Previously on Ripper Street: Reid crossed paths with Dr Treves, best known to history as the man who rescued The Elephant Man, and Shine, a dangerous sociopath working in K division. Susan’s getting shaken down by her skeevy landlord, and Jackson’s considering a move abroad.
We start with a closeup of something difficult to identify but is probably something gross, before we switch to a woman in labour, staggering along the streets. She makes it to a hospital, where she begs the nurses for help. She’s brought to an operating room and Treves is sent for. He calls for chloroform and gets ready to perform a C section. Could they do those safely in 1890? Guess in this universe they can, because when next she wakes, it’s to the sound of her baby crying.
Later, she and the baby are asleep in a ward when she sees someone come in with a lantern. She grabs the infant and tries to run, ignoring the fact that she’s bleeding all over. Lantern pursues as she rushes up the stairs and begs him not to take the baby from her. We hear her scream, but don’t see what happened.
The next morning, Reid and Drake are standing over her body in the mortuary as Treves tells them she was found at the bottom of the stairs. He reports she was filthy when she came in, and the child is missing. Treves has no idea who she is and she had no identifying marks, except for one: the woman has a tail. Yeah, that’s pretty unusual.
Ahh, Best is back. I had almost forgotten about him. He fits a fake ear over the hole in his head where he lost his, then calls a photographer so they can attend Linklater’s funeral.
As Shine throws dirt on the coffin, Best chats with his photographer about the mystery surrounding Linklater’s death. He says there are rumours that Reid had a hand in it, as Reid himself shows up and inspects the missing ear. Best tells him that such an injury humbles a man. I doubt that, at least in Best’s case. Drake takes his turn paying his respects, and Shine stupidly baits him. Drake refuses to rise to it, instead just saying that Linklater was his friend. Shine says he can’t believe, then, that Drake would remain at the side of the man accused of his murder. Oh, Shine, give it a rest! Drake warns Shine to be careful he doesn’t speak out of turn and calls him a disgrace to badge and uniform. Shine grabs him by the lapels, so Reid steps forward and breaks it up. Shine can’t resist having the last word, telling Drake he’s happy to see he’s not grown soft. He calls after Reid and Drake that they’ll have Treves’s testimony on Linklater’s cause of death soon enough, and then Reid will be finished. Best can’t write fast enough.
Jackson’s finished examining the victim. Typical stair fall injuries, though they do indicate that she held the child as she fell, instead of dropping him and breaking her own fall. Jackson says he thinks she’s beautiful, and though she was ragged at the hospital, she was once well cared for. Her clothes, though tatty, are made from nice fabric and she used zinc oxide on her skin to keep it fair. That doesn’t explain her horrible teeth, though. They check out the tail and Reid wonders if she was once with a freakshow that’s been run off the street and now hides out under the railway arches.
Reid and the others head upstairs and run into Abberline, who introduces Reid to the reinforcement he asked for: a very young looking man. Reid objects, because after the Hobbes disaster, he doesn’t want any more youngsters about, but Abberline tells him to suck it up, because this guy, Flyte, comes cheap. Free, in fact, by the sound of it. Flynn steps forward and tells Reid that this is an honour and he won’t let him down. Reid says they’ll see about that. He tries to leave but Abberline asks about this ruckus he heard about at the funeral. He warns Reid to make sure Drake keeps his temper in check, especially because Shine’s the man’s superior. He also warns Reid about how much trouble he’s in, for making accusations against Shine without evidence.
Susan’s meeting with her landlord to pay him off. He’s happy to see she didn’t have trouble coming up with the cash, which is a sure sign he’ll be putting his hand out again before long. He puts a hand on her leg and warns her that he can have her out on the street if he chooses. Susan asks if they’re done and leaves in a huff.
The freak show is…freaky indeed. Reid and the boys stop by one stand, where a bearded lady is acting out The Tempest and actually using a hot poker on the man playing Caliban. He barely even flinches when the poker sizzles his skin. The policemen intervene, shutting down the show and telling them about the new body in the dead room. The bearded lady recognizes the description of the body as belonging to one Stella Brooks, and Caliban pulls of his wig and groans.
They join Caliban at his tent, where he gets dressed, jerks oddly, ad says he hasn’t seen Stella for about seven months, though he’s been looking for her. Seems we’ve found the father of her child. Reid asks if she was his lover, and he seems overcome by pain for a moment. He clutches his head, and Jackson goes to give him something, but he freaks out, punches Jackson, says nothing can help him, and takes off. He gets away and they ask the Bearded Lady if he was with the troupe the night before. He was. Also, his freak show gift is being impervious to pain. Well, that can be a blessing and a curse, I guess. Stella used to be with the show as well, and she was friends with Merrick, the Elephant Man.
Merrick sees a picture of Shine in the newspaper and decides to go see Treves and tell him that he saw Shine kill Linklater.
By unhappy coincidence, Shine’s at the hospital having a word with Treves, asking him to tell what he saw when he came into Linklater’s room and saw Reid there. Treves refuses to say. Shine keeps pushing, insisting that Reid’s a brute who sanctions all sorts of horrible punishments at Leman Street. Merrick comes in and tries to tell Treves that he knows something important, but then he spots Shine and gets terrified and backs away, apologizing for the disturbance.
Merrick returns to his room, where he’s soon joined by Shine. Terrified, Merrick falls back on his bed, and begins to panic, because if he lies flat, he can suffocate. He flails like a landed fish for a moment, begging for help, and Shine pulls him up into a sitting position. He comments that life really sucks for everyone, though I think Merrick has a better right to claim a crappy life than many other people. Shine mentions the night Linklater died and Merrick immediately says he must be confused about what he saw. Shine tells Merrick not to forget how easily Shine can just swing by and terrorise him.
The boys return to Leman and raze Flyte for a bit, then tell him to track down Caliban, whose real name is John Good.
Reid goes to the hospital to talk to Merrick, who insists he’s unwell and starts frantically ringing a bell for aid. Treves arrives and yells at Reid for bringing his Leman Street interrogation techniques to the hospital, while Reid’s face is basically all, what the hell? He obligingly leaves.
The boys meet at the pub and check out the books Good had in his tent. They’re all about inherited disorders and eugenics. Great bedside reading! They’re joined by Flyte, who delivers a dossier on Good, who’s got a record for drunken brawling. And seven months ago, he got into trouble for fighting with Stella Brooks. The others guess she told Good she was pregnant and he didn’t take it well. Flyte volunteers to retrace Good’s steps and try and get a better understanding of him. Reid orders Drake to go along with him. Jackson sighs that Flyte isn’t Hobbes. Well, that might ultimately be a good thing. Maybe this one will live out the season. Reid tries to score some company for the night, but Jackson’s got dinner with the wife. Looks like Reid’s stag again. Poor guy.
At what appears to be a natural history museum, someone named Dr Corcoran is giving a talk about inherited characteristics. Actually, his thesis is that certain characteristics can be eradicated, mostly through selective breeding and plain old harsh training. While he’s talking, Good attempts to break into his office, but is spotted by a guard, who tries to chase him. Again, Good escapes.
Flyte and Drake arrive at one of Good’s unsavoury hangouts and start searching for him. No luck, though Flyte’s persistence does manage to piss off one of the patrons and essentially starts a riot. This despite Drake’s warning not to piss anyone off. So much for the first day of work.
Good’s back at the freak show, jerking about nervously.
Drake takes Flyte to have his light head wound tended by his wife. Bella’s a sweetie, and Drake, unsurprisingly, is fairly territorial. Flyte’s super polite and determined to continue his search for Good.
Jackson and Susan are having dinner, and Jackson’s still talking up the notion of the two of them getting away, so I guess that wasn’t just a one-off suggestion from him. She tells him that they’re not quite as flush as he thinks, because along with income, there are bills. He asks her to tell him the situation, and she gets annoyed and reminds him that for three years he didn’t ask a word about the business. He demands to know now and she tells him that Duggan basically owns everything. He gets seriously pissed off and calls her reckless and irresponsible. He says he had a right to know and she says he had no rights, and that she did what she had to do, considering they were destitute and weren’t exactly considered sound business investments by most people.
Oh, what a surprise, Shine’s a customer of Duggan’s (Duggan also appears to be a barber). One of Shine’s detectives arrives for his orders and Shine sets him to a surveillance job on Merrick.
Speaking of, Merrick returns to his room and finds Reid waiting for him. Reid reassures him he means no harm and only wants to learn more about Stella. Merrick bursts into tears and says he last saw her just after she left Good. He says that Stella could not forgive Good for the rage he felt at the child she bore. She mentioned that she planned to go to John’s father, but Merrick doesn’t know what the man’s name is. Reid gently tells him that his help in this matter has been invaluable.
Reid’s next stop is at Susan’s, where the two are still fighting, even though an entire night has passed. Guess they subscribe to the ‘don’t go to bed mad’ rule, though that would probably have left them both chronically sleep deprived for the last few years. Susan spitefully tells Reid that Jackson wants to up stakes, which does not meet with any support from Reid. In fact, it’s met with the silent treatment, as the men walk through the streets, heading for Leman. Reid finally breaks the silence by saying they have to find out why Good, apparently from a well to do family, was finding solace in a freak show. Well, you saw the guy, Reid, clearly there’s something not quite right about him. He urges Jackson to try and figure out what was wrong with the man.
Inside, Reid scolds Flyte for causing that riot and tells him to trust Drake to know what’s best for him. Flyte says ok, then produces a paper stating that Good’s had two spells at the Lark House Asylum. Oh, great. And guess who his doctor was? That’s right, Crazy Crabbe.
Reid and Drake go see the man, who’s now incarcerated in a cell instead of giving innocent young women lobotomies. He welcomes them, apparently hears the whole story, and claims to know nothing at all. Drake prepares to deliver an ass-kicking, but Crabbe reminds them that that would be a poor choice, considering the shadow Reid’s currently living under. Reid tells him that an infant boy’s life hangs in the balance. What makes him think that Crabbe, of all people, would care? Naturally, he doesn’t. Instead, he wants to talk about Emily, and how she apparently went completely insane after hearing about Reid’s affair. Really? That’s the explanation for why Emily’s not around anymore? Because going as crazy as this sounds (barely dressed, demanding a drink, acting violent), sounds completely unlike her, even under these circumstances. Reid confesses all, in the hope that Crabbe will give him something usable, and Crabbe finally tells him Good and his brother were both subjected to a harsh physical regime for reasons unknown. All Crabbe knows is that the boys were apparently sick with some sort of ‘curse of the blood’ that killed their mother. The brother eventually drowned himself in the Serpentine. And Good will think his baby carries this curse as well.
Merrick, dressed to go out, puts a sack over his head and leaves his room.
Reid takes the information to Jackson, who diagnoses Huntington’s. He says that any child of a parent with the disease who goes through life without ever showing symptoms will break the thread of inheritance. Reid guesses this explains the harsh regime: the father was trying to train the disease out of his sons. Drake wonders what such a man would have made of Stella’s tail and Reid surmises he didn’t catch sight of it, for a while. And he did, he kicked her out, and then started to wonder about the baby and went to reclaim it.
Good wanders around the museum, hiding as the place is shut down for the night and Corcoran goes to his office.
Merrick limps through the hospital, and is noticed by Shine’s flunky.
Flyte gathers the names of the men who drowned in the Serpentine the year of Good’s brother’s death and Reid recognizes the name Corcoran as also belonging to the doctor at the museum. The boys head out to confront him.
Corcoran, in his office, takes the baby out of a drawer (!!!) and starts making notes in a ledger.
Merrick limps through the streets and is almost immediately mocked and stared at by children and then a massive crowd of people. He begins to gasp in fear, and then someone snatches his mask off and they all begin to laugh at him, because these people are horrible. Flyte comes rushing out of nowhere and shames them all, then helps Merrick to his feet and asks what’s brought him there. Merrick asks to speak with Reid. Flyte tells him Reid’s out, but he can deliver Merrick to him. Fluky looks on from a nearby doorway.
Corcoran goes to collect some instruments and returns to find his son cradling the baby. Good asks if the baby’s ok and Corcoran says he will be, once they subject him to the same horrific regime as Good and his brother. Corcoran says he has hope for this kid, though it seems he considers Good himself to be a lost cause. Good asks what happened with Stella, and Corcoran says she really should have had that tail removed. Good thinks that’s something to be admired, because she felt no shame for what she was. Corcoran says she didn’t understand what was best for the child and wouldn’t hand him over. Good tells his dad the baby would be better off dead than living with either his father or grandfather. Corcoran tries to stop him, chasing him through the museum, as Reid and Drake arrive and race up the stairs. They find father and son in the main exhibit room, Corcoran on the floor and Good several stories up, standing at the edge of a balcony, ready to jump, with the baby in his arms. Reid and Drake beg him to reconsider, reminding him that the baby could be perfectly healthy. He’s about to step off anyway, and then Merrick shows up and shouts for him to wait and to trust Reid. Merrick somehow manages to climb up all the stairs to the man and asks what he thinks Stella would want. Good says the baby has a monster in him, just as Good does. Merrick urges Good to look at him. ‘Am I not monstrous?’ he asks, going on to say that it’s a constant curse to him, and yet, he’s able to feel joy. He’s never had sex, though, and he imagines it must be awesome. Would Good deny his son that joy, someday? Well, that’s an unusual tactic: don’t kill your child, he’ll get laid someday! But it’s effective. Good steps down, and Reid, Drake, and Flyte all breathe a sigh of relief. Merrick gets to hold the baby for a little and it’s adorable.
With things calmed down, Reid thanks Merrick for his help. Merrick tells Reid he knows he’s a good man, and he has something important to tell him. Flunky is still hanging around, apparently unnoticed by everyone, so he overhears when Merrick says he saw Shine kill Linklater. Reid tells Flyte to take Merrick back to his rooms at the hospital and make sure nobody goes into his room aside from Reid. He and Drake go to fetch Abberline to hear Merrick’s statement.
At the hospital, Merrick’s asleep in bed. Flyte sits down just outside his room, and considering he got little sleep the night before and has been going strong all day, it’s not surprising he too nods off before long, so there’s nobody to stop Shine from stealing into Merrick’s rooms, taking the bell out of his reach, and waking him so he can terrorise him a bit before slowly removing the pillows propping him up. Poor Merrick begs him not to do this, and Shine thoughtfully says everyone will just assume Merrick wanted to lie down and rest, and oops! he suffocated himself. Merrick’s breathing swiftly becomes more laboured. He gasps a few more times, and then he’s still. What the hell is taking Reid and Abberline so long? Shine leaves.
Reid, Drake, and Abberline finally show up, only to hear what happened. Flyte’s standing at Merrick’s door, looking sad. Treves is sitting by the bed, looking sadder. The men all remove their hats. Sure enough, Treves assumes Merrick just laid back too far. Reid and Drake look both sad and pissed off.
Abberline calls Reid and Shine to the pub and tell them that Treves’s official ruling on Linklater’s death is that the man succumbed to his injuries. Neither of them are happy to accept that, but Abberline tells them this is now over. Reid is cleared and is now to stop going after Shine, because both men are too valuable to the preservation of peace in the East End for him to lose either one. He orders them to shake hands, and they do, reluctantly. I’m guessing this isn’t over, though.