"These streets...The suffering felt here, is nothing to what comes. It will fall like the red sea..."
Spoilers will feature throughout this review...Finally, the second series of the Victorian delight which is Ripper Street has arrived. Matthew Macfadyen returns as DI Edmund Reid, paired with his stalwart DS Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) and the talented coroner Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) are our heroes in the crime-ridden district of Whitechapel. With the first series boasting story lines surrounding pornographic snuff films, child assassins, poisoned water supplies, psychiatric conspiracies, Veteran thieves, international terrorism, secret identities and a slavery ring, I was highly anticipating what the show had to throw at us this series. With the mysteries of who the protagonists truly are being revealed in the previous series, some still lay unsolved, In my review of last series' finale I left readers with a few; "Will Reid find his daughter? What will come of his affair? Will Rose ever return Drake's feelings?" and I am sure in the next eight weeks we will be satisfied. The series has moved forward into the final decade of the 19th century, with the memory of Jack the Ripper fading away, murder and corruption is still rife for H Division. The episode opens with a member of K Division trying to track down a girl in London's newly emerging Chinatown. A gruesome fate is received as he is soon impaled, hanging by his knee from a metal fence. Thus the journey is set for our protagonists, a weaving tale through a growing Chinese culture in the East End and the legal use of opiates, where every answer leads to a new question, a scripts equivalent to Takeshi's Castle's Honeycomb Maze. For me, the episode brings back what worked best for the last series, the script, camerawork and editing are used concisely to create an engaging tale. The episode opens with pace and high drama, with Maurice Linklater's (Steven Hartley) ejection from the window and H division being reintroduced through a police station riot, reminiscent of LA Confidential's portrayal of the Bloody Christmas scandal. But the pace doesn't drop as even in the lulls of action an imbedded intensity and intrigue flows. Humour is embedded in every turn as Reid, Drake and Jackson play off each other, evident in the opening brawl as they exchange puns which establishes the dynamic which works so well. We are soon back on terms with Reid and co. with their Victorian and theatrical mix of dialogue which gives the series a Shakespearean quality. Homer Jackson also provides comic relief in a scene reminiscent of a few moments in the first series, as the good doctor tests this new narcotic on himself to categorise it, leading to a sequence of vomiting, high and a hallucination of Susan which transforms to himself under the cloth with the German's corpse. "Ten times the power of opium," Jackson claims, with the effects like " Ice on the inside of the window, while you're warm in your bed with a woman beside you...A life stripped of all judgement." This sequence shows Ripper Street at its artistic pinnacle, cinematography using distinct close-ups and visual manipulation to denote him 'chasing the dragon'. Gore and bloodshed is still not shied away from, something the series has become acquainted with in the media. Impaling, operations, slit throats and drug injections all feature throughout in the gritty unravelling tale of narcotics and corruption. The plot, an interesting take on the multicultural East End of the late 19th century, followed the investigation into two Chinese figures, the first Blush Pang (Kunjue Li), seemingly a supplier of the new opiate filling the streets, and second her pursuer, both of whom are revealed to be linked to another character close to H divisions finest.
Away from the central plot there are hints to what has happened in the time since the last series ended and more questions brought to the surface. Distinct close-ups of Reid at the beginning tells of routine and precision on the surface but also acts as a hinting device, his dressing in his office connotes the fate of his previously failing marriage to Emily in the first series. This too is reinforced by an interaction later between Reid and Long Susan (MyAnna Buring). Susan herself has gained a storyline of her own, although still in the role of a 'damsel in distress', she is blackmailed by a man named Duggan, her landlord and benefactor, a man who believe he owns her. There are cameos for two real life characters, Sir Fredrick Treves (Paul Ready) and the elephant man Joseph Merrick (Joseph Drake) appear in the episode. For me, 'Pure as the Driven' seems a more professional job (not to take anything away from the first series). There was restraint in the episode, stopping it from becoming a blur of strands, with the hinting at information dictating what we've missed between the series', explanation this episodes plot and questions of what is to come in the series, the writers did a fantastic job by not overburdening the audience from the get go and allowing information to trickle, most likely painting a clearer picture as the series progresses. The dialogue didn't seem forced in it's theatrical play, rather being smoother and more at home in the Victorian episodic drama that in some of the previous series' episodes. The action and plot work well in the context of Ripper Street, and yet, for all 'Pure as the Driven's' prowess, the plot is a too a device to introduce a villain to the show, Detective Inspector DI Jedediah Shine (Joseph Mawle) of K division, a corrupt cop who evokes a part of each of our heroes. He holds Reid's cunning, Drakes fighting ability and his relationship with Blush Pang, their love and escape from her families disapproval, is in essence a reflection of Jackson and Susan's relationship. Mawle is a fantastic actor and will surely be a formidable foe for H division. All in all, the episode is a great start to the series which seems to place an overarching plot at the forefront, introducing a major opposition for our heroes, a welcomed change to the episodic format of the conventional police procedural.