This review contains spoilers.
3.2 The Beating Of Her Wings
The Beating of Her Wings finds Drake and Reid investigating a murder of a woman in a Dickensian curiosity shop, forcing them to reunite with Jackson in order to progress the investigation. They discover that the now missing Horace Buckley (Charlie Creed-Miles), the victim’s husband, was deeply in debt to Susan’s business, Obsidian Estates, and had had a run in with the debt collectors earlier that day. As the policemen hunt down Buckley, Susan is left looking after Capshaw’s discovery, the daughter of the Buckleys, locked in the basement and seemingly traumatised as a result.
One of the interesting things so far about this series of Ripper Street is how it has stripped away the major historical references to become something much more focused on the detective process and the characters themselves. The previous season felt rather disjointed because every episodefeatured a new aspect of Victorian London that had to be explained considerably before the plot could progress. In some cases, it was handled well, but largely it felt rather clunky and shoehorned in. Having been guilty of telling rather than showing, it is refreshing to go into this episode and watch the little contextual details unfold rather than endure a Reid exposition-speech.
In the two episodes we have seen so far, the general air of melancholy hanging over Whitechapel and its residents due to their poverty-stricken state has provided enough of a background for the ongoing investigations. The opening scenes of the poor picking through the riverbanks in the hope of finding something to sell give the episode a desperate atmosphere, continuing into the plight of the Buckleys. It also works well with Susan’s clinics and her hope that it will allow women to advance their situation and not resort to lower levels of employment or prostitution in order to survive. In witnessing this unfold, the world of Ripper Street feels much more cohesive and encompassing than it has done in its previous series.
The writing feels much more skilful and more efficient and in doing so, allows the police procedural and the mystery elements to come to the fore. The episode reveals it cleverly, using Alice’s fairytale retelling intercut with Reid moving through her room to allow the audience to slowly come to the same conclusions as Susan, that Reid is Alice’s “wicked king.” It gives the mystery at the heart of the episode another character focus, one that makes it much more fascinating than a simple murder investigation.
The climactic scenes were masterfully done and the personal stakes mount ever higher. That final shot of Reid leaving the scene of Horace’s murder (very reminiscent of The Searchers) is an emphatic note to end on and a confident move for a series finally committing to putting its characters front and centre. Matthew Macfadyen is once again a strong, commanding presence as a man now so consumed with his own obsessions and grief that he finally falls as far as possible from the rigidly principled man he was introduced as.
However, it is MyAnna Buring who steals the episode with her machinations, providing an intriguing parallel to the morally compromised Reid. It wasn’t until the final episodes of the second series that I was completely convinced by her character and it’s excellent to see that the strong foundations laid there are being built upon here. In her allegiance with Capshaw, Susan finds herself increasingly corrupted and occupying a morally grey area at the heart of Whitechapel. With Obsidian Estates slowly taking over the businesses of the area, the questions around Susan continue to mount; will she sacrifice her empire to continue doing the right thing or is her clinic too important to give up?
After the action of the train accident in the previous episode, The Beating of Her Wings unfolds slowly and carefully with an intriguing mystery at its heart with ramifications for each character. It’s an atmospheric start to the third series and Ripper Street continues to impress.
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