It’s been far too long (for BBC viewers anyway) since Ripper Street was last on air, but some of us are still quivering with anticipation of this final season. With Drake (Jerome Flynn) apparently dead, and Reid, (Matthew Macfadyen), Jackson, (Adam Rothenberg) and Susan (MyAnna Buring) on the run from the corrupt Dove (Killian Scott), is this a case of the hunters becoming the hunted?
Emerging from the sewers to seek a safe hiding place from Augustus Dove, whose brother Nathaniel, remember, is the cannibalistic serial killer who killed Drake), the trio take refuge with Jackson’s paramour, the impresario Hermione Morton. Apart from the hissing tension between Hermione and Susan, their problem is that they have to expose Dove, but he is rightfully in pursuit of them for the killing of Susan’s monster of a father. It’s a poser.
For us, though, the main worry is that the moral centre of the piece, Drake, has ben taken from us. Reid has always been solid but unimaginative, Jackson reliably unreliable; but without Drake’s balancing influence, can the dynamic of the show survive?
At least Ripper Street can be relied on to take us to a historically accurate if repugnant area of Victorian society, this week the world of dogfighting. Dove’s barmy brother steals a fighting dog, and we guess it isn’t because he wants to take it for runs.
The embittered Reid, sundered from his daughter and hopeless of defeating Dove, paraphrases Seneca’s ‘Fiat justitia ruat cælum’ – ‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall’ – but he has no plan other than to hit the bottle. Susan, meanwhile, dyes her hair with the aim of recovering her stolen porcelain undetected, while Jackson goes in search of their son Connor, disguising himself by changing hats.
Rose Drake (Charlene McKenna) has put Connor in the care of Augustus Dove, who has brought in a ghastly governess, Chudleigh (Ellie Haddington).
Meanwhile the men of H Division have the dubious pleasure of welcoming a new boss, Inspector Shine of K Division (Joseph Mawle), who as we saw in previous seasons has good reason to hate Drake and Reid. Shine comes across like a cross between a circus hypnotist and a child-molester, but he does have a soft spot for Reid’s daughter Mathilda (Anna Burnett). Also he clearly doesn’t believe the official line that the wharfinger Croker was the Whitechapel Golem who killed Drake.
Reid’s search for Nathaniel leads to a chaotic dog-fight, where Nathaniel seems to be releasing the dogs rather than playing them; meanwhile Susan and Hermione reach an understanding in a rare case of sisterly mutuality, and Hermione comes up with information on where Connor is being kept.
Shine gets wind of the dogfight and sets a trap for Reid. Passing on his philosophy to Sergeant Thatcher (Benjamin O’Mahoney), Shine claims that the plebs must obey the law, while ‘We are the law’, paraphrasing Judge Dredd. Will our heroes fall into Shine’s trap, or will Mathilda and Sgt Drummond (Matthew Lewis) save the day?
Thatcher’s bareback humiliation seems unworthy of the upright Reid, and serves only to infuriate Shine, so what has been achieved? Surely Reid and Jackson could have done something more useful while Shine was engaged with his fake dogfight – like snatching Connor or retrieving the porcelain?
If those two aims are going to be the only focus of this season, it seems that Ripper Street has lost something of its bite. Where was Reid when someone was needed to pontificate on the evils of dogfighting? if anyone made that point it was Shine, though he did do it by breaking a man’s jaw and stringing him up by his wrists.
No, we’re not at all reassured by this opener – we miss Drake more than words can say. Jerome Flynn’s powerful performance formed the bedrock of the series, and Reid’s anger at his death is hardly a substitute for the righteous determination of the two working together.
When Reid sails into the sunset in the finale, it certainly won’t be accompanying Jackson and Susan as a nanny to little Connor, or Mathilda and Drummond as their butler. Somehow, Ripper Street will have to find a new direction for Reid if it’s going to resolve the story of this complex and compelling character.
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