TV REVIEW: Ripper Street - What Use Our Work

If you've been following our reviews for Ripper Street, you know I've been very critical from the start whilst Jen has maintained a bit of optimism until last week's episode completely wore her down. This week is the final episode of the series and in honour of this, I decided to leave behind my previous criticisms and go into this episode with an open mind, ready to be wowed and amazed by the grand finale.

Yeah, that didn't happen.

The problem with this episode, and indeed the series as a whole, is that we all know that Jack the Ripper was never caught. Instead, the tension is wrung from Jackson's false arrest. Could he hang for being the Ripper?! Well no, because he's one of the main characters and Ripper Street has been commissioned for a second series... So then, we must rely on the ingenious ways in which Jackson (Adam Rothenburg), Reid (Matthew MacFadyen) and Drake (Jerome Flynn) prove the American's innocence. Which would be great, if they focused on this at all. But he then gets forgotten about for the REST of the episode (until the end when he solves it all very quickly by becoming Sherlock Holmes). Instead, we get a lonely hearts killer who kidnaps Rose for his own human trafficking gains.

Now forgive me once again for point this out, but the series is called Ripper Street no? So is too much to expect that the Ripper actually features in it all, bar a token association episode and as a convenient plot device? It also can't be a coincidence that Victor Silver shares his last name with one of the Ripper suspects, but this isn't even alluded to once by the episode. Whilst it was all good to have the mystery of Reid's daughter rumble along, the main cliffhanger last week was Jackson's arrest. To not focus on that for more than a quarter of the episode is, to this viewer, frankly rather baffling. But no, once again, the Ripper is used as a hook to get the audience back again and then dropped like a body in the Thames.

We also get the supposed tension between the three leads themselves. Suddenly, Drake does not want to have anything to do with Reid, despite no real build up to this whatsoever besides a couple of frowns and snarky remarks. Now, a good central team falling out can be done very well; Buffy did it in the Season 4 episode The Yoko Factor and produced enough tension to build up to the next episode in which the Scoobies quite literally come together to defeat The Initiative. I'm guessing that Ripper Street were going for a similar effect, but it didn't really work. You need to care about the characters to care about whether or not they become friends again at the end and unfortunately, I still don't.

Another thing I've noticed whilst watching this episode in particular, is the odd way that people talk. The dialogue is usually quite timeless, neither modern nor overly historical. Then occasionally, we get 'I know not' or 'you shall never see me more' and then Emily's overly dramatic 'you raise a hope that sinks its claws into me', feeling a little bit like someone swallowed Dickens and decided to regurgitate it sporadically throughout the script. Now I'm all for flourishes in language, but you should either go for full, lyrical dialogue (a la the excellent Deadwood) or just stick to regular speech. Combining the two just seems frankly quite odd.

This, rather conveniently, sums up the problem of Ripper Street for me. It's trying to be too many things at once without a healthy regard for any of them apart from being 'gritty'. The police procedural elements have never been particularly intriguing, nor unpredictable, with a lot of the culprits easily spotted and reveals foreshadowed. The historical context hasn't really added anything other than to give a grimier setting in which to operate and a chance to show how awful Whitechapel was back in the late nineteenth century. The two have never really worked well together, with the historical context abandoned once it ceases to be needed for the advancing police case. The mixture has never really worked.

Ripper Street will be back for another series, but I'm not sure Jen and I will be.

- Becky

You can read all of our previous Ripper Street reviews here.

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