This week Ripper Street’s H Division contended with a Victorian plague of poisoning believed to be the return of “King Cholera”, possibly inspired by the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak after a public well had been contaminated by a leak from an old cesspit that was only three feet from the well. The episode opens with a man dying, vomiting and convulsing in a fit of hysteria. It is pronounced to be cholera by the preacher who had been describing the water from the well as a “signifier of unity” of different people from different backgrounds and class; in this instance you begin to believe it is indeed, a union through death. Indeed, with the squalor conditions of Ripper Street’s Victorian London you would attribute cholera to the deaths and making the usual bustling streets become vacant. Having fought off a sexually depraved killer (I Need Light) and the Fagin-like leader of a group of child assassins, Reid was tasked with overcoming a foe with a difference. To begin with the sickness is thought to be a contamination but we, as the audience, know that there must be more to what we are seeing and once Reid’s wife, Emily (Amanda Hale), takes a sip of water (although later disproven as the method of ingesting) we know that she will be one of those suffering throughout the episode.
Juxtaposing the opening scenes of the dying man, Winston, are shots of pig carcass being butchered, bagged, numbered and then thrown into the River Thames. Although I believed this to be the villain’s method of contamination, it is revealed that it is the work of our protagonists Reid and Drake (Jerome Flynn) conducting an experiment on an unrelated case regarding the dumping of a young woman’s body. Reid is accompanied by Sydney Ressler (Patrick Baladi), inspector from the ‘Square Mile’ and this weeks hindrance to H Division (following in the footsteps of Clive Russell as Inspector Abberline and Michael Smiley’s George Lusk). Ressler claims this woman’s death is the result of another Jack the Ripper murder whereas Reid protests the opposite as the body had travelled at least five miles down the river. In many ways Patrick Baladi’s character is very underdeveloped and lacks the strength of the three leads to stand his own. This is demonstrate by his lack of knowledge on the policing techniques used by Reid and the surgeon Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) and although Drake lacks the same understanding he is able to hold his own through strong characterisation. I would have loved to have seen Baladi given more force with his character as I believe he is a very capable actor with much talent, simply he seemed the fools equivalent to Edmund Reid.
DS Drake and Captain Jackson are seemingly incidental, apart from the need for Jackson in the autopsy scenes he features little in The King Came Calling, allowing for the focus to be drawn upon the character of Emily Reid. She is first portrayed tending to an injured prostitute who has suffered at the hands of her pimp, Emily suggests that the woman leave her current predicament and take shelter elsewhere. Emily is given a cause in this episode, she endears to gain funding to build a hostel, a safe haven, for women who have suffered abuse but comes across the obstacle of Flora Gable (Penny Downie), a rich mill owner, who sets strict religious guidelines that oppose Emily’s view on the running of the refuge. Emily’s plight reminds me of Boardwalk Empires Margaret Thompson’s (Kelly Macdonald), for in the third series of the show she is determined to set up a women’s clinic to consult them on subjects to do with pregnancy, sexual health, miscarriages and contraception. The two characters are strong women with equally strong wills, I have previously drawn comparisons between Ripper Streets Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) being similar in a way to the HBO shows Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) and it seems that the BBC series is drawing conventions and characteristics from the channels programming, something (to an extent) I whole heartedly endorse.
Back to the story. The quest to figure out the answer to Winston’s death leads Reid to consult Jackson’s pathological skills. Jackson gets a new assistant in the form of the young constable Hobbs who is assigned to help him with the forensics. Jackson revelled in the humour of Hobbs’ repulsion to the autopsy by describing the procedure of opening the chest cavity. The King Came Calling features heavily upon the gory symptoms of the poisoning and the aftermath, for viewers with weak stomach the display of vomiting, butchery and organ removal may be hard to endure. Jackson comes to find that it is not cholera that is affecting the men for they are suffering with ergotism; nausea, diarrhoea, burning extremities, sickness, hallucinations.
As the story progresses it appears that the illness is not restricted to Whitechapel alone for the ‘Square Mile’ had suffered four casualties of the same kind in just two days, the incident had not been reported by Ressler as he did not want to cause panic to flood the streets. The two detectives team up to get to the bottom of the poisoning, from which Reid wife Emily now finds herself suffering from. The poison is found to be mixed into flour, through the Marsh test it is found not to be arsenic. Our protagonists take various routes in an attempt to find the source of the contaminated product. After visiting a transvestite club and a swedish bakery they finally reach their destination; Gable’s flour mill (owned by Flora Gable the woman whom Emily sought money from). The manager of the mill, Claxton is found to be the culprit driven by his desire to be greater, in reputation, than the Ripper; “[He] will haunt the city for a thousand years. I already tripled his score.” Alas, his fiendish plot is defeated for Reid informs him that the killings will be blamed on an accident rather than a plot of murder. Reid, in a fit of anger at the culprits resistance to give up the location of where the flour sacks have been distributed to and because of the poisoning of his own wife, pours the synthesised liquid form of the poison into Claxton’s mouth and only offers to cure him if he reveals the location. In the end the villain is defeated, countless lives are lost but many more deaths were prevented, Emily survives and later receives the money from Gable’s selling of the mill to fund her women’s refuge with no religious constrictions. So it all ends happily, except for Claxton whose fate remains ambiguous.
Throughout the episode there is less focus upon character development rather allowing the tension of Emily’s fate, and that of the rest of London’s populous, to build and grip the audience. Unlike the first two episodes, The King Came Calling does not reveal anymore of our protagonists respective pasts yet the Reids missing daughter is focused upon through the hallucinations of Emily whilst she is suffering from the sickness. She hears her daughter laughing and enters her room bathed in light. We only see the room of the little girl when Drake arrives to check on Emily, he finds her passed-out on the floor whilst the room is still pristine, the bed made, toys out, waiting for the daughter to return. It is also shown that Edmund and Emily’s relationship is still loving despite its coldness, Edmund’s focus on work and the difficulties surrounding their missing offspring and the two having differing views on her fate. Drake, despite taking a backseat, has a few brilliant lines involving a “toffer,” a prostitute who frequents rich men. After revealing her benefactor has died, he tells the woman that she will have to, “find another suit to crawl in.” Also the focus upon a possible relationship developing between Drake and the prostitute Rose, featured as the ‘damsel in distress’ in I Need Light as Drake warns Long Susan and her employees of the dangers at hand and then singles out Rose for Long Susan to keep in her protection.
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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