Peaky Blinders makes its final season a punishment

The Netflix/BBC program was and continues to be pure macho camp.

Ada Thorne, née Shelby, is late for a family gathering. There was an explosion that shut down a road, but it had to be a coincidence, having nothing to do with her crime-ridden family or any of their numerous accomplices… right? Ada sighs as her brothers turn away, “It would be lovely if just one incident could happen in Birmingham that wasn’t our fault.”

Such is the tired fate of the eponymous Peaky Blinders in Peaky Blinders. Steven Knight’s BBC/Netflix comedy about a Birmingham gang turned reluctant high society culminated this Friday with a dramatic six-episode run to complete its sixth and ostensibly final season. Knight has promised not just a sequel film as the show’s “seventh season,” but also at least one or two spinoff series centered on the experiences of lesser Shelby family members. So, is it all over? Only as far as the Shelby family is concerned, which is to say that if Knight determines they need one more job, they will have one more job.

As a result, the sixth season of the show feels both decisive and inconclusive, like a program hedging its bets from episode to episode. The long-suffering Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), the family’s patriarch, is still at the helm, hellbent on consolidating the family’s dominance in both Birmingham and London (and Europe, for that matter, with the Second World War creeping closer and closer). He’s surrounded by his mischievous elder brother, Arthur (Paul Anderson — a different Paul Anderson), and infant sister, the aforementioned Ada (Sophie Rundle), as well as his frustrated wife, Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe), and Aunt Polly (the gone-too-soon Helen McCrory). Michael (Finn Cole), Polly’s son, hangs on the horizon, determined to seize whatever authority he can.

Peaky Blinders makes its final season a punishment

Of course, that excludes a slew of regulars, from Johnny Dogs (Packy Lee) to Charlie Strong (Ned Dennehy); from Esme (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) to Linda (Kate Phillips) to Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy); and the all-star cast of villains, from Maj. Campbell (Sam Neill) to Darby Sabini (Noah Taylor) to Father John Hughes (Paddy Cons (Sam Claflin). Also, don’t overlook Aberama Gold (Aidan Gillen) or Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy).There was magic as well as curses. Slow motion footage showed men running away from blasts. This was a show where Tom Hardy could appear at any time, playing a Jewish mobster (sure), and say the craziest shit you’d ever heard (in the fourth season, he opens a scene with the sentence, “My little cousin was born blind, and now I donate a substantial sum of money to a charity that gives dogs with eyes to blind Jews.”

Peaky Blinders is so difficult to describe that it often sounds like you’re suffering a stroke. Everyone has a funny name, and it contains far too many famous individuals, but only the sort of famous person known as “British character actor.” Every season, Tommy Shelby assured the Shelby family that this was the furthest they’d have to go to achieve what they needed, and then the following season they’d do it all over again. I discovered Peaky Blinders shortly after the second season premiered, and I devoured the first 12 episodes (oh, the wonderful respite of a six-episode season) in a matter of days.Part of the first thrill was basic and animalistic; it was entertaining to see stars I know get riled up on television. Another thing is that I appreciate Knight’s work in general, which ranges from the beautiful and sublime (Eastern Promises) to the absurd and filthy (Serenity — not the Firefly film, but the one in which Jeremy Strong plays a person named “The Rules”). However, I persevered with Peaky Blinders with reluctant enthusiasm over the years, insisting that it was a fine program without knowing whether or not it was. Certainly, the quality dropped in season 3, then escalated to weird insanity in season 4, before spinning out of control in season 5.Regardless matter the enemy, the stakes, or the politics, there was one constant: the Peaky fookin’ Blinders, Netflix’s roaches. You couldn’t murder them. Any eradication effort only strengthened them.

Peaky Blinders was always dark and brutal, but it was also frequently comically grim to the point of mockery. Everyone went through so much — and for what? Bootlegging, gun sales, and defending a family tavern that is smashed every other episode. In 2019, an academic research claimed that the program celebrated toxic masculinity, violence, and nationalism, whereas a Peaky Blinders spokesman claimed the contrary. It’s impossible to watch this program and think, “This all sounds like a wonderful idea,” yet Tommy Shelby has become a symbol for “sigma male” memes.This culture overlooked the show’s wit and sarcasm, despite the fact that none of this is really appealing. Is the most that sigma men can expect for a life in dreary old Birmingham, where deaths are discovered in coal piles? Good luck to them on that front.

Peaky Blinders makes its final season a punishment

Perhaps this is why the show’s sixth and ostensibly last season seems so outrageously bleak and unpleasant, and at times, shockingly violent: to ensure that the show’s audience get the correct impression about the sort of man Tommy Shelby is once and for all. He behaves with reckless brutality and uncontrolled politicking, mixing with the show’s fifth-season sneering fascists. After seeing Spencer, a film produced by Knight, I wondered if the show’s last season would lean toward historical revisionism, whether Tommy Shelby would murder Hitler before he rose.But, in order to overthrow the fascists, he must first link arms with them in a series of torturous actions. “You’ve been on an adventure, Tommy.” As Shelby places a pistol at his head, a guy warns him, “From the back streets to the halls of power.”

The trouble is, we already know that. The Peaky Blinders were originally a street gang, and Shelby is now an MP. Peaky Blinders has always tripped over itself to express its themes, desires, and objectives. The Peaky Blinders are only interested in the Peaky Blinders. Because I expected the program to evolve into something more holistic, where the Peaky Blinders serve a public good, I’m just as vulnerable to Peaky propaganda (Peaky-ganda) as the fans who revere Tommy as a type of men’s rights figure.It is not the voyage of England or the Peaky Blinders audience, and it is not even a journey at all. It’s a wheel that keeps revolving in the same direction. The Peaky Blinders have gone there and returned for themselves and only them. I can’t blame them for not inviting me.

Peaky Blinders makes its final season a punishment

What happens in the last season feels like a punishment, or at most, a time out for the most ardent fans. Death and ruin plague the sixth season, with new individuals flitting in and out with no sense of place or purpose. What exactly is Stephen Graham doing at that location? Or Lady Diana (Amber Anderson), Oswald Mosley’s bisexual mistress? I’m not sure. Maybe we’ll find out in the yet-to-be-confirmed film, but for now, this new chapter feels like it’s biding its time, pushing us to care about an in-family conflict that never carried any weight in the first place.The presence of the Blinders’ Aunt Polly, played by Helen McCrory, who died in real life before the sixth season was slated to film, is much missed on the program. Polly’s absence in the play is handled tastefully and wisely, but the void she leaves behind is utilized to fuel Tommy and Michael’s halfhearted animosity. Several musical interludes are set over scenes of unnecessary pain, and there is a plotline concerning a mole in the organization that is barely intelligible enough to follow. By introducing additional characters and gratuitous asides, the sadness of not just Tommy, but also Lizzie, Arthur, Ada, and Michael, is sidelined.It’s no surprise that these characters no longer feel human; we don’t even see them. They only exist in archetypes.

Peaky Blinders makes its final season a punishment

Scene every scene tells you that this is horrible, and the Peaky Blinders are bad, until you hate them all and everything they’ve ever done. It’s definitely a way to go out, and it’s a strong hand for Knight to play given the show’s outside image. “You,” Alfie Solomons grumbles to Tommy Shelby, “who is probably screwed when the other shoe drops on judgment day” — but is that ever truly true? The Peaky Blinders have been screwed every season when the other shoe drops and they manage to pull it out.

Still, movie or not, the end of Peaky Blinders as we know it will be a pity. Peaky Blinders, at its best, functioned as a type of macho camp, similar to Sons of Anarchy, where every kind of misbehavior and sexism was legitimate. Even the ladies pretended to be guys. All in the sake of having a good time: reckless drinking and drug usage. Stealing? Gambling? Whatever it takes to feed the family. And murder is exactly what is required to defend the family. It’s all army labor, and Peaky Blinders was always keen to remind you that these men were First World War soldiers.Of course, the trauma is the reason they’re horrible. Don’t you notice? It was a completely unexpected and frequently amusing show in which a character may be shot in the head at the conclusion of one season and then emerge in the season premiere of the next. It was a heightened and surreal soap opera, if not just a regular opera.

Peaky Blinders makes its final season a punishment

What was the point of Peaky Blinders? That was the question that ran through my mind while I watched. Television does not have to have a purpose, but why did I choose this program about heightened and misrepresented male suffering over a dozen other series about heightened and vilified male pain? The ladies of the play, I suppose, are the answer: the spouses, sisters, and aunts. There was rarely, if ever, a woman on the program unless she was a man’s family, yet the women stood tall as not just the voices of reason, but also the pillars of good politics.In the first season, Ada Shelby causes a stir by leaving with her communist boyfriend, the soon-to-be-gone Freddie Thorne. Ada’s politics and judgment made her a bit of a dribble in the early seasons, or is it that having a strong moral character feels like a drag in the Blindersverse since none of them had that kind of fortitude? As the show went, I was convinced they’d write Ada off because she’s too nice and too uninvolved. But Ada persevered, and in a rare moment of sincerity in the last episode, Tommy tells her that perhaps she is the genuine politician, the one with real human interests at heart.Peaky Blinders may be aware that he lives in a demon-infested world with pillars of hope and change. It’s just not in the Blinders themselves.

Peaky Blinders season 6 is now available on Netflix.

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