First look UK TV review: Ripper Street Season 5
Ivan Radford | On 10, Oct 2016
This review is based on the opening episodes of Ripper Street Season 5. Warning: This contains spoilers for Season 1 to 4 of Ripper Street.
It’s been almost exactly four years since Ripper Street was first broadcast on our screens – and it’s hard to believe that the show is finally arriving at its last ever season. Hard not just because the show was resurrected after it was cancelled by the BBC, but because the show is almost unrecognisable from its origins.
Richard Warlow’s drama has always excelled with its grim brand of crime mysteries, its period details and its hats, but it has never been better than in its recent years. Whether due to Amazon’s freer reign, allowing for longer, uncut episodes, or due to the show’s natural growth, as its characters’ backstories have become more intertwined and complex, the programme has stepped up its game with every season.
The real secret to its success has perhaps been its evolution from relatively standalone cases of the week to a wider narrative arc – since Season 3’s train crash, caused by the scheming of Long Susan (MyAnna Buring), the series has consisted not just of season-long arcs but of one overall story: Season 4 jumped forward several years, but continued to examine the fallout of Susan’s actions, as Captain Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) tried to rescue her from prison and Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) tried to find redemption, after his slip into the darkness of vigilante justice, returning to London to investigate the murder of an old friend.
That built to the show’s best episode yet – a flame-torch-lit finale that saw Drake (Jerome Flynn) and the others track down the bitey serial killer responsible. And, sure enough, Season 5 continues those events almost immediately after the closing shot of Bennett’s tragic death in the shadowy tunnels.
The killer? Nathaniel, the brother of police chief Dove (Killian Scott). On his heels? Still our group, but now, they’ve gone from police officers and friends to fugitives, also on the run from the fuzz. Ripper Street has impressed with its variety over the last two seasons, giving each character in its ensemble a chance to take the spotlight, from Drake to Reid to Long Susan. Turning out heroes into outlaws gives the show a fresh dynamic once more, injecting new tension into existing bonds. Reid is more brooding and silent than ever, mourning for his departed friend, while Rothenberg continues to enjoy the chance to play the straight hero, rather than a rascal pretending to be one, effectively leading the group.
There’s a poignancy and emotional weight that underlies each interaction, something that the cast convey with the smallest gestures. “I will make it right with your daughter. I will,” insists Susan to Reid, but her ruthless determination is only a reminder of how much harm she caused in Season 3. Even the opening credits have changed to a more sombre version of the theme tune.
While their tracking of new villain Dove, attempting to draw out Nathaniel and expose the chief’s corruption, is fun to watch, though, it’s the return of old faces that makes this fifth and final run so much fun to watch. Mimi (Lydia Wilson), former flame of Captain Jackson and former boss of Rose, becomes an unexpected source of refuge, thanks to her abandoned theatre in the middle of town. The set design, backed by Amazon’s budget, is superb, making Whitechapel seem bigger and bolder. The witty Wilson, meanwhile, is wonderfully feisty, insulting Jackson and drawing Reid out of his shell – the result is a welcome dose of levity in what could have been a morbid string of episodes.
At the same time, Joseph Mawle brings sinister threat to London, reprising his role of Detective Inspector Jedediah Shine. Mawle scowls with relish, almost overplaying his bad cop routine, but seething with a hatred for Reid that’s all too convincing. Under his greasy-haired, walking-sticked rule, the men of Leman Street find themselves in unknown territory; Sergeant Thatcher becomes increasingly conflicted about Shine’s orders to track down Reid et. al., while Matthew Lewis’ Drummond, looking after Reid’s daughter, seems immediately opposed to the whole thing. But Shine is a police officer for a reason, and even he has a hint of honour to him – a nose for the seeking out truth, rather than being a political puppet.
The result is a bubbling cauldron of unpredictable characters, who could uncover enough evidence to convict Dove of his crimes, but could also fly off the handle and wreck it all – and, underneath, lies the knowledge that even if our fugitives were to clear their current charges, they would still be guilty of other past misdemeanours. That theme of crime and punishment has always been a part of Ripper Street’s rough-and-ready charm, but there’s an emotional depth to the show that makes this final season extremely satisfying to watch; this is not just a police investigation, but a personal quest for revenge. And with all of Season 5 charting that same story, the stage is set for a gripping binge-watch. As Amazon is releasing all six chapters at once, though, you won’t have to wait to reach the finish line. Judging by the opening episodes, Ripper Street’s final final season looks set to be one heck of a send-off.
Season 5 of Ripper Street premieres on BBC Two on Monday 19th June at 9pm. It’s also available to watch online in full on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. Seasons 1 to 4 are also available.