TV Reviewer Katie Young sings the praises of episode two of Ripper Street ‘The Beating of her Wings’…
After jumping right into the action last week with a stunning set piece and the surprise revelation that Long Susan and her lawyer Ronald Capshaw were behind the bearer-bond theft that caused the train wreck, one might have been forgiven for expecting a slower-paced episode and a bit of back-story this time around. But Ripper Street wasn’t done with the shock tactics.
Capshaw’s status as the villain of the piece was cemented with his rough treatment of tenant and debtor Clara Buckley and her subsequent death. Clara’s husband, Horace Buckley, escaped leaving Capshaw and his cronies to discover a locked room in the curiosity shop with a traumatised girl, answering to the name of Alice, walled inside.
The investigation into Clara’s death, aided by a tip-off from the ubiquitous Fred Best, saw Reid forced to call upon Jackson’s assistance once more, and the inspector’s grudging, half-assed apology to ‘his American’ was a thing of beauty.
“You are not a piss-streaked…with a…scorched turd…you are a doctor.”
“I figured that’s as good as it was gonna get.”
We got to hear a little of the circumstances surrounding Reid and Jackson’s falling out as well, with Jackson’s impassioned declaration that he needed a friend and not a ‘one man temperance movement’ in the aftermath of his split with Susan underlining just how deeply these men are capable of wounding one another and themselves. It was truly heart-breaking. The humour and ease with which they banter and volley can turn on a sixpence, and there’s a real sense of loss and the unspoken longing for connection between the two characters which Matthew McFadyen and Adam Rothberg absolutely nail every single time.
Reid’s final fall from grace, his stepping over a line from which he cannot return seemed inevitable, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch. His stoic determination to root out Obsidian Estates’ shady practices, his shaking hands, his speech about the true nature of man, all built the sense of foreboding. In a masterfully written speech to Drake, he admitted his ideological fabric was unravelling fast:
“Now I feel the gossamer fray, Bennett. I feel the fissure yawn into abyss faster than we can weave afresh.”
At its best, Ripper Street is pure poetry, the script every bit as lush and detailed as the sumptuous costumes and sets. And that was no mean feat this week, given the incredible imagery of Alice’s secret room with its tree of ‘fairies’ – dolls with butterfly wings pinned to them. The symbolism was striking, with the ‘reborn’ Alice anxious to get back to her ‘pupa’ before she lost her wings for good, Reid’s inability to ‘weave afresh’ the delicate silk of his world order, and the veil of magic and confabulation the Buckleys draped over their adopted daughter’s memories. Alice’s tales of fairies and a ‘wicked king’ whilst under Dr. Frayn’s hypnosis, were definitely more True Detective than Cicely Mary Barker, and as the truth of the girls’ identity dawned on Susan, it became apparent that very bad things were about to happen.
As the net closed around Obsidian Estates, and Reid seemed about to arrest Capshaw for the murder of Clara Buckley, Susan played her ace, telling Reid that his daughter, Matilda, had been the one locked in the curiosity shop basement, and that she had died as a result of horrendous abuse at the hands of the Buckleys. With Horace Buckley now in custody, Reid fell for Susan’s deception and in a truly horrifying climax, beat Buckley to death in a locked prison cell while Drake and Jackson pleaded with him to stop. Hear that? That’s the sound of my poor soul shattering into a thousand shards!
While it’s clear that Susan is forming a slightly obsessive attachment of her own to Matilda/Alice and believes she is protecting the interests of the women of Whitechapel, it’s hard to see how she will ever be able to redeem herself from this malicious lie. And with Bennett and Jackson now complicit in helping Reid flee justice, and Best on the trail of the stolen bearer bonds, things are set to get pretty explosive as new alliances are formed and old friendships destroyed.
This episode proved just why Ripper Street needed to get a third series. Through its faithful reproduction of the microcosm that is Victorian Whitechapel, the show reflects everything beautiful and grotesque and wonderful and squalid about humanity. It is light and dark and every shade in between. It continues to surprise and thrill, and every second of this episode was utterly compelling. TV drama at its finest.