BBC America debuted its new police drama, Ripper Street, last night. Ripper Street takes place in 1889 in the Whitecastle District of London shortly after the killing spree of Jack the Ripper. As viewers know, the real Jack the Ripper was never caught and there are many theories about who he really was. For Londoners of that time, the knowledge that Jack was still on the streets somewhere, left people with a lingering paranoia.
In Ripper Street, the police are under an incredible strain from failing to capture Jack. Every time a new body is found they must deal with their own fears that he has returned, and also keep hysteria from growing in the public. This struggle is front and center of the first episode as the police come across a mmurdered woman in the street who is dressed like a prostitute. On the wall, a painted message reads, “Down With Whores.” The mutilation and message are calling cards of Jack. But, the police will soon discover that nothing can be taken at face value, particularly when the local press is willing to manufacture evidence, like the message, in order to sell more papers.
The police team charged with investigating the crime has some interesting characters. Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew MacFadyen) is quick to deduce that the scene has been tampered with and knows when a photographer is trying to conceal incriminating photos by underdeveloping them. While he is willing to rough up a reporter, there is the sense that he has a strong moral compass. His less scrupulous counterpart is Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), an American Army surgeon and former Pinkerton. Jackson is as interested as Reid in unraveling clues and tracking down the facts, but he is also running some kind of shifty side game with a local madam.
There are undoubtedly many similarities between Copper and Ripper Street. So if you like Copper, you should give Ripper Street a chance. But, there are also differences that allow Ripper Street to stand on its own. In Copper, there is more of a feeling of a new society where the rules are unknown or extremely malleable. In Ripper Street, London is governed by a strict structure of class and rule of law. Rather than the racial tensions that simmer in Copper, Ripper Street looks like it will tackle the gap between the haves and have-nots.
The first episode had a tight plot that moved at a brisk pace, and I am interested in seeing what happens next week. I hope that they do not focus too much on the whore house intrigues because then it will start becoming a little too similar to Copper. The return of Jack at some point is a foregone conclusion, and it will be interesting if they take one of the theories as to his identity and turn it into “fact.” When Inspector Reid remarks about Jack, “He will own my life no more,” he has undoubtedly spoken too soon.
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