The third season of Peaky Blinders debuts on Netflix on Tuesday, May 31. This is really quite excellent timing because it gives those of you who haven’t watched time to binge the first two six-episode seasons over the long Memorial Day weekend, and it gives those of you who have watched it three full days to badger your friends and family about getting caught up. And you should do this bingeing and/or badgering, if at all possible, because through the first three episodes Netflix released to critics, season three is a powder keg.
But before we get to that, an overview: Peaky Blinders is a BBC series that’s loosely based on a violent Irish gang from the 1920s called, understandably enough, the Peaky Blinders. (“Peaky Blinders” does not sound like a very intimidating name until you understand that it, as the legend goes, refers to the gang “blinding” people by swinging hats that had razor blades “peaking” out of them.) It stars Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby, the quiet, intense leader of the gang and the family. He has two brothers who are hotheads and screw-ups. Think if Boardwalk Empire met The Godfather, but everyone had thick Irish accents and razor blades in their hats. That’ll get you close.
(One of the really nice things about Peaky Blinders is that it’s an increasingly rare breed in the world of television in 2016: an original series, one not based on a comic book or fantasy novel, that’s not a sequel or prequel or reimagining of another show or movie, where no one has magic powers or super powers or any powers beyond the ability to conduct business after drinking half a gallon of Irish whiskey. It’s not that those shows are all bad, universally, across the board. Game of Thrones and Fargo and Better Call Saul are all terrific. But it still feels good to have a proper gangster show in the mix.)
The first two seasons documented the gang’s rise, which was bloody and often very bloody, and after a hectic and suspenseful end to season two, season three zips ahead 18 months to Tommy’s wedding day. Things are good. Everyone is in tuxedos and nice dresses. Tommy lives in a mansion now, and controls the cops, as their plan from season two apparently worked quite well. The Shelbys are rich and happy.
This, without getting too deep into things that will spoil the fun, does not last. It would be a boring television show if it did. And so in season three, we are introduced to a collection of people and things that pose new, greater risks to the new, wealthier Shelbys. This list includes, but is not limited to: rebellious Italians, drunk former members of the Russian aristocracy, cursed jewels, a personal tragedy that sends Tommy into a tailspin at an inopportune time, attractive but devious Russian revolutionaries, the return of Tom Hardy as mumble-mouthed Jewish bootlegger Alfie Solomons, family conflicts involving shouting and firearms, communism, tricky international arms deals, and Tommy’s loose cannon older brother Arthur (Paul Anderson) yo-yoing between substance-addled lunatic and family man.
The list of new threats also includes a priest played by Paddy Considine, who is a high-ranking member of a secretive organization called the Economic League, and who gets his own mention in his own paragraph because he is delightfully evil. Most of the scenes involving him and Tommy feature him saying a bunch of menacing stuff and Tommy just staring at him with unblinking murder eyes. It’s great. Cillian Murphy’s eyes should get their own tiny little Emmys for the work they do in this show.
All of which sets the stage for what is sure to be an explosive conclusion to the season. There’s a lot going on, what with all those external (and internal) forces causing problems for the family now that they’ve come up to their new status in the underworld, but if I had to guess, I’d say Tommy will take a page out of the book of famous Greek philosopher Socrates, who wrote this about the relationship between success and conflict:
Now what you gon’ do with a crew that got money much longer than yours
And a team much stronger than yours?
Violate me, this’ll be your day, we don’t play
Mess around, be D.O.A. be on your way
Wait, no. That was Puff Daddy. Either way, the point stands.