“We shake hands with the devil and then walk right past him.” Polly Shelby distills the family essence perfectly. That is exactly what they do. Not everyone can accomplish that, but when you were raised in impoverished Birmingham at the turn of the 20th century, that is probably a skill you pick up. The streets are dirty, the air is heavy and the buildings, ramshackle and falling down much like the rain from the sky. The Shelby family has made a name for themselves, and whether you approve or not, they’re here to stay. Why, you say? Because they can, and as the head of the family, Tommy Shelby says, “…if we can, then we do because we’re the Peaky f***ing Blinders”.
Season four recently premiered on Netflix, and it lives up to its dirty, grimy, smoke stacked reputation, with the family’s new country homes quickly being replaced by the safety and seclusion of their old home in Birmingham England. While events in previous seasons have torn the Gypsy crime family apart, new events threaten their very existence. The family must decide if they can trust each other enough to wage war on the Italian Mafia from New York. A vendetta must be challenged and overcome, and it takes the cooperation of the entire family to see it through.
While the dialogue and acting are as good as they ever were, season four feels rushed and packed full of details that the audience must sort through, bit by bit. In typical BBC fashion, the series has only six episodes, and this year it really needed about eight. The core of the problem really lies in the revealing flashbacks that are meant to explain what just happened and/or how the events happened. They start to feel like a crutch, a way of quickly explaining things that would otherwise need time and development. And so the audience begins to feel as though we’ve been as duped as the “bad guys”. We’re left picking up the pieces of the plot, and drawing lines of correlation. For example, when Arthur is ambushed in the bathroom during the boxing match, we are led to believe he’s dead and with all evidence thus far pointing in that direction. There is no hmm…moment where we recall forshadowing events or clues that might lead us to suspect otherwise. In comes the flashback, and events or scenes that we were never shown explain why the family pretended he was dead. Silly us! We were just paying attention to the scenes we were shown. Occasionally I wondered why someone wasn’t crying hysterically, but is that supposed to be enough evidence to make me wonder if I’m being tricked by the writers? Clearly, Agatha Cristie needs to visit the set and throw a little Hurlcuel Poirot action their way.
The same can be said of Polly’s relationship with her son, and her apparent mistrust of him. While we know that she has always wanted to get him away from Tommy and crime, this is a heck of a way to do it. She lies to him about how she feels about Tommy, about what she felt was his betrayal of the family, and then sets him up to betray Tommy when he doesn’t tell him of his mother’s plans. What?! In the end he is sent to New York, away from the family but not away from the mob, which you would think would be a little more important since they just tried to kill every member of the family.
I was left feeling confused and betrayed myself. Doubtless, I was not alone. The performances are top notch (Tom Hardy as Alfie Solomons and Adrien Brody as the mobster, Luca Changretta) but the plot line gasps for air, and dies in its own bloody pool. I can heartily recommend seasons 1-3, but 4, hmmm….