Ripper Street series 3 episode 1 review: Whitechapel Terminus

Ripper Street's series three opener seizes the show's second chance with both hands, and crackles with cast chemistry...

This review contains spoilers.3.1 Whitechapel Terminus

Since its highly publicised cancellation and the subsequent deal to bring it back, Ripper Street has become a model for the power of a fan campaign when it comes to resurrecting cancelled shows. The second series may have been a little uneven, but it ended on an extremely strong note, putting characters first and producing a tense and dramatic finale. The second series closed with everyone very much at the end of their respective tethers; Reid had fallen far from the moralistic, upstanding inspector he had begun the series as, Drake is left broken with grief and Susan had finally broken free of Duggan and Jackson.

That final shot of Reid acknowledging just how much he had changed for the worse was a striking moment to end on and there was a certain amount of closure for the characters even if it was a more sombre atmosphere to end with. However, it also left plenty of room for development should a third series arrive. Whitechapel Terminus continues with that melancholic mood established by the Our Betrayal two-parter, picking up four years after those events. Despite their separation, Reid, Drake and Jackson find themselves drawn back together in Whitechapel after a tragic train accident kills 55 people and leaves a mystery to be solved.

The episode deftly establishes the new dynamics of the team in 1894 without resorting to any hefty exposition. Ripper Street has always been at its strongest when focusing on its four central characters and the various shifting relationships between them. That’s largely thanks to the performances of its cast, particularly Matthew Macfadyen’s Edmund Reid at the episode’s centre. The scene with Abberline quickly called attention to Reid’s fastidious attention to his work, now descending into obsession with his work in the archives. Macfadyen brings a haunted quality to Reid, compounded by the character’s loss of faith in his colleagues, particularly Jackson.

The rift between them causes much of the episode’s tension, but the scene with Drake when solving the murder of the signalman and the events of the train accident crackled with the very chemistry that made the series strong in the first place. Jackson may be dismissed again at the end of the episode, but it won’t be long before he is back in Leman Street I’m sure. The easy rapport between them when focused on the work makes for a sharp scene and one which showcases Ripper Street’s particular style of dialogue.

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Even smaller character moments like Fred Best secretly bidding a possible partner who died in the tragedy a quiet goodbye register strongly. Elsewhere, Susan demonstrates once more that she’s not particularly good with money, now in league with a solicitor, Capshaw, whose dastardly plan to balance the books of Susan’s Obsidian Estates results in the train accident. Susan has always been well-intentioned, but never quite able to carry that over into practice. With her clinic and her wish to help the people of Whitechapel threatened financially, she finds herself once again morally compromised by her actions.

The train heist itself is an excellent set-piece building the tension beautifully from the episode’s shadowy opening moments until the tragic and destructive conclusion. It brings a little Western sensibility into Ripper Street once again, a neat genre mash-up that works well within the episode. The characters taking part in the heist also work to establish the dire situation of the poor of Whitechapel and it provides a fittingly dark background to the current situations of Reid, Drake and Jackson and their uneasy truce, severed once again by the end of the episode.

Whitechapel Terminus is a strong, character-driven start to the new series and one which shows that Ripper Street is seizing its second chance with both hands.

Read Becky’s review of the season two finale, Our Betrayal Part 2, here.

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