Amazon Prime Video UK TV review: Ripper Street Season 4, Episode 5
James R | On 05, Feb 2016
Read our interview with Matthew Macfadyen and Adam Rothenberg here.
Episode 5 of Ripper Street Season 4 airs on BBC Two at 10pm on 5th September. This is a spoiler-free review.
“Men of iron? Men of smoke is what we are.”
Ripper Street Season 4 continues with a return to one of the show’s favourite subjects: past failings and future redemption. Richard Warlow’s series is one of the most moral programmes on TV. In a modern age, where antiheroes are ambiguous and teachers are drug dealers, this is a crime drama in which the criminals always pay – and our boys in blue (well, grey, brown, green, black and, occasionally, blue) are the ones serving the bill. Our central characters may waver, as did Reid in Season 3, but broadly speaking, they always fall in line to carry the light against the darkness.
That theme is explored in this elegant, if slight, episode about the murder of a boy in a factory. The victim? Charlie, the star of the football squad, a bullish drinker and an all-round rascal. Or, at least, that’s according to Thomas Gower (Jake Mann), who has also wound up working at the factory.
Gower’s reintroduction after his last appearance way back in Season 1 feeds in neatly to Season 4’s overriding themes of childhood and parenting; with Jackson and Long Susan still hiding away, and her pining after Conor, the notion of passing down character traits to the next generation has never been more pertinent. Jackson, after all, is a man defined by his history as a womanising drunkard, traits that could well be passed on to his son. But as we see in a surprisingly romantic date between Jackson and Susan – and have seen in his sober rescue of her from the hangman – he’s reformed, a transformation that should, in theory, make him a suitable parent for young Conor. But can either he or Susan, who was only recently manipulating the deaths of many for money, really go on the right path after their previous wrongs?
Drake, ironically, demonstrates that it is possible for a man to redeem himself: after his brutish origins, he’s become a calm, kind presence, gentle with both Conor and Rose – even as he angers at her for hiding Jackson’s visit to see their boy. Reid, too, remains as stoic and focused on justice as ever, despite the emergence of his darker side.
Warlow subtly compares and contrasts them, as we witness their treatment of Gower. A decorated war veteran working in a factory where drinking is prohibited, he’s an upstanding example of young Britain. Or is he? There’s a nice shade of ambiguity to Mann’s presence, which Warlow teases out over the course of the hour’s mystery.
Game of Thrones’ Alliser Thorne as Felix Hackman, the man in charge of the workhouse, represents the steel rod of discipline used to shape the boys into fine, upstanding young men – he growls and barks his way through their football sessions as if winter’s coming and they’re the Night’s Watch.
Reid, you sense, shares that outlook: when Gower turns up, he presumes the worst. Drake, on the other hand, sees the best. The two remain wonderfully nuanced, Matthew Macfadyen stern and serious, Jerome Flynn coarse but soft as a teddy bear underneath. Even when Reid seems to tease Drum nicely about his daughter, it still comes across as a threat. They make a brilliant pairing: while one ruthlessly trying to extract a confession, the other offers him pigeon pie.
You could watch the duo read the phone book and still be entertained, which Warlow more than understands, giving both room to interact. The result is a rewarding meditation on history and human nature, but as a result, a less compelling crime story. Season 3 marked the pinnacle of Ripper Street because it balanced the murder-of-the-week format with the over-arching Long Susan plot. Season 4 remains engaging, but feels slightly less unified; Jackson and Long Susan’s struggle to stay hidden never seems that urgent, even with an on-form Adam Rothenberg getting more screen time than ever before. After last week’s cliffhanger involving Drake discovering Jackson’s visit, though, and this week’s altogether more substantial revelation, Season 4’s wider narrative should finally kick into gear. After all, this is a show, more than any, where second chances are possible.
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.