Exiled to Hackney Marshes with nothing but eels and solitaire for company, the Whitechapel Golem, Nathaniel Dove, is slowly going stir-crazy – and his brother Augustus seems unable to pin down their nemesis Edmund Reid, which would allow him to end the isolation.
You might have thought that wolf-man Nathaniel would have been quite happy in the countryside, where the temptation to bite someone on the neck would have been minimal; but when even the wheezy fishmonger Sumner starts to look tasty, the situation obviously can’t last.
Our longest sojourn yet away from the grimy streets of London shows that rural poverty can be just as grinding as urban; indeed, Nathaniel misses the noise and bustle of the docks. Wolves are, after all, pack animals, and he longs to be back where he can feel the pulse of the city. But perhaps Augustus inviting him for dinner wasn’t such a good idea.
Meanwhile, trapped in Miss Morton’s playhouse, our fugitive heroes, are snapping at each other’s throats; as Mimi points out, they’re not going to achieve anything by mooching around waiting for Thatcher to supply them with a clue to Nathaniel’s whereabouts. Surely a road trip would be in order?
Nathaniel is cosying up to fishmonger’s daughter Prudence (Maeve Dermody, last seen in alternate history gloomfest SS:GB), but is he more likely to invite her for supper, or treat her as supper? Old man Sumner has died and been unceremoniously planted in the allotment; surely even in rural communities at that time there would have been some formalities to attend to?
Helping out Prudence on the Whitechapel fish stall, Nathaniel spots Thatcher, and a newspaper report on the death of Drake; it’s typical of the attention to detail in the dressing of this series that the front page contains a full report of Drake’s death, even though we will only see it on screen for a second. (It’s August, 1897, by the way – you’ll have noticed that we’re often reminded of the exact date in Ripper Street, usually because some notable historical event is in the offing).
Incidentally, Prudence’s fish stall seems to specialise in pike, carp and eels; while eels can make good eating if you have the stomach, pike and carp are normally regarded as inedible, so maybe that’s why the family is so hard up.
Inevitably, Nathaniel’s violent tendencies come out when he cripples a thief, and Thatcher is right on the spot to give chase – he must really like his eels.
Nathaniel and Prudence bond over a session of fish-gutting, as you do, and we see the human side of the wolf-man coming out; but to what dramatic end? When Reid catches Nathaniel, as he inevitably will, are we expected to sympathise with the reformed Golem?
When Augustus warns Prudence away from him, tensions flare and Nathaniel sets off to confront his brother.
Dove’s promotion of Drummond to Inspector surely has an ulterior motive, as does the demotion of Thatcher to desk sergeant. Surely this will turn Thatcher even further against Shine, who has enough troubles as it is, turning to a Fu Manchu-style opium den for relief from his neurological ailments. But the fact that he’s doped up to the eyeballs doesn’t stop him from getting closer to the truth about the Dove brothers.
While Nathaniel and Prudence finally get to consummate their passion, Mimi and Jackson have a heart-to-heart which is rather too revealing of her true feelings. Why she’s so enamoured of the reprobate is as much a mystery as why he’s in thrall to the flint-hearted Susan.
Of course, everything goes wrong for Nathaniel when the truth of Prudence’s incestuous relationship with her brother Caleb comes out, and in a round of biting, stabbing and strangling, both Prudence and Caleb end up dead, and Nathaniel stabbed.
There’s something of the Frankenstein myth in the way the basically peaceful Nathaniel is driven by his worse instincts to wreak destruction; one can imagine him being hunted across the marshlands by torch-wielding peasants. A closer comparison might be Of Mice and Men; Augustus is inevitably going to have to put his brother down to save him and protect himself. The only question is, will he do it before Reid turns up and exposes him?
This most untypical of Ripper Street episodes plays very much like one of those unending dramas about rural deprivation, all malnutrition, incest and rickets; we see very little of our heroes, who do nothing of any note. Have the producers literally lost the plot? In an attempt to delay the inevitable confrontation between the Reid faction, the law and the Doves, we’ve been presented with an increasingly tepid and uninvolving season. Half way through and with very little progress made, we’re increasingly worried that Ripper Street is going out with a whimper rather than a howl.
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