If Ripper Street was considered violent before then the second season opener did very little to askew those claims. First a man was flung out of a window and impaled his leg on a railing spike and then Edmund Reid and Bennett Drake put down a prisoner revolt, with a little help from Homer Jackson. And that’s all before the opening titles. Of course, why would Ripper Street shun its violent reputation when it really makes the show stand out from all the more modern detective crime shows? While they might lose a few squeamish viewers but more will find the bloody depiction of the Victorian period intriguing.
Season Two was always going to be difficult for Richard Warlow, creator and writer of Ripper Street. The first season begun six months after the last Jack the Ripper murder and with the black cloud of the police’s failure still handing over Whitechapel. In this second season, the show moves further and further away from the Ripper killings and now requires an equally intense story to complete with the first eight episodes. Reid, Drake and Jackson require new direction in terms of story and motivation and thankfully ‘Pure as the Driven’ delivered.
When a police officer in another division, a friend of Drake’s has his leg impaled on an iron railing, H division become embroidered in a case involving Chinese gambling dens and opium trade. It’s really interesting to see a time when opium was legally traded and no one really cared, that is until it is revealed that someone has found a method of enhancing the drug, turning it into the now well known narcotic, Heroin. Captain Homer Jackson discovered as much after testing the substance on a rat and then, later, himself. Jackson has been shown to take drugs in the past but he has never really been depicted as addicted, so it will be interesting to see if his heroin use develops into something more.
However, beneath the illegal use of opium there was a much more private matter going on. The house that the police officer was thrown from was not his own and belonged to an Asian woman called Blush Pang. Despite the somewhat silly name, she has in fact been supplying people with heroin. No one thinks much of her being in White Chapel as apparently there are two streets of Chinese people with no way back home until her brother shows up. Having learned much from Jet Li and Jackie Chan, he busts out the martial arts, punching people into the air and beating up at least a dozen men all at once. Eventually, Jackson makes the logical move and pulls a gun on him. Turns out Blush Pang is his sister and she was taken from Hong Kong. Coincidently, Detective Inspector Jedediah Shine of K division previously spent 10 years with the Hong Kong police.
Unfortunately for Reid, nothing can be proved and to get to Shrine he can only imprison Blush Pang for the theft of a hard candy. Reid is rather glib in that moment but this actually represents a massive turning point for the character. Amongst the police corruption and lack of respect by the public in the previous season, Reid was shown to very meticulous. He insisted on paper work, forensic evidence and that thing the proper processes and protocols were followed. For him to throw Blush Pang in jail for any reason he wanted highlights a significant divergence of the character and possibly hints towards deeper corruption through the series as Reid attempts to reveal Shrine’s crimes.
At the same time, however, Reid will also have to prove his own innocence. In a wonderful use of dramatic irony, we the audience saw Shrine give the police officer an overdose with heroin, knowing that Reid had given the man a dose earlier in an attempt to gleam information. Of course, all fingers point to Reid as the murderer. Warlow also gave us a scene showing the elephant man witnessing the death. So we know Reid is innocent and that the elephant man is the only way to prove his innocence but leaves out the how, forcing the viewer to wait and find out how the two dots will be connected by Reid and Drake.
This is what makes the writing of Ripper Street so watchable. The historical context isn’t just there so that the characters can use funny, archaic words and women can wear huge frocks. Instead it actually affects the characters and the story. Other programmes might have the Elephant man appear as a cameo but Ripper Street actually writes the character into the plot, giving him more importance than a passing nod to the time frame. Similarly, the opium trade and Shrine’s police work in China are rooted in the historical context of the Opium Wars and Britain’s colonial conquest of Hong Kong. The characters themselves grow out of the history surrounding the show’s time period, clearly reflecting that the Victorian setting isn’t just a gimmick.
Ripper Street is not perfect however. Admittedly I have never been much of a fan of Captain Jackson or MyAnna Buring’s Long Susan. Susan never seems to do much of significance, even when she has her own stories. In fact, much of her private issues could probably be resolved by just confiding in Jackson or Reid which she never seems to do. Jackson, on the other hand, is written as a one stop shop for medical knowledge which seems rather implausible at times. And after befriending Reid at the end of the first season, both are now contemplating running away again, so what was the point of that then?
The stand out as far as I am concerned is certainly Jerome Flynn. Compared with his role on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Flynn appears to seamlessly switch from selfish rogue to good natured copper. Though he has to play second fiddle to Matthew Mcfadyen’s Edmund Reid, Drake is always enthralling in his supporting role. Between him and the shows subtle but excellent writing, I will be glad to see this show continue.