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Ripper Street: ‘Pure as the Driven’ – Series 2, episode 1

Neela Debnath

4890020 low res ripper street 200x300 Ripper Street: Pure as the Driven   Series 2, episode 1

(BBC)

Spoiler alert: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 1, series 2 of ‘Ripper Street’

With the clocks going back and the nights growing ever longer and darker, and the street lamps casting eerie shadows across the way on the arduous walk home, Ripper Street returns at just the right time.

Admittedly, it hasn’t even been year since the show left our screens – it was only back in February that the first series finished. But the Whitechapel trio have returned and it is a welcome one – and what a case Reid et al. are confronted with this week.

From a burgeoning Chinatown in the East End to a narcotics storyline that would be more at home on The Wire than Victorian Whitechapel, Ripper Street makes quite a comeback.

There was of course the regular dose of murder, intrigue and sexiness – but this time there was also some fancy martial arts thrown into the mix along with bar brawl violence that comes as standard. Even ‘ard-as-nails Drake got slapped about a bit.

Setting the murder in Chinatown was refreshing although it did smack of Baltimore – if you’ll excuse the pun – it added another layer, not only to the colourful world of Ripper Street, but to the historical context. Although the historicity of this show must always be taken with a shovelful of salt and then some.

Putting the Orientalism to one side, the crux of this tale was a love story between Blush Pang and Detective Inspector Jebediah Shine and their forbidden romance. It was practically identical to that of Jackson and Long Susan apart from a few details. Replace America with China and avenging father with avenging brother and it’s basically, exactly the same story. Are the writers already running out of ideas? Or was this supposed to be a clever mirroring effect for eagle-eyed viewers?

Speaking of ideas, it appears that my suggestion to include Joseph Merrick aka ‘The Elephant Man’ was taken on board. None other than Mr Merrick showed up, albeit briefly, as does Doctor Treves, who treated and cared for him. Unfortunately, Merrick also witnesses Shine murdering Linklater – this can only end badly.

This intertwining of real-life characters with the events in Ripper Street is simply delicious. This programme is famed for its knowingness and anachronisms, so overlaying history onto the show is an act of creative licence I fully endorse.

It gives us a new take on Merrick that is independent from an unfortunate ‘victim of his era’ portrayal that we associate him with – most notably in the 1980 David Lynch film The Elephant Man. In Ripper Street he is a person, it is more about the part he plays in this case than just his deformity and struggle to fit into society. It’s going to be intriguing to see him in later episodes.

As much as I am heartened to see Joseph Merrick on Ripper Street, I’m still waiting for the photographing of dead Victorians and hidden Victorian mothers storylines. There’s still seven more weeks left, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Ripper Street does not aspire in any shape or form to serve as a documentary and as such the historicity of this show is shot to bits. If you’re looking for a documentary on the Victorians switch over to BBC4. This show is about the thrill of the chase and it feels good to have Reid, Jackson and Drake back on the beat.

Next week on ‘Ripper Street’… The story continues with Detective Inspector Shine paying a visit to Joseph Merrick – does he know what we think he knows?; Long Susan may be forced to pay her rents using other means; and there is a new cop on the block – Hobbs who?

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