Peaky Blinders – Season 6 – A Review
How False Conflict kills Stories
So Peaky Blinders season six has finally come to an end and the world of Peaky Blinders, created by writer Steven Knight, is no more – well until they release the movie, of course.
But the question I am asking is do we really care about that world? Do I care about Ada, the entitled and ungrateful sister or addict Arthur. Do I give a stuff about little Charlie or Lizzie the whore? And if not, why not?
Like so many other shows that we optimistically started to care about, like Star Wars, Game of Thrones and more recently The Boys, the end of the franchise felt more like a mercy killing than saying farewell to old friends.
In this blog, I will explain why that is the case and I will use Peaky Blinders as an example of how false conflict will kill your story quicker than a bullet to the left eye from Tommy’s gun.
Putting aside all the Grand Canyon size plot holes Steven Knight leaves in Peaky Blinders season six, like ‘Why did the IRA want Aunt Polly dead’ and ‘Why did Ada send addict Arthur to save six tons of pure opium and why nobody remarked on the fact that her plan, quite unsurprisingly, lost the entire shipment’ or why Oswald Mosley, the leader of a British Nationalist Party, would want to supply the IRA with guns. Leaving all of that and a ton of other nonsense behind and given the fact that the entire extended Shelby family owe their wealth, comfort and dignity to only one person: Tommy Shelby, why do they all hate him so much?
In fact, why does his sister, Ada, hold him in such contempt?
Aunt Polly was as schizophrenic as the writers needed her to be in order to serve their wandering plot.
We are told that Michael, her son, blamed Tommy for her death but given the fact that the IRA had no reason to keep Oswald Mosley alive, certainly not one that Tommy Shelby could be expected to have predicted, it is hard to imagine how even a grieving son could blame Tommy for his own Aunt’s death.
In fact, looking back, we had six seasons of everyone being angry at Tommy Shelby for no natural reason and this provides an interesting teaching point for all writers because in hindsight we can look back and see that all of that contempt and spittle flecked anger consistently failed to advance the plot.
When conflict comes from the writer and not the characters, it alienates the reader from those characters. It presents your characters as neurotic and unhinged and insanity is uncomfortable to the sane.
Have you noticed that stories that present a team of friends pitted in adversity against incredible odds are the stories human beings love and remember. We loved Game of Thrones while the Stark family stayed a family. We loved the Mentalist while Teresa Lisbon’s team cared about each other. Star Wars died, not with the death of Leia and Luke but with the death of the friendships upon which the whole story was based.
The reason why writers like Ryan Johnson, Patrick McKay and John D. Payne are so very bad is that they insist on subverting the expectations of the audience at the expense of the characters. One of the favourite weapons modern writers use to subvert expectation is false conflict between characters and together they have led to the death of the Hero (more of which in a later blog).
Imagine how much more interesting and believable the Peaky Blinders would have been if Tommy could have been the hero battling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to save his own family from poverty. Would we have found his family less interesting if they had displayed a shred of mercy, gratitude or loyalty?
Instead of absolutely every family meeting being marked with angry denunciations of Tommy by selfish and ungrateful family members we might have spent a little more time on constructing a believable plot for them to navigate their lives around.
If Steven Knight had spent more time on plot and less time on angry dialogue just maybe Peaky Blinders might have felt less like a soap opera with high production values.
If you want your stories to live forever, you might want to consider avoiding the use of False Conflict to make up for weak characters and plot.