When watching a show, it is natural for people to feel an attraction to one character over the other, which results in that character being awarded the title of favorite. The reasons a character might gain such a title varies, whether it is about story arc, character development, personality, and sometimes just a simple as a character’s looks can determine their standings with a viewer.
Finn Shelby, although the Shelby that is seen the least in the five seasons, has gradually become my favorite of the Shelby boys. This is mostly in part of how different he is from the rest of the boys.
Finn is the only Shelby brother not to have served in the war due to his age. The show goes to great lengths to show Thomas and Arthur were clay kickers, and John was part of the calvary as a machine gunner. The show goes into depth to show the PTSD that these men, especially Thomas, struggle with through nightmares, personality shifts, drugs addictions, and also their perspectives and skills that are typically gained through military experience.
Finn is the only one who does not suffer from the effects of WW1 in the way soldiers do. If anything, Finn was too young to remember the war, being is was only six years old when the war started, and the British Isles were not attacked nearly as much on their soil as they did in WW2. The war to Finn is a distant memory or something he learns about through stories and history, not something he experienced first hand, unlike the other Shelby brothers as well as Polly and the rest of the family, who are old enough to understand and remember the war for what it was. It is safe to say that the war didn’t touch him, and Finn wouldn’t, personally, be any different than he is today because of those events.
Finn was raised primarily by his brothers and Aunt Polly after his father abandoned all of them. The family tried to keep Finn sheltered, and for the first couple of years, they did. The inciting incident for Finn and his quick realization of the life he is in is found in season one, when Tommy saves Finn from death. Finn was innocently playing in a car when Tommy noticed a bomb underneath. He is able to save Finn from it, and after that, the relationship between the two brothers starts to grow more and more around the need to protect Finn and Finn’s realization of what his brother does and his ability to tag along.
For the next few seasons, we see Finn gradually change, but in the season four finale and season five, we see him in a completely different light than the seasons before. He has become hardened like his brothers due to all that has happened in his life and the world he finds himself trapped in.
At the end of season four, we see Finn lose all the innocents he has. In the season finale, we see Finn cut someone’s eyes with his cap when Tommy tells him to. Finn is clearly flustered by it, and we can see that he is visibly shaking as he reaches for his hat and grips it. There is a brief moment of hesitation before he fully commits to the act and assaults the man in front of him who (as the audience believes) helped stage a hit on Arthur and who had been a part of the group who killed his brother John. This hesitation is the last part of Finn’s innocence that is portrayed in the series, and season five is entirely different for the youngest Shelby.
Season five opens with Finn being involved in a raid in Chinatown. It was rare to see Finn be a part of operations like this, and even though Tommy tells him to stay out of it, Finn finds himself in the center of it all, and he gets shot. It is in this moment we see Finn not only hardened by what has happened around him as he seems to be mentally calm with being shot, but we also see a glimpse of him expecting something like this to happen. When he arrives at a safe place with the help of Isiah and Aberama, he constantly tells them to be careful because his sister would “kill him” if he got blood on her furniture and ruined her apartment. Finn in this situation is rather interesting, where many would be panicking about being shot and not care about what else was happening around them. Finn seems least concerned about the bullet wound and more about the furniture he is sitting on and the decoration in his sister’s house. This is not how one would expect a person to react when they get shot. This shows that Finn is accustomed and use to being in situations like this where his panic and shock are not to the extent of a normal person.
However, the most noticeable change with Finn is when a prostitute cons him and when we get the famous line from Tommy when he tells Finn, “Always have your whores searched at the door.” Finn is approached by a prostitute and is very eager to have sex with her until he finds himself at gunpoint. This is a different side of Finn than the audience has seen before but not so far off, being he is a seventeen-year-old boy who was approached by a very beautiful woman.
The main difference is when we have the scene with Tommy, Arthur, and Chang. Finn comes bursting into the room with a gun, ready to shoot Chang for sending a prostitute to him who held him hostage, before Tommy stops him, causing the bullet to go through the ceiling and Finn to be pinned to the door as the two Shelbys tease their younger brother. This is where we see the most significant difference between Finn in previous seasons and season five. At the end of season four, Finn hesitated to kill, but at the beginning of season five, he was more than ready to.
Finn Shelby is the example of nature vs. nurture, and how even though people can do their best to protect their family, nature always has her hand in how people behave. The Shelby’s and Polly worked hard to protect Finn and constantly kept him at a distance from the crime scene; Finn still finds himself in the middle of it, and the level of danger he finds himself in is growing by every season, so much so that people are expecting him to be killed off in the sixth season. Finn constantly feels the need to show his brothers that he can handle the world he find himself in. Whether that is going straight into danger, acting tough, or simply picking fights with people when he shouldn’t. This has led to one of the most drastic yet overlooked character development in the entire show.
Finn’s character not only served as a catalyst to portray how a life of crime can corrupt even the most innocent among us but also shows how we can change so much over the few years of our lives, especially in our adolescence. The only life Finn knows is the life his brothers and Aunt Polly gave him, and whether or not you agree with how the brothers and aunt raised Finn is a conversation for another day but to deny that Finn is not a product of his environment skews his entire character development.
One can only think about the man Finn could be if he were raised in a family that wasn’t surrounded by crime, death, PTSD, and so many other factors that are not healthy for anyone, let alone a child to find himself in. It is not something we will see anytime soon in canon, but it is a interesting thought experiment to think about for fans of the show.
Steven Knight, the screenwriter of Pealy Blinders, is nothing short of a creative mastermind with the stories he has created for his characters and as a selfish fan, yes I want more Finn Shelby to be featured, but Finn is not strong enough to carry the show like Tommy, Arthur, Polly, or eve Michael, or John could. He is not an “in-your-face” characrer is a subtle detail that adds depth to the story and characters he finds himself surrounding. He is a supporting character and that role fits Finn’s character type. He is the little brother that is slipping away from the vision his family had for him in the first season as well as becoming what his brother’s need in later seasons.
Finn Shelby is not a main character and never will be, but he serves as the most important warning the show as to offer- watch your surroundings because they can and will change you for better or for worse.