Ripper Street series 5 episode 1 review: Closed Casket

With characters on the run and battle lines drawn, Ripper Street series 5, out now on Amazon Video, gets off to a strong start...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

5.1 Closed Casket

The fifth and final series of Ripper Street starts a mere three days after the final events of the fourth series, opening with the funeral of Bennett Drake. Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), and Susan (MyAnna Buring) remain hidden in the sewers, still reeling from Drake’s death at the hands of the feral Nathaniel (Jonas Armstrong). Nathaniel’s brother, Augustus Dove (Killian Scott) sets about covering up his own actions as well as his sibling’s. To aid this, he brings back an old Whitechapel nemesis, Jedediah Shine (Joseph Mawle), last seen beaten into submission by Drake, as the new Chief of H division and commands him to track down Reid.

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The fourth series’ climactic scenes were designed to shatter the status quo that was the investigative team of Lehman Street. Even when the relationship between Reid, Drake, and Jackson was fractious, they were united in their common desire to clean up the streets of Whitechapel by whatever means necessary. Losing Drake, and therefore the strong presence of Jerome Flynn, is a risk to the established dynamic of the show as the chemistry of the three central characters was often its strongest element.

How the series manages without Flynn in the longer term of course remains to be seen, but there is enough intrigue in this first episode that Drake’s loss is felt solely on an emotional level, rather than in Closed Casket’s construction. Time is spent with protagonists and antagonists alike, all of whom deal with Drake’s death in different ways. Though her scenes are brief, Charlene McKenna’s performance is heart-wrenching as the grief of losing her husband overcomes Rose and she runs away from her home. Macfadyen and Rothenberg are as reliable as ever, stoic and focused in their ambition to avenge their friend.

The episode itself reflects that stoicism; aside from Rose and Matilda’s respective scenes and a short moment in which Susan catches sight of Connor outside Dove’s home, the emotions are somewhat downplayed. There’s a new, more sombre version of the theme tune, befitting the mournful turn of events and used to establish the quieter tone that the episode goes for. It works well, particularly in the more sinister moments, such as Dove sweeping Connor into his arms, or Matilda coming face to face with an old foe of her father’s. When the heightened, emotional scenes do come, the contrast helps them land more effectively.

In the midst of this fallout, Closed Casket has a lot of set-up to do, as well as reminding everyone of what has gone before. Naturally, it feels a little slow as a result, a deliberate and steady attempt to move the characters into position for the coming episodes. As the dire nature of Reid, Jackson, and Susan’s respective situations become clearer and more obstacles are found to be in their way, the episode picks up pace towards a final scene that is still more about scene-setting than action, but with the added bonus of firmly establishing the opposite sides of this series’ struggle.

Introducing old faces is never an easy task , especially when they have been absent for two series. Thankfully, having an actor with the presence of Joseph Mawle is a good hand to play and the second he strides in, the memory of Shine’s awfulness comes flooding back. Shine is one of the best antagonists to cross Reid’s path and Mawle’s spitting performance is set up in perfect opposition to the ever calm and methodical Macfadyen. Though kept separate for this episode, the anticipation of their inevitable confrontation bubbles under the surface, ready to build as the series progresses.

The returning secondary characters continue to provide capable support. Thatcher finds himself in his element with Shine in control and Benjamin O’Mahoney’s cocksure attitude is undercut beautifully in the climactic scene of the episode. Anna Burnett is given some of the more emotional work to do as Matilda is faced with surviving without her father and the newfound knowledge of his violent acts. Both Armstrong and Scott remain impressive as the chalk-and-cheese Dove brothers, one struggling to control his inner animal, the other the very definition of calm manipulation.

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With characters on the run, stakes raised, and battle lines drawn, it’s a strong start to the fifth series. Ripper Street has steadily become a more consistently good show during its runtime and if the current trajectory holds, it will finish its time with us on a considerable high.

Read Becky’s review of the series four finale, Edmund Reid Did This, here.