Having played upon the question of whether Jack the Ripper had returned to Whitechapel, in the first episode ‘I Need Light’, the second episode surely had to introduce a different characteristic of Victorian London, Ripper Street obliged. Stepping away from the depravity of paraphilia and pornography the second episode, ‘In My Protection’ seemingly drew from the characters from Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist; the vicious, barbarianism and sociopathic tendencies of Bill Sikes mixed with the grotesque and creepy, child puppeteer who is Fagin, to create a sinister antagonist to DI Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), DS Drake (Jerome Flynn) and Captain Jackson (Adam Rothenberg).
The episode opened with a toymaker, sixty year old Ernest Manby (David Coon), being brutally beaten to death, with a belt buckle it is later deciphered. It is this case that centres the story. This week, rather than focusing on solving the mystic puzzle of who is the murderer, he is brought to us within minutes of the opening. It turns out that a fourteen year old boy, Thomas Gower (Giacomo Mancini), was the culprit, caught running from the alleyway in possession of the dead mans gold box. Young Gower is not captured by Reid or any H division officer, it is a mob of vigilantes led by George Lusk (Michael Smiley), based on the real person of the same name who was the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. Lusk and his men oppose H division, sighting the inability to capture Jack the Ripper. They are willing to lynch the boy, who is opposed to talking of his crime. This ultimately, against the best efforts of radical lawyer Eagles (Hugh O’Conor), leads to the boy being sentence to death for his crimes, being made an example of. Reid knows that there is something more to the murder and to the boy who remains silent.
Enter the villain, the shady Carmichael, leader of a gang of children. A vile psychopath who gets the orphans he runs with to kill in return giving them protection, tattoos and, in a weird sort of way, a family. Carmichael is a fantastic villain for the show, played by the astounding Joe Gilgun (This is England, Misfits). Gilgun is a favourite actor of mine and is remarkable at playing a demented, psychotic antagonist as shown previously in Luc Besson’s 2012 film Lockout.
His character captivated me, if this is due to my respect for the actor I am not sure. He makes an immediate impact on the story offering a sinister twist on the usual police procedure narrative, instead of searching for a criminal the narrative was focused upon protecting the young murderer from his fagin style leader who seeks to kill his previous follower. In a heart warming moment of heroics, possibly an attempt to counteract the merciless nature of Lusk’s attitude to the boy, the boys lawyer Eagles admirably stands up to Carmichael allowing young Gower to escape; this charming moment is quickly turned to one of horror as Carmichael beats the brave man to death with his belt, the modus operandi for the murders of his troop.
This episode focused upon characterisation whilst still interweaving the structure of the narrative, that’s not to say there wasn’t a thrilling episode, it was an interesting concoction of substance and story. More was revealed to each character during the course of the episode. In a subtly endearing moment we see Drake connect with the boy, who finally opens up. Drake shows his tattoo, given to him by a “holy man in the desert” to cleanse him of unexplained insomnia due to trauma. This short father-son moment is reenacted at the end of the episode where the two briefly speak again. Reid is developed upon greatly. He is shown to bare heavy scaring upon his upper body but more significantly the coldness between he and his wife is partially revealed; they have lost their daughter. Whilst Reid’s wife Emily has given up hope and taken to grieving, he maintains hope that she is still alive (most likely being developed on and becoming a major plot in the series). Captain Jackson and Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) drop hints into their dialogue about their shared past, “You forget who we are, what we have done” is the most intriguing line between them. We see a focus upon a ring of Jackson’s throughout the episode. Jackson has gambled away said ring, it happens to be episode antagonist Carmichael to whom he has lost it in a drunken haze. As Long Susan tries to seduce the ring back the plan goes awry as Carmichael captures her and Jackson revealed the location of the young Gower and his protectors, Reid and Drake, in a barter to free her. This causes the eventual climax. Gower, Reid and Drake are barricaded in an orphanage and, in a scene reminiscent of the climax of the 1932 film Freaks, the children of Carmichael’s gang enter through the nooks and crannies to confront the protagonists. “Inspector,” cries Carmichael as he challenges Reid before beating him to the floor with his belt. The unlikely cavalry appears in the form of Lusk’s men searching for Gower, directed to the orphanage by a cunning Jackson. Jackson’s own appearance saves the day. The closing of the episode focuses on Reid investigating the ring that he found on Carmichael, linking it to Jackson he asks about the name engraved in the inner of the ring, Matthew Judge, who the Pinkerton’s have been searching for. Jackson denies all knowledge of the man and Reid states he has told the Pinkerton’s that the man in question is probably no more.
For me the characters of Carmichael and Lusk, (Lusk will probably appear in subsequent episodes) helped the tone and gripping narrative of the episode whilst the act of slowly unveiling the secrets of the three lead characters offers a just reason to continue watching, the series, the action and narratives enhance this. A better episode than the first, hopefully the show can improve further. You can only wonder of what victorian text they will draw from next week.
You can catch up the episode on BBC iplayer if you live in the United Kingdom, for those across the Atlantic Ripper Street is set to premiere January the 19th at 9/8c on BBC America’s Dramaville season.
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