Read our interview with Matthew Macfadyen and Adam Rothenberg here.
Episode 4 of Ripper Street Season 4 airs on BBC Two at 10pm on 12th September. This is a spoiler-free review.
“He will be yours in time. The biding of it is all,” Captain Jackson reassures Long Susan in Episode 4 of Ripper Street Season 4, as she pines for her lost son, Conor. We wrote in our review of Season 4’s opener that Adam Rothenberg was the show’s new MVP and he’s given the spotlight more than ever in this quietly complex instalment.
A White World Made Red sees our Whitechapel detectives reunited proper as a corpse appears with its blood drained. It’s the kind of spooky nastiness that Ripper Street seems even more comfortable embracing without the broadcast restrictions of the BBC – and that shines through in the opening sequence. The body is revealed through a deft little montage that cuts between a lantern-bearing witness and Reid’s daughter, Matilda (Anna Burnett), as she reads Dracula. For a moment, it’s almost as if she’s narrating the events herself. That spooky parallel lingers.
Fast-forwarding the action several years yet again proves a smart decision by Richard Warlow. Not only does it give the characters a chance to progress – Long Susan’s death, for example, became a present concern, rather than a looming threat, impacting everyone around her – but it also allows the writing team to refer to new historical events. 1897, after all, isn’t just the year of Victoria’s jubilee, but also the year Bram Stoker’s seminal novel was published. Dracula has always carried some of its creepiness in its themes of otherness – it plays upon British society’s fear of corruption by a foreign force. Just as Episode 1 found Ripper Street’s London to be a melting pot of culture with a surprisingly modern resonance, Episode 4 again proves disturbingly pertinent, thanks to that undercurrent of tension between locals and migrants. Over four seasons, this show has gone from a period price to something thrillingly current.
Reid, Drake and Jackson find their investigation takes them to a sewing factory, where foreign labour is the norm and people can go missing without being noticed. Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn fall back into their old double act with a reassuring familiarity, but as convincingly smart as they are, it’s Jackson who races ahead of them, his scientific nous piecing together the puzzle far quicker. It helps that he has a contact with the relevant experience, but that comes at a cost – the risk of revealing his secret rescue of Long Susan.
That deception, which begins to fray at the edges, is an insidious intruder in our lead characters’ relationship, tainting it with the external knowledge Homer is trying to hide. Reid, though, is just as concerned about his daughter being affected by another corrupting influence altogether: that of Sgt. Drummond (Matthew Lewis – still moustached-up, still boasting convincing chemistry with Mathilda). When Reid accuses Jackson of breaking his medical code, Jackson retorts: “Never to a soul that didn’t have it coming,” before adding: “Perhaps you know how that feels.”
Again, that sense of knowing Reid is capable of going one step further than his pre-Season 3 self gives events a shadowy depth. Now, though, it’s Jackson’s turn to explore his darker side. It’s telling that the title of the episode comes from a monologue Homer delivers halfway through about his military past; a wonderfully grisly speech that moves us away from the idea of blood draining to the idea of blood transfusion.
Writer Justin Young, who has experience weaving together plot threads on both Dickensian and Holby City, stitches together the character beats and crime narrative with a subtle intelligence, the Dracula novel reappearing throughout to both comic and chilling effect. But there’s a warmth to the merging of foreign and domestic that is more Ripper Street than Gothic horror, as Julia Rosnowska’s sweet seamstress Magdalena brings out a gentle side to Benjamin O’Mahony’s Det. Sgt. Thatcher and even Abel and Long Susan begin to bond. But as much as people draw together, they are also being pulled apart, as Rose (Charlene McKenna) starts singing Jackson’s lullaby to Conor and Mathilda still tries to rebel against her father’s authority. And all the while, Rothenberg is pulling away from his old self – one scene in which he shares a drink with Reid and Drum feels amusingly forced. Rolling the period dialogue off his tongue with a charmingly light confidence that is becoming edgier and heavier by the week, where will his deception take our intrepid trio? We’ll find out in time. And if Ripper Street can keep this level of quality up, Season 4 can bide it all it likes.
Season 4 of Ripper Street is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. Seasons 1 to 3 are also available.