In the third episode of the sixth and final season of Peaky Blinders, something extraordinary happens.
Arthur (Paul Anderson) travels north to Liverpool with Isiah (Daryl McCormack) and a handful of goons in tow to visit a union official called Hayden Stagg, played by Stephan Graham. Tommy’s opium, which is stored in one of the dock’s warehouses, is stolen – first cups, now buckets – and Stagg is the man who arranges its sale.
“Boldness,” says Isiah, and he’s right. Dare to steal the Peaky Blinders and there will be consequences like you’ve never known.
Ahead of their trip to Liverpool, Isiah doubts Arthur will be able to carry out their orders in his current state, but Ada insists her brother’s presence is vital: “No one would dare fuck with Arthur Shelby.”
Tradition holds that she was right to have such a belief in her brother, even though he suffers from a particularly nasty case of “yamps”.
Before they enter the warehouse, Arthur gives his soldiers a pep talk to prepare them for battle. Referencing their immaculate attire, he growls, “Any fucking man that looks like this before, the Peaky Blinder still looks like this after.”
And with that, we’re treated to classic slow-motion as a hard-hitting guitar riff signals the inevitable bloodshed.
“I heard some men from Birmingham were looking for me here,” Stagg barks over a strained Dunkirk score as he walks into the warehouse, looking charged with anticipation.
There’s a flurry of movement as the dockworkers jump out of their seats to engage the fight; one of them has a metal hook in his hand that could rip someone’s face off. But the Peaky Blinders have the upper hand after drawing their revolvers.
Things are picking up once again, the calm before the storm in which guts and sinews will be splashed, Jackson Pollock-esque, as teeth are ripped from the gums and scattered like coins at the Trevi Fountain ; the sound of bones crumpling like paper bags dotting the air.
It won’t end well.
But the bloodbath does not happen. Instead, Stagg employs an alien tactic in a series that so often trades in brutality and bombast. He takes a hushed, almost tender approach as he defeats Arthur F**king Shelby with nothing but his words.
“Under your sleeves lies the truth,” he said, acknowledging Arthur’s addiction. “The marks on your arm.”
Stagg doesn’t look at him as long as he pulls back the bravado and looks straight into his soul, removing Arthur’s sting with naked truths that are both confronting, but also empathetic. Stagg was once where Arthur now follows his service in France, where he took a liking to morphine, and he uses that shared experience to humanize Arthur in a way that few have ever done – and certainly never for a while. conflict, which is a first for the series.
Stagg notes that he too sought comfort in Christ, but could not find peace. It’s about lost love – Arthur hasn’t spoken with his wife Linda in years. Like his own father, he was not there for his own parents.
He once thrived in such scenarios, brandishing his razor blade stuffed flat cap with vim, but Stagg’s ability to disarm him shows the stark change within Arthur. Perhaps his old address at Isiah et al was for his own benefit rather than theirs.
“Don’t build a mountain,” Stagg says. “Walk as if it were a flat plain, not easy by not easy.”
He exposes his own vulnerabilities while showing compassion towards Arthur, a combination Shelby’s mad dog is unfamiliar with, but needs, and it’s this advice that prompts Arthur to order Isiah and co to withdraw.
Showrunner Steven Knight alluded to this outcome with the use of Idles’ Kill Them with Kindness, the song that played as the Peaky Blinders entered the warehouse.
“I guess it’s hard for you to see that empathy will shrink your throne,” read one of the lyrics.
It’s also worth noting that the casting of Graham, who has earned national treasure status, also lends itself to a less naughty performance, a la Jimmy McCavern or Father John Hughes, and allows him to tap into sincerity. and soul. which endeared him to the public. In a series where we’re encouraged to support the continued survival of the Shelby family, it would be hard to market Graham as an antagonist.
It’s not unusual for Peaky Blinders to pull the rug out from under viewers, but it felt particularly unplanned. We were preparing for conflict, Stagg’s fate being inescapable. He dared to rob the Shelby Company Limited – a bold move that resulted in the paralysis or death of so many who came before him. But what turned expectations on its head entirely, unveiling the true extent of Arthur’s meltdown and further underscoring that much of this season, so far, has been a quieter affair.
It’s unclear what the rest of the series has in store for Arthur following this latest development. He is clearly no longer the man he once was, with his position in the family business now shrouded in uncertainty following this latest debacle, which begs the question: where does he go now?
There’s a finality to Arthur’s arc, which seems fitting considering Peaky Blinders is on the home stretch, but regardless, it’s safe to say it’ll come through a lot first no more time locked away in the company vault.
Peaky Blinders continues on Sunday March 20 on BBC One and BBC iPlayer, and seasons 1-5 are also available to stream on Netflix. Read our guide to best series on netfliXcheck out our Drama hub for more news, interviews and features or find something to watch with our TV guide.