Ripper Street episode 3 review: The King Came Calling

Ripper Street serves up another slice of bloody, gore-filled Victoriana in its third episode. Here's Jamie-Lee's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.3 The King Came Calling

Be still my beating heart, the gore and viscera is so strong in this week’s episode that you can almost inhale the putrid stenches through your television screens. Yes, the body count is up in the third instalment from new Sunday night BBC One drama, but this time not from some slasher of the night or menacing child gang, it’s far more serious than that: King Cholera. Or at least, so the H Division think. However, it’s not long before Inspector Reid and Co soon realise that something more is at play here; subterfuge with grain. No, seriously.

The King Came Calling starts off with some religious preaching from a vicar in the City, with the camera focusing on London folk going about their day-to-day activities around a water pump – the Victorian equivalent of a water cooler, no doubt. Then in comes a portly fellow who looks as though he’s been down the ale house for one too many. Swaying not so gently, he then proceeds to projectile vomit in the street à la Linda Blair from The Exorcist. As he falls to the ground, the scene is juxtaposed with images of a pig carcass being butchered. Ultimately, the two pieces of meat end up having the same fate; being sliced on a slab.

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We learn that the pig is used for one of Inspector Reid’s (Macfadyen) clever experiments to help try and solve a recent and unrelated brutal murder, tying him to the City police which is headed by the pompous Inspector Ressler (played by Patrick Baladi), who believes the victim to be that of the Ripper. Believing it not to be the case, Reid warns him to “want no part of this parade”. He also shows off his scarred torso in perhaps an unnecessary shirt change, and begins the slow destruction of his colleague in a Victorian version of ‘Get Yer Appendage Out, Sir’. The two characters take centre stage in this week’s episode in a verbal fisticuffs not too dissimilar to West Side Story, Sharks versus Jets cockney style; jazz hands and sneers over your moustache. ‘Tis murder that connects them of course. It turns out that the body laying in Jackson’s post-mortem room in Whitechapel hails from the City. Falling on deaf ears, Ressler warns Reid to “keep your men off my manor” (my favourite bit). However, in the way that so often happens, the two inspectors eventually have to put aside their differences and work together as more bodies pile up and dozens fall ill.

Captain Jackson comes in mighty handy this week as he recalls the skills and knowledge of the finest doctors combined, enough to possibly win the Nobel Prize and realises that cholera is not at work here but something far more sinister. Aside from The Exorcist levels of vomiting, symptoms of the potentially fatal illness include burning of the extremities, raving and visions, which Reid deduces as ergotism, a type of poisoning. Clearly his knowledge knows no bounds. He also informs us that he knows a certain type of criminal, has an acute understanding of chemistry, quick-fire repartee and an inner brooding unlike no other. And he knows how to pull off a bowler hat.

Sergeant Drake (Flynn) again takes a back-seat role this week but kindly reminds us that the illness includes puking and shitting yourself to death. He has a few comedy lines in this week’s episode, all grim, but also reveals his tender and courteous side by taking off his hat when addressing a lady in the street, stopping by to check on the officers’ wives on the way home and once again alluding to Sudan when discussing how he missed the last outbreak of cholera. Jackson also chips in to explain how bad an outbreak can get with something like “’75, New Orleans. You weren’t there man…”.

This episode also gives way to letting one of the female leads, Emily Reid, take a prominent role. Played by the excellent Amanda Hale, she stars as the grieving, afflicted and long-suffering wife of Detective Inspector Reid, seeking refuge in a city plagued by crime and injustice. With some clever writing from Richard Warlow, she is woven into the main storyline in various ways through her charity work, which involves her seeking sponsors to house working girls who have fallen in with the wrong pimps, and visiting victims of abuse. She too falls ill and Reid pulls out the full broodiness as his mechanism for coping. He promises to tell her why he is the way he is if she’ll live, making the audience scream “Live woman, LIVE!!!”. Why is he scarred? Why is he so goddamn broody? And then? Well, he gets all mardy and stroppy when she becomes a strong woman again. Tsk.

There is, as usual, some nice attention to detail. Something of particular interest about this episode – and the whole series – is the way Reid seems to be single-handedly inventing police procedure. We’ve seen him preserve crime scenes, have them photographed, create sterile rooms for post-mortems to take place, and in this episode there’s his work with the pig acting as a dismembered corpse. He’s always moving forward, finding ways to use the latest technology, the latest developments in psychology, and all to catch criminals. It may be set over a hundred years ago but Reid, in many ways, is the most modern copper on the box. More of this please, just perhaps not before dinner.

Read Jamie-Lee’s review of the previous episode, In My Protection, here.

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