Ripper Street’s second season was one of the most unusual seasons we’ve ever experienced and not from a narrative perspective.
The show premiered in the U.K. in the fall of last year and despite critical praise, the series’ ratings just weren’t there. The result was BBC One cancelling the series before its February 2014 American premiere on BBC America. So, the show arrived in America, pretty much DOA. Yet, the cancellation lead to a sizable, grass roots Internet rallying of the troops and with enough support, Season 3, was given the green light on Amazon Prime.
Ripper Street is an excellent series and one hopes that it’ll flourish on its new VOD home. Regardless of its future home, the historical crime drama delivered the goods week in and week out and now we dissect the Second Series.
The Best Performance: Jerome Flynn as Sgt. Bennett Drake. Mainstream American audiences will recognize Flynn as the wisecracking sword-for-hire Bronn on HBO’s Game of Thrones. He’s awesome in his limited role on the show, providing plenty of dry comic relief and playing a great sidekick/foil to Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister. GoT fans will be quite surprised when they see Flynn on Ripper Street. All jokes and sarcasm are gone because Flynn’s Bennett Drake is truly the emotional core of this series. A tough bastard with a heart of gold, the fists first sergeant was given a lot emotional meat to chew on. Flynn quietly ripped through episodes where his character rendered himself near mute from the pain and guilt he saddled upon himself by his new wife’s death. With no words, Flynn used his soulful eyes to scream to the highest of heavens of the pain he felt. No wonder Flynn was nominated for BAFTA this role and rightfully so, as he absolutely steals the show every time he’s onscreen.
The Best Cameo: UK comedian Paul Kaye’s appearance as cult leader Benjamin Cain in ‘A Stronger Loving World.’ While there were a slew of great cameos and guest stars this series, Paul Kaye was hands down the best. Kaye was the driving force of the episode, proving to be an excellent “big bad.” He’s wonderfully eloquent and has the seductive aura about him, as if you want to believe everything he says. You know, like any good cult leader. It’s a shame he wasn’t developed into a series villain.
The Best Episode: The second episode, “Am I Not Monstrous?“ This was an amazing chapter in the second of Ripper Street. The Elephant Man, eugenics, freak shows, a new cast member and a continuing conspiracy filled up the sophomore episode. At first glance this might seem like an absurd and cluttered premise, but the execution of all of these disparate story lines is near flawless. If put in lesser hands this episode would’ve been an absolute mess. Yet, the direction of Tom Shankland steers the episode through treacherous waters of excess, melodrama and over-complication. He tells this story in a straightforward way, no frills, just the facts. That’s what’s so good about Ripper Street, it reflects the nature of it’s characters…it’s striving for a conclusion, a resolution to the case at hand. There’s no gaga, no side stories that derail an episode. The episode also does something quite unique — it allows for its suspects to have great acting moments. It allowed Joseph Drake to really hit it out of the park Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man. Drake takes what could be a complete cartoon of a character (due to the heavy prosthetics) and makes his so sympathetic, so heartbreaking.
Thoughts on the Finale: While we’ve heaped mountains of praise on Ripper Street, we’d be disingenuous if we didn’t admit to our disappointment with the two-part finale. “Our Betrayal – Part One” was an overly somber, crowded and chaotic episode — very uncharacteristic of this show. It introduced a new character at the wrong time and it brought back the series’ “big bad” way too late in the game. He had been gone for the majority of the season and then out of nowhere he’s brought back mid-way through the first part of the finale. We needed more build here. Also, the whole “Flight’s a mole” plot was poorly executed. It was a shock at first, but by the finale’s end, it had devolved into an afterthought and took a character built up all season and just kinda let it fade away. The whole Drake/Rose storyline, by the second half of the finale just became grating, as the Rose character became completely one-note. The series also pulled the trigger on Long Susan’s “emancipation” from the men in her life…again too little, too late. After “Become Man” we were stoked that this character was going to be a major player in the series but for the most part she her character came off as equally one-note as Rose. When we get to her big moment at the end, it really was a bit toothless.
Now, the actual ending sequence was awesome. The revenge plot exacted on Dugan, was brilliantly executed, very caper/film noir-esque. The boxing sequence where Drake snaps out of his depression and takes his anger out on Shine was brutally exciting. However, it was Matthew MacFayden who owned the sequence as we see his character completely freak out, demanding that Drake kill Shine, the man he can’t arrest. This was a jarring moment. Reid’s been so buttoned down and composted, to see him fall apart was intense. Then the moment kinda got ruined when Jane Cobden comes in and sees him snap and huffs out. The whole Cobden/Reid storyline was a bit stilted and to have that be the ending, just didn’t do it for me.
The Final Thoughts: Series 2 of Ripper Street was an 80/20 blend of excellent and mediocre (with 80 representing excellent). It was a well-acted, expertly directed and brilliantly written series. Its ability to take obscure and not-so obscure historical events, trends and norms and apply them to a procedural crime drama, was so amazing. Matthew MacFayden and Jerome Flynn delivered top-notch performances and the regular supporting cast and army of special guests bolstered each episode. Despite its missteps, which in the long-run were slight, Ripper Street is a total binge-worthy series for all you insatiable anglophiles, history buffs and lovers of whodunits.