I was SO pleased when Amazon took over Ripper Street after the BBC wandered off. And now I am SO pleased it is over.
Ripper Street had a great cast, a steampunk script and an endless supply of blood and gutsy murders. Season 4 continued this to some extent, luring perpetually troubled Inspector Edmund Reid (consistently good Matthew Macfadyen) and the irritatingly perky Mathilda (Anna Burnett) back to dirty Whitechapel from the seaside backwater where they had been living in boring peace.
As Bennet Drake (best side-kick ever Jerome Flynn) is now the boss of H Division, and Reid a mere special constable, tensions are inevitable. This is compounded by the fact that Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) is about to be hanged and Captain Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) is acting all drunk and not bothered and their son, Connor, is to be brought up by Rose (Charlene McKenna) and Drake. Oh, and Mathilda is making all the eyes at desk sergeant Drummond (Matthew Lewis), who resorts to reading Dracula to try and impress her.
So far, so Ripper Street. Storylines involving amateur footballers and blood splatters, an evil workhouse owner and a blood transfusion gone horribly wrong recapture the grisly magic of Ripper Street of old.
However, there were some sneaky storylines underlying it all that should have alerted me to what awaited in Season 5. Firstly, there is Augustus Dove (Killian Scott), an unbelievably young and even more unbelievably reasonable assistant commissioner. Then the cold case involving the murder of a local rabbi and talk of a Whitechapel golem. Finally, there is Long Susan’s execution. She killed 52 people just so she could put a hospital in her front room! We don’t feel sorry for her, and Jackson is better off without her. Instead, he comes up with a daft plan and saves her from the rope. Boo.
Season 5 has a single storyline. Even the title music has changed, and Reid keeps forgetting to shave, just so you know that everything has taken a darker turn. Pantomime villain Jedediah Shine (played terrifyingly well by Joseph Mawle) turns up to take over when Drake is killed, Rose – who seemed to be a completely different person than in previous seasons – turn traitor then trundles off to Blackpool and Augustus Dove decides to bring up Connor, with the help of a cruel governess. Reid, Jackson and Long Susan hide out in a theatre owned by Jackson’s previous amour, the witty Mimi (Lydia Wilson), who had some of the best lines in the series.
It all trundles along, with everyone knowing what is going on but no-one able to bring anything to any kind of conclusion. In the end, I forgot I was watching the final series, wandering over to iPlayer documentaries and YouTube film noirs when I was ironing instead. Then a severe sinus infection knocked me flat into bed for three days and all I could do was stare at the iPad and sniff. It seemed the ideal time to finally cross Ripper Street off my list.
It wasn’t all bad. David Threlfall as Abel Croker was an excellent addition to Season 4, and jaunty Sergeant Thatcher (Benjamin O’Mahony) made up for the absence of old favourite, slimy journalist Fred Best, who was killed in Season 3. Nathaniel Dove (Jonas Armstrong), Augustus’s murderous brother, was brilliantly portrayed, as you wondered who was the real animal – the man who couldn’t help himself, or the one who could but killed children to cover up his brother’s madness.
As always, the staging and photography was a treat. The smoke of the Thames Ironworks, peeling plaster of Newgate Gaol and billboard-plastered alley walls were all atmospherically recreated. But the final series just wasn’t Ripper Street, it was a two-episode storyline stretched so much you could hear the whalebone snapping.
A lot of critics disliked the final episode, but I thought it redeemed the series somewhat. By wrapping the storyline to its obviously inevitable ending half way through, it left the second half open for flashbacks (Drake and Best reappear!) and a lingering farewell. Reid carries on, his best friend dead, everyone else he cares about moving on and moving away. He remains at Leman street, haunted by the one crime he could not solve – Jack the Ripper – and spending the last minutes of the old century alone, reading through the night’s crime reports.
Things I think about when I sort through the linen basket:
- Did Augustus Dove’s lisp get more pronounced as the series went on or did I just become more attuned to it?
- Who caught the eels for the Sumner family before Nathaniel turned up? Thatcher said they were the ‘best eels in London’…
- I lost track of Rachel Costello (Anna Koval) that determined new reporter who was on Dove’s trail. Where did she go after Shine menaced her? Why didn’t she scream blue murder to the people in the next office when he had his hands up her petticoats?
- Why did clever Mimi have to go and marry some old bloke? Why couldn’t she carry on having cosy suppers with poor lonely Inspector Reid? Why?