A Nightmare on Ripper Street.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
I have to admit that I quite like to tune in for a show and, for the first 30 seconds, wonder whether I've landed on the wrong channel. Back in Misfits' third series, in the opening of their Nazi alternate-reality narrative, I tuned in about a minute into the teaser and thought, 'Why the bloody hell have C4 schedulers swapped Misfits for Downfall?'
So I was suitably titillated with this week's Ripper Street pre-title scene, precisely because it opened with a kindly-looking Geppetto of a toymaker. Rarely has a character's days seemed so numbered from the outset. It doesn't take long for us to move from the Hugo-esque world of Victorian gadgetry into the backstreets of Whitechapel. Moments before we're plunged into the opening credits a belt buckle is used to dispatch said kindly toymaker, a weapon employed to shift us from a 'U' to a '15' rating. Such is the fate of Saints on Ripper Street.
This week's episode quickly pulls us into the territory of London child gangs, a dark concept explored with subtle morbidity in Ripper Street. What starts off as a seemingly harmless gang of reckless London urchins quickly reveals darker undertones. Whatever innocence there was in these boys was burned out long ago, or so it seems to the men of Whitechapel, who waste no time apprehending the murderer and dumping him before Inspector Reid, Captain Jackson and Sergeant Drake. There's a sense of true satisfaction as they do so - a feeling that, following the elusiveness of the Ripper killings, they are back on familiar, masculine territory.
|Drake learns not to underestimate the 'innocent' in Ripper Street|
But things are not as they seem. The supposed culprit is Thomas Gower, a teenage member of the gang and a young, Dickensian underdog with a fondness for silence. Inspector Reid rightly suspects that there is more to the story than meets the eye, and upon closer inspection the gang's actions are revealed to be connected to the menacing, tattooed Carmichael (played brilliantly by This is England and Misfits star Joe Gilgun), who proceeds to unleash his belt-buckled brutality throughout the remaining minutes of the episode.
Gilgun's Carmichael is an effective and compelling antagonist for Reid, far more so than with last week's villain - if this week's story proves anything, it's that Reid is not at his best in a fist fight (he needs Jackson and Drake for that). He is caught up in a breathless (and seemingly hopeless) final act in which Carmichael prepares to delivery bloody vengeance on Reid where he is holed up in an orphanage.
It's in this act that the finest moment takes place. Trapped inside the orphanage and believing that Carmichael is going to burn the place to the ground, Reid goes back inside and provides hope to the children, reassuring them that they're safe. With the shadow of death seemingly hanging over him, he takes a moment to lift a small girl into his arms and tucks her into bed. It's a small moment that manages to have a more emotive effect than the rest of the episode, a flicker of Ripper Street's potential to be a truly impacting drama.
However, my major issue with last week's premiere is still present in this week's episode. The recurring female characters are underused - both Long Susan and Rose both feature, but their contributions only serve to set up future scenes and conflicts for the male characters. Ripper Street has already hinted at its ability to do something new in this genre, but it needs to inject some more horror into 1880s Whitechapel, something I'm confident we'll witness in successive weeks.
What did you think of Joe Gilgun in this week's episode? Were you moved, excited or horrified during this week's story? Leave your thoughts below!