The immense amount of work which goes into dressing what can be brief scenes in Ripper Street is demonstrated nowhere better than in this episode. The opening sequence sees a mudlark dredging up tat from the riverside, and taking it back to his junkshop through streets seething with pungent life. You can almost smell the atmosphere.
The real stench though comes from Mr Capshaw, Susan Hart’s lawyer and the villain of the piece, having been responsible for the dreadful train crash last week. He’s putting pressure on helpless junkman Buckley (Charlie Creed-Miles) who has been ruined by the crash (he appears to owe about £1.5s.6d., which doesn’t seem like an enormous debt. His account gives the year as 1893, we note.)
Mrs Buckley gets a fatal slapping, and Kendrick (Phil McKee), a thuggish debt collector, breaks open Buckley’s basement and finds an imprisoned girl; it seems that Buckley, who makes a run for it, wasn’t such an innocent after all.
Capshaw takes the girl to Susan’s clinic, where she is in the middle of introducing Drake’s ex-girlfriend Rose Erskine (Charlene McKenna), now a Music Hall star, to Dr Frayn (Louise Brealey). The girl, Alice (Anna Burnett), has burns on her back and begs to be returned to her ‘pupa’ (there are butterfly pictures on the walls and her dolls all have wings).
Sleazy journalist Best (David Dawson), who you can tell is a degenerate because he wears a green hat, puts Reid onto Kendrick, who of course denies all knowledge of the Buckleys; but Reid finds documents signed by Capshaw for Susan’s company Obsidian Estates.
Drake goes in search of Jackson for forensic help with the dead Mrs Buckley, and finds him and his floozy Mimi in conference with Rosie and her fiancée at the music hall. The staid Reid still has difficulty accepting the debauched Jackson – it seems they fell out over Jackson’s massive binge when Susan left him – but Jackson extracts a grudging apology from between Reid’s clenched teeth, and sets to work.
Jackson’s forensic examination uncovers the prison cellar, and evidence that the girl has been held there for years. Meanwhile she has awakened from her faint, and begs Susan and Dr Frayn to take her back to her cellar. Frayn suggests a form of hypnotism to treat her.
Reid returns to Kendrick for another chat, but finds him fled. Buckley writes to Capshaw offering to exchange the deeds to his shop for Alice, but Susan is determined to catch him and extract the truth about Alice.
Jackson examines Buckley’s tat for clues (there’s a rare anachronism when we see a very modern-looking stainless steel clamp on his workbench), and finds leads to his workshop.
Reid questions Susan about her expanding property empire, and Capshaw about his loan-sharking operation, realising that the two go hand-in-hand, the impossible debts repaid by repossessing the properties. He also notices Capshaw’s ring, which marked the dead Mrs Buckley.
Reid feels things falling apart, speechifying to Drake in apocalyptic terms, and determines to crack down on Obsidian’s operations, starting with a chain of pubs he suspects of money laundering. In a scene straight out of The Untouchables, he sends his bobbies out to raise hell; ‘Do not spare your billy-clubs’, as he puts it.
Dr Frayn hypnotises Alice, who remembers being brought to Buckley, who promised to protect her from a ‘wicked King’. Could this be Reid, who lost his daughter Matilda in a ferry disaster? Is this how the child was burned? She remembers a song about drowning, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest – has she suffered a sea-change, into something rich and strange? She identifies a newspaper photo of Reid as ‘the wicked King.’ Is it true, then, is this Reid’s lost daughter?
Drake visits Reid at home and expresses doubts over Reid’s actions, evoking images of staring into an abyss – but Reid trumps him by claiming that the abyss is neither within nor without – ‘We are the abyss’ he claims. Bloody hell, this episode is turning into a cross between a lecture on Nietzsche, a Shakespeare play and one of the weird tales of H P Lovecraft.
Best, who has done a rather better job than the police of investigating the train crash, comes to Reid with tales of bearer bonds being smuggled into London from Hoboken, New Jersey. ‘Follow the bonds’ he suggests, a trail we know will lead to Capshaw.
Jackson identifies the spot Buckley hunted butterflies, and Buckley is taken in his workshop. Buckley implicates Capshaw in the death of his wife, so Reid goes to take Capshaw; but Susan depicts him as the heroic rescuer of Alice from the brutal Buckley, and claims that the girl has died and been buried – though she admits that the burns made her suspect that the girl may have been Reid’s daughter.
Reid takes Buckley back to the cellar, extracts from him a confession that Alice was in fact Matilda Reid, then beats him to a pulp – is he dead? If so, Drake will have no option but to arrest Reid.
Well, what a treasure-trove of an episode, slathered thickly with jewel-encrusted dialogue, scattered with gems of philosophy and literature, and shot through with modern themes including loansharking and captive children. At the end of it, everything has changed; Susan from an unwilling accomplice to Capshaw’s crimes, into a scheming witch; Reid from a grieving father to a murderer; Jackson from a washout, to once again a valuable member of the team, and Drake, once Reid’s strong right arm, into the voice of his conscience.
But where can it possibly go from here? If Buckley’s dead, Reid is finished; and if he isn’t, and he continues to investigate Susan, she can hold Matilda over him.
Truly, this series becomes more rich and strange episode by episode. And the tempest to come will surely be something to behold.
For our episode one review, go here