Ripper Street series 2 episode 6 review: A Stronger Loving World

Review Becky Lea 3 Dec 2013 - 06:18

Here's Becky's review of another packed episode of Ripper Street

This review contains spoilers.

2.6 A Stronger Loving World

There was so much going on in this episode, I’m not even sure where to begin to summarise. Essentially, religion is the theme of the week as an unknown entity strives to stir up religious tension in Whitechapel between the Christian and Jewish communities with a series of attacks. Elsewhere, Drake is forced to come to terms with his wife Bella’s past as Gabriel Cain (Paul Kaye, still with Thoros’ impressive beard) returns to claim her for his own. Then there is the mysterious cult that Rose stumbles upon, taking her in in her hour of need, all the while extolling the virtues of the mysterious Father and his preaching of religious enlightenment and a new world to come. All are connected, but not very neatly.

With that many plot threads to weave together, it’s not surprising that this episode is a bit of a mess, veering from one scene to the next with a pace that almost outruns itself. It makes for a dizzying watch that got more than a little confusing at times as plot twist was layered upon reveal upon twist. Once again, it felt like Ripper Street had wasted the potential that these storylines had offered; the individual narrative strands were all weighty enough on their own to produce an interesting episode each, but the fast pace the episode adopted left little for each subplot to bed in. As a result, it became increasingly difficult to latch on to any of the characters wrapped up in it.

This was particularly the case for poor Bella, barely given enough depth to hold our attention for more than a few moments at a time. She’s been a background presence throughout the series so far, only emerging once or twice from the pokey Drake residence to glance benevolently at her husband and offer the occasional wisdom from her days as a prostitute. Thrust into the spotlight for a few brief scenes, Bella’s past as the former wife of a cult leader hellbent on suicide who ran away from him to become a prostitute and then end up in the arms of our Drake, was certainly an interesting development, if not dwelt on long enough to give us the right amount of emotional impact that her death demanded.

Likewise, the religious antagonism between the Jewish and Christian populations could have made for a pertinent exploration of an issue close to our contemporary hearts, as was the case with the nefarious bank manager in last week’s edition. The images of the Hebrew scrawled on the still-smoking remains of a church and the blood across the floor of the synagogue were haunting and the petition of the rabbi equally so. The idea of faith versus fanaticism was buried in there somewhere, but the narrative strand with Gabriel’s cult, looking for all the world like they had just wandered out of a Rossetti painting, only made this connection on a surface level and not with gravity that such a theme required. In fact, making them an offshoot of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (I did say this episode packed it in) just seemed to muddy the proceedings even more.

This episode finally allowed me to put my finger on what has been irking me throughout this series of Ripper Street and it is that of continuity of the world of Whitechapel around them. It became especially apparent in this episode with Reid even mentioning that there has been religious tension brewing between the Jewish and Catholic communities. Of course, we have to take his word for it because we haven’t actually been treated to it ourselves. Each week, the episode’s writers pick up a historical thread that provides the most basic context for the mystery that the police have to solve. I say basic because once used, this context is dropped in favour of something else. One week, we had civil unrest in the form of the Irish community, the episode before, industrial action with the matchbox girls; neither of these were mentioned before, nor have they appeared since.

As the history and literature of the period demonstrate, Victorian London was a veritable smorgasbord of anxieties and conflicts just waiting for a spark to ignite them into a frenzy. These anxieties built into each other and fed off the problems that caused them; eugenics, seen in an earlier episode is connected to the immigration influx in the Irish and Jewish populations for example. However, there is never the feeling that any of these contexts are connected and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to believe in the world in which these characters are operating as a result of this. It’s not just a problem with this current run either; the entire series was advertised as being about the social panic created by Jack the Ripper and he’s barely featured beyond the odd name-dropping. As such, the world of Whitechapel and Ripper Street never feels more than a well-dressed facade.

With the mystery of the week structure that Ripper Street has adopted, it is easy to dismiss this with the idea that it is just integral to the episodic nature of the series. However, it leads to often clunky exposition scenes as Reid, apparently the font of all knowledge when it comes to advances in biology, medicine, finance and religion, has to stop and explain the historical context of the episode in question for the audience. Also, the writers have been keen to build in character arcs for their players which provided far and above the most effective scenes of the series (though both Flight and Best appear to have been relegated back to their respective dutiful assistant and weaselly journalist roles despite participating in some hefty character work in previous episodes). To not at least make a little effort to do the same for the characters’ location is holding Ripper Street back.

To return to this episode, there were some excellent thematic links being made in amongst the various narrative threads, but it seemed in such a rush to get to its conclusion that both the audience and said themes barely had time to breathe.

Read Becky's review of the previous episode, Threads of Silk and Gold, here.

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