On the streets of Whitechapel, a borough of East London, a series of brutal murders were committed by the hands of a man who identified himself as Jack the Ripper. In 1888, the name held the people of the streets in terror, and it was up to the men of H Division to track him down and bring him to justice.
The Ripper murders were never solved. Chief Inspector Fred Abberline, who had once been in charge of H Division, has returned to Scotland Yard defeated. He leaves the division back in the hands of Inspector Edmund Reid.
Six months after the last Ripper killing is where “Ripper Street” begins.
This show is simply fantastic. It’s “Downton Abbey” with blood and hookers. It’s “Sherlock” with…blood and hookers, OH! and fine hats. “Ripper Street” is not just any crime procedural or period piece. Along with it’s 19th century setting, in a place well known for its grime and foul deeds, it also is set during a time in which forensics starts making its way into investigation.
Edmund Reid, portrayed masterfully by Matthew Macfadyen, is a man of incredibly high intelligence, tact, and scrutiny. He aims to take the police force, and more specifically, H Division into the 20th century as one that is state of the art in handling the business of solving murder. His right hand man is Detective Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame) who is more known for his violent/”old school” tactics but has a heart of gold. They are assisted by Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), the American of the bunch, who is a skilled doctor that loves him some whores and alcohol.
While standard procedures of investigation of crime scenes or of medical nature are so common in our modern day cop shows, this one portrays their practice and use of “theories and innovation” to show how groundbreaking it all is. This is insanely important, and I’ll tell you why:
How the hell did crimes get solved back then?
While used the best it could be during the Ripper killings, forensic study was not that overly common on the streets of, well, most European cities. You’d have to hope to catch someone in the act, have eye witnesses, or hope they come in and confess. Oh boy, an eye witness or a confession back then, case closed boys let’s go home. The problem with confessions is that one can get beaten out of you, even if you never did anything. It was easy enough to get someone they suspect into a cell and start workin’ em over until they “admit” they did it. You see tactics like this employed in the show by Drake at the request of Reid. It shows the kind of dynamic in their characters’ relationship.
The other aspect of this is eye witness testimony. Study after study reveals that eye witness testimony is incredibly suspect. Investigators can only hope to arrive on scene quickly enough to separate witnesses so as they don’t start creating a story together and changing what they would’ve claimed to have seen. It’s very dangerous.
These were the methods…fucking yikes, huh? That’s what “Ripper Street” comes to save you from. It’s the dawning of the new guard, and brilliantly explains the evidence to the viewer so you can have those “oh snap!” moments.
BUT! That isn’t what separates this show from all of the others, and that includes non crime shows!
This show, or at least the first three seasons, is the greatest written show I’ve ever watched. The performances of the often times poetry of the scripts are just the kind of stuff that gets your mind going. On top of that, there is a constant existential woe that comes over our three main characters. They see hopelessness in the street, and they see the very worst humanity can accomplish, and it affects them. There is a genuine struggle to find any semblance of hope or meaning in their work. Always thinking they’ve gotten ahead, only to find out they’re one tragedy behind. They don’t take solace in each other so much as they wallow together, but still manage to generate some inspiring words to get through to the next day. They’re driven, but to what end, they never know. I’d say if you’re a fan of “Rick and Morty,” then this would be right up your alley. Here are some gems:
Edmund Reid: Word of advice, Ressler. This work we perform, it does not serve to look backward. This city, wickedness will ever leave its spores here. You and I, we are not magicians. We cannot see through walls or into men’s minds. Dozens perished, but hundreds who were ill are now well once more. We fight. We fight with all the skills we may muster. Beyond that, we may do no more.
Edmund Reid: Say, imagine, we might, you and I, walk into a chophouse on the Commercial Road, and, in that chophouse, we lay our hands upon the shoulder of the man the world made, the Ripper, know him unequivocally for that killer. What would we do?
Fred Abberline: There is what I would like to do, and there is what I am permitted to do.
Reid: And so instead of pinioning his head to the wall through his eyeball, we, we would show him our irons, then go about the process of proof.
Abberline: We would. I would!
Reid: Evil men do as they please. Men who would be good, they must do as they are allowed.
Homer Jackson: Look, Drake, I know that we’ve had our differences, but I know I’ve been thinking, and, well, whatta yuh we bury the hatchet, huh? Because from where I’m standin’ me and you seem like two fellas with plenty in common.
Bennet Drake: We have nothing in common.
Jackson: Men who walk through the fire never shed the heat, Sergeant. They see in each other the burns that other people don’t.
The show has 5 seasons and is available to stream on Amazon and Netflix. It had some turmoil with BBC and Amazon picked it up for the last two seasons of production, and the narrative went through a dramatic change. Through the turbulent fourth and fifth seasons, the show offers a closure of sorts…in fact, really only by definition. Don’t get hopes high for happy endings…not in Whitechapel, not in the Ripper’s world.