. Hearing Disorder will never not be a bad thing, and the always great Anna Calvi returned from Series 5 to deliver two more memorable song choices – You’re Not God in the opening minutes and a cover of Johnny Cash’s Ain’t No Grave when Tommy visited Michael in prison.

Such an episode feels spend recapping what has come before especially after the time jump that the pacing is kind of bogged down in parts but it acts as a guided refresher for anyone who hasn’t rewatched the series since it last aired. We don’t know too much about these new threats but almost certainly we’ll see a score of familiar faces return, plus Captain Swing and Jack have larger parts to play as well. Stephen Graham is due to join the series, we just don’t know who as yet (maybe Jack himself) and there's a part to play for Conrad Khan too - it's easier to expect that he'll likely play Roosevelt's son.

Either way – it’s the beginning of the end – or rather, the end is the beginning – Peaky Blinders won’t take its final bow with this series, with creator Steven Knight having originally intended to wrap up the show at the start of World War Two – but it seems the series’ story, in whatever capacity that is, taking Tommy Shelby with it or not – will go beyond to the big screen. And I think given everything that the show has thrown at us so far, we can put our faith in Knight to make the right call going forward.

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