Ripper Street: Smut

Man, it never stops with the period shows over here. Downton Abbey, Hunderby, The Paradise, A Young Doctor’s Notebook, Downton again, and now, Ripper Street. Let’s see how the newbie measures up, shall we?

Gritty Victorian London. A guy leads a Ripper-themed tour through Whitechapel. Wow, those grisly tours are a lot older than I thought they were. Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, a bare-knuckle boxing match is underway, observed by Matthew Macfadyen.

The tour makes its way through a narrow alleyway, where the well-dressed attendees are eyed by the drunks and prostitutes.

Back at the fight, the organiser (presumably) asks Matthew—whose name in this show is Reid—where he found one of the fighters. ‘Around,’ is pretty much the answer.

The tour is still going on, and getting an unexpected bonus: the body of a freshly killed prostitute. It’s 1889, about six months after Jack the Ripper stalked the streets, and tensions are high. The tour guide screams bloody murder, almost literally.

A young policeman shows up at the warehouse where the fight’s being held and tells the police gathered outside that he needs to talk to Reid. Another copper tells him he can’t go in in uniform or everyone else will know Reid’s a policeman (a detective inspector, actually). The kid pulls off his jacket and helmet and runs inside.

Reid’s fighter has won his bout. The young cop accidentally bumps into the organiser while he’s looking for Reid, and the organiser almost cuts the poor kid’s throat, but Reid intervenes and hears there’s a dead tart on the street who’s been ‘ripped.’

Cue the credits that owe a lot, stylistically and musically, to the new Sherlock Holmes movies.

Reid, young cop, and the fighter are all in a carriage heading to the crime scene. The fighter’s a copper too—Det. Sgt. Drake. Reid tells everyone to expect the press and some angry people at the crime scene, because there are still some sore feelings over the police’s inability to find Jack.

Indeed, it’s quite a crowd the police are holding back at the crime scene, and one person they’ve failed to keep out is a photographer, who Reid finds taking pictures of the corpse when he arrives. Reid asks the man if he moved or touched anything (no) and then tells him to take some crime scene photos while he’s at it (he’s there to take pictures for a newspaper, apparently). Drake—holy crap, that’s the guy who plays Bronn on Game of Thrones! Automatic bonus awesome points!—joins Reid and notices a message written on the wall: Down on Whores, a phrase that appeared in the ‘Dear Boss’ letter allegedly written by Jack himself. Photog starts snapping away and Reid gives him some more instructions before gathering up the body in his arms and carrying her away.

He’s met at the end of the alley by a police cart. An obnoxious newspaperman amusingly named Best shouts questions, wondering if Jack’s back, baby, and he finally manages to provoke Reid into actual physical assault. Once he’s done with Best, Reid tells Drake to lock the body in a cell and don’t tell anyone it’s there. While Drake does that, Reid goes off to see ‘the American.’

The American—Jackson—is passing the time at a whorehouse with a pretty tart named Rose. He’s watched through a peephole by the madam—Susan—whose Peeping Tom activities are interrupted by Reid’s noisy arrival. Susan wearily tells him he can’t just come busting in whenever he wants. I think he can, Susan. So does Reid, as he reminds her the place is only allowed to stay open at his whim. He asks where Jackson is and she directs him to the right room. Reid hammers on the door and Jackson resurfaces from underneath Rose’s skirt. He shouts back that he’ll see Reid in the morning, but Reid says he needs him now, because he has need of a surgeon. Jackson agrees.

The two men make their way to the police station, which is busy with drunks and whores of all stripe. They stop at a bulletin board with ‘Ripper’ written on it featuring photos of the victims and other bits of evidence. Reid takes down the photos and shows Jackson to the cell where the latest body is being kept. Jackson asks what all the cloak-and-dagger’s about and Reid says he wants to be sure this is another Ripper victim before they let word get out and start a panic. Jackson gets to work, asking Drake to undress the woman.

Once she’s stripped, they take in her injuries and note their similarities to other Ripper victims. Jackson also finds a bit of gelatin on her thigh. He sends Reid out to do his job while he gets started on the autopsy. On his way out, the desk sergeant asks Reid if there’s an ‘unregistered female’ on the premises. Reid says there are plenty of those about and hastens away.

He goes to the Photog’s office (and how he knew where that was is a mystery), where he finds Photog developing the pictures. It took me forever, but I finally figured out this man’s name is Creighton, and the actor’s familiar to me because he also plays Machiavelli on The Borgias. The 30 British Actors rule strikes again. Reid checks out the photos he’s already developed and dips his finger into a plate of something, studying it curiously. Creighton takes a photograph out of its bath and hands it over (still wet? Isn’t that bad for the picture?) to Reid, who notes the body was dragged through the nearby archway. He puts the picture down and sees some undeveloped plates. Creighton clearly lies that he overexposed them, but Reid tells him to hand them over anyway. While he develops them, Reid makes it clear he knows the guy’s a liar and warns him not to jerk him around. The picture comes out and reveals the wall with the graffiti written on it mysteriously graffiti free. Reid asks who painted the graffiti up there and Creighton says it was Best.

Best’s office is decorated with pages from the newspaper detailing the Ripper’s crimes and accusing at least one person of being the Ripper in nice, big letters. I’m sure that poor guy didn’t have any troubles at all after that. Reid waits for Best to arrive, and when Best does, he launches himself on him, reminding him what a little turd he is. Best feebly tries to defend himself and Reid tosses him aside and asks him what else he screwed around with at the crime scene. Best says he didn’t change anything else, because everything else made it clear that Jack’s back, and even Inspector Abberline agrees with him on that. Has Abberline even seen the victim or the crime scene? How would he make a determination like that just based on what Best had to say? Reid threatens to kick Best’s ass in a big way if he catches him stirring up panic before they’ve got all the facts. Best is not cowed and shouts after a departing Reid that he knows what is, apparently, a dirty little secret of Reid’s. He says he’ll be running with the story on Friday, unless Reid has proof this wasn’t the Ripper.

Reid goes back to Leman Street, where the police station is, and finds Abberline waiting for him, none too pleased. Abberline demands to see the body and Reid takes him downstairs, where it seems Jackson’s just finished the autopsy. Abberline takes a look at her and yells at Reid for not calling him, when the Ripper is his case. Reid says he’s not sure this is the Ripper at all and goes on to accuse Abberline of wanting this to be a Ripper case so he’ll have another chance to set that right. Jackson comes back in and tells them that the woman’s innards were all intact, which is not the Ripper’s MO. Reid adds that the woman was clearly kept somewhere for a while and then transported to the crime scene, which is curiously blood-free. Jackson says that the throat was slashed post-mortem and the woman actually died of asphyxia from strangulation. Abberline tells Reid to find proof that this isn’t Ripper, or he’ll pull rank and claim her.

He swirls out and the boys get back to work. Jackson tells them the woman had recently had sex, but he doesn’t think she was a pro. He thinks she was a suburban wife who taught fiddle. His proof: soot in her hair, from the underground railway, a moon-like impression in her clavicle, and fingers puckered by strings. Welcome to CSI: Whitechapel!

Based on that info, they send word to the ‘burbs to notify them of any missing violinists. To speed up the process, they awkwardly try to use the new telegraph. Progress! That poor young cop’s trying to operate it, but with Reid breathing down his neck, it’s slow going. Drake suggests Reid take off and let the kid get on with it, and Reid agrees to go home and change. On his way out, he asks Jackson if that gelatin he found on her leg might actually be a photographic solution.

Reid’s wife, Emily, returns home from church and finds her husband changing his shirt. As he takes his shirt off, we see that one shoulder is horribly scarred from burns. He admits that he has a particular reason to go back to work that day and she realizes that means the Ripper may be back out. She gets really upset, so upset she can’t even look or speak to him, so clearly there’s something more happening there.

Young Copper gets a message through the telegraph and sends a runner to Reid that Finchley’s missing a violinist.

Reid and Drake make their way down a leafy suburban street, talking about the underground being the way of the future, etc. I do hate this convention of costume dramas to talk about recent inventions this way. We get it, things were changing. They arrive at the right house and knock on the door. They hear a struggle inside and make their way in, only to find the man of the house strangling from a noose. Reid lunges for him while Drake dashes after someone escaping through the window and jumping into a grand carriage with giant glass windows and a posh guy inside who makes a point of leaning way over to watch the spectacle as they drive away. Way to give them a good view of the perpetrator, jackass. Reid yells that he can’t hold the guy for long, so Drake abandons the chase and cuts the poor man down.

Jackson’s back at the whorehouse, where it seems he lives, having a contemplative smoke. He’s joined by Susan, who asks if she needs to start frisking the customers for knives again. He tells her no and then shows her some nudie pictures and asks if any of the girls have been getting their picture taken lately. Instead of answering, she tells him that Reid could be a real problem for them and he really needs to cut ties, but Jackson reminds her that cutting ties with the guy who could shut them down is a rather poor idea. He also reminds her that coming to where they are was her idea, because things were chaotic and they could hide out, but they’re not really hiding out anymore and they need good friends in the right places. Susan poutily goes to fetch Rose, who, of course, is the one who’s been spending time with photographers lately. Jackson asks her to show him where she had the pictures done.

Reid and Drake are sitting down with the victim’s husband—Thwaites—who looks surprisingly lively for a man who was almost killed recently. Reid asks if Thwaites knew the men who attacked him. Instead of answering, he asks if they’re here about Maude, his missing wife. Reid gently tells him he’ll have to prepare himself.

We next catch up with them at the police station, where Reid is getting ready to show Thwaites the body. Thwaites identifies her readily and Reid looks sad.

Rose shows Jackson a studio where girls are being posed for all sorts of smutty pictures—Queen of Sheba, Little Bo Peep, Boudicca. The guy running the place finds them and Rose tells him it’s cool, Jackson’s with her. Jackson casually asks if business is good, like business is ever bad in the porn industry. The pair wander outside, to a set out back that Rose has never been to before. There, Jackson finds, amongst some very anachronistically shredded paper, a picture of two people actually having sex. He pockets it. What? I’m sure it’s evidence! There’s a shot of a very boxy camera set up outside as Jackson and Rose go back in.

At a pub called the Brown Bear, Drake and Reid discuss the case and how little they have to go on thus far. Fortunately, Jackson shows up (Drake doesn’t seem too happy about that) and shows them the picture he found, which disgusts Drake. Jackson tells them the future of smut will be the act itself. Reid’s shocked to hear that Maude Thwaites would be caught up in such a thing, but it all adds up.

The boys call Thwaites in for questioning, and after some reluctance and lying, he tearfully tells them he met Maude in Whitechapel, where he was with his church group. He fell in love with her, and before they married she admitted to having occasionally fallen to prostitution to keep a roof over her head. He wanted to save her and transported her out to the suburbs, but then he lost his job and they couldn’t pay the bills, so she went back to her old profession. Drake plays bad cop and demands to know who she was with and where she went but Thwaite claims not to know. They threaten him and he tells them pain will do them no good, because he wishes he was dead anyway.

Outside the interrogation room, the guys debrief and Reid decides this isn’t a Ripper case. Drake wonders if the husband did it in a sort of shame-induced rage, but Reid doubts it. He decides to go back to the boxing match organizer—Smeaton—and see if he knows anything. Time for Drake to get his ass kicked for a while!

Back they go indeed, and Reid’s got the place stocked with his guys (including that one young cop who keeps showing up), keeping an eye out. While he’s in the ring, Drake notices the toff from the carriage sitting in the audience, calmly drinking straight from a bottle of wine or port. Well, that’s lucky. While he’s distracted, Drake’s felled by a blow from his competitor. Smeaton joyfully counts down and then starts collecting the bets. One he’s got the cash in hand, Reid arrests him while Jackson attends to Drake. Reid notes that Smeaton’s dealing in counterfeit currency on top of everything else he’s got going against him. Drake finally manages to get Reid’s attention and points him to the toff, who hastens out of there. By the time Reid gets outside, the man’s already gone.

Reid and Drake return to lockup, where they’ve got Thwaites…locked up. It seems they want to question him again, but Thwaites has already managed to finish the job toff couldn’t do—he’s slashed himself up with the knife they served with his dinner and he’s now dead. What a terrible jail this is—who serves a grieving prisoner who’s already expressed a wish to be dead food with a sharp knife?

Later, Thwaites’ personal effects are delivered to Reid’s office. Among them is a photo of Maude, and Reid notices the photo has a slight blemish that it shares with the photos from the crime scene, which means they were all taken with the same camera.

Reid, Jackson, and Drake head to Creighton’s studio, where they don’t find him, but they do find some smutty pictures hidden in a trunk with a false bottom. They find some that feature Maude, and one with her and the toff, in which he’s strangling her. Well, now! As they marvel at their find, Creighton discovers them. The boys pull out what appears to be a roll of film and wonder why it’s a bunch of pictures that are all the same. They look, and Creighton lights another roll on fire and pitches it into the trunk, setting the other photos alight before locking them all in. Drake rather hilariously goes to pump some water to put the fire out, but apparently water only makes the fire spread faster. It’s time for the boys to resort to some makeshift chemistry to try and blow the door off. With the help of some phosphorus and flash powder, they succeed, after, of course, failing to light it with the first few matches they pitch. You know, for tension. Like they’re going to kill off the three protagonists in the very first episode.

After their lucky escape, Reid looks at the film roll and tells the guys the images aren’t all the same at all, they’re each minutely different. There’s a Frenchman named Le Prince who’s experimenting with moving pictures. But how would that ever come together with smut? Hmmm. Reid pulls the picture of Maude and the toff out and wonders if, in a moment of ‘grotesque passion’ the guy killed her, and preserved the moment so he could watch it again and again and again.

Looks like he might want another live show, though, because right now the toff’s parked in front of Susan’s place and taking away Rose and Myrtle, one of the other girls. Of all the whorehouses in London, he had to pick this one. I also find it a bit difficult to believe any responsible madam would allow her girls to go out with some guy she didn’t know no matter how well he paid. That’s just asking for trouble. The girls obligingly don blindfolds before getting into the carriage, where they start gorging on Turkish Delight. Creighton’s in there too, keeping quiet and looking tense. The TD’s drugged, right?

Back at the station, Reid’s getting ready to send out the boys in blue to put the pressure on all their snitches to tell them who this toff is. Meanwhile, Abberline shows up, ready to collect his girl. He bursts into the room where Reid’s got all the men gathered, takes a look at the picture of the toff, and immediately IDs him as Sir Arthur Donaldson. Well, that was easy.

Still, the police are dispatched, for some reason. Abberline explains to Reid that Donaldson was caught for a couple of sexual offenses a few years back, but his posh family got him off. He gives Reid the man’s address and tells him to bring the guy in.

Jackson returns to Susan’s and asks where Rose is. She tells him Rose isn’t around. He tells her quietly (presumably so as to avoid alarming the other girls) that he needs to talk to her, because she needs to stop with the smut. Susan accuses him of trying to play both the lover and the daddy, and for some reason he slaps her and accuses her of being jealous. She angrily tells him she wouldn’t let him touch her again for anything. He repeats his request for Rose and she tells him again that Rose isn’t there—she left the night before and hasn’t been returned (apparently Rose and Myrtle are like late DVDs to this woman). What’s really got her annoyed is the fact that the customer paid her in counterfeit bills. She didn’t check that before the girls left? Man, she is a terrible businesswoman.

The mention of the counterfeit bills gets Jackson’s attention and he tells her they’re going to see Reid. She refuses, so he gets ready to get physical again. She threatens to kill him if he lays a hand on her, and he commences the abuse. Nice.

Rose comes to in what appears to be an opium den. She’s confused and disoriented but manages to get up and start heading down the stairs, observed by Arthur. He catches up with her on the stairs and drags her back upstairs.

Reid and Drake arrive at Arthur’s London home, which has clearly been unoccupied for some time.

They return to the station, where Jackson’s waiting with Susan, who clearly gave him hell, judging from the bruises on his face. Good for her. She shows Reid the counterfeit notes and tells him about the girls. Reid and Drake go to have a word with Smeaton.

Back at the opium den, Creighton prepares a very early projector in an unused room. Arthur drags in Rose and forces her to watch what might be the world’s very first snuff film.

Drake’s beating Smeaton’s cooperation out of him. It doesn’t seem to be working.

Rose watches the film in horror as Creighton turns the crank on the projector. Arthur, clearly all turned on by the end of it, suggests they make another. Creighton, who’s horrified by this, tries to make an excuse, saying he needs more light. Arthur shows them a set he’s got constructed out in the back garden. Plenty of light!

Finally, Smeaton talks.

Arthur gives Rose something to calm her down and leads her, drugged, to his crazy set. She feebly tries to fight him off but it’s no use. Creighton turns the crank and tries not to throw up. Reid, Jackson, and Drake close in on the den as Arthur tightens the leash around Rose’s neck. As the police burst into the opium den, one of the addled users tries to attack them with a sword. He’s pretty quickly disarmed while Jackson tends to a drugged-up Myrtle. Reid and Drake open the shutters on the window and see what’s going on out in the garden. They burst out of the house and Drake, in a rage, guts Arthur with a sword. See, he’s always a badass. Looks like they made it in time—Rose is still alive, though not in the best shape. While the police are busy with her, Creighton sets the film alight. Reid looks up and tells him that, whatever comes of all this and however Creighton’s punished, the camera is extraordinary. Reid, I really don’t think this is the time. That thing was almost just used as an accessory to a murder (after having been an actual accessory once before). Creighton starts to weep, and then picks up the camera, tipping it so the flames set him alight. After a moment, he’s dead. Well, ok, then.

Rose is carried back into Susan’s by Drake, all wrapped up in his coat. Susan directs them to what appears to be an exam room in the back. Does Jackson have offices in this place? Rose croaks that she thought she’d be safe there (as opposed to out on the street, with the Ripper operating). Drake gently tells her she is safe now, with just enough tenderness that you know these two are going to be ‘shipped before too long. Jackson comes in and tells Drake he’ll take over from here, so Drake obligingly steps out.

At the pub, Reid examines some of the film as Best and Abberline arrive. Reid hands over a file folder covering the case to Best so he can write a thorough, accurate story. He suggests they stop looking for the Ripper and seeing his hand in every evil deed, because frankly, that’s not doing anyone any good. Best agrees (or pretends to) and Reid tells him to get lost. Abberline tells him that he can’t bear the fact that the Ripper’s still out there, free. Reid reminds him that they did all they could to catch him, and all that’s left for them to do now is to hope he stays gone. He’s not going to let this maniac run his life anymore. We’ll just see about that.

Next week: lynch mob!

Good start; I’m sufficiently intrigued. It’s appropriately gritty, grown-up, and literally pulls no punches. Yes, it relies on some stock characters (the upright policeman, the laid-back American, the thug-with-a-heart-of-gold) and, like many shows of this type, it helps if you don’t apply too much logic to it (why did Arthur choose that particular prostitute from that particular whorehouse? Was that just dumb luck? Along with his connection to Smeaton? And what did he have on Creighton to make him go along with this horror, even though it clearly disgusted the man?). But if you just want to sit back and enjoy the ride and not think too, too hard, it’s a good ‘un. There are definitely worse ways to spend a Sunday evening.