Amidst the turmoil of the strike and objections from Communists, Tommy and Arthur bring farmers from other parts of the country in to man their factories, leading to a violent confrontation between the eldest Shelby brother and one of the Bolshevik protesters that Tommy is forced to break up. In the meantime, Michael fields an unexpected visit from his adoptive mother in his hospital room where he and the rest of Shelby Ltd are due to have a meeting. Upset that she only found out he’d been shot in the newspaper, the concerned woman also reveals that his father passed away and that he’s welcome to come home to her whenever he wants, unable to disguise her disgust at Tommy and the detrimental effect he’s had on her son’s life. After she leaves, the man she despises arrives at Michael’s room, along with Polly, Ada and Lizzie to discuss official business: the reinstatement of the matriarch of the family as treasurer with improved terms. In spite of Arthur’s absence, as he’s been ‘detained’ by Linda who’s seduced him back at the factory, (something she was convinced to do by her husband’s aunt), Polly’s signature on the new contract and a show of hands approve the measure. Moving onto the ‘real business’, they mull over the merits of disregarding the ‘Law of the Bullet’, which dictates Arthur would fire the gun that kills Luca, discussing the advantages of giving Aberama Gold a picture of their enemy and getting him to do the deed instead. Again, without Arthur there, they vote to proceed with that course of action.
Back at the factory, Arthur is pulled away from his amorous activities with his wife to deal with Bolsheviks, who are throwing paint around the work floor. After being doused in red, he shoos the trouble causers and looks on as two mafia men walk straight through the open backdoor of the factory. Narrowly avoiding being shot as they give chase, he eventually manages to pick them both off, drowning one of the men in a vat of paint and then burning both of their bodies in the furnace. This near miss proves troublesome for Changretta, who’s posing as a tourist and staying at a hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon. He summons two more of his men and instructs them to notify the relatives of their colleagues who’ve just been murdered by Arthur, they also clash over their unwillingness to integrate themselves into their surroundings, and when one of the duo complains about the quality of English food, Luca stuffs a scone into his mouth. After the altercation, the pair of subordinates reveal that a woman has come forward who lost her son in a boxing match organised by the Shelbys, and who is prepared to lure one of the brothers to her house on their behalf. Elsewhere, Tommy and Arthur butt heads in the aftermath of him nearly being assassinated by the mobsters, over everybody going behind his back to put the contract out to Gold, rather than employing the traditional means of dealing with someone they have a vendetta against. Arthur feels responsible for John’s death and refuses to let the decision stand until later when Linda finally manages to talk him round by telling him she doesn’t want him dead. This leads to him firing the bullet with Luca’s name on it in his backyard.
There’s also the question of how the mafia members were able to enter the factory. The fact that the backdoor was left open means that someone with a key had to be responsible. This is the catalyst for Tommy pulling in Devlin, who’d suspiciously been making his way to Glasgow to the rest of his family. In spite of his family being threatened by his boss, he maintains his innocence and blames his sudden departure on threats from the Communists and his dislike of all the underhand dealing done by the Shelby family. Tommy soon enough seems to believe him, but refuses to let him leave his job, telling him his family will be looked after by those loyal to them in Scotland. Subsequent to this, the head of the Peaky Blinders takes a trip to Jessie Eden’s home to make an ‘improved offer’ on the settlement for the workers she represents. Once he gets through her door, the real reason for his visit becomes clear: he wants to know if she has any knowledge of Changretta family members colluding with the local Communist party subsequent to reports that a couple of them had been seen at meetings. Changing the subject, Jessie divulges that she knows the sister of his sweetheart, Greta, who died of consumption before he went to war, and whose bedside he sat at for 3 months before her death. She also reveals that she knows he joined the Communist Party back then, and that once upon a time he stood for justice and fairness. Taken aback by her research, Tommy fires back and informs her he’s aware that her former boyfriend came back from Passchendaele shell-shocked, and ended up blowing his own brains out. Nevertheless, Jessie stands her ground and refuses to implicate any of her fellow Communists, instead giving her guest a photograph of him and Greta to remind him of who he used to be when he was younger.
Meanwhile, Polly arrives back at the betting office to re-assume her duties as treasurer, and is unhappy to see that Lizzie has been taking care of things in her absence. Much to their bemusement, Linda also turns up to take bets to keep herself busy whilst they’re forced to hide out in Small Heath, and seen as Finn has been put in charge for the day by Tommy, the women make plans for him to lose his virginity to a prostitute. When Lizzie tells the Head of the Shelby clan what they’re intending to do for his little brother, he insists they get someone ‘nice’ for him. It’s immaterial, however, as Finn doesn’t enjoy the experience because the woman looks tired and keeps on telling him to ‘be a man’. In response, Tommy gives him a pep talk about never apologising and needing to fill John’s shoes. Prior to that, he’d taken Lizzie to a portion of the canal where he used to meet with Greta. They end up kissing and having sex, and afterwards he tells her he wants Shelby Ltd to increase its charitable donations by 25%, and that he intends to have two new institutes for destitute children built. After he tells Lizzie she’ll be in charge of the project, and she quizzes him over why he’s doing it, he informs her that he once promised someone he’d help change the World.
Elsewhere, Polly is all dolled up and waiting at a bar for someone to arrive. In the end it turns out to be none other than Luca Changretta himself, and the public setting allows her to offer up Tommy in return for Michael, Finn and Arthur remaining unharmed. The mobster questions why she’d be prepared to do that, to which she replies that he’s already aware of their history. Still slightly bewildered by the offer on the table, Luca discusses the fact that their mothers used to know each other, and admits that Tommy’s ruthlessness was justified, as it was allowing Mrs Changretta to flee to America that lead to the targets on their heads. He also reveals that his Mother told him Polly was renowned for holding a grudge and liking to dance. Chancing his luck, he asks her to dance with him, but she refuses and walks away.
Four seasons in, you wouldn’t necessarily think there was anything new to learn about Tommy Shelby, but ‘Blackbird’ peeled back the layers and successfully revealed the decent boy, who was not only was determined to stick by his Italian sweetheart through objections from her parents and then the illness that would ultimately claim her life, but who was once committed to changing the World for the better too. There’s always been a sense that our protagonist was formerly a much lighter individual, but confirmation of this fact seemed wholly apt in an episode where the Shelby men were struggling with their duties within the family, and as men in general. I get the sense that the revelation he joined the Communist Party as a young man is going to be important going forward. The Police have been made conspicuous by their absence so far this series, and we haven’t heard any more about the intelligence officers heading to Birmingham. With so many people after him, wouldn’t it be ironic if it was the government that caught up with Tommy in the end?
Trying to reconcile the sway Linda has over him, and his need to avenge John’s death as the eldest brother at the expense of his own safety was tortuous for Arthur, but interesting to watch. I do wonder how the eldest Shelby brother is going to reconcile being pushed out of his role once again in light of all of this. He has form for going off the rails. I can’t help but feel for Finn as well. Much like Tommy once was, he’s a sweet soul who’s being forced to stamp out some of his boyish sensitivities, in order to fill the void John has left. With regards to the prostitute, I can’t decide if I’m angrier with Polly and Linda for organising the transaction in the first place, or Tommy’s dismissive reaction to his little brother being disturbed by the woman’s tiredness. In that sense, it’s easy to understand why Michael’s adoptive Mother is so repulsed by Tommy: he takes innocent boys and moulds them into soldiers in his own image, just as the war changed him. Moving on to the women for a minute, it’s easy to realise that this is where the real power lies, simply because the Shelby men underestimate them. Even though I’m not entirely convinced that everything is as it seems with Polly betraying her nephew, it’s hardly surprising considering what he put her and Michael through. He does need his aunt, and that makes him vulnerable to such deceit. Likewise, I still think he’s too trusting of Lizzie as well in light of her previous involvement with Luca’s brother, and the fact she has her hand in both the legitimate and dodgy portions of the business. In relation to Jessie, I’m really starting to love Charlie Murphy’s portrayal of this enigmatic individual, but I find myself not wanting anything more to develop between Tommy and her. Not just yet, anyway.
Visually, I loved the scene where Arthur was confronted by Luca’s heavies. Covered in red paint, it seemed as if he’d accidentally wandered onto the set of Carrie. It was the low-key sense of melancholy pervading this outing that made it stand-out, however, as well as the subtle, but haunting, characterisations. It’s such a far cry from the graphic novel sensibilities of earlier series, and we’re being given so much more depth than we’ve ever had before.
Danielle’s Fezzy Score:
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