Phew. I thought the opening episode set a cracking pace, but everything was ratcheted up a notch further tonight as a dangerous new player entered the mix, trailing bloody retribution and clouds of brimstone in his wake (alas poor Bonnie Gold, that was no way for a brave “fighter boy” to die).

Nor was the brutal Jimmy McCavern’s arrival the only problem facing the Shelby family, with hints of betrayal everywhere and pressures mounting both in parliament and Birmingham. No wonder an increasingly paranoid Tommy is beginning to resemble a 1920s version of Shakespeare’s Richard III. A winter of discontent is almost certainly coming. If the king falls, who and how many will he take with him?

Our Heroes

As the old quote has it: “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.” Certainly Tommy, swigging morphine in his very big house in the country, is not exactly at his most stable but it’s also true that he has good reason to feel besieged.

If the king falls, who and how many will he take with him? Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy).

If the king falls, who and how many will he take with him? Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy). Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd 2019

At work, the saturnine Oswald Mosley clearly hopes to use him for his own gain, at home, the Billy Boys, led by the fearsome McCavern (Brian Gleeson), have designs on the racetrack business. Worst of all, there’s clearly more than one traitor in the family, given that Aberama Gold’s campsite location, which Michael couldn’t have known, was betrayed. (It is one of the few absolute truths on this show that Johnny Dogs is no traitor).

So what of Michael? Long-time readers of this blog will know that I’ve never been convinced by the Shelby princeling. He’s always carried the whiff of unbridled ambition around his shoulders and that’s only got stronger since the move to New York. Is he being set up by the IRA or has he had contact with the Billy Boys?

Michael Gray (Finn Cole) and Gina Gray (Anya Taylor-Joy).

‘A lot sharper than she’s letting on.’ Michael Gray (Finn Cole) and Gina Gray (Anya Taylor-Joy). Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd 2019

It’s a measure of the ambivalence of Finn Cole’s performance that I’m genuinely unsure. He could have his eyes on the main prize but he could equally easily be exactly as he seems – a hot-headed fool of a boy and out of his depth.

I’m more interested in new wife Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy) who is clearly a lot sharper than she’s letting on. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she turns out to be very dangerous indeed. (I also wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up training her sights on Tommy.)

Finally, what about Lizzie? It was interesting to learn that the house and the legitimate business is in the second Mrs Shelby’s name and nice to be reminded that in the right mood she takes few prisoners. I’ve always felt that the Shelby clan, and the men in particular, have a tendency to underestimate Lizzie, and tonight’s episode underlined that. In fact, I rather think that Tommy’s great tragedy might be that she’s actually a good match for him, but he’s only going to realise it when it’s far, far too late.

The Bad Guys

This is clearly going to be a series in which the Shelbys are under siege and the introduction of McCavern added a whole new dimension to the battle in hand.

Fans of Irish crime thriller Love/Hate will know that Gleeson is quite brilliant at being unhinged and the brief moments we saw of chief Billy Boy Jimmy suggested that he’s going to have a fine old time bringing vengeance to Small Heath. That said I have my doubts about his understanding of game theory given that the brutal death of Bonnie Gold is only going to send Aberama on the sort of revenge mission that wouldn’t be out of place in a Sam Peckinpah movie.

If Jimmy kills first and deals with the consequences later, Mosley is an altogether more slippery beast. I enjoyed the conversation between him, Tommy and Ada, not least because Sam Claflin is clearly having so much fun with the role. We also learned that Mosley has made some sort of contact with whom I would presume are the UVF, given the later suggestion that the Billy Boys provide security at his rallies, although it was kept just ambiguous enough to suggest that the MP might be trying to play both sides. That said, I suspect that the “Irish question” is just so much obfuscation on Mosley’s part – his real interest lies in both Tommy’s populism and his brutality, which he hopes to harness to his own ends.

Notes from the Boardroom

Alas poor Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson).

Alas poor Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson). Photograph: BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd 2019/Ben Blackall
  • From the bleak, western-style opening to the final scene paying homage to the great gangster films of the past, this episode was beautifully directed. All credit to Anthony Byrne.

  • In an episode filled with brutal moments, the most devastating was one of the quietest as Tommy callously told Lizzie: “You know in my head I still pay you for it.”

  • The Billy Boys were a real-life gang – their song is still sung at Glasgow Rangers games to this day – and Gleeson’s fictional character is clearly based on their leader, Billy Fullerton, who did indeed provide security for Mosley’s fascist rallies. Those interested in learning more should check out Andrew Davies’s fascinating book, City of Gangs.

  • Did Polly believe Michael? I wasn’t sure if she genuinely thought he was telling the truth or simply protected her only surviving child.

  • Alas poor Arthur. He’s going to be taking solace in a lot of Al Jolson records now that the newly sober Linda has clearly left.

  • Finn’s attempts to prove himself a Shelby “General” continue to amuse me. I also like the fact that that clan are moving into fixing football as well as the horses.

  • Hello to Emmett J Scanlan, of Hollyoaks and The Fall fame, who popped up as the under-pressure Billy Grade.

  • Hurrah. Confirmation that Karl is both alive and also good at chess (I secretly think that one day Karl will inherit the world – as Ada’s child he’s bound to be the smartest of the new generation).

Anachronistic Yet Strangely Right Song of the Week

Full marks for the use of Nadine Shah’s haunting Evil, a song about the corrosiveness nature of hate, ahead of Tommy’s meeting with Mosley.

Quote of the Week

“May Carleton spoke about you the way I imagine one might about a party they barely remembered, where you crash the car into the dovecote and live on champagne and cocaine for three whole days – you know that kind of party?” He’s a terrible human being but Mosley appreciates a good bash.

So what did you think? Can Tommy possibly escape all his enemies? Who is the traitor in the Shelby camp? Or is there more than one? And where do you stand on the great Irish v Scottish whisk(e)y debate? As always all speculation and no spoilers welcome below …


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