Admin aside, let’s crack on with the episode.
‘Pure as the Driven’, opened with a spot of traditional Ripper Street grit, as a Limehouse detective by the name of Maurice Linklater is thrown from a window and impaled on a nearby railing. I sincerely hope that nobody was eating their dinner at that point. It transpires that the house belongs to a mysterious yet beautiful (aren’t they always?) lady by the name of Blush Pang, of Chinese origin. Who is she? What was Linklater doing there? How on earth did he end up with his leg attached to the business end of an ornamental fence? Inspector Reid (Matthew McFadyen), Sergeant Drake (Jerome Flynn) and Homer Jackson, “the American” surgeon (Adam Rothenberg) set out to investigate, uncovering a shady drugs plot in the process. Meanwhile, brawls break out down at H division for seemingly no apparent reason and Long Susan (Myanna Buring) has run into a few issues with her landlord.
Just another day in Whitechapel, then.
The dynamic between the three principals was pleasingly well established from the off, with Reid touchingly referring to Jackson as “my American”, whilst pulling once of his earnest faces, Drake hanging off Reid’s every word whilst looking tough, and Jackson making sarcastic comments at every possible opportunity and generally behaving somewhat recklessly. Other than that, though, there really wasn’t much of an ‘in’ for new viewers. The overall arc of the plot was clear enough, predictable even, but, as has all too often been the case with Ripper Street, individual scenes were over-complicated, hard to follow and at times downright inaudible- whether you were a new viewer or otherwise. It was apparent whereabouts it was going, it was just the journey there that was utterly incomprehensible.
To find a positive point upon which to hang one’s bowler hat, the sets were as stunning as ever, with the jerky violin music making up the score only adding to the sense of atmosphere. As always, there’s a real sense of place to the London of Ripper Street, echoed well in Reid’s passionate protectiveness of his patch. Joseph Mawle was also fantastic as the authentic seeming Inspector Jebediah Shine, Reid’s be-bearded district neighbour and delightfully evil villain. Unfortunately though, the show as a whole tried a little too hard to appear authentically Victorian. Again. The endless corsetry (from 15 minutes in, if anybody is interested) walking hand in hand with the undercurrent of grubby prostitution, the mucky streets and murky taverns are, again as always, a little too carefully put together, a little too obvious for any of it to feel real. And that’s without me even mentioning the ridiculously over done dialogue, and the apparently random, gratuitous appearances of John Merrick, The Elephant Man, in case you hadn’t 100% spotted the endless Victoriana, and still thought there was a chance you might be watching Downton.
Some of the enjoyable parts of Series One were present in this Series Two opener, the chemistry of H division, the sets and camera work as well as the overall whodunit aspects in particular. Despite that though, it veered between attempting to be Game of Thrones with some added saucy scenes (perhaps the presence of Jerome Flynn caused some confusion?) and trying to out-gore fellow local crime drama Whitechapel, which shares Ripper Street’s postcode if not century. The cast can’t be faulted, especially if they speak up a bit, and the episode felt rounded, even ending on a tense note to cajole us (I could certainly use the encouragement) into tuning in next week.
It was just the bits in between that were the problem, and unfortunately those bits accounted for far too large a chunk for the hour long show to be much in the way of an enjoyable experience. And without that, what is really the point?