Amazon Prime Video UK TV review: Ripper Street Season 4, Episode 7 (Finale)
James R | On 20, Feb 2016
Read our interview with Matthew Macfadyen and Adam Rothenberg here.
Episode 7 of Ripper Street Season 4 airs on BBC Two at 10pm on 19th September. This is a spoiler-free review.
“What dangers do I face?” “Plenty.”
Ask anyone to name the best TV show around at the moment and Ripper Street is unlikely to be top of the list. After all, the adventures of policemen in period Whitechapel, no matter how good, pale in comparison to the spectacle – and spectacular body count – of Game of Thrones, which has become synonymous with surprising plot twists and traumatic cliffhangers. Episode 7 of Ripper Street’s fourth season, though, puts Richard Warlow’s drama firmly in George RR Martin territory.
It’s a sign of just how serious everything has become in Ripper Street that the above warning of danger could be said to anyone. For Long Susan and Captain Jackson, who have just stolen some of London’s priciest pots, their chance of fencing the goods and getting the money to flee is becoming slimmer by the day. (Who knew crockery could be so exciting?) For Reid and Drake, meanwhile, the discovery that Augustus Dove has been up to no good means that their careers, not to mention their lives, could be in jeopardy too. Stepping out into the capital’s shadows to shine the provebial torch of justice has never been a riskier job.
The episode wastes no time in dishing up a healthy dose of back-story, as we find out exactly who and what the Golem is and where the monster came from – a bestial horror story that ties the show once again to its historical context. Jonas Armstrong is creepily menacing as Nathaniel, unearthed by Jackson last week and unleashed upon the world this week in all his brutality. But he’s nothing compared to Dove.
If exposition normally dampens the fear of a mysterious villain, the opposite is the true of the new police chief, whose nasty roots seem nastier when concealed behind his calm, moral facade. Killian Scott is great as the Whitechapel head, smiling yet firm, polite yet authoritative – the opposite of Abel Croker, with his playful scowl, borderline-pantomime running and knack for knowing others’ secrets. But that difference also makes one more likeable than the other; Abel is dangerous, but David Threlfall plays him with a roguish charisma – the kind of rascal who’ll stay loyal to you, even as fudge hits the fan. Dove, on the other hand, exploits his old friends for personal means – he sneakily inserts himself into Drake’s domestic routine by spending more time with Rose (Charlene McKenna). As she and Drake remain at odds over her sightings of Long Susan, the sight of her and Dove walking arm in arm is the most perilous thing we’ve seen yet – him sinister, her sweetly unsuspecting.
Who better to unpick such a web of jealousy, blackmail and marital conflict than Mr. Been-through-it-all-before Reid (Matthew Macfadyen)? The Inspector pounces on every lead he can find, starting to sniff out Long Susan’s presence on instinct more than anything else. After he took the lead in Season 3, Richard Warlow now smartly positions Edmund as the driver of exposition, teasing out each narrative twist as it spreads emotional ripples through the ensemble.
That dogged detectiving gives us the episode’s first stunning set piece: an interrogation of Jackson and his connection with all the colliding mysteries of the day. The three-hander is a breathtaking pay-off after years of friendship between the men, as old wounds feed into present questions with devastating precision – it’s not long before the fists are out and people’s nostrils are streaming. (Reid even gets to punch Drummond at one point, a moment of solidarity and humour as much as drama.)
Jerome Flynn once again proves himself the show’s MVP: a considerate thug with a brain and heart of gold, he’s wonderfully written and better performed, with a gruff consistency that hides a versatile range of ever-changing moods. While Reid’s brief retirement to the seaside felt satisfying, it’s to imagine what the show would be like without poor Bennet. Adam Rothenberg also continues to enjoy his best run of episodes to date – he’s gone from scientific genius to romantic hero to bitter criminal in the blink of an eye, all without ruining his waistcoat.
The result is an action scene that consists almost entirely of dialogue – at it best, all Ripper Street needs is a chair to generate nail-biting suspense. The tie between the trio stems as much from their shared location as their shared history – London has changed since Season 3 and Warlow makes sure we appreciate the importance of our ensemble still being there. “Escape, it is a fine fancy,” remarks Myanna Buring’s excellently-portrayed doomed damsel in a later conversation. But for the others, it’s a fancy too – Reid, after all, was powerless to resist being drawn back into the Big Smoke after his escape.
Director Anthony Byrne shoots the episode with wonderful panache; Reid and Jackson’s conversations in prison are almost painterly in composition, the contrast of the screen playing up the smoke clouds of cigarettes, as they billow upwards into shafts of brightness – the kind of contrast we last saw in the cellars of Season 3, where Reid and Drake left a man to die, a shady past that drags all of these characters down from the cleansing daylight to the bowels of the city. At another point, a man walks in on Long Susan, but remains out of focus in the background, making it impossible to tell whether she’s been discovered or reunited with her lover. It’s an agonising couple of moments, all thanks to a simple camera trick – quite simply, Ripper Street has never looked so good.
The walls close in on both good guys and bad at a superbly taut pace, giving Episode 7 the feel of a season finale (which, for the record, it is) of a much bigger show. When the chips are down and the stakes are high, though, there’s no one you’d rather have in your corner than Drake. “Six is nothing,” he bellows at one killer, during a heated showdown. “I ended 20 men with these hands!”
Flynn’s physical intensity gives that climactic confrontation one heck of a wallop. He’s backed up by Byrne’s stunning visuals, as we see our boys in blue stalking through alleyways with nothing but flaming sticks for illumination. There’s an eerie sense of isolation in these remote dead-ends of London, emphasised by the tiny ball of light that surrounds each man. The result is a scene dripping with an ominous atmosphere, the kind of thing you’d expect from True Detective more than Ripper Street.
Describing Richard Warlow’s show in terms of other TV programmes might make it sound derivative, but Ripper Street is a seasoned programme that has been going long enough to know its own identity. Rather, it’s a sign that the series continues to elevate itself from one of the BBC’s staple costume dramas to a crime epic that frequently merges high emotion and horrible gore with an increasingly high level of tension. The ending alone is a statement of intent, as Warlow opts for a rare cliffhanger as dramatic as anything Game of Thrones or Bloodline could come up with. There’s a growing appetite for quality TV in today’s online landscape. Season 4’s finale makes it clear that Ripper Street isn’t afraid to take a bite for itself.
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.