TV Reviewer Katie Young takes a stroll down Ripper Street as she reviews the first episode of season three ‘Whitechapel Terminus’…
A slightly ironic title for the opening episode of Ripper Street’s third series, as it seemed very much the end of the line for H Division’s Reid, Drake, and Jackson, and indeed for the show itself at the end of the second series. But the lavish Victorian crime drama has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, largely due to a sustained campaign by fans.
Originally airing on Sunday nights on BBC1, the show moved to Mondays, opposite ITV’s I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! for the second year, and saw a significant drop in ratings. But while The Beeb claimed it was axing the drama to make way for fresh new content (such as Still Open All Hours, presumably), many fans (myself included) felt this was an example of a public service broadcaster putting viewing figures above quality programming and started petitioning online for its return. And so a posse of vocal viewers and a co-production deal with Amazon Prime later, Ripper Street was resurrected.
Set four years after the end of series 2, the season premiere barrelled along like, well, a hijacked train, barely giving the viewer a chance to take stock of all the changes which have befallen the residents of Whitechapel since we left them, before violently throwing them back together. But that’s one of my favourite things about Ripper Street. It doesn’t feel the need for spoon-feeding or clunky exposition. It bloody well gets on with it, and more fool anyone without the wits or the stomach to keep up.
Reid, now a widower, having seemingly lost both his daughter and his estranged wife, was pouring all of his obsessive nature into his work, mounting a one-man crusade to rid Whitechapel of every last criminal element. Drake, broken both physically and mentally by grief in last season’s finale, returned from a stint working his way up the ranks in Manchester, having been appointed Inspector by Abberline. Jackson, divorced, and banished from Leman Street by Reid for reasons unknown, had fallen back into his drunken, womanising ways, fraternising with Mimi, the music hall owner’s daughter. But things seemed to be looking up for both Rose, now a local celebrity, and Long Susan, who had established a pioneering clinic which aimed to train young women in the medical professions.
The central mystery of the episode – the theft of unmarked bearer bonds from a train which lead to the murder of a signalman and a collision between the passenger locomotive bringing Drake back to London and a train from the Necropolis line – not only brought all our central characters back together, but also set up the arc for the rest of the series. With fifty-five people dead, the ripples were felt throughout Whitechapel. This was touchingly highlighted by the scene in which journalist Fred Best comforted a dying man, a friend and possibly even lover. But the revelation that Susan and her new lawyer and associate, Ronald Capshaw were behind the robbery, really underscored what makes Ripper Street so remarkable. All of the characters we love are deeply flawed. Anti-heroes even. Each is capable of despicable acts, and yet they remain completely relatable and sympathetic.
The scene in which Reid, Jackson, and Drake find themselves falling back into their old pattern of crime scene investigation together demonstrated the incredible natural chemistry between the three male leads, and felt as comfortable as a pair of favourite slippers, making it all the harder to swallow when Reid sent Jackson away again. While there are many wonderful and fully-formed female characters in Ripper Street (another reason to applaud it), at its heart, this is a story of the intense, foxhole friendship between the three damaged men of “H” Division.
There were some sinister indications of what’s to come as well. Reid’s refusal to allow the innocent Necropolis Line driver laudanum until he had been questioned served as a stark reminder that he is a man with demons, driven to an unhealthy extent, and straying ever further into a murky moral no-man’s land. Bennett’s secret ulterior motive for returning to London seems certain to drive a wedge between him and Reid, and Susan’s desire to improve and gentrify the area has already unwittingly caused death and destruction on a major scale.
Whitechapel Terminus was a very strong and ambitious opening episode to what promises to be a thrilling and heart-breaking third season. The lush detail, historical accuracy, and beautiful writing make this period drama a cut above, and I for one am extremely pleased it was granted a stay of