Review of Ripper Street ‘Tournament of Shadows’

Neela Debnath

Reid 5 300x219 Review of Ripper Street Tournament of ShadowsSPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 6 of ‘Ripper Street’

This week on CSI: Whitechapel or “Ripper Street” the trio were up against double-dealing Russian spies and a terrorist plot to blow up London. Yes, the premise did seem more contemporary Hollywood blockbuster than Victorian police procedural but there was enough of the latter to keep it in line with the rest of the series.

While all eyes were on Drake last time, Jackson and Reid were given more air time this week. This technique of feeding the viewer a few tasty scraps each week continues to whet the appetite and maintain the intrigue.

According to Constantine (Derek Riddell) of the special branch, Jackson is not a Pinkerton as he claims to be which begs the question: who is he? Judging by his conversation with the double-dealing Russian spy Peter Morris/Zotkin (Peter Ferdinando), Jackson clearly knows about the Pinkertons and the Haymarket riot of 1886. He speaks with such passion and gives a detailed account of the event that it seems hard to doubt him. Surely, he must have had some dealings with the Pinkertons?

As a British viewer I was slightly lost by the references to Haymarket and the ‘Pinks’ and a little background would have been handy. For those in the dark including myself here is some context. The Pinkertons were agents of a private security agency set up by Allan Pinkerton in 1850. The job of a Pinkerton agent could vary from serving as guards to private military contract work.

During the labour strikes of the Nineteenth Century Pinkertons were hired to infiltrate trade unions, keep unionists and anarchists out of factories, protect those who broke the picket line, and even intimidate workers.

The Haymarket riot was the unrest caused by the bombing of a peaceful workers’ protest in Haymarket Square in Chicago, killing 11 people and injuring over a hundred others. Although it was unknown who was responsible for the bombing, one of the theories was that the Pinkertons were behind it. History lesson over and back to CSI: Whitechapel.

Given that Ripper Street is jointly produced by BBC America and the BBC, it makes sense to feature an American character. Jackson offers a handle for American viewers to grasp amid all the cockney ‘apple and pears’ coppers while the history surrounding his character adds familiarity. Yet for those unaware of the historical context – particularly on this side of the pond – it would have been nice to have the details filled in. Yes, it still makes sense even if you don’t know the history but a little extra exposition here and there wouldn’t go amiss.

Meanwhile it was revealed that Reid’s horrific scars are the result of something molten falling on his chest during a boating accident in which his daughter Matilda vanished. The incident happened a year ago and while Emily has removed her mourning gown Reid is still haunted by the guilt of it all.

According to police procedurals all brilliant detectives are plagued by guilt and loss which drives them to become workaholics and Reid is just one of them. He was pushed even closer to the edge this week and had a small breakdown of sorts. It seems that on this show whenever anyone is teetering on the brink they end up walking listlessly through the streets while everything goes into slow motion.

On the subject of detective drama tropes, Ripper Street featured a classic one in this episode when Reid’s hansom cab takes him to an undisclosed location for a clandestine meeting with Constantine. The whole sequence was one big cliché smothered in smaller clichés. It was the Victorian version of the moment a detective is told to get into the back of a car and is taken to an abandoned warehouse for a meeting with a shady figure. Constantine was even having a cigarette while he regarded Reid with disdain and derided his policing methods, before driving off and leaving Reid abandoned in the middle of nowhere. Was I the only one left wondering how Reid made it back to Whitechapel?

Despite the tropes that litter all cop shows in this day and age, the writers of Ripper Street have created some fresh and interesting storylines and do so every week. Tournament of Shadows was a unique story that played with history and reimagined it in a creative way. It does not seek to be an accurate representation of the time which leaves room for a shedload of poetic licence and this is what makes it so entertaining. Unsurprisingly it was announced this week that the series has been commissioned for a second series next year, so prepare for more of the same in 2014. However we before there, we still have a few more episodes to go.

Next week on Ripper Street… The Yanks are coming to town as Long Susan and Jackson are back in the spotlight. A body is thrown to the fishes and Jackson holds Reid at gunpoint. It’s all going to be kicking off.

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