Whitechapel series 4 episode 2 review
Whitechapel continues its foray into the supernatural with episode two of its fourth series. Here's Becky's review...
This review contains spoilers.
Whitechapel continued in fine form with a spooky conclusion to last week’s opening episode, taking in witchcraft, spycraft and mouldy bread which is not as odd a combination as it initially might seem. It turns out there is something rotting in the district of Whitechapel...
Opening with a wonderfully over-dramatic introduction to witchcraft by Buchan, the second episode continued the creepy atmosphere that the first instalment had carefully built up. It worked in the horror techniques expertly, weaving psychological suspense in with some good old-fashioned gore in the autopsy scenes and a couple of shock tactics to create a nicely spooky episode. Moving shadows, shots lasting only a few frames and a deep, brooding score were techniques utilised effectively, ensuring that individual scares had the power to make you jump violently yet remain immersed in the nicely haunting atmosphere.
Of course, there was indeed a rational explanation for the whole witchcraft-related crime spree found in the dangers of ergot poisoning which had corrupted the homeless man Washington (William Beck), seen in the first episode, into thinking that he had been cursed and must kill off the witches in order to rid himself of this. The links to witchcraft were well-handled and revelations about the homeless code in those symbols and the ways in which the victims could be seen as stereotypical witches made the supernatural element a great red herring for the rest of the plot. Like the link back to Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, the hysteria hides the actual reason behind why these people are dying and the poison corrupts Washington into his delusions.
However, the idea of infection was something that lay under the surface throughout the episode, not only to do with the necrosis that Washington suffered, but also that of hysteria and paranoia for other characters and within the team. The MI6 connection was simply to do with Wingfield’s paranoia and his determination that there is a malevolent presence in Whitechapel causing these events There’s a focus on the effects of the lower ranking officers as Kent and Mansell find themselves antagonising each other and Riley has a near-death experience. Whilst the focus has always been on the central three of Buchan, Chandler and Miles, it is always welcome to spend some time with the other members of the team, particularly as they share a great chemistry.
Speaking of the three leads, Rupert Penry-Jones continues to impress in the role as Chandler in particular struggles to cope with certain aspects of the case and it is he who suffers most from the creeping paranoia. Phil Davis is the strength at the core of the group as ever, but even the usually unflappable Miles finds himself unnerved by this case and the darker presence that appears to be haunting them. Because of the keen focus on these characters’ particular quirks, it makes the episode’s events all the more unsettling for the audience; we’re privy to their unravelling and it proves to be just as affecting as the odd jump scare.
Aside from his amusingly overwrought introduction, Buchan is seems to have lost some depth in between this series and the last, his character functioning little beyond exposition in this episode. The scene in which he brings Wingfield’s map to the other two and they share a grim drink over its contents brought the show’s black humour back to the fore, but other than that, Buchan was given little to do. It’s a shame because Steve Pemberton has proven that he makes Buchan a wonderfully tragi-comic figure so hopefully he shall get given a bit more to work with before the series is out.
The final scenes suggest that there may be a darker presence controlling the murderous events in Whitechapel, an intriguing prospect that could see the previous three series retconned. If it’s handled well, this could be an interesting arc for the fourth series. Next week looks like it will be continuing the excellent foundation this first double-parter has set with another potential copycat killer on the loose.
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