Review: Ripper Street (S3 E6/8), Friday 4th September, BBC1

Programme Name: Ripper Street - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 6) - Picture Shows:  Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (JEROME FLYNN), Lady Vera Montacute (LAURA HADDOCK), Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (MATTHEW MACFADYEN), Homer Jackson (ADAM ROTHENBERG) - (C) Tiger Aspect 2014 - Photographer: Bernard Walsh

 (C) Tiger Aspect 2014 – Photographer: Bernard Walsh

So, the apparently superhuman Inspector Reid is out of his coma, indeed back in action; but what could have dragged him into Leman Street nick in the middle of a rain-swept night? Radio Times critic Alison Graham accuses Ripper Street of being gratuitously unpleasant, and when it opens with a shot of Constable Atherton’s gout-afflicted foot, you have to agree. The real shocker though is Lady Montacute (Laura Haddock doing a quite dreadful Downton Abbey-style posh accent, and made up like one of the Spice Girls ). Covered in blood and being escorted into the cells, she’s accused of the murder of a flower-girl in a brothel.

Lady Montacute has been slumming it in Whitechapel in search of illicit thrills, and something’s obviously gone wrong, as she’s been found naked with a stabbed commoner, Ida Watts. But she’s calm about the whole affair, perhaps because she realises that if the coppers can’t find proof against her by the morning, her boorish husband (Charles Edwards) will get her out of jail.
Jackson’s called in to work his forensic magic, and takes hair, nail and blood samples; while he’s working he speculates to Drake as to why Reid has returned to work, after surviving being shot twice – is it because he suspects Susan of complicity in the crimes of her lawyer Capshaw?
Reid, clearly subdued and physically weakened after his ordeal, finds in his records the cousin of the dead girl Ida, and has him brought in. He, Denton, (Daniel Kendrick) has a record for drugging and robbing slum tourists.
While Reid fends off the husband, Lady Montacute flirts with a red-faced Constable Grace; when Reid questions her, she claims to remember nothing of her evening beyond being in a music hall. Has she been drugged, perhaps by Denton? A mixture of cocaine and morphine has been found, and the dead girl’s hair seems to have been cut and styled to resemble Lady Montacute’s – perhaps at the whim of the pervy Lord?
Drake questions Denton friendly-like, but to no avail, so Reid suggests some good old-fashioned intimidation, in a Victorian variation on ‘good cop, bad cop’, and the threat of a toe-chopping soon has him talking. He admits to drugging and planning to rob Lady Montacute, but implicates Lord Montacute in the killing.
The action is interrupted when Mimi Morton turns up in search of Jackson, threatening to dangle him by his most prized appendage; and her brother socks Drake, who he now knows has resumed his affair with his fiancee, Rose. Morton tells Drake that he can’t offer Rose the good life Morton can; but will sense or love prevail?
Now comes a fabulous and overdue plot twist. Reid’s filing system and experiments with phrenology have obviously been leading up to a case involving fingerprinting; and Jackson now turns to Francis Galton’s book Finger Prints for a method to crack the case.
Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, and himself a mathematician, eugenicist and psychologist, published three  books on fingerprinting, the first in 1892; and since we’ve established that this series of Ripper Street takes place in 1894,  it’s long overdue for the technique to be used.
So Jackson uses photography to fingerprint a bloody knife, while Drake, the ex-soldier, tries to break military man Lord Montacute, who admits that his three-way sex-romp ended in humiliation, but says he can’t remember who killed Ida.
Lady Montacute induces Reid to talk about his near-death experience and how it has affirmed his belief in life, then she comes out with a rather startling confession to the murder and her own psychopathy.
So though Jackson’s fingerprint evidence shows that it’s Lord Montacute’s mark on the bloodied knife, Abberline is inclined to accept Lady Montacute’s confession. She seems to wish to be hanged, to take the consequences of her blackness of soul.
It’s hardly a win for Reid, though it will be seen as one, and he seems oddly content, though he can’t explain to Jackson why he felt compelled to return to work.
Jackson examines the gun used to shoot Reid, and surely realises that fingerprinting it might implicate Susan.
Writer Richard Warlow brings a slightly skewed interpretation to the characters and settings of Ripper Street; his Reid is an eccentric and chilly character, prissy and narky, reliant on a silver-topped cane which is perhaps a deliberate shadow of Jack the Ripper. He demands Jackson’s attention with emotional blackmail rather than by exerting his authority.
And Warlow’s grasp of the dialogue style can be rather hesitant – he uses the word ‘forwhys’ three times, as if he’s found it in a book and become fascinated by it. But he does score a few comedy points in the dialogue between Reid, Drake and Jackson, as well as introducing some slapstick humour.
In any case  this is an interesting episode, because it returns to a frequent theme of Ripper Street, the way in which science and technology transform lives. In this case, the use of fingerprinting and  toxicology foreshadow the forensic procedurals we’re all now used to, turning the episode into a sort of CSI Whitechapel.
In the end, will it be forensics rather than good old-fashioned coppering that bring down this season’s hidden villain, Susan Hart?
Chris Jenkins



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