Previously on Ripper Street: Reid got his job back (well, he got a job on the police force, at least) on the understanding he’d be working under Drake and would leave the Bloom case behind. Isaac Bloom was hanged, and Susan was fake hanged before being secretly rescued by Jackson, who also handed their kid over to Rose and Drake to raise until such a time as he and Susan see fit to kidnap him back.
Reid’s getting ready for his first day back at work, but he’s stalling by accompanying Mathilda on some census-type research she’s doing. She goes into one building and unexpectedly finds a young boy dying in there. She summons her father, who rushes in just in time to hear the boy’s name (Tommy) and to really sweetly comfort the child as he expires. It’s a grim glimpse of the types of skills he’s had to acquire in this job.
So Reid shows up for his first day of work with a body, even though there’s no outward signs of murderous trauma about the boy (he does show signs of neglect, however). Reid knows he’s from the workhouse because of some iodine around his scalp, so he sends Drummond to learn more. His spidey senses are going crazy, but before he can investigate, he needs to get re-sworn in and handed a case so dull he solves it in, literally, under a minute. Drake, meanwhile, gets the more exciting task of sussing out the person who brutally murdered a Salvation Army captain.
Speaking of captains, Jackson is enjoying a bit of a second honeymoon with Susan, whom he’s stashed at Croker’s. She pauses the sex train long enough to miss their kid for about three minutes, then climbs right back on board. (The kid, Connor, is being your typical bratty toddler over at Rose’s and Drake’s, and Rose is seriously stressed out about it. Oh, honey, you’re doing fine! My kid won’t eat for me some days either, and he’s actually my kid!)
Before he leaves for work, Jackson warns Susan not to show herself to anyone but Croker. Guess how long that lasts? Yeah, not long. Croker has some business associate over later that evening, and when Susan accidentally makes her presence known, she inserts herself into the matter at hand by revealing she recognises the man as an insurance scammer. She threatens to go to her pals at Lloyd’s with his whereabouts if he doesn’t 1) give Croker his business, at double the price, and 2)pay her for her silence. Look who’s getting her mojo back! Perhaps not wise, though, Susan!
Speaking of mojos, Reid’s seriously working his. The boy’s mother shows up and is shown the body. She weeps and says she wanted to keep him, but she couldn’t afford it and put him in the workhouse to keep him safe. Obviously–and tragically–that did not work out.
Reid finds out which workhouse the kid belongs to and pays a visit. The man in charge, Wilde, shrugs that the boy ran away, and then tells him all about how he’s running a super progressive institution, where the children are taught and given useful tasks and training so they can actually be productive members of society when they leave. Reid notes one building being sanitised and Wild explains that’s the casual ward, where vagrants who only want a bed for the night stay.
Reid can’t prove there’s anything off at the workhouse, beyond a gut feeling, which isn’t nearly enough anymore. He does, however, find out from Wilde that Tommy’s mother is dead.
Back at the station, Reid asks Drummond where Tommy’s alleged mother went. Drummond says she took off, but she conveniently left behind a purse with just enough clues in it to indicate she was a performer. Reid takes these things to Rose, who’s still struggling with little Connor. Fortunately, there’s only one theatre in all of London, so Rose totally knows who the woman is: she’s named Leda, and she now sings at a pub.
Reid goes to the pub and, once Leda finishes up her sad set, he gently asks why she identified the boy in his morgue as her son, when he clearly wasn’t. She explains that she was weeping for her son, who wasn’t that kid, but might as well be. She took him to the workhouse (this episode wants us to believe there’s only one workhouse in Victorian London as well) but he’s since disappeared. There’s something about her that seems…scattered. Reid gets all intense and suggests they go to the workhouse and find her missing kid. This should work out well, don’t you think?
Off they go, and Leda immediately proves to be a highly unreliable person. First, she can’t remember her own son’s name. Then, she starts basically identifying every boy as her son. Wilde finds her and Reid and exasperatedly explains that this woman comes by all the time, begging for news of her son, but her son has never been at that workhouse.
Reid takes her back to the station and has Jackson look her over. Jackson diagnoses pretty advanced syphilis, which is already in her brain, which means the only place she can really go at this point is an asylum. Reid’s sad to hear that, and since this is kicking off memories of his wife, who went mad, let’s not forget, he takes her home for the night.
A suspect is brought in on the Salvation Army murder, a total nutjob called Redskin Jake. He’s the leader of a band that calls itself the Skeleton Army, and they hate the Salvation Army because they think the Salvations look down on them, or something along those lines. At no point is murder of any sort, let alone this vicious, justified. While Drake’s questioning Jake, Reid hears that Jake used to be at the workhouse and slips Drake a note, urging him to ask about Tommy. Drake does not, and later that night he visits Reid and warns him about getting too personally involved in the cases. Like he should talk. He married the victim of two of season one’s cases!
In the middle of the night, Leda wakes up, more lucid than she has been, and hurriedly tells Reid that her son told her that two of his friends disappeared, and he was afraid he might be next. And you didn’t remove him from the workhouse at that point, Leda? I know you weren’t in a financial position to keep him, but there must have been other workhouses in London.
At the station, Reid asks for an autopsy on Tommy. Jackson finds the kid’s insides were in severely bad shape, and there are a number of possible causes, including massive ingestion of iron, illness, and poison. Jackson also found, during his autopsy of the Salvation Army captain, definitive proof that Jake’s guilty, so Reid and Drake go off to double-team him. Over the course of their questioning, they learn that the casual ward at the workhouse isn’t used at all anymore. Wilde has been paying the Salvations a penny a head to take the vagrants off his hands, because it’s cheaper to do that then to feed and house them. Reid figures the man’s seriously managing his costs, so he, Drake, and Drake’s new partner, Thatcher, head over there to poke around.
Their search yields little, to Reid’s frustration. He and Drake check out the casual ward, but aside from a low ceiling, there doesn’t seem to be anything amiss. Nor is there anything terribly fishy in the infirmary. Reid returns to Wilde’s office and starts checking out the books, realising that all of Wilde’s grand plans for these kids must cost a pretty penny. That money has to come from somewhere, and he figures Wilde’s slashing expenditure in the place it’s highest: the infirmary. The sickly kids are a drain.
He turns to the ledgers where all the kids are listed and finds Leda’s boy. Now things are getting really serious. Also, Thatcher shows up with a crate of iron pills, reporting there’s an entire cupboard of these things. Tommy died from having so much iron in his system it basically ate away his intestines. Reid figures Wilde was burying the boys on the premises, to avoid anyone asking questions, and both he and Drake get ‘Ooooohhhhhh’ looks on their faces. The casual ward’s ceiling wasn’t too low: it was the floor that was too high.
They all rush over there, dragging Wilde along with them, and dig up some of the floorboards, revealing a grim graveyard of young boys underneath. Wilde tries to explain himself, saying that all of these boys were basically useless to the world: Leda’s child had syphilis; another one had rickets. Basically, he was running a sort of homemade eugenics programme here, only churning out the best and the brightest. He, of course, sees what he did as a mercy, but for heaven’s sake, man, that sounds like an absolutely horrendous death! Not that mercifully killing children is ok either!
They have their man. Leda has her closure. Edmund Reid is back, people! And he’s probably not letting the Bloom case go, because Miss Costello is already pushing him to keep looking into it. And we all know that Reid’s like a dog with a bone with these things anyway.
The episode ends with Jackson running into Rose and Connor at the market and, unable to help himself, being super cute with his kid. Rose invites him back to the house for a visit, and tells him he can come by when he likes, as long as Drake doesn’t know. Why can’t Drake know that Jackson’s seeing his own child? I don’t really get why it has to be such a complete break, but I guess they’ve got something worked out. None of this should be confusing or upsetting to this already confused and upset two-year-old at all.