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Review of Ripper Street ‘The Good of This City’

Neela Debnath

ripper 4 300x221 Review of Ripper Street The Good of This City

Emma Rigby as Lucy in 'Ripper Street' (BBC)

SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 4 of ‘Ripper Street’

In what seemed to be an odd way to mark the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, this week saw the Ripper Street trio investigate two murders during the clearing of the slums and the initial construction of the underground.

Each episode explores different elements of Victorian society and in doing so creates a rich and colourful image of the era. The Good of This City was no different with the focus on mental health and the underground.

There was finesse to this week’s story compared to the previous episodes and the plot felt more substantial. For instance, Reid’s desire to solve the murder by preserving the crime scene versus the commercial interests to build the underground served as an interesting source of tension.

Then there was the exploration of mental health and health in this period through the character of Lucy Eames (Emma Rigby) and her trauma as well as her epilepsy. On top of that was the crucial link between Lucy and her lover Stanley J. Bone (Paul McGann) However, it seems to me that perhaps viewers should take what they see with a pinch of salt in terms of historical accuracy and enjoy it more as pure entertainment.

Rigby gave a brave and utterly brilliant performance as the troubled former prostitute, conveying a fragile innocence to her character. The distant, unblinking stares were unnerving as were her lingering looks at others which exuded child-like trust. Therefore, it was a relief when Reid and Drake intervened before she underwent a lobotomy.

As I watch each episode of Ripper Street I start to feel more and more disturbed by the Victorians as a people. From early forms of torture porn/snuff movie in the first episode to forced lobotomies, every week feels more shocking than the week before. In my mind Victorians get more creepy and sinister as the series progresses. Even without the Ripper murders serving as the focus, the grim nature not only of the crimes but the people themselves is unsettling.

Saying this, Ripper Street is enjoyable to watch. There is no doubt about the high production values – it looks great – and the characters have been well-written. But there is definitely an element of rubbernecking involved in the viewing experience, a morbid curiosity to see what horrors the East End will vomit up from its depths next time. Perhaps part of the purpose of all murder mystery dramas is to sate all of our inner urges to gawk at the gruesome in real life?

Leaving aside the psychology of detective shows, it appears that Jackson and Long Susan’s pasts remain hidden as do Reid’s own demons. Viewers may have noticed Reid’s scars last time, in case anyone missed them they were brought to attention by Jackson during a heated exchange between the pair.

The row was quite revealing in some ways and showed that the stakes are high for both of them, considering that that each threatened to delve into the other’s past and unearth their secrets. For the first time the audience really saw Reid’s anger. There was also the fact that he has chosen to let some questions about Jackson’s past slide unanswered for the greater good. Although the altercation suggested that there is more to Reid than simply losing his daughter, a secret far darker.

So far there has been some wonderful character development as the audience gets to know Whitechapel’s finest. Not only have we seen more of the main three but we have been given more of an insight into some of the other characters. Rookie police officer Dick Hobbs is green but he’s learning after having to assist an autopsy and calling in a leading a psychiatrist. While we are shown that Long Susan does care for her girls even if it involves murder.

All in all The Good of This City was in some ways less grisly but in other ways more unsettling. The more complex plot which intertwined the railway with mental health was fascinating but the depiction should not be taken as gospel. It feels as if the makers may have taken certain liberties with the details and there are questions over the historical reliability. Luckily, it felt like there were less obvious anachronisms in this episode, apart from one character saying that the underground has ‘the chill of eternity’ about it. It was a little too knowing for my liking.

Next week… The audience was offered the merest flashes of the episode to follow but what is clear is that a more sophisticated criminal force is at work. Sergeant Drake’s muscle is brought out again as he helps Reid to interrogate a suspect. Also, there were some shots of Rose, including one of her with a bouquet, could there be a possible relationship emerging between her and Drake?

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  • minkspill9

    Like the wonderfull authenticity in American films – - par ex;
    an out of work drunk who hasnt seen a bar of soap or tooth-brush for weeks,
    crawls out of a filthy dustbin opens his mouth and display’s a $100.000 teeth job.

    What amazing dentistry they had in Victorian times ……………..

  • JDSixsmith

    The author implies that the series tells us something about the Victorians, it isn’t intended as a historical documentary, it’s an fictional 21st century perspective, claiming based in Victorian London, but dealing with very contemporary issues.

    It’s entertaining stuff, I enjoy it, stylishly designed after the fashion of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes… but what I found most ludicrously (and quite harmfully) fictional was the way the author dealt with “torturing” the bad guy… getting him to reveal vital information in order to prevent a mass poisoning of the East End… just in the nick of time. Never happened as far as I know.

    It sends out the message that torture is justifiable & works, doesn’t it? I can’t recall, off hand, the “good guys” ever brutally torturing a “suspect” who turns out to be completely innocent… perhaps it’s about time… or would be lose sympathy with the good guys if they did too much of that sort of thing?

  • PaulWharmby

    Quite right. On the basis that it’s well-acted character-led drama, I shall forgive it any historical inaccuracies, as I enjoy watching it, which is surely the point of a tv show at 9pm on BBC1.

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