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Peaky Blinders: Season 5 (Mr Jones) - Final episode reviewed

Peaky Blinders

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE fifth season of Peaky Blinders proved to be a long, tumultuous and – ultimately – torturous journey for leading man Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), culminating with one of the most downbeat endings in the series’ history.

Having had to navigate his way through a seemingly endless army of new enemies throughout the season, Tommy looked set to have masterminded the perfect ending to his predicament. But fate conspired against him, along with family members and even more enemies, to deliver a devastating final blow.

Breaking with tradition, Steven Knight’s season climax didn’t tie things up neatly. Rather, it left things on the steepest of cliff-hangers, with the fate of the Shelby patriarch very much hanging in the balance.

A final shot had Tommy screaming into the mist and putting a gun to his head, as he finally realised he had met the enemy he could not defeat. Knight’s complex screenplay was such, however, that we weren’t quite sure which enemy he meant: the one that had yet to reveal himself, or the enemy within.

Tommy had spent most of the series haunted by the ghosts of victims past, dabbling with death on several occasions. Yet throughout, he had found a way to keep going, to outsmart his enemies and to make a lasting impression on the political scene.

Murphy played this journey brilliantly, expertly tip-toeing the line between ruthless yet sympathetic, wise yet fool-hardy, arrogant yet wracked with self doubt and even a hint of self-loathing. It’s a complex performance to match the complexity of the screenplay.

And while some have criticised this fifth season for being overly dark, overly complex and more than a little muddled (all valid, at various points), Murphy has been a steadying presence: a compelling leading man whose continued journey down the rabbit hole has all the hallmarks of latter day Michael Corleone: another crime overlord who sought, so desperately, to find a way out, only to repeatedly find himself being pulled back in.

True, the fifth season of Peaky Blinders did test the patience at times, with a myriad of new villains coming at the expense of some superficial character development for some of its principal supporting players.

But it also had moments of brilliance. And patience was ultimately rewarded in this final episode, as Tommy’s plan to assassinate Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin) backfired spectacularly.

In those final few giddy moments, Aberama Gold (Aidan Gillen) was brutally murdered, Arthur (Paul Anderson) barely survived an attempt on his life, and unlucky sniper Barney Thompson (Cosmo Jarvis) was slain by a gunman before he could take the fateful shot to complete the assassination of Mosley.

But who pulled the about turn? We know Finn’s slip to footballer turned singer Billy Grade (Emmett J Scanlan) was the decisive moment, given that Grade immediately reached for his phone to inform someone of the assassination plot. But who did the call go to? Was it Michael Shelby (Joseph Michael Cole) making his play for power? The plan B that his American sweetheart wife, Gina, had earlier alluded to? That’s where my money lies.

What this sixth and final episode of the season did do, in spectacular fashion, was ensure that every Peaky Blinders fan will be counting down to the start of the sixth run of the drama, desperate to gain the answers to the many questions posed. It ensured that Peaky Blinders remained must-see viewing.

And it compensated for the slightly uneven, sometimes frustrating nature of the early part of the finale, when the wheels turned a little slowly to allow for a proper resolution to every character arc.

Going into the episode, there was already a lot of loose ends to tie up. But Knight’s screenplay opted for a talky approach that offered no clues about the mayhem to follow. It even felt indulgent at times, given the stakes involved.

And while it’s always welcome to have Tom Hardy on-screen, the surprise return of his character, Alfie Solomons, from his apparent death, placed a strain on credibility. Can we really now believe that anyone is truly gone?

Hardy and Murphy were, of course, great together. But coming in a final episode that had so much to tie up, this lengthy exchange felt misplaced and threatened to undermine the episode’s momentum.

Mosley, meanwhile, was given very little to do in the wake of his memorable speech from last week. Likewise, the Billy Boys’ Jimmy McCavern (Brian Gleeson), who never did get his reckoning, either with Aberama or Arthur (he lives to fight another day).

While most of the female characters played second fiddle to their male counterparts, which saw them depart the series with a whimper after some promising character building.

It wasn’t really a surprise that so many things were left up in the air, or that so many characters felt under-developed given the starts the series afforded them. If anything, the short nature of the series – six episodes – seemed to place too much of a time constraint on the ambitious screenplay.

Criticisms aside, the positives still managed to outweigh those negatives… not least because of Murphy’s towering central presence. So long as Tommy remains such a dangerously enigmatic presence, Peaky Blinders remains a gripping proposition. Roll on series six!

Read our review of the previous episode