Ripper Street 2.3, ‘Become Man’ Review

Ripper Street

rating: 4

Spoilers consist throughout... As Jack the Ripper is recreated as a pantomime villain of a musical play, Rose (Charlene McKenna) returns at the open, now a waitress at the music hall, playing with dreams of being on stage. But we only have moments to contemplate the meaning of her dreams and of Rose's return, for this distasteful theme treat for an audience plunges into darkness, a prominent member of London's council is kidnapped, and H division are called in. For a show that centres around the formidable acting talents of Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg, in my heart I know that this episode was not theirs, it was a performance piece that hung on the great talents of MyAnna Buring (The Descent, Kill List) and Neve McIntosh (Recently in Doctor Who and previously in the fantastic channel 4 medical drama, Bodies), and they didn't disappoint, especially if you consider that they out acted the stars of the show.

Ripper 2;3(1)

The story depicts the kidnapping of three men, the first of whom is Walter de Souza, a councilman who is opposing the rise of (the real life figure) Jane Cobden (played by Leanne Best), one of the first London County Councillors. The kidnappers are quickly deciphered to be a gang of women and it is initially believed that they are supporters of Cobden. Next to be taken is Thomas Ely, a lawyer, kidnapped from Long Susan's brothel, identified by Rose and Bella alike as a former client. He is not the only one taken though, Susan too is the victim of the gang in this instance. This idea of Cobden's supporters committing the crimes is played upon but later established as a red herring, from her own mouth Cobden reveals that the kidnappings would actually damage her plight of speaking for the downtrodden women of London, and it is soon realised that the perpetrators are victims themselves, members of the Matchgirls' who took strike in 1888 from the Bryant and May Factory in London, protesting against poor working conditions, long hours, poor pay and severe health concerns - the women worked with the toxic white phosphorus. One such victim is revealed in a CGI set piece, showing the effects of working with phosphorus without the proper safeguards; phossy jaw, a girl missing the majority of her jaw to her wound, bringing a similar reaction to when Richard Harrow first unmasked or when Gus Fring stepped from Hector's room. Long Susan acts as an equal to the audience, she gets to see inside these women's lives, their world of (justified) spite and vengeance, and starts to develop sympathy to their plight. The gang, led by the totem of the cause Raine, are in a fight for compensation, those abducted played their part in depriving the women of a settlement, in kidnapping and ransuming them Raine aims to 'earn' the money they are owed. It is only after gaining such that her true wretched self is reveal, tortured and made monstrous by the death of her sister to the cruel working conditions, Raine looks to burn the men, in retribution. In essence Raine has become what she hated, she is anger, she is violence, she has become man. Long Susan talks her from the brink only for Jackson to enter, seeing Raine with a knife above Susan, unaware that she has decided to set the men free, firing, he takes her life. Rose The plot is undoubtably tragic, in all senses. The true villains, de Souza and Ely, escape without repercussion - with de Souza vowing to defeat Cobden's rise. The women do not receive their needed and deserved compensation and we are left simply with Susan's words, "Life fails to reward good intentions," poignant yet truth. My favourite aspect of this episode is not the plot but the characterisation of Raine, her gang, Long Susan and in general, all the women who appear in the episode. Raine is in no way a straight forward villain like those who have appeared previously in Ripper Street, she is damaged and yet empowered and righteous (to a point). She and her kin have been left scarred by the treatment of men, some by the phosphorus they have worked with, some by the literal hands of men. Her harrowing plight lies in the morally grey area, she seeks retribution that she has been cheated out of but the only way to gain such is by breaking the law. Raine is quite like Susan, both are empowered, strong women trying to help others women by offering them a community, rebuilding what has been ruined. Whereas Susan has her community prostitute themselves, Raine has hers commit crimes to secure shelter. MyAnna Buring and Neve McIntosh have a powerful stand-off where both these actresses get to perform, dancing between power and weakness, gripping in there tragedy and yet silhouetted in their strong characters. The plots ending seems to resonate with Susan's character, she is shown to be physically shaken and disturbed by the events. Development in Susan's character is established and hopefully will develop throughout the series, the events having an affect on both her and her relationship with Jackson which is near breaking point because of Raine's death and Silas's financial control of the pair. The empowerment of women in this episode is a welcomed answer to the critics and to the adversity which Ripper Street's first series encountered; the accusation of female characters only being portrayed as victims and damsels is vanquished as the female gang outwit our heroes, providing decoys for the ransom, all dressed in the same fashion to escape with the ransom money, and artfully escaping with the first kidnap victim by covering a street in sewerage to keep potential witnesses away. The story sought to place women at the forefront, finally empowering them rather than victimising them. Too, it is the women of the episode who are vital in the solving of the case. Bella and Rose combine to reveal the identity of the second man taken whereas Cobden reveals vital information on Raine to help Reid track down the location of the hostages. 25 Apart from the main plots focus, we get the first interaction of the series between the newly married Drake and Rose in a near wordless reunion. A flutter of attraction is hinted and will obviously be of focus in future episodes. Flight continues to feel under valued as he is forced to bring coffee despite his vital work in uncovering the reason behind the plot. Fred Best (David Dawson) has some comical banter with Sergeant Artherton (David Wilmot) whilst the costumes come to the forefront of this episodes, the stunning purples and blues, greens and pink of Susan's outfits and the flamboyant blues that have become a characteristic of Rose. For me, Become Man is the strongest episode of the series so far, even without the epic personality of Joseph Mawle's K division powerhouse, Detective Inspector Shine, lurking around corners. It offered perfect pacing of an enigmatic tale where purpose and plot slowly unfolded to reveal a plot of retribution, one which we as an audience can agree with, despite it being in opposition to the moral structure of H Division's policing. We can only hope the show moves further from here and builds upon the fantastic display we have seen in this series so far.
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Contributor

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 sa.whittaker@hotmail.co.uk.