TV Reviewer Katie Young dons a pair of Heavy Boots as she reviews Ripper Street’s fifth episode…
Violence and grief signposted the absence of Edmund Reid in this instalment of the finest period drama around, as the inspector’s life hung in the balance, his friends struggled to cope with the threat of his imminent demise, and the streets fell to rioters.
We found all of the key players acting true to form in the aftermath of Reid’s shooting, with Susan keeping her poker face on as she nursed the wounded inspector, Jackson getting blind drunk, and Bennett finding solace in the arms of Rose. The case of the week was artfully woven in from the outset, with extraordinary scenes of Jackson listening to a ballad for his dying friend, like a ghost at some sort of pre-emptive funeral wake, dancing with a pig carcass and then mercifully passing out, almost sleeping through the vicious gang assault on the publican and his punters which, unbeknownst to the captain, resulted in the murder he was shortly to investigate.
The song itself was particularly interesting, presenting Reid as a man who had already passed into legend, and almost acting as an incitement to the criminal elements the ailing inspector had forced underground. We’ve seen Reid mythologised before, as ‘Alice’s’ Wicked King, and this is interesting, both in terms of his multi-faceted characterisation within the show, and in a more ‘meta’ capacity. The real Inspector Reid had a series of detective novels based on him during his own lifetime.
With both Jackson and Drake hiding from the reality of “H” Division without Reid, Bennett shutting himself away with his secret lover, and Jackson seeking comfort at the bottom of a bottle, it was down to Abberline to rally his men and restore order to the streets. This he did in fine style, strong-arming his way into Drake’s rooms and calling on Mimi Morton to assist him in rousing the epically hungover “Captain Fancy Pants”, before frog-marching the men to Reid’s bedside and reminding them that their dear inspector was not yet dead.
And while Abberline galvanised his team into investigating the death of the landlord, Bartleby, Fred Best continued with his own private probings, interviewing Susan about the shooting, and hinting he was still hot on the trail of those mysterious bearer bonds. Best is a great character, a man with his own dubious but strict moral code, and watching him cattily suggesting Susan stand where ‘the light is forgiving’ for her photograph was a joy.
Also instrumental to solving the crime in hand was Constable Robert Grace, and once he broke up the fight between Black Eagle Brewery gang brothers Teddy and Walter Shipman, and became increasingly helpful to Jackson, I started to fear for him. The last young copper the medic took a shine to was Dick Hobbs, and I’m still not over what happened to him.
Indeed, Grace fell afoul of Walter, the younger Shipman brother, who was killing publicans, drowning them by forcing beer down their throats and then coopering the corpses into barrels, to serve as a gruesome warning to London not to purchase ale from the North. Having been tipped off by Lily, Teddy’s seamstress girlfriend, Jackson and Bennett faced a race against time to get the older brother to talk before it was too late. Teddy, it transpired, was the only person who could rein in Walter’s erratic behaviour, and he was dying of consumption. Teddy agreed to help the police, wanting to do a good deed before his death, and this is where Ripper Street shines like the rarest of diamonds, because the relationship between the two brothers was so beautifully played, I actually had tears in my eyes when they said goodbye. None of the characters are throw-away, stock villains. Each life story is real and tangible. There was a chilling parallel between the landlords choking on their beer and Teddy drowning in his own blood, which suggested Walter’s murderous spree had less to do with wanting to save brewery jobs and more with grief at losing his brother. And Jackson’s breakdown after witnessing Teddy’s death drew another line between Shipman and Reid, both revered ‘peacekeepers’ under difficult circumstances, both flawed and capable of horrible acts, and showed Jackson perhaps emotionally preparing to fill the ‘heavy boots’ of his friend after his departure.
There were so many beautiful, nuanced performances in this episode, and moments of real emotional weight which stayed with me long after the credits rolled. Bennett bringing Jackson a cup of coffee as he extracted Bartleby’s lungs in the post mortem room. Mathilda’s quiet assurance to Drake that her daddy couldn’t have been returned to her only to die so soon. Teddy pulling Walter’s head to his shoulder for a final farewell as the younger brother was taken away in cuffs. Jackson standing outside Reid’s room, unable to go inside. Jackson’s tearful plea to Mimi that she drop the act and just show him some genuine affection, which was especially powerful following the comedic scenes of her discovering him in bed with a dead pig, and them both trying to prevent the inebriated Drake from telling Morton about his affair with Rose.
The very closing moments took us inside Reid’s mind with flashes of abject horror, and finally a memory of discovering his missing daughter returned to him, the image which brings him out of his comatose state. This served as a taste of things to come, as Reid will undoubtedly do everything in his power to remember the true version of events, and Susan’s involvement in them.
Another tight, pacey episode which combined a thrilling story of the week with advancement of the season arc, and delivered some bare-knuckle emotional punches which Drake himself would have been proud of. Bravo, Whitechapel.