Pumicing my feet. Painting my toe-nails. Tidying my room. These are just a few of the lovely things I managed to accomplish whilst watching last week’s Ripper Street, all of which proved an infinitely more valuable use of my time than the programme itself.
On the distinct off chance that any of you do still actually care, here’s a brief summary of the episode’s events. ‘A Man of my Company’ finally cleared up for us the mystery surrounding Long Susan, or Sporadically-Thrown-Into-An-Episode-Every-Now-And-Again-As-A-Token-Feisty-Female-Character-And-An-Attempt-To-Elicit-Something-Resembling-Intrigue Susan, as I like to call her, and Captain Jackson. I know, hurrah indeed. I won’t give it away here for those of you yet to watch it on iplayer, but it’s a humdinger! (It’s not). Meanwhile, the murder of a shipping engineer set to transform the fortunes of his company, before his premature death, obviously, keeps the ever-eager Detective Reid and his trusty sidekick Bennet busy, neither batting an eyelid when Jackson acts even more oddly than usual, almost literally morphing into Captain Jack Sparrow before our very eyes. There’s an interesting storyline afoot with the deceased engineer’s wife, played by the wonderful Shauna Macdonald, also of previous Spooks fame, although as has become the all too frequent case with Ripper Street it’s never really enough to hang your hat on.
Again, we’re thrown random references to the elusive Pinkertons, again without any real explanation as to WHO ON EARTH THEY ACTUALLY ARE. I’d like to know, really I would. (Although I admit I could have missed that when rummaging around my dressing table for a nail file). For me, half the fun of period dramas is the easy, uncomplicated glimpse into the characters’ social context and contemporary issues. History with an emphasis on the story part, I suppose. Ripper Street, however, seems to only get so far with this before losing faith in the intelligence of its Sunday night audience and chucking us back in the direction of Really-Not-In-It-Very-Much-Apart-From-As-A-Useful-Hanger-For-Some-Lovely-Dresses Susan. Don’t get me wrong, as an actress I’ve grown rather fond of MyAnna Buring, I just wish they’d give her a bit more to do. Credit where credit’s due, though- there are some lovely set pieces, and the production values remain high as ever. The final showdown between Jackson and his Pinkerton pals is well shot and well scripted, with his London loyalty throughout actually coming across as quite touching in a show that gives rather a bleak outlook on the morality of the nation’s capital, save for the godlike Reid, of course.
What the show is missing, and missing in a big way, are its overall character and narrative arcs. They are there, after all, we’ve seen them! They’ve been like shadows in the corner of your eye when you’re half asleep – but they’ve been there! They’re the alarming scars peeking out from under Matthew Macfadyen’s shirt, Detective Abberline’s teeny tiny obsession with catching the Ripper, or indeed anyone who could possibly have spoken to/seen/brushed past the Ripper once in the street after an evening of one too many ales. Reid’s wife, Emily, even, picked up for an episode or two and then dropped as quickly as that orphanage keeper lady Reid kissed that one time and then never mentioned again, ever, could even contribute to something in the way of an overall plot, if they’d only use her. Indeed, Jerome Flynn’s Bennet Drake is the only character to really show any signs of development, and even that storyline is only given airtime of approximately twelve seconds.
There’s so much there to work with, I’ve said that all along. It’s just that it seems to be perpetually abandoned in favour of a nice shot of some cobbles or YET ANOTHER be-corseted prostitute. Which would be appropriate, welcome, even, if the show itself made even the slightest nod to its namesake, which since the first episode, it has resolutely avoided.
This being my last turn at reviewing Ripper Street, I will not be covering next week’s episode. However from the preview, it appears that maybe, just maybe, Reid and Abberline are going to have another crack at catching Jack. Or something. And maybe, just maybe, all those mysterious little plot threads that have so far only been snatched at like wispy bits of Victorian cobweb will actually be wrapped up, and we’ll all feel delightfully satisfied that we invested so much of our time and energy in this show.
It will be up to my esteemed co-editor to tell you whether or not that has been the case, but I really, really hope it is. Although I suppose I could always use the hour to read a book or do some stretches if not.
Ripper Street is next on tonight, BBC 1, 9pm.
Stop press! Assorted Buffery now has a Facebook page! You can Like it here. Go on, why not?