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Ever since its admittedly slow first season, “Peaky Blinders” has been strongest in its serpentine storylines and powerful guest performances. Season four delivers both of these in spades.

The last season finale ended with gang leader Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) trading in his family to the police with the promise that he had a plan to bail them out. Season four opens where it left off, with the aforementioned plan going into effect mere seconds before major players Polly (Helen McCrory), Arthur (Paul Anderson), John (Joe Cole) and Michael (Finn Cole) are to be hanged. Viewers probably could have guessed that season four wouldn’t have dared to take off without these characters, but their barely spared lives make for a shocking first few minutes nonetheless.

The pace of the season doesn’t let up at all, and soon the Shelbys are faced with a harsh new primary villain fresh from New York: Luca Changretta, brought to life by a mustache twirling, devious Adrien Brody, seeking revenge for the death of his father that occurred earlier in the series. Among the international gang war, mounting class tensions in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution and a family that still doesn’t quite trust him after his instrumentality in their arrests, Tommy has his hands full this season.

Murphy imbues Tommy with his usual steely competence in handling these many trials, but not without allowing the proper cracks to form in his facade after the seemingly never ending traumas that befall his family. His performance is part of what glues the season together; the camera almost captures every new wrinkle and grey hair, emphasizing the depth of Murphy’s exploration of Tommy’s flaws and weaknesses.

Murphy’s stolid presence as the leader of the Blinders gang and center of the Shelby family is buttressed by a slew of compelling guest performances. Foremost is Brody as the vengeful villain who pushes the hero away from the tenuous sense of security he finally begins to establish at the season’s start. From his slick 1920s New Yorker purr to his classic wardrobe, Brody clearly has a ball embodying the instantly recognizable archetype of a Prohibition era gangster.

Aidan Gillen also enters the cast as Aberama Gold, the leader of a mercenary group condemned even by the criminals who hire him for his brutality. Completely devoid of the quiet cunning he was known for in his famous “Game of Thrones” role, Gillen’s Gold provides a lion maned,
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wildcard counterpart to the cold, plan obsessed Tommy.

Tom Hardy rounds out the trifecta when he returns as Alfie Solomons, who is just as charming as he was in previous seasons as he peppers his meandering monologues with mixed metaphors and a healthy dose of cockney “right”s and “innit”s. One of his best scenes comes when Solomons butts heads with Changretta as their characters struggle through their respective short tempers to reach a precipitous agreement, Hardy and Brody seem locked in a scenery chewing competition.

Of course, a season providing a colorful host of characters while being so densely plotted runs the risk of allowing ridiculousness, and here, such a risk isn’t entirely avoided. At times, the character portrayals almost verge on self parody. In particular, Changretta’s introduction, where Brody has a suspicious looking fedora tipped suspiciously over half his face as he suspiciously heckles a Liverpudlian customs officer for no apparent reason might as well have had “Bad Guy Approaching” splashed across it in bold.

The writing, too, falters at times. This is especially noticeable during the communist revolution subplot, which seems more like a mere a thorn in Tommy’s side (and the backdrop for an oddly placed romance storyline) than a fair examination of an important time in history, especially in a society so steeped in a classist hierarchy.

Despite these momentary weaknesses, season four presents a strong return to form for “Peaky Blinders.” Its impeccable scene composition and neat character arcs create an atmosphere of precision reminiscent of stage productions. And for all its grandiosity, it is, to date, easily the most devourable season of a consistently entertaining show.
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