SPOILER ALERT: This post contains details about the Season 6 premiere of Peaky Blinders. Surprising as it sounds, it has been 889 days since BBC One aired the Season 5 finale of period gangster saga Peaky Blinders. With anticipation at a fever pitch, the first episode of the sixth and final season debuted tonight local time in the UK, providing a first glimpse of how things may tie up for the Shelby family — and importantly paying tribute to star Helen McCrory who passed away last year following a battle with cancer. The premiere episode is dedicated to her.
The last time we checked in with the Shelbys, a foiled attempt to assassinate fascist politician Oswald Mosley had Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) at his wits end and pointing a gun at his own head. In the opening frames of Season 6, we learn that Tommy did not in fact commit suicide — but not for lack of trying: brother Arthur had preemptively removed the bullets from the gun.
Face down in the mud, and with wife Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe) berating him, “You’re not a soldier, you’re a coward,” Tommy picks himself up, and ominously addresses his late mother, “They wouldn’t let me pass through, as if there were to be another consequence.”
As Tommy stumbles back to the house, a truck bearing a white flag passes him in the drive and a phone rings in the background. When Tommy answers, he’s told by an Irishwoman, “Last night’s operation was carried out by soldiers of the Irish Republican Army.” At the same time outside Tommy’s window, body bags are being unloaded from the truck.
The woman on the phone insists, “We need to keep Mr Mosley alive… Also, you should know that saving Mosley’s life wasn’t our only intervention last night — we’ve made some changes to the structure of your organization.”
As the scene cuts from Tommy on the phone to Tommy cutting open the body bags, the voice on the phone says, “Ever since you began to build your empire you’ve had a crutch to lean on. Last night, we kicked away that crutch. From now on it will be us that you lean on.” She adds, “Please be aware, Mr. Shelby, that the deaths of your people are your own responsibility because you consistently fail to understand your own limitations.”
Viewers never see the contents of the body bags, but when Tommy opens the third encasing, it’s clear he’s devastated and we know instinctively that the body inside is that of McCrory’s Aunt Polly.
The family then gathers at a funeral pyre where Polly is being cremated inside a Gypsy caravan — we do not see McCrory who only appears in flashback scenes from previous seasons. As the flames grow, Polly’s son, Michael Gray (Finn Cole), swears revenge on Tommy, “no matter what it takes, no matter how many lies I have to tell.”
The episode then time-shifts by four years to 1933 where Tommy heads to Miquelon Island, a French-controlled territory near Newfoundland which served as a hub during the prohibition years. Michael is also making his way there for a meeting with Tommy. The two have not seen each other in four years, and a title card tells us it’s December 5, 1933 — the day that prohibition was repealed.
Arriving at the bar of the hotel where the meeting is to take place, we learn that Tommy no longer drinks alcohol (this is a running theme throughout the episode as others try to strongarm him into imbibing; at one point, he says, “I now realize that whisky is just fuel for loud engines inside your head”). As he is chastised by the locals, and reacts violently, Tommy intones, “Since I foreswore alcohol, I’ve become a calmer and more peaceful person… Sometimes in moments of personal conflict I can resort to me old ways.”
Waiting for Michael to turn up for the meeting, Tommy hears Aunt Polly’s warning in his head: “There will be a war, and one of you will die, but which one I cannot tell.” When Michael appears, he admonishes Tommy for not having yet avenged Aunt Polly’s murder. Tommy’s response: “You know, Michael, when you’re dealing with a very powerful enemy taking revenge sometimes requires time. You have to pick your moment; that moment will come.”
The two nevertheless discuss their common business interest of the opium trade. Says Tommy, rather than see the last day of prohibition as the end of something, “When one door closes, another one opens.”
Tommy suggests the boats on Miquelon can work with a different cargo as he tosses a packet of opium onto the table and explains he’s established a supply chain “over the past four years with associates in Belfast.”
One of Michael’s team says they will have to take the proposal to “Uncle Jack” in Boston. Tommy retorts of this mysterious uncle, “Perhaps we can meet in Boston after you’ve spoke with him, who I believe, Michael, is your wife’s uncle.”
Uncle Jack, who Michael says “decides everything” certainly appears to be a veiled reference to Joseph Kennedy.
Little does Michael know that Tommy has planted a well-sized packet of drugs into the briefcase he hands Michael before exiting the meeting. Tommy tips off the authorities who stop Michael and send him to Norfolk Prison in Boston.
In the meantime, Tommy visits Michael’s wife Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy), and Uncle Jack’s “favorite niece” and says he wants to deliver a message: “If he doesn’t want to buy my opium, I will sell to the East Boston Jews,” thus evoking the Solomons run by Tom Hardy’s Alfie.
“Do you want to start a fucking war?,” asks Gina.
Elsewhere, Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson) has spiraled following the loss of Aunt Polly, turning up wasted on opium at various stages and bringing out the ire and increased power of sister Ada (Sophie Rundle).
At the close of the episode and in a Boston hotel room, Tommy receives a call from Lizzie who tells him their daughter Ruby has been having nightmares and uttering Gypsy phrases in her sleep which speak of the devil. This sends Tommy into a panic as he makes haste to return to Birmingham.
Season 6 will continue to air on Sundays on BBC One for the next five weeks. There is no confirmed date yet for the global Netflix debut, although typically the show starts its run on the service once the UK run has concluded.
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