Previously on Ripper Street: Reid, Drake, and Jackson solved crimes in Whitechapel. We learned that Reid’s and Emily’s daughter disappeared, which sent Emily running into the arms of the church and other causes.
A preacher preaches on the street while people fill jugs at a public water fountain. A heavyset man stumbles through the crowd, not looking too good, and just in case we missed the fact that he’s ill, we get his POV through a fisheye lens, and then he projectile vomits right next to the fountain. Nice. Then things get a tiny bit weird as we cut between him getting mugged by all and sundry and someone chopping up a pig. That seems rather uncharitable, show. The pig parts are packed into a sack that has a 6 painted on it before it’s tossed into the river to join a few others just like it. The preacher reaches the man’s side just as he dies, and tells everyone nearby not to use the water from the fountain, because this looks a lot like cholera.
Just after the credits, we see Emily pour herself a drink of water at a hospital where she’s visiting a woman who’s been really thoroughly beaten up. Emily gently presses the woman to tell her who her pimp is, but the woman refuses to speak up.
Reid, meanwhile, is at the riverside, watching one of his men pull the pig sacks out of the river and being watched by a nattily dressed fellow inspector from the better part of town, who complains about the mud. Other inspector’s name is Ressler, and he’s there because he and Reid are working the same case. A woman’s body, chopped up, washed up on the river, and Ressler claimed her, because she washed up at Blackfriars, which is part of the City of London which, in one of those weird old-city quirks, has its own police force. But Reid says the crime likely took place in his jurisdiction, and he’s testing that by having sacks loaded with pig parts the same weight as the woman and having them dropped at various areas throughout the city so they can see how long they take to wash up in Blackfriars. Lucky number 6 started in Battersea. There’s some discussion of whether this is a Ripper case and Reid warns Ressler he wants no part of this craziness. But his scientific exploration is at an end for the day, as he’s called back to the police station to look into this latest death.
He finds the streets abandoned, aside from the preacher, who still stands outside and says this is where he belongs. Reid says he’s welcome and goes inside, where he finds the policemen subdued, gathered in frightened groups. He confirms with the ginger-bearded desk sergeant that the dead man was brought to the dead room and whether this is really a matter for the police. It will be at some time or another, because if an epidemic breaks out, they’ll have to keep order, which is going to be tricky.
Jackson’s already at work on the body, with Drake in attendance. The dead man shows all the classic signs of cholera infection. Reid asks Drake if there have been any other cases reported and hears there haven’t. Neither Reid nor Drake have been through a cholera epidemic, but Jackson has, in New Orleans in 1875. He says it was a complete nightmare, as you can imagine, and gets ready to open the guy up to confirm the diagnosis. Reid notices that one of the few things that wasn’t stolen off the dead man was a financial newspaper, which makes him think the victim was a City man, possibly making this Ressler’s case. He and Drake go to try and find out who he is and Jackson asks for help with the guy, since he’s so fat and all. As they breeze through the entryway, Reid sends Hobbs to help Jackson and tells the police to get out on the street and keep people calm. The desk sergeant finally gets a name—Arthurton.
Emily’s still pleading with the prostitute, who’s getting ready to leave, to tell her who keeps abusing her so badly. The woman wearily says she needs to work and she’ll just get in more trouble if she talks. Emily promises to find her somewhere to go but the woman’s clearly already been down this road and knows she’s just in for a lot of religion and obnoxious preaching. Both women’s attention is caught by a man projectile vomiting on the other end of the ward. A doctor and nurse rush to help him.
Back to the victim. Jackson gets started on the autopsy, which poor Hobbs is not at all prepared for. The poor boy struggles not to become one of the vomiting many and succeeds, which is impressive, especially when Jackson pulls the guy’s bowel out with one hand.
Drake and Reid are now in the City, out of their jurisdiction and dealing with a decidedly tonier brand of suspect. Reid inquires about the provenance of the newspaper at a newsstand while Drake notes a pair of City policemen watching them. He tells Reid they’ve been spotted but Reid doesn’t care.
Back in the dead room, Jackson puts a blood slide under microscope so he can find the cholera bacilli. It’s not there, which means this isn’t cholera at all. Hmmm. Arthurton pokes his head in and tells them word’s come from the dispensary of many more taken ill. Jackson tells Hobbs to get Reid.
Reid and Drake arrive at the dead man’s residence, where the doorman gives them a hard time. Drake gets in his face and he lets them inside, where they find a naked woman passed out on the sofa, doped up on opium. They begin poking around and Drake finds a cat o’nine tails whip on the bed while Reid discovers some wax on cloths with dark hair stuck on it.
They manage to rouse the woman in the sitting room and ask her if she’s feeling all right. She is, and she’s nice enough to give our victim a name: Algernon Winston. Reid asks where the guy worked and, after some literal arm-wringing from Drake, she points them towards a bank.
Outside, Reid and Drake find Ressler waiting for them, who wants to know what they’re doing there. Reid tells him about their alleged cholera victim and then spots Hobbs and calls him forward. Hobbs tells them about the uptick in victims and Reid and Drake depart with him.
To the dispensary they go, where they find a waiting room full of people just throwing up everywhere. Jesus, can’t they get these people some basins or something? Reid’s startled to find Emily there and anxiously asks if she’s sick. She says she’s fine, she was just there visiting one of ‘her women.’ Reid nods and goes to speak to Jackson, who whispers that this isn’t cholera after all. Reid wonders what else could afflict so many people. Ressler wanders in, because while he’s happy to tell Reid to get out of his jurisdiction, apparently he doesn’t apply the same rules to himself. Reid goes over to him and demands to know what Ressler has to say. Ressler admits he has some other victims: four of them dead in two days. Reid’s livid that Ressler didn’t say anything sooner and is not appeased when Ressler tells him the City can’t exactly close for business. A woman starts raving, and Ressler says one of the other vics was the same. Reid asks Jackson if he’s ever heard of ergotism—the hideous effects of long-term ergot poisoning, usually through rye and other cereals. It can cause visions and ravings, as well as gangrene. Jackson gently asks the woman who’s raving how she feels, and while what she says is consistent with ergot poisoning, Jackson points out that it doesn’t account for the gastric collapse that preceded the death of Winston. Ressler says his victims were the same. Reid tells a reluctant Ressler to bring his dead to their lab so they can test them all for ergotism. He and Drake will be working the street, looking for connections between the victims. Jackson tells Reid he needs someone nearing death so he can study the progress of the disease. Reid promises to get that for him and goes to talk to Emily, who wants to know what’s going on. He tells her to go home, but she shakes her head and says she has appointments in town. Jesus, lady, do you not see what’s going on here? I think your appointments can keep! Reid fiercely tells her he wants her to be safe and she reminds him that she wants him to be safe and she’s afraid for him every day. Now, the shoe’s on the other foot and all she’s asking is that he let her do more than just sit around uselessly at home. He gives in and warns her to boil her water and not to eat anything that hasn’t been sealed.
Reid and Drake troll the wards, looking for their guinea pig. Reid finds one man who’s in a bad way and asks if he ate anything strange recently. He has not, and he’s been sick three days. Reid says he’s sorry and moves away, looking around at all the sick people. He comments to Drake that it’s strange they have all these people sick, but none have died other than that original batch of four. He keeps an eye on one burly guy vomiting into a basin nearby. Reid goes over to him and asks his name. It’s George. Reid says he’s going to take him somewhere he can find peace.
In a small room lit only by candlelight, the camera lingers on a bottle of something as a man comes in and starts trolling through the newspaper. While he does, the camera moves on to show us that he’s got newspaper clippings of all the Ripper victims pinned to the wall.
Emily’s errands have taken her to a fancy part of town, where she’s ushered into a very nice home.
Jackson carefully removes an eyedropper full of liquid and adds it to some crystals in a phial. It’s a test for ergotism, and it’s positive, but Jackson tells Hobbs that’s not the whole story.
Emily’s shown into a sitting room where tea’s laid out. She examines a dark portrait of a man as a woman in widow’s weeds sweeps in and says that’s her late husband. The woman quickly gets down to business: Emily’s there to get funds to house some of these prostitutes she wants to protect.
George is brought to the police station and placed in a cell. Reid tells Jackson the guy’s strong, so he’ll fight and, presumably, last a while. Arthurton calls Reid out front, where Ressler’s waiting with four bodies on a cart. ‘I bring out my dead,’ Ressler says, humbled.
Emily explains her idea for helping the prostitutes rehabilitate, but the woman she’s hitting up, Mrs Gable, only wants to know what kind of religious teachings will be foisted on these ladies. Emily carefully says that such things tend to discourage the women from seeking help. Mrs Gable starts to work some crazy eyes and starts talking about her husband, how everyone said he was such a good man and how sad it was that the Gables had no children. But apparently the Gables were childless because Mr Gable went out and picked up some VD from one of the prostitutes he regularly visited and passed it along to his wife, rendering her infertile. Man, that really, really sucks. It’s also given her some serious anti-prostitute rage. While she raves, Emily starts looking really unwell. Once Gable starts looking like a demon, Emily gets up and runs out, making it all the way to the front step before she starts throwing up. A kindly passerby asks if she needs a hand. Clearly, she does, sir.
Reid, Drake, Ressler, and Jackson check out the bodies and discuss what’s up. Ergot is part of it, but not everything. We’ve got a wicked cocktail here, and it looks deliberate. It’s also slow-moving; victims gradually accumulate the stuff in their bodies before they get overwhelmed. They talk about the people now crowding the dispensary, most of whom are on a water-and-flour diet that’s entirely foreign to Ressler. Reid tells Jackson to cut everyone open and see if their insides tell a story.
Emily has made it home, where she starts to hear a child giggling. She makes her way upstairs and opens one of the bedroom doors. A bright light shines out and she smiles joyously at what she sees.
Back at the jail, Reid asks Drake to swing by his house and check on Emily. Drake promises to do so. Before he leaves, Jackson asks him to stop by Susan’s as well.
Drake does as he’s asked, giving the girls some tips on how to stay safe until this blows over. Susan correctly realises he’s got a soft spot for Rose and promises to keep her safe. And that’s all we’ll see of Susan this episode. Drake’s next stop is the Reid home, where he gets no answer to his knocks and lets himself in by picking the lock. He eventually finds Emily on the floor of their daughter’s bedroom and gathers her in his arms, promising her it’ll be ok.
At the jail, Jackson pays George a visit and conducts a quick physical. George tells Jackson he’s a very bad man (George is). Jackson tells him none of them are good people and asks what his symptoms are. His innards apparently feel like they’re full of nails and he’s also burning up and seeing demons. George keeps talking about what a horrible person he is, and Jackson sends Reid to fetch that preacher who’s been hanging about. While he’s gone, George tells Jackson they both know how fun it is to beat up on women and to knife their throats. Yikes! The preacher arrives and Jackson happily hands him over. The preacher prays over the man as he breathes his last.
In the dead room, Jackson’s doing the autopsy on George and telling the guys they could be looking at a heavy metal compound as well as ergotism. From the man’s stomach, he guesses this poison is being milled into flour, which means it could be everywhere.
Drake bursts into the station with Emily in his arms and tells the others to fetch Reid and pull out the fold-away cot in his office. Reid arrives quickly and strokes his wife’s forehead, promising her she’ll be just fine.
Back in the dead room, Jackson’s conducting the marsh test to see if they can detect any arsenic. Reid arrives, saying he’s no use to Emily in his office. The test gets underway and it’s not arsenic, but it’s something else, much worse. They need to find the man doing this, and fast. Ressler points out that he could be anywhere—a mill, a bakery, Scotland, even. Reid’s sure he’s local, because he’ll want to see his handiwork.
Back in the creepy candlelit room, the unseen man cuts out a newspaper clipping about the fatal illness striking the City and Whitechapel. He hangs it on his wall of newspapers and starts crossing out the faces of the Ripper victims. He then heads out of the room and into the flour mill where he apparently works and starts nonchalantly adding some powdered substance to the flour in the machines.
Reid and the others decide to focus on the first batch of victims and try to find a connection. Ressler says they’ve been through everything and found no connection aside from the fact they all worked in the City. One’s a doctor, another a clerk, another a busboy, one a manager at Lloyd’s, another a broker at Goldman. They didn’t travel the same way, they didn’t seem to know each other, they didn’t live near each other. They bust out some maps and trace their routes, but the only thing that links them is, at some point, Whitechapel. Ressler can’t imagine what they’d be doing in Whitechapel, so Jackson reminds him that this is pretty much London’s red light district. Reid gets a lightbulb look on his face and starts examining Winston, noting that he’s pretty hairless for a man of his time, and remembering the waxing strips he found in the man’s apartment. His bare legs and chest make Jackson think this guy might have liked to cross-dress, at the very least. He tells the others that he found something a little unusual in another victim’s stomach: semen. They ask why he didn’t mention it earlier and he shrugs that it’s not really for him to judge. The detectives prepare to go back to Winston’s apartment. Before he goes, Reid asks Jackson if this illness can be stopped. Jackson says, if caught early enough, an enema might do it, but once it’s taken hold, it’s pretty much touch and go. Reid asks him to look after Emily and Jackson promises to do so, and to keep hope alive. Reid starts to head out, but Arthurton pulls him aside and tells him that they’ve gotten word from the dispensary: the sick are beginning to die. Reid nods and goes out to the waiting carriage, passing the praying preacher on his way.
Bodies start piling up at the dispensary, and still the sick come in. Emily, lying on the cot, opens her fever-bright eyes and sees the pictures from the Ripper case on the walls. She turns her head aside.
The Ergot Room. Our poisoner’s now mixing up something liquid. Great.
At Winston’s, the men find dresses, wigs, and a card for a bawdy house Reid knows.
That particular house caters to the clientele that likes their women with a bit of tackle between their legs. The inspectors burst in, and though Reid reassures everyone this is not a raid, one of the ladyboys scratches Ressler, who backhands her and sends her flying. The madam tells Reid to calm his men and Ressler shoots back at her to calm hers. Reid tells everyone to chill out and shows the madam, with a great deal of courtesy, some photos of the victims. She recognizes the two we knew leaned that way and says they visited at lunchtime, regularly. Ressler asks if she fed them and she says she didn’t, because this is not a chophouse.
Now they have a connection between a couple of the victims, they have to find out where they ate. They trace the regular routes of the other dead men and set out to find out where they all intersected. After some legwork, Ressler finds a bakery where all the employees are just lying dead. Nobody noticed that? An entire bakery full of dead people? How long have they been like this? Alongside the dead bodies are sacks marked Gable Flour Mills.
Remember Mrs Gable, the lady Emily was meeting earlier? Yeah, she’s the owner of Gable Flour Mills and she’s just arriving for an inspection. Once again, the A and B plots converged in the unlikeliest manner possible. Seriously, the show has to stop doing this, because it’s really becoming stupid.
The person showing her around is the poisoner himself, because he’s the manager here. Mrs Gable is completely uninterested in this place but he tells her it’s her mill and she really should be familiar with the goings-on there. Oh, she has no idea. She’s getting ready to go—and the guy finally gets a name, Mr Claxton—when the inspectors roll up and inform them a batch of flour they sold went bad. That’s putting it fairly mildly, Reid. Mrs Gable’s shocked to hear it, so clearly this isn’t some twisted vendetta of her own against the whores of Whitechapel, like I thought it might be. She quickly realises this is connected to the recent sickness and tells Claxton to help the police. Claxton ushers them all inside and to his office, Mrs G included. Claxton goes to look up the batch numbers while Reid pokes around a filing cabinet and starts asking whether Claxton installed it himself. ‘Reid, every man likes a good…cabinet, but is this really the time?’ Ressler asks. Hee! I really loved that awkward pause before ‘cabinet,’ because it made it seem like that was some sort of euphemism. Feel free to insert your own dirty word there. Claxton opens a drawer in his desk and surreptitiously uncovers a pair of syringes filled with a clear liquid.
Reid pops out into the hallway and back into the room and tells Ressler that, from the outside, the room’s a rectangle, but inside the room, it’s a cube. He makes his way over to the cabinets and notices wind blows outward from it. He calls Ressler over and the two men pull the cabinets aside, revealing the Ergot Room. It should be noted that the pair of them do this without keeping an eye on or restraining Claxton in any way. In fact, they actually go ahead and turn their backs on the guy to do this.
Reid and Ressler go to check out the room, and Claxton takes the opportunity to grab Mrs G and hold one of the syringes to her neck. He tells the others that the liquid’s much faster and more agonizing. He directs Mrs G to take some papers off the desk and burn them. Those were the order records, of course, so now they can’t trace the poisoned batches. Claxton drags Mrs G out and through the mill, which is suddenly, mysteriously devoid of workers. Drake comes wandering in—was he out for a smoke break or something?—and Reid yells that Claxton has the poison. Reid reminds Drake of a conversation they had about John Stewart Mill and his ideas. Look, Reid, everyone likes a good…economic theory, but is now really the time? Anyway, the rather labored point is that one acts for the greater good, not for the good of one individual, so Drake risks Mrs G’s life by attacking Claxton. Fortunately, he overpowers the man without harming her. The syringe falls to the ground. Reid pins Claxton to one of the milling machines and demands to know where the rest of the flour is. Claxton, full-on insane now, cackles that he won’t say a word, and that there’s lots more of this stuff making its way into the world this very moment. Reid gets ready to just kill the guy, but Ressler reminds him he won’t get any information out of him if he does that. ‘Not if I kill him immediately, no,’ says Reid, who then picks up the syringe and empties it right into Claxton’s mouth. That’s what I’m talking about! Go Reid, with your badassary!
Claxton is hauled into the police station, where Reid tells the others to strap him to a cot in their dead room. He goes in to see Emily, who recognizes him, so that’s progress, I guess. Then she tells him she sees their little girl, so maybe not. Reid takes her hand and fiercely tells her to stay alive. We’ll see how that goes.
In the dead room, Claxton’s strapped down, trembling and cradling an apparently broken arm while Drake removes his coat and rolls up his sleeves, ready for a serious whuppin’. In comes Reid, who stands over Claxton for a moment, then asks him what his interest in the Ripper is. Claxton tells them the Ripper was just a brute who only killed about seven people, but everyone’s terrified of him, and he’s famous. Well, Claxton killed dozens, if not more, so now he gets to be famous! Wow, how’d this level of insanity go unnoticed all this time? Reid bends down beside the man and rather pleasantly tells him people will talk about him the same way they have throughout the man’s life—precious little. They’re putting the story about that the flour was contaminated by accident. Ooops! Claxton tells Reid he won’t be forgotten by the loved ones of the dead, nor by Reid or his wife. Reid goes to just beat the hell out of the guy himself, but Drake holds him back. Reid calms himself down and tells Jackson forward. ‘My surgeon. He is…American,’ he says with foreboding. Ha! Way to work those ellipses tonight, folks. He made being an American sound hilariously scary. They ask whether the pain in Claxton’s gut or his arm is worse and Jackson holds up the enema apparatus and says he thinks there might still be time for Claxton. Claxton begs him to de-poison him, but Jackson offers to see to the break first, and then he grabs the arm brutally, eliciting a howl of agony from Claxton. Ressler looks a bit horrified but says nothing. Reid tells him they might just be able to find some anesthetic if Claxton tells them where the contaminated flour went. He doesn’t cooperate, so Reid tells Jackson and Drake to go nuts on the guy’s arm until he talks.
The preacher, the policemen, and Ressler wait in the entryway, listening to the man’s anguished howls and flinching, clearly affected by what they sometimes have to do for the greater good.
Reid sits at Emily’s bedside, and at last, Drake reports that Claxton talked and told them everything. Reid thanks him and Drake withdraws so Reid can beg Emily to come back to him, promising to tell her why he can’t bring himself to mourn their daughter the way she does. She makes a rather terrible whistling sound that I thought for sure was going to be a death rattle, but no, it’s her miraculous recovery. She wakes and tells him their daughter was waving to her, but I guess it wasn’t her time. Reid hugs her tightly.
The neighbourhood returns to the fountain, which is open again, the scare over, and Emily, now recovered herself, has Mrs G for a visit. Apparently, being threatened by a maniac she employed has changed Mrs G’s outlook completely, and she’s ready to endow Emily’s cause, no strings attached. I have to say, I find this a bit unlikely. Yes, people can have changes of heart after life-threatening experiences, but I don’t really see how the whole thing with Claxton would suddenly make her look much more kindly on the prostitutes. Her rage at them, while somewhat misdirected, was also completely understandable. She couldn’t be enraged at her husband, really, so she directed her hate elsewhere. Why the turnaround?
Emily’s so happy about this she starts to weep, which makes Mrs G uncomfortable, so she leaves. Once she’s gone, Reid asks if Emily really intends to go on with this, despite all that’s happened. Why should that have deterred her? Of course, Emily is, and she tells Reid that his will kept her alive. Emily, I think it was your own will that kept you alive. Don’t shortchange yourself, girl. Anyway, she tells him his will is a powerful force and asks him not to set it against her.
Reid returns to the site where the woman’s body washed up and is joined by Ressler, who admits he was wrong to hide his knowledge of those first few bodies, because it may have contributed to further deaths. Reid tells him that, in their line of work, it doesn’t serve to look back and dwell on mistakes. They happen, and they move on and fight another day.
So, sorry to dwell, but are we ever going to find out what the deal was with the woman’s body that washed up and brought Reid and Ressler together in the first place? I hope that comes back into play at some point, because it was rather interesting to see Ressler and Reid start to come together and make a pretty effective team.
Next week: crazy prostitute/sideshow girl!