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Ripper Street: ‘Am I Not Monstrous?’ – Series 2, episode 2

Neela Debnath

4859211 low res ripper street 300x199 Ripper Street: Am I Not Monstrous? – Series 2, episode 2

(BBC)

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

We have seen the ugly side of the British Empire with last week’s bent copper and the opium dens of the East End. This week it was the Victorian obsession with the freakish. The makers seem to have taken my suggestion about including the Victorian sideshows on board, as well including Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man.

The Victorians revelled in gawking at deformities much in the same way that we gawp at X Factor auditionees as they spectacularly crash and burn for our amusement. The freak shows live on, their format simply changes. Maybe one day the idea of putting someone on national television merely to watch them fail will seem as primitive as the freak shows. But probably not. Mini moralistic rant over.

A stronger instalment than last week, there was a lot more heart to this episode. I am still mourning the loss of Joseph who saved the day and was then bumped off by the devious Detective Inspector Shine. As history tells, Joseph died because he wanted to lie down to sleep like other men, but we know better. He was killed by a corrupt copper trying to cover his tracks. It was all terribly tragic and he was taken from us too soon.

If that last sentence reads like a funeral speech, that’s because he was the most fascinating character on Ripper Street to date. He is the least two-dimensional one of the lot of them. While we have our police procedural tropes, conventions and stereotypes, there was so much to explore in the character of Joseph Merrick.

There was depth to this version of the Elephant man. It was not about just his struggle, he was an integral part of the story. Who knows, Joseph could even have been an occasional assistant to the Whitechapel trio on a more regular basis. I would have been hooked. Actually, he should have been given his own spin-off series.

Admittedly, his moment of heroism erred on the side of cliché and it got a bit cringey when he asked what it was like to make love to a woman in order to halt a suicide. I was fighting between the urge to gag and embrace the warm fuzzy feeling permeating the pit of my stomach. In the end the latter won out although I probably was a little bit sick in my mouth.

It was all quite dark this week, more so than episode one, particularly during the visit to the asylum where Reid had a Silence of the Lambs moment with Dr Karl Crabbe. In order to extract information from Crabbe, Reid had to confess a secret much like an exchange between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling.

In a brilliant bit of exposition we discovered why Mrs Reid is not around any more. Watching the drama Reid describes would have made a great piece of drama, even if it would ended up playing out more like something from Walford than Whitechapel – they are both set in East London. It also means that Reid remains a broken man drowning himself in work, because, you know, how else are you supposed to be a brilliant detective? Only the finest officers have unhappy personal lives, plagued with darks pasts. If you have a happy family life, you’re only ever going to be an average cop. In telly land it doesn’t work any other way.

On a side note, there were apparently a number of complaints about mumbling actors in last week’s episode of Ripper Street which made it difficult for viewers to hear what was happening. But for me it was garbled syntax that made everything unintelligible. I ‘get’ that it’s ye olde Victorian London but if you’re going to have a copper shooting up for ‘research purposes’ and using CSI techniques, surely the dialogue can be less muddled for the sake of clarity? It was level below Yoda’s style of sentence construction. Hopefully, this was just a one off and the inverted syntax will be less intrusive.

Next time on ‘Ripper Street’… Things are getting serious at Long Susan’s establishment and it’s not going to be pretty.

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  • Shorne

    I noted that James Drake, the 24 year old who played Merrick, has been described as ‘one to watch’ in the past. Based on this performance this seems an entirely accurate assessment.

  • Siu Wai Stroshane

    Great review! Can’t wait to see this series in the US next month. It sounds as if Joseph Merrick is treated respectfully but in reality his death was accidental. It’s too bad he wasn’t written as a recurring character, as you said.
    There’s a new bio about him on Amazon called ‘Measured by the Soul: The Life of Joseph Carey Merrick.” Also a website about his life at www(dot)josephcareymerrick(dot)com

  • Gerontius Bonalatty

    Ripper Street was excellent. Just one of a number of great TV moments in recent months…… terrestrial fights back.


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