After the untimely demise of Sergeant Linklater in ‘Pure as the Driven’, this week’s episode of Ripper Street, ‘Am I Not Monstrous?’ didn’t see life in Victorian Whitechapel get any easier or more appealing. A young woman turns up at a local hospital, seemingly having been living rough for some time. She’s heavily pregnant, in fact, she’s in labour, and gives birth to a son shortly afterwards. All would seem to be well, however, this is Ripper Street, so naturally a few hours later she is brutally murdered by being pushed down some stairs, with the killer disappearing into the night with the new born. The autopsy later reveals that the victim had an unusual physical deformity, leading the trail to a circus freak show.
The child’s father turns out to be the son of a famous eugenics doctor, causing the Inspector Reid (Matthew MacFadyen) and his team to muse upon abnormality, and leading to another, somewhat inevitable, cameo from Joseph Merrick, ‘The Elephant Man’, played here by Joseph Drake.
A few of the issues brushed under the carpet in the rather rushed feeling Episode One were re-addressed here, namely, WHERE THE HELL HAS REID’S WIFE GONE AND WHY DOES NOBODY SEEM TO CARE THAT SHE HAS TOTALLY VANISHED? Apparently she suffered some form of psychiatric episode after the end of Series one, after Reid gave her ‘false hope’ that their missing daughter may yet be alive. However given that it took twenty minutes locked in an iron cell with nosy ex mental health specialist Dr. Crabbe (Anton Lesser) for Reid to reveal even that much, we’re probably best not holding our collective breath for any more juicy, and frankly useful, morsels of information to be divulged anytime soon. This episode also saw the return of Long Susan (MyAnna Buring), or Long-Tall Susan as I’m calling her this week, in a little more depth, as her and Captain Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) had a good ol’ barney about the proprietor of Susan’s establishment, the slimy, sleezy Silas Duggan (Frank Harper).
There were some interesting aspects to the overall arc of the story, namely in the idea of eugenics, and also those of shame, being an outsider and accepting who you are. Unfortunately these were dealt with in every bit as clumsy a manner as we have by now come to expect from Ripper Street, using overly antiquated language in over complex scenes. There were some truly moving moments in the portrayal of Jospeh Merrick’s day to day life, however, particularly his being followed by the braying mob and subsequently passionately defended by H Division new kid on the block DC Flight (Damien Molony). Joseph Mawle continues to give an arrogantly sinister performance as Detective Inspector Shine, albeit a performance entirely devoid of any apparent enunciation. The production values, set design and connection between a smaller story and a wider societal context were as ambitious as ever, again as ever, with some elements achieved better than others.
Ripper Street, for me at least, continues to be overwhelmingly frustrating to watch. All the elements are there, and it has the potential to be an effective, well delivered, poignant and downright cool drama. It’s just a shame that, at the moment, anyway, it just isn’t quite managing it.