TV reviewer Katie Young encounters The Incontrovertible Truth in her review of Ripper Street’s sixth episode…
After the frenetic events of the season so far, Ripper Street offered up something very different this time around, with a claustrophobic and atmospheric whodunit set entirely inside “H” Division over the course of one restless night.
While poor Sgt Artherton contended with a painful flare up of gout, Captain Jackson was called away from a date with the lovely Mimi Morton to assist the recovering Inspector Reid with the case of a beautiful and blood-spattered lady, who had been found in bed with the naked corpse of Whitechapel flower-seller, Ida Watts. Although Reid was not officially due to start back at work until the morning, the lure of a case proved too much for him, especially as the alleged murderess in question was the aristocratic Lady Vera Montacute. Reasoning that someone as well connected as their suspect would not remain in custody for long, Reid and his men found themselves in a race against the clock to crack the mystery of the countess with a penchant for slumming it before sunrise.
There followed a complex case involving the victim’s cousin, a narcotic compound, hair dye, and some kinky bedroom games. Lady Vera led the men of “H” Division a merry dance, with both Reid and Bobby Grace seemingly falling under her spell, until a conversation with Reid about his near death experience procured a resigned confession from the troubled suspect. Jackson’s use of modern fingerprinting techniques on the weapon, however, proved that it was Lady Vera’s husband who had stabbed the unfortunate woman, but Abberline arrived at dawn and insisted Reid take her confession at face value, condemning the wrong person to the gallows, and allowing the real culprit to walk free.
The mystery itself was compelling, with brilliant use of early forensics tying the investigation to the series’ wider story arc in the closing moments of the episode, and once again the complex performances and dynamics between the characters made it a truly wonderful instalment. Jackson found himself drawn back into the fold, simultaneously unable to curtail his curiosity and baffled by Reid’s choice to return to Leman Street. It was heart-warming to see him fall into his easy banter with Reid, Drake, and young Grace, the humour between them providing moments of light relief.
Laura Haddock gave a sublime portrayal of a woman who perfectly embodied the decadence of the ruling classes, and a sense of fin de siècle ennui. Beguiling, witty, and rich, Lady Vera was also somewhat damaged. A caged butcherbird, she craved love and excitement beyond the confines of her gilded prison and marriage to a man who was cowardly and cold. Her interactions with Edmund and Robert were both chilling and terribly sad. Like Susan, Lady Vera was multi-faceted and utterly believable, someone whose biggest crime was arguably being born female.
Allowing Mimi Morton into the station’s ‘inner sanctum’, the domain of men, whilst it showed Jackson’s growing attachment to her, also illustrated the broader theme of transgression (especially by women) within the context of Victorian London’s moral panic, and the notion that stepping outside socially acceptable boundaries usually results in punishment or sacrifice of some kind: Long Susan’s descent into secrets, lies, and murder as she tries to advance herself and act as patron to medical pioneer, Amelia Frayn, herself now embroiled in the murky world of Obsidian. Bohemian Councillor Jane Cobden’s doomed loved affair with Reid. Rose Erskine’s rise from prostitute to celebrated music hall star, resulting in her betrothal to a man she doesn’t love. And, of course, Lady Vera’s sexual appetite, leading to a wrongful murder conviction.
Whilst Rose was not physically present in The Incontrovertible Truth, she was the catalyst for a strangely touching scene between Drake and Morton, with the latter first punching his shocked rival, then asking him if he could guarantee her happiness, or that of her future children. Of course, with Bennett believing himself cursed, and Rose’s ambition strong, it seems history is set to repeat itself, and this was another prevalent theme of the episode.
Lady Vera’s hedonistic tendencies shone a spotlight on everyone’s compulsions, as we saw the men of “H” Division revert to habitual behaviour. Reid’s obsessive nature resurfaced, working when he should be recuperating, and abandoning his plans to start over with his recently returned daughter. Jackson, although relatively sober, found himself unable to refuse Reid, or to stop investigating Susan’s part in the train crash, potentially at the cost of his fledgling relationship with Mimi. Drake found himself indulging in violent intimidation techniques, at Reid’s bidding once again. Even Artherton’s gout speaks to repetitive and self-destructive behaviour. As Drake comments after Lady Vera has been taken away, “all is as it ever was, Mr. Reid.”
While this clearly refers to injustice and foreshadows the dark times to come, the closing scenes of Reid affectionately calling Jackson’s hat ‘ridiculous’ and soaking up some early morning sun outside his beloved station offered a glimmer of hope, or at least a moment of serenity before the storm.
The notion of ‘incontrovertible truth’ also posed some fascinating questions. While Lady Vera and her husband preferred artifice and illusion to truth, and Abberline took the path of least resistance over justice, Reid was left sifting for the truth about the shooting in his own traumatised mind, just as Mathilda picked through fantasy to find reality in the aftermath of her accident, and Jackson looked to science to help him unravel Susan’s lies. But perhaps the incontrovertible truth is that there is no such thing as incontrovertible truth for the residents of Whitechapel, just as there is no real good and evil. Only actions and consequences.