The “Ripper Street” gang is back together, and viewers are all the better for it.
The gorgeous Victorian crime drama’s rich new season almost didn’t happen. Canceled after Season 2, it was revived only by a collaboration between BBC America and Amazon. The third season premieres at 9 p.m. April 29 on BBC America.
As the season begins, it’s 1894 in London’s crime-riddled Whitechapel district—six years since Jack the Ripper’s killing spree brought together Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), Sgt. Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) and American Dr. Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) in the police department’s H Division.
Four years have passed since the friends had a falling out after Reid implored Drake to kill a crooked cop. Disillusioned, Drake left Whitechapel to work for the Manchester police. Jackson stopped doing forensics work for Reid and fell back into his hard-drinking, womanizing ways.
Reid is now a fragile shell of the officer he was. Still haunted by the loss of his wife and daughter, he spends more time in his forensics library than working with his men. His growing isolation has Chief Inspector Fred Abberline (Clive Russell) concerned that the mean streets of Whitechapel have destroyed his friend.
They’re reunited when a head-on train collision kills 55 people steps away from the police station. Jackson’s estranged wife, Long Susan Hart (MyAnna Buring), joins them on Leman Street with the staff of the women’s hospital she opened in tow to tend to the wounded.
The former madam has turned the criminal enterprise she inherited when last we saw her into a legitimate property empire called Obsidian Estates. She’s vowed to never exploit women for profit again, or be any man’s pawn herself. Although her shady solicitor, Ronald Capshaw (John Heffernan), tries his best.
In the past I’ve called “Ripper Street” a forensics procedural dressed up in stylish Victorian clothing. Its detailed exploration of the inventions, entertainments, happenings and working-class people of the time is fascinating.
I’ll never forget its Season 2 depiction of the real-life Joseph Merrick, who was abused as a side-show attraction called the Elephant Man. His quiet dignity hid a loneliness that was made more tragic through the death-by-murder series creator-writer Richard Warlow imagined for him.
With the train disaster this season, tragedy soaks Whitechapel still.
“Whitechapel is nothing for no man,” Drake says. “It’s where good and precious things are broken and hope is made offended.”
While life for the East Enders probably will never be happy, Warlow slips glimmers of hope into his story. Former prostitute Rose Erskine (Charlene McKenna) has become a famous singer. Callous, cynical reporter Fred Best (David Dawson) evolves into a more helpful, caring human being.
Long Susan has created a new life for herself. While her struggle to make it in a man’s world sets much of the season’s drama in motion, she’s clearly a strong, independent woman—an early Suffragette, if you will.
Having risen to detective inspector himself, Bennet is now Reid’s equal in the police ranks. Even Reid has a way out of Whitechapel; he is to be promoted to Chief Inspector, whether he wants to be or not.
“Ripper Street” still delivers wonderful historical details, but Warlow spends a lot more time this season digging deep into his characters’ psyches. What he finds—fears, regrets, doubts—isn’t the stuff of happiness, but it sure makes for highly watchable TV.