So Ripper Street comes to a final conclusion, after five series of mystery, suspense, gore, thrills, brilliant performances, sparkling dialogue and riveting detail. Can all the loose ends be tied up, accounts settled and character arcs be resolved?
It’s very much an episode of two halves. Firstly, the condemnation of Reid and the knavery of Dove has to be resolved; with the evidence of Robin’s body, and the confessions of Susan and Nathaniel, this is largely a formality. But it takes Jackson’s forensic skills to tie up the case; and crucially, the evidence that both Dove (and Mimi) had contracted scarlet fever from Robin (remember Mimi’s nasty rash and Dove’s medicine we mentioned last week?)
The scarlet fever could have been circumstantial – after all, thousands of Londoners must have contracted it – but Robin had been left in Dove’s care before his death. We’re surprised no-one examined his coach to discover the foot-marks on the roof.
In any case, Dove is caught red-handed, and Reid vindicated; Abberline takes the evidence to his superiors and it is they who determine everyone’s fate.
Now, it’s no surprise that Susan and Nathaniel are to be ‘choked’ – she is already condemned, and he has confessed. But why is Augustus Dove spared? Forcibly retired, anonymously jailed and kept in solitary, he could still be an embarrassment – why not hang him quietly?
As for Jackson, it’s never quite explained why he is spared hanging, except perhaps that he has done service to the forces of justice, and he can be neatly deported with no further fuss.
We can’t say we shed any tears for Susan – she was as good as dead as soon as she caused the fatal train crash – but Jackson’s parting from her is moving. Reid, though, shows no emotion as she and Nathaniel hang.
And what of Reid? His punishment is to return to his post – Abberline knows full well that Reid and Whitechapel are tied together for eternity. In a sense, the spirit haunting the area is not the Ripper’s, but Reid’s.
And that brings us to the Ripper. In the second half of the episode, flashbacks return us to the Ripper murders, the days when Drake tried to pull Reid out of his alcoholic funk, their first glancing meeting with Jackson, the beginning of Reid’s fixation with the killings, and the investigations of Fred Best.
But Reid seems to have lost any faith that the perpetrator can be found; indeed, though he’s distressed to hear Mary Kelly’s song at the theatre, when Abberline presents him with new evidence, he is initially reluctant to investigate, then seems almost relieved when he does scratch the itch, and Abberline’s suspect turns out to be innocent.
Without the Ripper murders to occupy him, what does Reid do with himself? A potential romance with Mimi is scuppered when she goes off to marry an old gent with a lot of money and a dodgy ticker – and anyway, as she says, Reid’s face would always remind her of Jackson. Reid has an open invitation to go to his daughter Mathilda, now rather daringly up the duff, happily married to Drummond, and settled on the coast – but it’s clear that he will never take the trip.
The final tragedy comes when Reid hears of the death of Jackson in America – losing his life in an attempt to save two drowning girls. Perhaps this is meant to be poetic justice of a sort, but we can’t help feeling that it was not a fitting end for a man whose major crime was ‘to love not wisely but too well’.
So the last we see of Reid as the new century dawns is that he is alone in Leman Street with no companion in his endless fight against entropy; he may be able to stave off the darkness, but it has cost him any vestige of happiness, and come near to destroying all those around him.
So are we satisfied with these conclusions? Perhaps, perhaps not. Let’s imagine some much bolder resolutions.
Would it not have been ironic if the Doves had escaped custody, and Augustus had been forced to put down Nathaniel, or Nathaniel had put the bite on Augustus?
Would it not have been more satisfying if Reid had found a measure of happiness with Mimi, or Rachel Castello, or Deborah Goren?
Would it not have been exciting if Reid had found evidence that suspect George Chapman was in fact the Ripper – and had quietly put an end to his career? Or even – dare we say this – could it not have been revealed after his death (as it had been hinted) that Jackson was the Ripper?
None of these possibilities seem to have been considered, and we think these are all opportunities missed. With the dawn of the new century, the message seems to be that things will go on unchanged – surely at such a crucial moment, with technology beginning to impinge on everyday police work, there could have been a suggestion that in fact everything had changed?
So, while all plot and character issues were resolved in a satisfactory way, we can’t help feeling that Ripper Street did go out with something of a whimper. The last season maintained the excellence in performance, production values and script of previous seasons, but in the absence of Drake, lacked some of the character dynamics, and by concentrating on the Dove plot, discarded the social commentary of earlier seasons.So what is the legacy of Ripper Street? At the heart of it is brilliant performances, not least from the sadly missed Jerome Flynn as Bennet Drake; but Matthew Macfadyen as Edmund Reid, MyAnna Buring as Susan Hart, Adam Rothenberg as Homer Jackson, David Threlfal as Abel Croker, Killian Scott as Augustus Dove and Joseph Mawle as Jedediah Shine, among many others, deserve equal praise.
Then there’s the dialogue – wonderfully verbose, beautifully crafted, eccentrically exaggerated, it marked out Ripper Street as something different in drama – neither hyper-real or fantastical, but some coruscating hybrid of the two.
Production values were superb – costume, settings, extras, props detail, CGI backgrounds, all executed with consummate skill.
And finally, we loved the impression that at any time, Ripper Street could burst into the realms of steampunk fantasy or supernatural horror – for surely the Victorian era was an age of wonders, the tipping point between the superstitions of the past and the hard-edged reality of the modern day.
Considering the series’ troubled production history, we may not see its like again – let’s be grateful for the time Ripper Street allowed us to spend in the fog-shrouded streets of Whitechapel.
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