Ripper Street series 5 episode 3 review: All The Glittering Blades

Ripper Street series 5 focuses on Jonas Armstrong's Nathaniel in episode 3, providing some very welcome character development...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

5.3 All The Glittering Blades

All The Glittering Blades follows Nathaniel as he attempts to live the quiet life offered to him by his brother, who in turn continues his pursuit of Edmund Reid. Nathaniel finds it difficult to adjust to his lonely cottage in the Hackney Marshes, but he occupies himself with fishing for eels, which he then sells on to a local fish seller, Mr Sumner. When Sumner dies, Nathaniel befriends his daughter Prudence, her brother Caleb, and her son Robin, but it is only a matter of time before his past catches up with him. Elsewhere in the episode, Dove further allies himself to Drum with a promotion whilst Shine continues piecing together the truth behind the Whitechapel Golem, despite his worsening chronic pain.

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The decision to focus on Nathaniel this time proves to be an emotive one and a choice which feels entirely in keeping with the moral shades of grey that have embodied Ripper Street. Here is a character that we have only seen in relation to others, chiefly Dove, or to his violent and terrible acts. So far this season, he has been a pawn in the battle that is ongoing between his brother and Reid, the murders he committed standing as proof of all of Dove’s corruption and the potential for Reid’s salvation and freedom.

As such, there has been a tendency for Nathaniel as a character to operate solely on the one level whilst other dimensions go unexplored. He has been the ticking time bomb at the heart of the series (rather pointedly emphasised by the ticking clock in his cottage), but more so because of his status as a chess piece rather than as a character in his own right. This episode corrects that somewhat by rendering Nathaniel a focus point for themes that have been affecting the main characters elsewhere.

Chief amongst this is the recurring theme of consequence; Nathaniel has so far managed to outrun his violent actions, but he is forced to confront them in his relationship with Prudence, who wishes to know the truth. This in turn leads to culpability, something which has dogged Reid in particular, who still has a tendency to blame others for his actions rather than accept his own part in them. Finally, there is also the inherent tragedy of the way in which Nathaniel is used by his brother. After all, it was only last episode that Dove put a gun to his brother’s head in order to stop Reid’s plans. Nathaniel may be a vicious killer, but he is someone who has been and continues to be greatly mistreated by those around him. To inspire sympathy and revulsion at once drops us right into that murky morality.

Jonas Armstrong has been consistently good at the ‘beast’ aspect of Nathaniel’s character, particularly in last series’ finale when he came face to face with Drake. All The Glittering Blades gives him room to explore the other aspects of Nathaniel, the way he has been shaped by his troubled past, and how he comes to terms with who he is. He does so beautifully, inspiring sympathy for a character previously considered only as monstrous in his ‘little boy lost’ physicality contrasting sharply with the moments when the beast takes over. It’s an impressive feat for a supporting character to take over an episode so completely that the main plot is barely missed.

Nathaniel was not the only supporting character to get a turn in the spotlight. In a smaller moment, Mimi also found herself confessing her true feelings for Jackson. Lydia Wilson has been another fine addition to the Ripper Street cast in the later series and she steals a scene with her quiet monologue regarding her relationship with Jackson. Like Nathaniel, she has been a victim of circumstance, but she is offered as an alternative rather than a parallel; while Nathaniel eventually succumbs to his baser instincts, Mimi refuses to allow her feelings to dominate her and instead indicates her determination to move on.

All The Glittering Blades is a quieter affair than the previous two episodes, but one that provides some much-needed development for an important character in the Whitechapel landscape. With a dead body bearing Nathaniel’s trademark, Dove’s job is about to get a whole lot tougher, especially now an opiated Shine is beginning to close in on his prey.

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Read Becky’s review of the previous episode, A Brittle Thread, here.