I would apologise at the lateness of this review of Ripper Street, ‘A Stronger Loving World’, but to be honest it’s taken me this long to get my head around the different broken fragments of the episode.
Racial tension began as the order of the day, when a Church is torched, leading to widespread blame of the Jewish community. A subsequent attack on a synagogue as well as some crafty pamphlet font comparison work (as you do) leads H division to investigate the possibility that both attacks were carried out by the same party. Rose (Charlene McKenna), after the discovery that Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) can no longer financially support her, left brothel for slightly less green pastures, which consisted largely of her drinking gin alone in a public house. Befriended by a mysterious cult-like group, Rose finds herself in an oddly luxuriously decorated abandoned building, with food and a roof over her head for as long as she needs it. Only the pages of religious doctrine littered about, as well as all the references to ‘Father’ suggest that anything sinister is afoot – but are the cult too good to be true? Meanwhile, Bella Drake (Gillian Saker), wife of Bennett (Jerome Flynn) mysteriously disappeared, only to return a day later with her strange long lost Uncle, Gabriel Cain, played be a gloriously Captain Hook-like be-bearded Paul Kaye. It’s up to Bennett and Rose to figure out what’s going on, conveniently bringing together the (vague) threads of the storyline in the process because, of course, they are were all connected.
In another vastly confusing episode, Paul Kaye was able to really stand out as the sinister cult leader, creating an artificial family of followers all of whom, naturally, adore him. He looked every inch the part (the inches, of course, being the beard) and was wholly believable as a man capable of manipulating not only poor innocent Bella but an entire group of people into a deluded suicide pact at his behest. Second only to this performance was that of Jerome Flynn, who was heart-breaking as the distraught newlywed who finds his happiness disappearing in front of his eyes almost as quickly as it materialised in the first place. It was just a shame that, having been so, er, shortlived, (bit of a spoiler there, I apologise), the happiness itself, in the form of Bella, didn’t quite pack the emotional punch it could have had she been a more established character. Again with Ripper Street, the detective’s wives are little more than expendable plot devices, doomed to further the action with graceful deaths and emotional breakdowns, but never to add anything to it. In a stunning act of self-awareness, however, Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) seemed to begin to realise this here, giving Bennett all the time he needed to mend his broken personal life. I couldn’t help but wish that this had been the focus of the storyline instead, but alas no such luck, especially with the homeless Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) drunkenly stumbling about the place like a dodgy Jack Sparrow impersonator.
With such a potentially interesting start, we were once again sent spinning off into a wild vortex of a tangent with this episode. As has so often been the case with Series 2 of this show, the episode we ended up with was completely different from the one we signed up for at the start of the show, to the detriment of any themes established in the first quarter of the episode. Present as ever was The Scene, in which all the confusing madness is explained, although here this served more to frustrate than inform.
I really hope it can get enough of a grip on one single narrative thread to make the final episodes work. With the recent announcement of the cancellation of Series 3, it would be cheering if the show could go out with more of a confident bang than a perplexed whimper.