This review contains spoilers.
3.5 Heavy Boots
Reid lies on the brink in Susan’s home after the near-fatal shooting at the end of last week’s episode. Whitechapel reacts the only way it knows how; with violence and death, quickly spiraling out of control. In the care of Susan, Reid is shot through the abdomen and the head, which puts his recovery in the realms of a small miracle. In the cold light of day, Drake has been hiding away with Rose rather than facing the Whitechapel streets without his friend whilst Jackson naturally gets stinking drunk. However, it’s not long before a body in a barrel and a more bullish than usual Inspector Abberline gets them back on the case.
The first half of this series and the majority of the second spent a lot of time tearing the great Edmund Reid down, either through his own design or Jedidiah Shine’s. After last week’s chance at redemption with his daughter and his near-martyrdom in stopping Capshaw, a curious mythology has sprung up around him in Whitechapel. The opening scenes with the ballad of Ed Reid in the pub establishes an odd melancholic celebration of the inspector’s impending death, one which continues when Jackson and Drake are introduced.
As it was when Reid fled earlier in the series, the pair are forced into a reluctant partnership and away from their presumptive grief. The interactions are more subdued than before, but not without the odd comedic moment, drunkenly attending Rose’s music hall together. It helps to alleviate the depressive mood of the episode and the chemistry between the main cast has always been a particular highlight of Ripper Street. Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg carry this episode together in the keenly felt absence of Reid, aided by the increased role of Josh O’Connor as Constable Grace. Of course, his sudden skill with policing telegraphs his fate early.
Unlike the earlier episode, Ashes And Diamonds, which felt like two stories mashed together, the case of the body in the barrel is woven nicely into the ongoing narrative, springing out of a Whitechapel that is ready for violence at a moment’s notice. Without the forceful presence of Reid, the streets quickly descend into a brutal place where debts are chased with rioting and gang leaders vie for control. The early scenes with Teddy shows him to be a charismatic and feared leader, but his weakness leaves him close to death and his over-eager brother ready to take over.
The story of the Black Eagle Brewers demonstrates the show’s new maturity in its ability to demonstrate an underclass fearing a loss of its livelihood. Whereas previous episodes would have seen a lengthy speech explaining the implications of a London business and the threat from the industrialisation elsewhere in the country, here, the context was explained swiftly in the course of the investigation. As a result, the narrative is leaner and the writing feels more precise, leaning on the emotional relationships involved within the case, rather than the politics that fuels it.
The tale of the younger brother vying for control also provides an interesting parallel to the position that Drake and Jackson find themselves in whilst Reid lies in a coma. They too must prove once again that they are able to carry the same amount of presence and power in the streets of Whitechapel. However, the emotional toll on them both is seen throughout the episode, first in their advanced acceptance of Reid’s death, for Drake in his secretive relationship with Rose and for Jackson, his breakdown in the wake of Teddy’s death.
The final scene has Reid returning to consciousness, but it’s so far unclear what damage has been done and how much he will remember of Susan’s role in the proceedings. Yet Fred Best is still sniffing after the bearer bonds and with only a handful of episodes remaining, it won’t be long before Susan finds herself under suspicion.
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