Review: Ripper Street (S4 E1/7), Monday 22nd August, BBC1

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Programme Name: Ripper Street  S4 - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. Iconic) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Long Susan (MYANNA BURING), Homer Jackson (ADAM ROTHENBERG), Edmund Reid (MATTHEW MACFADYEN), Bennet Drake (JEROME FLYNN), Croker (DAVID THRELFALL) - (C) Tiger Aspect 2016 - Photographer: Bernard Walsh

(C) Tiger Aspect 2016 – Photographer: Bernard Walsh

Such was the uncertainty surrounding the continuation of Ripper Street, that it has returned to BBC2 fairly unheralded. We’re certainly glad to see it back, as in terms of production values and novelty alone, it’s way ahead of most other current detective dramas.  

It’s 1897, three years have passed, and Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) is still living in isolation with his daughter Mathilda. Drake is now Inspector in a shiny new district station house, equipped with new-fangled telephones, microfiche, and a gorgeously tiled morgue complete with freezer cabinets. The streets of London are also equipped with prototype police phone boxes – with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee bringing joy unconfined to the capital, a new technological era beckons.  Reed’s division has racked up a recent success by capturing Isaac Bloom, the Whitechapel Golem,

Reed’s division has racked up a recent success by capturing Isaac Bloom, the Whitechapel Golem, allegedly murderer of a rabbi; but lady reporter Rachel Castello (Anna Koval) has doubts about his guilt.

But what of Long Susan (MyAnna Buring), last seen languishing in Newgate, pregnant and under sentence of death for planning the Leman Street rail disaster? Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), while keeping up a pretence of drunken indifference, has been working on her defence – but now that she has raised their son Connor, it seems her time may be up, as she is due to hang in two days. Her plan to escape with the help of sinister Dr Probyn (Ed Hughes) seems to have foundered for lack of cash.

Special Branch Inspector Constantine (Derek Riddell) is tackling the threat of Muslim extremism – whoa, topical reference! – so when a Muslim lawyer is found weighed down with chains in the docks, young Assistant Commissioner Augustus Dove (Killian Scott) and new Sergeant, fancy little fellow Frank Thatcher (Benjamin O’Mahoney) have to deal with more than just a spat between rival dockers Teague (Andrew Brooke) and Croker (David Threlfall).

Jackson finds forensics linking the body to the Bengal Lancers encamped in Hyde Park (there’s a lovely aerial CGI shot), and Drake questions commandant Al-Qadir, who identifies the body as that of his son, a lawyer and political radical. He implicates the son’s partner, Hafeez, but Drake is warned off Hafeez and the Muslim Patriotic League by Constantine.

Hafeez addresses a meeting which is broken up by white dock workers, and he is narrowly saved by Al-Qadir, and turned over for questioning.

Meanwhile, Edmund Reid has settled in Hampton-on-Sea just as it threatens to become Hampton-in-the-Sea, eroded by tidal action. He has a new love interest, widow Elenora Freeman (Clare Foster), and the couple’s daughters are friends, and have been indulging in illicit visits to the stews of Whitechapel.

Deborah Goren (Lucy Cohu) interrupts Reid’s seaside idyll, begging him to return to London to investigate the Bloom case – ‘Save one life, and save the world entire’ she quotes from the Talmud. He’s moved to blow the dust off his copper’s bowler – literally – and to take the train back to London, where mathematician Bloom seems deranged, but somehow Reid emerges convinced of his innocence.

It’s a slow start, and clearly this short season is going to be all about resolving the three major story arcs – Susan, Al-Qadir and Bloom – rather than presenting a separate plot each week. We’re in the dark about the Bloom plot so far – surely it can’t all be about Kabbalistic lore? – but Susan’s saga presents familiarly knotty moral questions. Certainly she deserves to hang, so when she somehow escapes her fate, how will we feel?

Central to this season, though, will clearly be the Al-Qadir arc, and here the writers have cleverly combined the historical and the contemporary in the way only Ripper Street can do. The station house might be brighter, cleaner and more modern, but we’re obviously going to delve into some dark corners before the season is through.

Chris Jenkins

For all our news and reviews on Ripper Street, go here

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