Ripper Street 2.2, ‘Am I Not Monstrous?’ Review

Elephant Man1

rating 3.5

Spoilers will feature throughout this review. After last week's delve into London's Chinatown, extreme martial arts abilities and addictive narcotic consumption, this week gave an insight into early eugenics and the attitudes of Victorians towards disabilities and genetic disorders €“ something a bit different for the palate. Ripper Street's current villain, in the form of Joseph Mawle's Detective Inspector Jedediah Shine, returns to play puppet master over Reid and his men. In the last episode Shine gave his supposed 'friend' Maurice Linklater an overdose and now he plans to place the blame on Reid and the inquest is set. But it's not only Reid who has his hands full with Shine, for he has many associates €“ one of which is revealed to be Silas Duggan (Frank Harper) the man who plays landlord (and owner in his eyes) of Long Susan (MyAnna Buring). The only hope for Reid seems Joseph Merrick (Joseph Drake) who witnessed Linklater's murder by Shine, but will Merrick muster the courage to defy the threats of Shine? Eugenics takes centre stage in the episode though, at first mentioned briefly, it is soon revealed to be the motivation for the murder of new mother, Stella, and the theft of her child. Eugenics was coming into its own in the late nineteenth century under Sir Francis Galton, with the focus on traits and genetic markers, the removal or adaption of such. The villain is aptly revealed to be a museum zoologist, William Corcoran, the child's grandfather who had tried to literally beat his sons disability out of him to strengthen the stock of his future family. Evidently, the episode take an anti-eugenics stance, most shown when Merrick talks the child's father down from a suicidal leap with his infant by questioning the idea of monstrosity and the immorality of denying life, hope and the possibility of happiness to someone just because they are afflicted, or deemed so by others. The idea of monstrosity and the subject of morality is questioned throughout the episode. Deformities and uniqueness are classed as vile by the Victorian population, the reason why Corcoran seeks to breed out his son's "cursed blood." Stella and Merrick alike are seen as 'monsters' because of their appearance, their difference from what is deemed the norm. Joseph Merrick was severely deformed whereas Stella is shown to have an external coccyx €“ a protrusion at the base of her spine €“ which is deemed beautiful by Jackson but not by others. Stella is stated to be unashamed of her condition €“ it is society that has chastised her from her uniqueness. Likewise Merrick is bullied and taunted in the street until Flight comes to his rescue bleating that, "This man is your fellow" and that people should "look on your own sins" rather that oppress Merrick. Flight makes a point that resonates through the episode, for Merrick is shown to be the most human and honourable character, speaking of the loneliness he has felt because he has been judge on his form, and yet monsters like Shine are welcomed to society. Even Reid is judged to akin to monstrous deeds, revealing his shame €“ his adultery and lies that have caused his wife to become 'hysterical' (lets hope Dr. Crabbe doesn't try to lobotomise Emily for this!), and these are actions for which he should be judged. The story is a welcomed addition to the series, another vastly different plot to add to Ripper Street's resume. Away from the moral message, Ripper Street introduced a new member to H Division in DC Albert Flight (Damien Molony of Being Human fame), who can be seen as the new Hobbs until Jackson shoots down that claim with the line "He ain't Hobbs." Molony falls into the stereotypical role of the rookie who has to prove his worth to the core group of heroes, but it is evident, following his role in Merrick's demise, that he will make many mistakes upon the way. Hopefully the show will develop upon his character, as this episode left a lot to be desired from the new boy. Technically, the episode is well crafted. The complaints of mumbling vocals have been vanquished, possibly something taken on board by the shows creator's. The sets seems to take on characteristics of their own, from the dank, cold jail of Dr. Crabbe, the claustrophobic, squalid hostel too the bright, pristine nature of the museum, each contained their own atmosphere that intrinsically sets the tone. The only downside for me was the death of Joseph Merrick €“ Joseph Drake's performance over the last two episodes has been sensational and emotionally charged, reaching an impressive climax in his speech to Alexander Corcoran about how no man should be denied happiness because of their appearance. His death comes as an alteration of history and follows in the show's pattern of editing chronology and events for dramatic effect. The show carves it's own history by having the vile Shine kill Merrick, the one man who can exonerate Reid, for the sake of villainy, proving that in truth, monstrosity lies beneath, not on the surface.

I am an aspiring writer and film critic, recently graduated from the University of Exeter with a BA in Film Studies. I spend my free time developing my square eyes watching films and television, reading novels and playing football. You can contact me at