Ripper Street: 2.06 - A Stronger Loving World

Spoilers ahead. You can catch all episodes of Ripper Street on BBC iPlayer

First, in case you haven’t heard, you must cherish the next two weeks of Ripper Street awesomeness. In a crazy moment of programming madness the BBC have cancelled the show! There’s an excellent piece from The Guardian on why that’s a huge mistake. The show has been improving consistently across the two series, with character development alongside terrific plots, and some fantastic attention to period detail. And not many shows can boast even half of that.

So on to this weeks episode. The main focus this time is religious cults, and this is Jerome Flynn’s chance to shine as Bennett Drake moves front and centre. Now Bennett is usually a stoic presence, even in his previous focus episode back in series one, but here Flynn gets to show the acting chops that he’s been hiding. To set the scene, his wife, Bella, and previous love, Rose, are counterweights on his affections, Bella is the one he’s with but not the one he loves(?), and Rose the one he loves but not the ones he’s with. Then Bella’s mysterious “uncle” Gabriel Cain, played with understated menace by Paul Kaye, who is turning into a fantastic character actor, arrives on the scene. It turns out he’s not her uncle but her former lover and head of an arm of the Golden Dawn cult. The scenes between Kaye and Flynn crackle with atmosphere as these two Game Of Thrones alums contrast the controlled threat of Cain with the unrestrained physicality of Bennett.
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Running parallel is the Reid and Jackson investigation of the mandatory murder, which inevitably leads the two stories back together again at the end of the episode. There are a couple of good scenes with Reid, Drake, and Jackson, where their different personalities are made crystal clear. Taking a backseat this week is the Long Susan storyline, although her chat with Rose has portents for future episodes, “In the end we all pay with the basest coin of all.” And Rose herself doesn’t have a good week, losing her job, getting slapped by Drake, and having to hide in the grimmest TV toilet I’ve ever seen.

Wrapping the episode up, Reid and Jackson rescue Drake and Rose just in time, but it’s not enough to save Bella who takes her own life rather than live in the shadow of Drake’s love for Rose. The final five minutes are dramatic, heartbreaking stuff. Drake’s final words are ominous for his self worth “I am made of nought but death.”

It seems churlish to finish on a criticism of the show as this episode was the darkest, and most emotional of the series so far, but the lack of follow through of the themes that they pick up each week detracts a little from the world that the writers are creating. We haven’t heard anymore about the themes that have previously been introduced (homosexuality, women’s rights, the Irish community), and we haven’t seen much more of the characters who were developed in those weeks (newshound Fred Best, copper Albert Flyte). The very best shows (think The Wire) manage to weave these supporting characters and underlying themes seamlessly throughout each season. And that’s one of the problems TV has in the UK, the seeming need to commission series that only last six or eight episodes. If Ripper Street ever comes back to life, imagine what a success HBO could make of it.

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