British period crime drama series Ripper Street has had a bit of a rickety ride. The show was cancelled after 2 seasons only to be resurrected by Amazon Prime (with a little help from the BBC) for a third series. Which was then extended to a fourth and fifth, only for the fifth to then be announced as the final series.
So in light of the fourth series to be broadcast on BBC First on Foxtel, we take a look at Season 4 of Ripper Street.
At the conclusion of Season 3, there was what felt like a rather definitive closure, particularly for the character of Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew MacFadyen). Barely escaping death after Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) shot him, and his daughter Mathilda (Anna Burnett) found alive and returned to him. He and Mathilda leave Whitechapel to attempt to build a new life in Hampton, which is where we commence Season 4 with the 2 hour double episode ‘The Stranger’s Home’.
In the three years since Reid’s departure, we discover that a few things have changed in Whitechapel. Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake (Jerome Flynn) has been promoted to Detective Inspector and is now in charge of H Division. Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) has been squirrelling away every cent he’s earned to pay for an appeals lawyer in a desperate bid to save Susan from the gallows. Susan whilst awaiting her punishment in Newgate prison has had her son Connor, but gives him up to her friend Rose Drake (Charlene McKenna) when she knows her fate is sealed.
Then when an Indian man is found dead and washed up by the docksides, Drake and Detective Sergeant Frank Thatcher (Benjamin O’Mahony) commence their investigations. Yet as Drake and Thatcher and Jackson look deeper into the murder, they discover that it has a connection to a case Drake recently closed surrounding a murdered rabbi and a Jewish statistician Isaac Bloom (Justin Avoth) who has been convicted of the crime and is soon to hang. Whilst Reid, at the behest of his friend and former lover Deborah Goren (Lucy Cohu), returns to Whitechapel to look into Bloom’s case despite it upsetting Drake.
As the season progresses, this initial investigation by the dockside becomes the catalyst resulting in friendships tested, work questioned and faith and trust broken. Unlike the explosive opening episode of the previous season, ‘The Stranger’s Home’ has a much bleaker and slower burning feel to it.
As the episodes advance, things only get even more bleak and troublesome. The show has always had a fondness for being quite dark but from the outset a sense of impending doom begins to cloud our intrepid trio.
The most noticeable shift here is a change in the dynamic, where in the past Reid was the leader with Drake at his side, their roles are now reversed. Reid’s return to H Division is initially welcomed but his stubborness to seek out the truth comes at a price – their friendship becomes soured when Drake believes his judgement and skill as an officer is questioned.
The bond between this pair had always been fairly unshakable but now we see it beginning to fall apart. As a result, this season tends to be quite charged and by the end of it you’re left feeling an absolute mixed bag of emotions.
Ripper Street over the course of its last 3 seasons has honed its format to a crafted fine art of long story telling that is then surprisingly condensed down to 6 episodes (though since the first is a double, technically 7) in this season. They manage to not only have the long over-arching mystery plot its course, but also smaller sub stories that provide added narrative and padding around the main story.
In light of this, it can make each episode feel quite dense as it all inter-connects. This is not your usual homogenised type of crime procedural show; there is a much larger puzzle here with many pieces to fit together. We not only see other crimes but we see the evolution of the investigation into Bloom’s case be challenged as the evidence leads them to new conclusions. The show’s creator and key writer Richard Warlow has long steered this ship and with this season continues to bring taut and gripping episodes.
The regular cast members get a boost this season, with the added star power of Matthew Lewis (Harry Potter’s Neville Longbottom), Benjamin O’Mahony, and legendary actor David Threlfall (Shameless). Both Lewis and O’Mahony playing officers who help Drake, Reid and Jackson. Whilst the latter is Abe Croker, an old sea dog who has a strong hold on the docks as well as some light fingers for some self-serving end games.
Having some fresh blood in the way of additional characters to bounce off always helps to add to the characterizations of all involved. Even though it does pull a little of the focus away from our main trio, the payoffs of it being able to enlarge and strengthen the show overall are worth it.
Ripper Street has consistently brought a gritty and emotional take on the period crime drama. It’s never one to shy away from a little bit of violent and gruesome death or attempt to gloss over the filth of dirty Whitechapel and its sinister underbelly. But at the heart of the show is its characters who push on for truth and justice despite their challenges.
The conclusion of Season 4 for any fan is a shocking, heartbreaking cliff-hanger. This sets up the shows last ever season, Season 5, as one that could potentially emotionally destroy us permanently. We can only hope that the writers spare us and at least try to give us a happy ending.
Ripper Street will be airing on BBC First on Foxtel Thursday nights at 8:30pm
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)