On the 9th of January, the London Underground celebrated its 150th anniversary, it wasn’t long before Ripper Street’s forth episode, ‘The Good of this City’, portrayed the birth of the electric railway to coincide with its exploration of Victorian culture. The birth of the electric railway occurred in 1890 but I’m sure we can overlook the fact the narrative takes place in 1889, so far in this sensational shows run we have seen scientific procedures, telegraphs, video photograph, autopsies and policing that stands on the brink of revolutionary during the Victorian age; this is part of what entertains and intrigues us whilst viewing.
The Good of the City opens with brothel owner, and love interest of our resident American wonder-surgeon Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) showing around a prospective employee telling her of the houses ability to offer her protection that she would lack in the outside world. Long Susan’s world seems to stand in stark contrast to that of Emily Reid (Amanda Hale), Susan offers safety through union of women and employment sighting, “the world is designed by men [for the] purpose and pleasure of men,” where Emily’s plight is drawn out of giving sympathy, shelter and reformation to abused women.
Whilst touring her establishment, Long Susan comes across a former employee, Lucy Eames (Emma Rigby) who had gone missing two years previous. She holds a place of kinship in Susan’s heart the latter tells Lucy that she cannot let her back into work for it would cause a mutiny, obviously a reference to her abandoning her friends two years before. The next we see of the young girl is her distressed form, smart dress now covered in blood, tentatively walking through the streets suffering from shock and without purpose. Young Hobbs (Jonathan Barnwell – an actor who deserves much praise for his role which seems to be coming into its own in the last few episodes) tries to comfort Lucy taking her to the police station once she has uttered a few words about a murder. Once Lucy is brought in Jackson immediately recognises her as a past associate of Long Susan, even though they do not suspect she is the murderer they remain cautious by handcuffing her.
Our trio of protagonists, DI Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), DS Drake (Jerome Flynn) and Jackson, pass through the street to the murder scene, coincidently the site where slums are being torn down and a new railway is being built. Inside one of the slum houses we are shown the scene of the crime; two bodies, one of a woman dead from a gun shot, the other of a man stabbed through the throat. The man is identified as Roach, a man who collected debts whilst the woman is Lucy’s mother. At first it is suggested the dead woman had stabbed the man with a broken bottle but the wound is not jagged, probably produced by a switch blade. The protagonists hypothesise the involvement of Lucy until, in a moment that showtimes Dexter Morgan would be proud of, Reid and Jackson figure that Lucy was hit by a projection of blood splatter from the mans wound thus eliminating her as the murderer. They also deduce, from attaining a bullet encased in blood, that the murderer was shot and a bullet passed through them. It thus seems the fragile Lucy is the unlikely key to the complex plot.
Outside of the murder scene Reid is met by the progressive politician and county councilman Stanley Bone (Paul McGann), an advocate of the railway company whose interests are in continuing the project of building the railway and tearing down the slums. McGann plays the character with a suspicious flair and astuteness that is sublimely rounded off with his brilliant fur collared and sleeved coat, connoting his wealth and elite status, and the mutton chops that distinguish him from the rest. Bone later reveals that the railway is powered by electricity and that it is not a commodity of the rich, the railway will be accessible for the poor as well, he hopes to improve the city by helping the aspirations of those who are financially unable to travel to work across the city. His plight seems that of good yet their is an aura around the character that we know means he cannot be trusted.
Once Reid returns to Lucy it is revealed that her shock and hysteria has culminated in a mental breakdown type disorder. She is confused and cannot understand her situation, even trying to strip for Reid possibly believing he is a punter fro her days working at Long Susan’s brothel, Reid also discovers she is with child. Here is where the character of Doctor Karl Crabb (Anton Lesser) make his first appearance. He is a “doctor of hysterics” and a man whom DI Reid is an admirer of. Crabb has a medical relationship with Lucy, having treated her for the past two years (explaining her whereabouts after leaving Long Susan’s brothel). Lucy suffers from epileptic fits, shown in this scene when the body of her mother is thoughtlessly brought through by Jackson so he can proceed with an autopsy. Lucy is taken into Crabb’s custody whereas Jackson finds that the babies are not Lucy’s siblings but her own children.
The narrative in the first half of the episode follows H divisions search for the murderer of Roach and the motive behind the killing, this finding allows for its own mystery to brood in the second half bringing another adventure for our protagonists. Unlike my last few reviews, it is not the plot I would like to focus on but the episodes entirety and production. I found ‘The Good of the City’ to be an enthralling episode with a plot that seemed more substantial than that of the last episode. Despite there having only been four episodes thus far in the series I would say this episode, for me, was the second best; easily in the top two (my favourite having been ‘In My Protection’).
As usual, the acting is fantastic and the best was on show between Macfadyen’s Reid and Rothenberg’s Jackson. The two come to a dispute over trust and suspicion as Reid believes Jackson has been hiding the truth regarding the cases direction whereas Jackson denies knowledge of the truth. This leads to the protagonists exchanging verbal aggression and suspicion over the others past; Reid calling Jackson “transparently false,” and states that a man who holds onto secrets is a secretive man.” Jackson, in turn, tells Reid that his statement is hypocritical as he holds secrets regarding his scaring and what “befell” his daughter causing Reid to pin Jackson against the wall and threaten to investigate his past properly if Jackson speaks of his daughter again. It is an extremely passionate and tense scene which displays the incredible acting abilities that the two have.
The character of Lucy offered a lot of intrigue for me during the narrative. At first she was portrayed as a fragile and innocent young woman, almost doll like in her appearance and stature. Another portrayal of a weak woman some might have been inclined to state if it hadn’t have been for the ending of the piece; Lucy has been transformed from the weak girl of the opening to a strong independent woman when she approaches the culprit of the plot. She has grown strong through the help of Emily Reid’s hostel (a brief cameo for her) and speaks, without hesitance, of the villains guilt and evilness, thus attaining the ultimate victory over her suppressor.
The character of Long Susan is allowed more screen time than in recent episodes, still maintaining her bold identity yet she is allowed moments of kindness and remorse for her former relationship with Lucy is played upon and visible contorted by turning her away in the opening. It is also revealed her name is Susan Hart.The growing relationship between Drake and Rose (Charlene McKenna) played upon as he throws out one of her punters and states that he hopes his actions have not left her “out of pocket.” She simply replies that he says, “The funniest things.” Drake’s approach to Rose is chivalrous yet shy and adds some charm to his character. Jackson infuses a bit of comedy within the building tension as he reckless consumes Lucy’s medicine rather than testing its properties, the result is highly amusing.
Perhaps my favourite part of the episode was the return of the journalist Fred Best (David Dawson) who is following the building of the railway and the personal life of Stanley Bone. Some tension is shown between Reid and the journalist but by the end of the episode he has become a vital key to unlocking the episodes mystery and in a deal with Reid he gets a sensational news story in return for helping deal with the villain. Another character that returned was Miss Goren (Lucy Cohu), the orphanage owner from ‘In My Protection.’ Goren temporarily takes in Lucy’s children and in return is violently attacked as a mystery assailant takes the kids from her protection. A moment of, perhaps, attraction is shown between Reid and Miss Goren in a latter scene which may come to light during further episodes.
In terms of production, the episode was fantastic. The pacing allowed us to dwell, yet not for too long, on the mysteries and to build tension when needed but several action set pieces contrasted this as the pacing became rapid; quick paced shots of short length allows the actions to become enthralling and draw the audiences attention. Brilliant photography ran throughout, from the darkness of the police station connoting the bleakness of the time, to the bright sunlight of Reid’s office confining him and Lucy as he asked her of her knowledge, to the slow motion shots of the protagonists rushing to the rescue of Lucy in a later scene.
The use of sound has also been to great effect; tension is build to a crescendo whilst suppression of all diegetic sound reinforces the horror and tragedy of Lucy’s epileptic fit and the attempts to help her. The dialogue as always is elaborate and poetic, the script gives the setting its vividness and elegance matched by the lifelike and awe-inspiring production design that reenacting the visuality of the Victorian age and the bright, beautiful costume (definite focus on Lucy’s long flowing, summer type dress at the beginning of the episode and every costume the department chooses for Long Susan). Likewise I enjoyed the suaveness of Stanley Bone’s fur-lined coat that gave his character something a little more that he would have portrayed in a simple suit.
This episode was superb, full of action and mystery throughout and even though it didn’t take a genius to decipher the identity of the villain, there was a fantastically ironic end to the story. Let’s just hope the next one can develop from here.
This article was first posted on January 21, 2013