This week’s episode of Ripper Street took a departure from the norm somewhat. The norm being the side-lining of the show’s female characters in favour of some dubious plotlines and questionable (at best) dialogue.
Become Man, however, saw Long (Tall) Susan (MyAnna Buring) take centre stage. The episode kicked off with her and her husband/partner/housemate/hanger on (nobody’s quite sure) Homer Hackson (Adam Rothenberg) taking a trip to a local music hall where Series One regular and former prostitute Rose (Charlene McKenna) has taken a job as a waitress in an attempt to make it as an actress. They’re scarcely there ten minutes when a powerful councillor is abducted by what Detective Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) remarkably quickly deduces to be a gang of women. It isn’t long until one of Susan’s customers is also abducted, with Susan herself being taken too. Jackson shows concern for her for a change, and the team tear across London trying to identify the women’s vengeful and in so doing locate their hide out.
Walter de Souza, the first to be abducted, turns out to have made a stand against the potential election of Jane Cobden, a real life Liberal politician, played here with aplomb by Leanne Best. This forms the team’s first lead, and with it they identify a running theme as to the chosen abductees. Largely carried out by women angry at their treatment by men, specifically due to their mistreatment and lack of compensation from matchbox factory owners uncaring about their phosphorous poisoning, the episode allows some interesting questions to be raised about revenge, justice and the means by which to gain it. The subsequent return of Susan to Reid and the gang (a less breezy version of Kool and the Gang) also allows her to be used as bait by the men, adding to this idea of female worth in a male world. To that end, it is no surprise that she begins to sympathise with the women, developing an understanding with and empathy for Raine (Neve McIntosh) an actress usually found dressed as a reptile in Doctor Who.
It is this understanding which causes Susan’s loyalties to be questioned for good, and we can’t help but feel as an audience that if the Three Musketeers hadn’t swooped in (well, stumbled in behind hefty and inaccurate battering ram) and rescued her at the last minute, she might just have stayed. This subplot gave a fascinating new dynamic to what at times can be a spectacularly dull show, as Jackson stepped up to the plate and behaved like he cared about someone other than himself, Myanna Buring had more than three lines, and was allowed not only to do more than pout, but to raise some real life serious points! Radical, I know. Rose’s return didn’t serve much of a purpose, I suspect perhaps the female focus of the episode meant that they simply had to get as many actors with breasts into shot at once as was humanly possible. Even her scenes with Bella (Gillian Saker), a woman who technically is her love rival, didn’t lead to anything at all, and the storyline was quickly dropped. Although to be fair, that’s pretty standard behaviour from a Ripper Street episode. (Don’t even get me started on the Joseph Merrick cameo).
This was a surprisingly enjoyable hour of viewing. It wasn’t perfect, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but it was certainly making strides in the right direction. If they can keep this up, they might just, just be on to something with this series.
Time, and you don’t have much of it left to wait, will tell.
Ripper Street is next on tomorrow night, BBC 1, 9pm.