Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Ripper Street Series 1 Episode 4 REVIEW

BBC One's gaslit drama delves into the psyches of its central characters in a particularly blood-soaked yarn.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

Although this week's episode still manages to deliver a sizeable serving of blood and gore, it's clear that the main aim is to rip the hearts out of its audience, not just its characters. Moments before the start of the episode, the BBC announcer declared that it would feature scenes I might find upsetting. I assumed he meant the graphic violence, and so I was unprepared for what was probably Ripper Street's most emotionally engaging episode yet.

It begins with the introduction of the beautiful but troubled Lucy (Emma Rigby), a former employee of Long Susan's brothel who materialises out of the blue, intent on reclaiming her old position within the establishment. Lucy was clearly not a good name for a young lady to have in the Victorian period - you have only to look at the Lucy in Bram Stoker's Dracula to get an idea what fate may have in store for her.

Indeed, when we meet Lucy she is already on the path to disaster. She is found coated in blood, shell-shocked and silent - but is she the victim or the culprit? Who Lucy is and what has happened to her are the questions that frame the central mystery of the week, and Emma Rigby does an admirable job of depicting an abused woman on the brink of total destruction. When a rent collector and his tenant are found dead, Reid and his team must hurry to clear Lucy of suspicion and unearth the mysteries surrounding her unexplained disappearance from a few years before.

As the story unravels it becomes apparent that many of the men of Whitechapel (including Jackson) know Lucy, and to an extent they are implicated in her suffering. But it's a technique that serves another purpose: to introduce a roster of potential suspects in the murder case, while driving a wedge between Reid and Jackson, a conflict that has been ripe for examination since the start of the series.

As the apparent polar opposites of the cast, Reid and Jackson's differences have served them well to date, their combination of wits and brawn helping to overcome obstacles they might not have defeated separately. It is Long Susan's involvement in Lucy's troubles that eventually exposes the differences in their worldview, and hinted at the potential issues that could (and should) arise again at some point in the future of their working relationship.

In fact, the internal fracturing of the central group is perhaps the strongest dramatic element of this week's episode. In a way that hasn't yet been shown to date, Lucy's arrival highlights the flaws of each of the central characters in such a way that they are more compelling than ever before. The roads through Whitechapel are apparently paved with good intentions, but Long Susan's attempt to assist Lucy in her hour of need fails miserably, and ultimately lands her in a jail cell.

Detective Reid comes to Lucy's aid in Ripper Street
 On the other end of the scale there is the somewhat more comedic failure of Blake, who is hopeless in his attempt to connect with Rose, a rare moment of vulnerability from a character who has remained fairly straight-faced to date. It's another example of Ripper Street's potential, as the balance between the lighter and darker shades of the characters' vices achieves a rather satisfying effect. It's never more compelling than when it's exploring the flaws of its central characters.

In comparison with the evident character development on display, the central mystery is a more straightforward whodunit, with the birth of the London underground being the iconic innovation that nonetheless leads to murder. Interestingly, it seems that Ripper Street is hinting at a greater cynicism towards the 20th century than the one that preceded it. 

As expected, Reid and co. manage to solve the mystery in time to save Lucy from peril, but the central story is somewhat less satisfying on it's own - we're beginning to identify a formula to Ripper Street's stories of heroes and villains. While it's still an enjoyable hour of TV, I'm looking forward to seeing how the series flips that formula on its head in coming weeks. 

What did you think of this week's 'Ripper Street'? Did you sympathise with Lucy and her struggles?

Leave your thoughts below!

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