She’s been with us since the very beginning, but the role of Ada in Peaky Blinders has rarely been prominent. Though not quite as inconsequential as Finn or Jeremiah Jesus, Ada’s contributions to the show thus far have extended to little beyond watching a procession of her lovers die and occasionally delivering a zinger. The evocative “Tommy Shelby is going to stop the revolution with his cock!” still lingers, two seasons on.
And yet, there’s an argument that episode three of season six cements the Shelby sister as a character as crucial to proceedings as anyone in the Shelby family, bar Tommy. Specifically, one moment in London’s plush Eaton Square. Watching Ada in conversation with Mosley himself, the loathsome Diana Mitford, the arrogant Jack Nelson and glamourpuss praying mantis Gina Gray – doing Shelby business while Tommy is up a mountain looking for Esme – is a thing of wonder. Every barb of poison spat by the others is repelled with droll lacquered wit and sass. Polly might be gone, leaving an unfillable void. But Ada is having a damn good go at padding the gap.
Mitford is vileness personified. Though she hasn’t, and is unlikely to, shoot someone in the head, blow up someone’s car or torture them in a warehouse (poor Vicente Changretta), she might well be the most detestable character the show has ever introduced. Within minutes of sitting down with Ada, the dead-eyed aristocrat has championed eugenics, dismissed literature by saying she prefers to read “pornography and politics”, made a move on sister Shelby and talked of “the great cleansing” (“the Jews must be dealt with, but I will make the case that the gypsies should be spared”). She’s capable of some zingers of her own mind, asking Ada, bluntly: “Why is your brother so emotionally mutilated?”
The return of Esme is done brilliantly, and it should be said, shot beautifully and evocatively; a bit like Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, only dubbed in Small Heath. Truth be told, despite episode one’s enigmatic ending, the fiery mystic wasn’t really missed until the moment she walks back on screen and says: “Put your gun away Thomas, there’s children around.” From that point on, we’re left mourning the chaos Esme could have been reaping all this time, and for the rest of the episode, she and Tommy embark on a strange, supernatural-tinged road trip weaving strands of storytelling that Peaky Blinders has rarely grappled with before.
If there’s a criticism of season six so far, however, it’s how convoluted the story is getting each week. Arthur heads to Liverpool and we finally meet Stephen Graham’s Hayden Stagg (who we wildly suggested might be ‘The Grey Man’ last week – ahem, move along, nothing to see here). All of which feels like a plot point too far, and nothing here is befitting the ample talents of either Graham or Paul Anderson (or the violent grunt of IDLES on the soundtrack). Meanwhile, Lizzie remains in Birmingham with daughter Ruby, who is still critically ill in hospital with consumption. “Right now, I need a normal man,” she opines tearfully over tumblers of scotch with Ada in The Garrison, frustrated that while she tends to the sick, her husband is “up in the mountain among gypsies”. Ruby doesn’t make it to the end of the episode.
But before that: cursed sapphires, spooky fog, Tommy throwing around ramshackle tombstones, then a hint that everything might be OK via the means of gypsy magic. Of course, on arriving back in Birmingham, that’s not the case, and Lizzie and Tommy mourn their daughter on the hospital steps, their faces lashed with rain. Has any character suffered more than Lizzie in Peaky’s six seasons? We can’t think of anyone. Poor bab. All of which makes for a discombobulating ending. One that points little to what comes next, but is certainly evocative, and definitely intriguing.
- “I don’t have a man. What use is a man? Horse pulls the wagon, dog keeps me safe, cat keeps me warm at night.” Esme is taking the death of husband John well, then.
- “The name of the perfume is… know your fucking place, soldier.” – Ada, in Tommy’s absence (and Arthur’s smacked up state), lets the Shelby Company employees know who’s boss.
- “Perhaps the treatment will work and your daughter will live. Science. Science is winning everything these days. Even against the angels.” Esme contends with the onset of the modern world.