I hate to begin a review on a pun (this is a lie) but during Ripper Street Episode 5, ‘Threads of Silk and Gold’ I have to say I found said thread, in terms of the plot at least, rather difficult to get a hold of.
The episode began with a pair of young lovers, specifically a pair of young telegram messenger boys, discussing their plans to run away together- away from a society which does not accept them. Soon, however, we find ourselves in a case of mistaken identity, as another telegram boy is killed in one of the lovers’ places. Upon further, well inspection I suppose, of the victim, Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and his team discover, through some potentially grisly post mortem examination from Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) that this boy, and presumably several of the others, were selling themselves to business men for a bit of money on the side. And so the plot thickens, leading our trio to the doors of the men who used the services of the telegram boys, particularly as one likely client, or companion as he seemed to prefer to think of himself, is now also dead. Reid and his men must consider the business affairs surrounding the situation in order to surmise what may be happening, leading them to the characteristically shady world of Whitechapel’s banking system. Presumably not a banking system much more reputable than the UK banking system of today.
There was much potential here. The social context of homosexual relationships in Victorian London, in a time when to love a member of your own sex was a harshly punished crime, was an interesting one to choose, particularly after the equally weighty themed ‘Become Man’. The show’s basis in contextual fact had a human face here, especially as the issue seemingly so troubled Captain Serious himself, our humble leader, Inspector Reid. Sadly, as is so often the case with Ripper Street, and I do tire of banging on about it (believe me) it felt like a wasted opportunity. There was no real spark to the episode (well there was, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with main plot – more on this shortly), nothing to incite the passionate response this issue so sorely deserved. It was left to Jerome Flynn’s thoughtful, respectful silence in the presence of the bereaved boy, towards the end of the episode, to convey all the sympathy and respect the episode just didn’t quite manage by itself. Don’t get me wrong, he did it rather well, we just needed more than one look from him and several moments of sympathetic blustering from his boss to feel that this had been executed efficiently.
Meanwhile, the loyal and trustworthy Reid was having problems of his own. Since it was revealed to the audience that his wife, Emily, has now been institutionalised due to her prolonged and ultimately delayed grief over the death of their daughter, not to mention the ‘false hope’ and betrayal from her husband, Reid has, in a staggering event of chronological convenience, been, well, flirting, frankly, with ‘Become Man’ MP Jane Cobden (Leanne Best). Much as the analytical nerd in my enjoyed the fact that the character featured in two episodes which make sense as a pair, particularly in terms of sexuality and character development, appearing the second to bring this theme to fruition, the whole thing just didn’t feel very Reid-like. Whilst he did have an affair in Series One, he was at least a tiny bit traumatised by guilt over that one, whereas now by contrast it seems that 30 seconds worth of dialogue about his poor (forgotten!) wife is the only license he needs to play tonsil tennis with another dark haired beauty. Given that the man struggles to make any decision with pondering it later over whisky with Bennett, seemingly wracked by something akin to guilt (although that may just be the earnestness again), this rapid emotional rebound just didn’t sit right with me.
On though, to the spark of the episode I mentioned earlier. Out of nowhere, almost at the end of the episode, after The Scene where all is revealed very quickly in hushed voices against an overly loud musical backdrop, came a scene the like of which I dare say we have not seen in Ripper Street before. Packing a huge, not to mention unexpected, emotional punch, came the seeming demise of the marriage between Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) and Jackson. Having discovered that he has gambled away what was left of her money in a misguided attempt to help her, Susan doesn’t rant, doesn’t rail, doesn’t throw a heavy household object at his head as we’ve seen her do before and like he expects, even asks her to, but simply, quietly, tells him to ‘get out’. Following on from her new found opinions and strength of character from Become Man, an episode I now definitely consider to definitely be the episode’s pair (if such decisions are indeed made at Ripper Street towers), this was a fascinating development.
In fact, ladies and gentlemen, I think that moment is a likely contender for the accolade I’ve just made up – moment of the series so far. It’s just a shame the rest of it was such a tangled mess of telegram uniforms, actors with confusingly similar haircuts and a devastating lack of thread – silk and gold or otherwise.
Ripper Street is next on Monday night, 9pm BBC One.