Peaky Blinders returns for its sixth and final season this weekend on Netflix. The acclaimed British mafia series has managed to please both history buffs and those looking for a The Sopranos supplement with its combination of period accurate details and insights on the gangster world. The final run of episodes are expected to be among the show’s most explosive. Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) has to bring together his shattered family in order to thwart the ruthless politician Oswald Mosley (Sam Clafin).
The confrontation with Mosley will surely be an exciting one, but it’s hardly the first time that Tommy has had to face off against a menacing opponent. Peaky Blinders has one of the best rogue’s galleries out of any modern television series. Each season the main antagonist has forced Tommy and his family to confront a different type of evil. In the end, the “Peaky Blinders” are usually successful in disrupting the infrastructure of the establishment. They are not forced to abide by the same rules that society demands of its institutions.
However, the fourth season introduced a standout character, who forced Tommy to evolve his tactics. Unlike the past antagonists, the New York crime boss Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody) is not a politician, a representative of the church, or a law enforcement officer. He is a charismatic crime boss in his own right, and he is willing to stoop to any level in order to expand his operation. The Peaky Blinders have brawled with rival gangs before, but none have been quite as well-organized and tactical as Changretta’s New York team. Luca is more than just another “big bad;” he’s the only “Peaky Blinders” villain who became Tommy’s equal.
Part of the reason that Changretta thinks the same way that Tommy does is that he is dealing with many of the same hardships. When Changretta first arrives in Liverpool in the season four premiere, he met with xenophobic remarks by the officer at the passport desk, who notes his Italian heritage. Tommy has faced similar discrimination because of his Irish roots throughout the run of the series. Both Tommy and Luca have become hardened by the systemic prejudice. However, they both recognize that there’s value in being an outsider: you always know who your enemies are.
Changretta doesn’t share a lot of Tommy’s redeeming characteristics, but if there’s one thing they do have in common, it’s their dedication to family honor. Changretta’s arrival in Liverpool is to avenge the death of his brother, Angel (Pedro Caxade), and his father, Vincente (Kenneth Colley). Both Angel and Vincente were killed by the Peaky Blinders in the previous season. While a villain like Major Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) in the first season was only trying to stop Tommy’s operation, Changretta has his sights on Tommy’s family directly. He seeks vengeance, and wants Tommy to feel the same heartbreak and anguish that he has been dealing with.
It does not take Changretta very long to create major shifts within the Peaky Blinders universe. At the end of season four’s second episode, Changretta launches a surprise attack on the Peaky Blinders, catching them off guard. Changretta’s mobsters brutally injure Tommy, and kill his younger brother John (Joe Cole). The tragedy does not unite the Shelby clan; Arthur (Paul Anderson), Ada (Sophie Rundle), and Polly (Helen McCrory) begin to question Tommy’s leadership. If he can not protect his own family, then why should they believe that he has their best future in mind?
The surprise attack also reveals Changretta’s cunning tactics. It’s not like the Shelbys haven’t faced off against rival gangs before, but a hooligan like Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) is easily outwitted by Tommy. What makes Tommy such a fascinating character is the professionalism with which he carries himself; he has all the keen negotiating skills of a politician, but applies them to the bootlegging business. Changretta’s arrival forces Tommy to consider doing something he’s completely unprepared for: going legitimate.
Changretta backs the Shelby’s into a corner. We see Tommy at his most vulnerable; he comes to expect that even in his darkest moments, he can rely on Polly to give him advice, or Arthur to make him laugh. This Christmas is one he spends in isolation. Shunned by his family, Tommy is forced to make an uneasy alliance with the Crown through a deal with Jessie Eden (Charlie Murphy). Tommy realizes that there’s no way that he can overpower Changretta in another street brawl. He’s forced to become part of the institution, the one thing he’s always rebelled against.
This was a smart way for Peaky Blinders to set up its final run of episodes, and it would not have been possible without Changretta. There had to be an evolution to the way the game was played. The stakes had to rise, and for the first time, it felt like a major character could die at any moment. The intense sequence that begins the season four finale nearly ends in Arthur’s death. There’s no reason to doubt that Changretta could emerge victorious.
Changretta also brought a new level of sophistication to the show. The series risked becoming repetitive with its neverending action sequences and familial rivalries. The flaws that Changretta exposes within Tommy’s leadership make the familial bickering feel earned. On top of that, Brody is such an excellent actor that he elevates all the material that he handed. A simple conversation between Changretta and Tommy is just as exciting as any gunfight or duel.
Brody has found a new life as television’s most valued guest star. Following his record-breaking Academy Award win for The Pianist, Brody wasn’t given enough credit for how experimental he was with the subsequent roles he selected. However, he popped up on shows like Succession and Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, and seamlessly fit in with established ensembles. He’s more than unnerving on Peaky Blinders; Luca’s reserved nature actually makes him more unsettling than some of the show’s more eccentric villains.
Clever, cunning, ruthless, and loyal; These are all traits that could be used to describe either Tommy or Changretta. Changretta was more than just another “big bad,” but an antagonist that truly transformed the show for the better. As fans look back at the history of Peaky Blinders as it reaches its conclusion, the Changretta storyline stands out as one of the highlights.