This review contains spoilers.
5.2 A Brittle Thread
After the close call with Shine in the opening episode, Reid and Jackson devise a way of discrediting Dove with an inventive use of a corpse and some dentures. Dove seeks to continue his wrecking ball approach to Reid’s reputation by pulling the records of previous discrepancies and making them public. Miss Castello, everyone’s favourite nosy journalist, finds herself utilised by both sides without realising it, while Shine continues his hunt. Elsewhere, Mathilda is forced to come to terms with her father’s actions regarding the man who kept her locked in a cellar and brainwashed her with fairytales.
The way in which everyone behaves in A Brittle Thread proves to be the episode’s most interesting element, each one approaching their similar goals in wildly different ways. A lot of it has to do with the power dynamic between the various parties, particularly when it comes to the opposing forces of Reid and Dove. The men are two sides of the same coin; both are calculating and intelligent, plotting not only the next move, but the ones after that. As Shine observes, it’s a battle of two tacticians, matched in wit and operating on the strength of their respective knowledge of the other.
It is Reid who makes the first move here, leading to an extremely grisly scene in which he and Jackson desecrate a corpse to look like another of Nathaniel’s victims, thus disproving the pervading theory that it was Croker who cut a murderous figure through Whitechapel. It’s a bold move designed to draw both Nathaniel and Augustus out into the open and while it succeeds in causing something of a stir, Reid’s previous actions prove to be the scheme’s undoing.
As with last series, the consequences of Reid’s actions continue to ripple through to his life as a fugitive. This time, the murder of Horace Buckley, the man who adopted Mathilda and held her captive whilst Reid believed her dead, is the information released to Miss Castello, who promptly splashes it across the evening edition of her newspaper. The relatively fresh-faced Dove might have a few years on the upper hand on Reid here, but it starts to come at a cost. The commissioner’s composure gives way somewhat this week, the stress of knowing that Reid, Jackson, and Susan are out there with the knowledge of his activities begins to get to him.
His first scene with Miss Castello is practically an explosion, a previously unseen aspect to a man who is usually so cool as to be the proverbial cucumber. That emotional measure is recovered later when he offers her evidence of the extrajudicial murder that has taken place within H Division. Both scenes are effective explorations of a character used to being in control and moulding the world to his needs. Reid threatens him so much because he is actively undermining that control at all turns and is perhaps the first person to be able to match Dove so closely. The end of the episode sees them at an impasse with allies lost and gained for both.
In the middle of it all is Jedediah Shine, circling around the principle players like an exceptionally vicious hunting dog. Though he might not have the same level of intelligence as the two men he is caught between, he proves to have a cunning that neither Dove nor Reid expect of him. The dominant aspect of Shine here, though, is the way in which he combines it with a carefully directed violence.
The foreshadowing of this occurs in the brawl between Thatcher and Drum, building with Hermione and fully realised in the scene with Miss Castello. Interestingly though, it is only women who Shine feels comfortable intimidating in such an overtly physical way, spilling over into sexual harassment too. Given he’s still not recovered fully from the beating Drake gave him, he cannot adopt the same violence with men who could stand up to him. It demonstrates his move into a sneakier form of combat, one which better serves him against his more intelligent opponents. He also has the measure of them, it seems.
A Brittle Thread is a fascinating instalment to follow on from the foundations laid in the series’ opening episode, continuing the focus on characters that has raised the quality of Ripper Street’s later years. With loyalties tested and power dynamics shifting all across Whitechapel, the stage is set for Reid and Dove’s next move.
Read Becky’s review of the previous episode, Closed Casket, here.
This review was originally posted in October 2016.