It is 1890, East London, England. The Victorian era is coming to an end as the residents, fighting recession, unevenly stumble towards the modern age. England’s role in the world is falling and its government is failing. Jack the Ripper is long gone, but that doesn’t mean the Whitechapel district is safe. Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen, Frost/Nixon), Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn, Game of Thrones), and Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg, The Ex List) are the first line of defense for those who would be victims as Ripper Street releases its second season on Blu-ray and DVD.
Season Two brings all new problems to the Metropolitan Police’s H Division. An all-female gang wants revenge on those that would keep them down. A mad scientist looks for freaks in a circus for his eugenics experience. Corruption infuses the force, especially in the form of Detective Inspector Jedediah Shine (Joseph Mawle, The Tunnel), head of K Division, which is dealing with a rapidly-expanding Chinatown. Bombers escape and cults emerge. It’s not a pretty picture, to be sure, and the eight episodes that make up this run are chock full of interesting cases and dangerous challenges.
This is set against an historical backdrop, with real events playing a part in the stories. I don’t know if its entirely realistic that everything covered in Ripper Street makes it down to such a personal level, but it adds a layer of complexity that the War of Currents, matchgirls strike, Baring crisis, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Elephant Man (Joseph Drake, Doctors), and other bits crop up over the season. It helps to define when and where the show takes place, and maybe teaches some viewers a little bit in the process.
The prostitutes of Long Susan’s (MyAnna Buring, Downton Abbey) are back, too. One, Bella (Gillian Saker, Misfits), has married Drake. Another, Rose (Charlene McKenna, Raw) has traded hooking for waitressing, trying to improve her standing. And Long Susan herself is deep in debt to a ruthless man, Silas Duggan (Frank Harper, This is England). So the whore house is undergoing a bit of a shakeup.
Thankfully, Ripper Street is not a simple formulaic case-of-the-week, with all of the above plus aspects of the detectives’ lives that aren’t completely concerned with work explored, too. Reid’s wife, Emily (Amanda Hale, The Crimson Petal and the White), has left him after the events of last year, and there are plenty of lingering emotional threads to be tugged on. Reid is the leading man of the piece, and this part of him lends layers to his role as he goes through being accused of crimes and trying to stay out of the muck.
Visually, Ripper Street is quite interesting, so I do recommend viewing it in HD. The color palette may not be wholly realistic, but that’s a purposeful artistic choice, rather than a flaw, and it’s rich enough to warrant going to a high quality. In particular, deep blacks and reds are used very effectively, and to best see in the shadows, one will want Blu-ray. Though, admittedly, the tone and setting is not nearly as dark as in season one, so not every scene has that gloomy imagery. The audio takes a serious step up, going from stereo to full 5.1 in the second season, with dialogue, sound effects, and a neat score blending appropriately. Busy city street scenes are excellent in surround, crisp, clear, and layered.
While the first season had a number of extras, Ripper Street: Season Two has only one. It’s a disappointingly short behind-the-scenes full of spoilers you’ll only want to watch after having seen the episodes in the set. It’s more sound-bites than revealing discussions, so I can’t say there is much to be gotten from it.
Still, the series is engrossing and enjoyable. Although canceled by BBC America, it will get a third outing soon through Amazon, so it’s not in immediate danger of going away. As such, I can say it will not be a waste of time to check out Ripper Street: Season Two, available now.
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