After the impressive first season, there really is no question on whether I will watch the second season or not. Especially when the line-up grew to include household name such as Tom Hardy and Noah Taylor. Not to mention that beautifully executed cliffhanger. And this time around last year, I got to enjoy the pleasure of having to wait one agonizing week for each episode instead of binge-watching like I did for the first season. Which only adds to the tension and made it a frustratingly pleasurable experience. Why the fuck it took me so long to sit down and write a proper review is, well, anyone’s guess.
Two years after he managed to conquer Birmingham, the Shelby Family is expanding their stronghold to London. But London already had a turf war between the Darby Sabini’s (Noah Taylor) Italian and Alfie Solomons’ (Tom Hardy) Jews. One does not help but wonder whether or not Tommy (Cillian Murphy) bite off more than he could chew when he throw himself – and his family – head first into this chaotic mess.
It really does not make matter easier when Campbell (Sam Neill) is back for revenge and Winston Churchill (Richard McCabe) is involed. Especially since Polly (Helen McCrory) is desperately looking for her long lost children and Arthur (Paul Anderson) struggles with his anger issue.
When I first watch this season, I wasn’t impressed. There were more blood, family feuds, intricate double-cross and love lost, but I wasn’t as sated as I was with the first episode. I felt like it was too much of a rehash at some points, especially the pattern. But in hindsight, and after a proper second viewing, I found it wasn’t necessarily Steven Knight and Colm McCarthy’s fault. Rather it was because Peaky Blinders is a series better-suited for a nonstop marathon so you can drown in the adrenaline rush and left shaking with glee.
Truth be told, there were so many things going on in the second season both for character development and turns of events, some of which bothers me. Polly’s crusade is one thing that comes to mind immediately. It’s rare enough to find a female character as held-together as Polly, not to mention with her level of wit and charisma. So I’m understandably upset that second season ruined that persona in favor of making her fell into the usual haphazard chaos caused by love. One, being ruined by love is seriously an overused plot device, and two, I’ve had enough of female characters being irrational and out-of-sorts because of love in ways that male characters rarely subjected too. So while I do get why Steven Knight felt it’s necessary and I worship the hardened Polly on the season finale, I still am bothered with the process – both the reason of Polly’s descend and what happened to her in those time – even if it kind of period-typical. Because the rape scene – or the fact that it was done by taking advantage of her love for her son – is something that I would only tolerate if you can show me that male characters got the same treatment. Lizzy is another example, because her character development had went so well until the last episode. I enjoyed how far she grown after the first season, you know. It was nice to see her earning some respect from herself and people around, and for her to actually be involved in an act of sex because she wants to and not because she got paid for it. Then the last episode happened. Sure it only made me fell harder for her and wanted so badly for her to clawed and made her mark on the world, but it still was a very shitty treatment. Although that put her on the ever-growing list of badass female characters in Peaky Blinders.
Speaking of which, May Carleton also fit the bill. She’s not blatantly imposing like Polly, but she have that calm and graceful veneer hiding a steel behind it. Truth be told, she reminds me a lot of Pepper Potts, with how she could be very classy and at the same time still make you fell on your knees with one smoldering gaze. She is both an ambitious businesswoman with a little hint of crushing schoolgirl, and I adore how she could mix business and love so damn well. Something that, may I remind you, Grace had failed to do in the first season. Oh and Grace is back, yes, and she is a tad better compared to the first season, but I still found her presence grating. She’s like that damned itch you’re so desperate to get rid off but just can’t scratch. Although her confrontation with May was one of the best scenes in this season. And one of the most intriguing relationship, up there next to Tommy-May, Polly-Campbell, and Tommy-Michael. Also, the double mention of Tommy there wasn’t personal bias, but rather an inevitable outcome. He is the equivalent of Peaky Blinders, and this season is about how he make his maneuvers through some shitty and shady situations so he could still come out on top.
Which, you know, bring me to the first point of why I love this season: the character development. I’ve seen more than enough cold calculating Tommy Shelby in the first season, how hard he’s trying to put everything under control. In this second season, I get to watch everything spiraling out of his hands and him grasping on thin straws so he could came out of this scorch alive. And fuck if I don’t fall for those desperations, burning fire and raw emotions that just seep out of him. Also to see him actually tired and uncertain was something that I cherished from the bottom of my heart. Not to mention his exchange with May, their way of flirting, of offering pieces of themselves for each other… It’s nice to see him being involved in a love story that serves as something more than obvious plot device. So I am not embarrassed to say that I am a shipper and would love to see them together. Plus it would make a hell lot of senses and will help Tommy’s cause with Peaky Blinders in the future.
Although on that subject, it is a bit disappointing not to see enough of the boys in this season. Arthur is mostly there, yes, raging like a mad man and struggling with violence. There was a raw moment between him and John, when he actually let his doubt and insecurities come through that made me want to coddle him, but other than that he was just a huge shitstorm. Better than John still, given that he barely got to partake in any commotions here and mostly serve as just Tommy’s minions by doing whatever asked of him. Sure, he portrays the strong trust and internalised belief on Tommy to make everything’s alright, but one can’t help but to wonder where did that charming boy from the first season go and how did he ended up being so compliant? But it was a good bait, especially with the possibility of a cross between Esme and Tommy in the future, to see how he would fare should he have to make an important decision by himself in the third season. Finn Shelby was also nowhere to be seen, which is such a shame considering he had an impressive introduction in the first episode. But the Shelby – at least by blood – that caught my eyes was none other than Polly’s long lost son, Michael Gray. He was near perfect, a slithering predator hidden behind carefully sculpted charming veneer. He had the appetite for blood and is hungry for power, but he kept it simmering until he had the chance to lash out. And oh what a glorious revelation it was. He certainly had the potential to take over, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Tommy groom him in the third season.
It’ll make for an interesting development, and I honestly suspect that more family feud will appear in the upcoming season, especially after the not-so-unfortunate fate of Campbell. Whom, by the way, gave such a mesmerising show about how the mighty had fallen. The extent he took for revenge, his cunning move, his increasingly emotionless relationship with other characters, they all made for such a tasteful show with a chillingly apt ending to boot. His story was also an ironic twist, for when you got to see his more humane side rather than just the stick-in-the-mud law enforcer, you’ll see that it is rather ugly. But hey, this season also gave us two more interesting opposition in the form of Alfie Solomons and Derby Sabini. The former was more apparent, considering his alliance with Tommy and thus had more character depth. He was intriguing, with still unclear motives and rather unpredictable moves. And sue me, but I’d love to see more of his alliance and interaction with Tommy. Alfie with his boisterous persona would be a fitting match for Tommy’s cold but unimposing veneer, a replacement for Arthur should the need for it ever arise. Darby Sabini, on the other hand, had a more blatant thirst for power and pride. He wasn’t all that impressive, sure, and seems to fall short as Tommy’s adversary, but he had potential. Which I hope will be exploited deliciously later on. And, oh, more Winston Churcill please!
The best thing about this show, though, is how all of those characters were delivered in such convincing manner. Yes, I have dissect those characters without any mention of their actors and actresses, but I done so merely because they are all one and the same in my eyes. They have so profusely blended with their respective characters that in my head I refer to them with their on-screen name rather than their real name. But I suppose, I still should give my utmost respect to Helen McCrory, Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Finn Cole, and Tom Hardy. In that order. Helen was just marvelous, with the range of emotions she showcased and how much she appeals to me as a viewer. Cillian, on the other hand, continue his knee-buckling performance as Tommy from the first season and added even more depth. He caught me off guard with Tommy’s raw but somehow still so controlled emotions, and his performance in the last episode was just so fucking brilliant it gave me the chills. Sam Neill creeped me out as Campbell because he was that good on being the vengeful Inspector, yet I can’t help but to be awed by his performance. Finn Cole and Tom Hardy, on the other hand, stole my attention with their very contrasting but remarkable performances. Where Finn Cole was silently charming but dangerous, Tom Hardy was imposing but still charming in his own way. I’ll surely look forward to seeing more of them, as I do to my favourite scene stealer Charlotte Riley too.
Still, Peaky Blinders wasn’t perfect. Aside from some questionable character development, the story was also a bit too cramped. Well, it followed the same formula from the first season, with the first two episodes as bait-slash-set-up, episode three and four to tease the confrontation with ever-growing problems, and then everything come crashing down in the last two episodes. It still works, sure, but it felt a bit stale and repetitive. Not to mention overwhelming, thanks to the sudden rush of final acts after moments of slow suspense. I understand that it may be Tommy’s Modus Operandi, to finish everything at once through one gigantic conclusive act, but it’s both tiring and suffocating. But then again, his ability to time and arrange everything to fall perfectly in his lap and for the wind to blow in his favor is exactly why I’m so fucking in love with him. That, and the breathtaking chill-inducing season finale. Both the conclusion to his feuds, and the ending scene with that one important question left hanging: who will he marry?
Me, personally, wish it would be May.
Director: Colm McCarthy. Writer: Steven Knight. Released on: 2 October 2014 – 6 November 2014. Casts: Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory, Sam Neill, Tom Hardy, Noah Taylor, Finn Cole, Charlotte Riley.