‘Peaky Blinders’ season six episode two recap: who is the grey man?

**Spoilers for 'Black Shirt' below**

If the first episode of Peaky Blinders final season wrote around the untimely passing of Aunt Pol, then episode two sees the Shelbys press pause on their grief while Tommy sets up a house of cards so impossibly fragile it will surely define the episodes that will see the show out.

Never in Peaky’s five seasons has Tommy faced off against so many enemies on so many fronts. There’s the IRA, Boston drug cartels, cousin Michael (who once more spends the episode brooding and chain-smoking in his prison cell) and Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. He might claim to be apolitical in these confrontations (“in the Shelby family, business comes before issues of vengeance” he tells Captain Swing, the very woman responsible for Polly’s death; “my role is to act as a bridge between ideologies” he tells a Daily Mirror hack enquiring why he, a socialist MP, is attending one of Mosley’s rallies) but elsewhere there are clues as to Tommy’s authentic beliefs. Just ask the blackshirt goons he and Arthur give a shoeing to.

Peaky Blinders
Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin) and Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson). CREDIT: BBC

Tommy, the last man on earth you’d want to play poker against, has rarely struggled with etching a smile on his face while withholding malevolent thoughts. Playing the long game. High risk chess. And yet you’d think peeling open a shroud containing his beloved aunt – perhaps the only woman to have ever witnessed consistent demonstrations of emotional literacy from him – on the forecourt of his mansion, might have been an indication that it was time to deescalate operations and enjoy his not inconsiderable spoils. Not so. “One last deal to be done,” he tells wife Lizzie, who as ever, looks thoroughly done with his shit.

And yet if anything threatens to derail Tommy’s grand plan it’s perhaps his greatest enemy of all – his own mind. Early on in episode two, Lizzie finds her husband having a seizure on the floor of their bathroom. Later on he wrestles an imaginary foe in his Westminster office. On both occasions he visualises his first kill, the Prussian soldier he dispatched during his service in France. Whether this is the result of the cracked skull Tommy gained back in season three or the PTSD that followed him home across the channel is never made clear, but it’s clear there’s chaos raging in his mind, despite the collected presentation of himself to south Boston mob boss Jack Nelson or the reunion with the similarly cerebrally conflicted Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy’s back!)

Peaky Blinders
Ton Hardy makes his return as Alfie Solomons. CREDIT: BBC

Even less clear is the ailment plaguing Ruby. With the arrival of the NHS still 14 years away, Tommy places a call to Esme, wife of late brother John. We haven’t seen her since season four, and long-time viewers might think that the very last thing this delicate situation needs is the return of the once cocaine-addled-mystic. Still, for all his pragmatism, Tommy believes in the spiritual stuff, and needs must when your young daughter is scrawling doodles that would make the most placid psychotherapist shudder. Who is the “grey man” coming for her and dad? Our money is on the incoming Stephen Graham. Meanwhile, the illumination of Grace’s painting on the wall suggests the spectre of Tommy’s one-time true love still hasn’t gone quietly into the night.

Another unneeded element to Tommy’s combustible arrangement is brother Arthur, who wriggles free of perennial babysitter Johnny Dogs (“for fock’s sake”) and arrives at Mosely’s rally whacked out of his mind on smack. Tommy attempts an intervention in the way only he knows how. First, he slaps the gums out of big brother, and then offers the carrot of a reunion with wife Linda. Thank God for Ada, who admits to Tommy after hours at The Garrison that she’s trying to fill the role that Polly once filled – matriarchal, wise, less likely to engage in a roll around in the tall grass by a pond. “You’re still looking for trouble big enough to kill you” she tells Tommy, astutely.

The arrival of Mosely’s other half, “Oswald’s most recent and last ever mistress” Diana Mitford looks set to complicate things further. She refers to “our friend in Berlin” multiple times, horrible fascist she is. Lizzie has her clocked from the off, “I fucked your future husband” she spits at her, cattily. And yet we can’t have been the only ones to have spotted something stirring behind the fog of Tommy’s dull, blue eyes. Gina Gray visits Michael in prison, purrs a bit, leaves. She might be the most inconsequential Peaky Blinders character ever. A blemish on an otherwise excellent episode.

Peaky zingers

  • “I always thought opera was just fat people fucking shouting” says Alfie when Tommy arrives to see him. He also makes some excellent socio-political observations on the subject of ‘The Troubles’, but they would sound appalling here, lifted out of context.
  • Speaking of the socio-political, Tommy’s observation regarding the arc of the curve that connects the far left and the far right is similarly astute. Peaky has always been political, right since its off. “Fascism is quite the thing among the very best people” resonates within the context of 1934, and sadly, does even now.
  • One more politically-tinged zinger. Tommy: “Beneath all the gold and diamonds, mink and lace, [Aunt Pol] was a solid socialist”.

‘Peaky Blinders’ air every Sunday at 9pm on BBC One

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