Ripper Street episode 4 review: The Good Of This City

The Eighth Doctor, aka Paul McGann, tips up on Ripper Street this week. Here's Jamie-Lee's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.4 The Good Of This City

Our bloody and brutal Ripper Street has made its way across the pond to BBC America, where it’s been the subject of much hype and media attention. Matthew Macfadyen, who plays the lead role of Detective Inspector Reid, has been cited in the papers defending the gore and smut, while Jerome Flynn who plays his right-hand man, Detective Sergeant Drake, has come out with some prime material guaranteed to give the readers of middle-England a touch of the vapours: what was he up to for those lost eight years of his career between Badger and Tommy Cooper and before Game of Thrones and Ripper Street? Well, he was in a sort of religious cult, run by the son of the actor who plays Ken Barlow in Coronation Street. Obviously.

And yes, there’s also been the predictable backlash to the BBC’s new series. Is it too violent to be shown at 9pm? Is the gore unnecessary? Is it sexist? Quite frankly I bite my thumb at these articles. Ripper Street is offering something new and exciting to our Sunday night rituals of cosy period drama TV viewings. Is it disrupting it? Oh yes.  Happily so. And each episode so far has been unique, pushing boundaries with very different storylines and enticing us with enriched understanding of the interesting lead characters and dazzling us with shiny cameos.

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The Good of This City is no different. This week’s episode focuses on various scientific and social developments that were extremely experimental at the time; psychiatry and electricity on the underground. Of course, these are merely backdrops for some gothic and grisly murders and a young girl named Lucy perturbed by her ‘darkness’.

Episode four opens with Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) welcoming a new ‘tart’ to her remarkably salubrious whorehouse, making it sound as though she’s about to enter the Shangri-La. We’ve seen a tough side to Susan’s character through her brief appearances, but are waiting to scratch beneath the surface. Then in walks Lucy, once renowned for being the prettiest prostitute in Tenter Street, who goes to the pint-sized Madame seeking a job. For reasons unknown, she is refused and proclaims that she knows not what will become of her. It’s a fairly bleak and hypocritical moment, with Susan reminding them both (and the audience) that men have created a world in which women are designed for their pleasure from which they can profit. All the while, Susan is there running a brothel at a sixty percent cut. However, in this episode we see how far she really will go to protect her girls.

Not long after, young Lucy is found roaming the streets of Whitechapel covered in blood, crying murder. One of my favourite members of the police force, PC Dick Hobbs, comes to her aid, muttering ‘Christ on a pony’. I’m assuming this is a well-documented phrase from late nineteenth-century literature and if so, I want lots of proof – it’s brilliant. Lucy, played by Emma Rigby of Hollyoaks fame, is surprisingly good. We learn that she suffers from epilepsy and is being cruelly mistreated by those she trusts and loves. Her character could be overacted and incredibly neurotic, but is realistic and vulnerable, particularly when you discover her recent history and the torment she has endured.

Meanwhile, slums are being taken down to make way for a new underground railway, where Reid and co. happen upon the murder scene that Lucy has wandered from; the victims being those of her mother and a scrupulous landlord. Reid temporarily turns into Sherlock at the murder scene as he once again deduces with Drake and Jackson how it played out and how many people were there. And someone’s not accounted for…

A somewhat eager councillor, Stanley Bones, played by Paul McGann, pleads with Reid to wrap up the case immediately as the building needs to come down for the project to continue. Once again, there is some more sizing up between this new character and the Detective, but as ever, he is no match for our brooding Londoner in his bowler hat. The murder also attracts Star reporter Fred Best, played brilliantly by David Dawson. Initially regarding him with nothing but contempt, Reid uses Best to his advantage to dig up some dirt on Bones in exchange for a juicy story.

After the death of Lucy’s mother, there are two nippers left to care for. This conveniently takes Reid back to Ms Goren’s orphanage. Cue the beginnings of that sexual tension. What’s that Reid? You want to SHAKE HER HAND?! Oh behave. Turns out he’s inadvertently put the Governess in danger once more when she is attacked and the children are taken.

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We learn that Lucy has also been staying at the Lark House Asylum with Dr Crabb, a renowned psychiatrist. He comes to take Lucy back into his care, although not all is as it seems and he is in cahoots with Bones for the ‘greater good’, and, as so often is the case, money. Having offered Lucy as a gift to Bones who was also a sufferer of epilepsy, he now has to erase her mind and ‘offer her peace’. In a huge conspiracy, including the fact Bones has fathered the two missing children with Lucy, not her mother, including another one growing inside her; Reid and Drake have only moments to get to her before she is given a lobotomy.

A very different episode from the previous three, this tells a sad story of deep betrayal and loss of innocence, and gives an insight to how certain laws may have been overlooked for the advancement of the greater good in the city, perhaps for financial or medical gain. No one character is an open book in this period drama and it looks as though there is still a lot more to come from this fantastic series. It may be Sunday night prime time viewing, but don’t expect happy endings and cream teas. 

Read Jamie-Lee’s review of the previous episode, The King Came Calling, here.

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