A strike of dock workers spirals out of control and becomes an excuse for murder on this week’s Ripper Street. This is no ordinary labor dispute or murder, however. To discover the killer, Reid must chase the shadows of political intrigue, double agents, and ideological agendas.
From previous episodes, we know that Whitechapel is the area of London where the less fortunate resided in the latter part of the 19th century. The area was also a draw for emigrants fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe and for Russian and German extremists. Fueled by socialist ideals and desire for fair pay, the workers’ anger resulted in the London Dock Strike of 1889. This is the background for this week’s intrigue.
One of the men behind a group of strikers is a Russian Jew named Joshua Bloom. Bloom dies after a fiery explosion and the assumption is that he was a bomb-maker who died by his own hand. Captain Jackson quickly dispels that theory and explains that Bloom died from a knife wound to the heart. This means Reid must infiltrate the workers’ movement to learn who is behind the murder. Of course, he isn’t exactly the person who can commiserate with the common worker. So he turns to Jackson.
Reid’s behavior towards Jackson is reprehensible. Jackson has done nothing but help him and has largely ignored Reid’s insults and threats. How is his loyalty repaid? Reid threatens him yet again. Reid demands that Jackson infiltrate the union workers and let his Pinkerton skills reemerge. Jackson has little interest in doing something that will pit him against working men who are just trying to gain a fair wage. To force his cooperation, Reid threatens to arrest Jackson for whatever charge he can come up with. At this point, Jackson should just pack his bag and move to another part of London where he will be unknown.
Jackson agrees to help Reid and insinuates his way into a group of unionists headed by Peter Morris. Thanks to Jackson’s intel, Reid traces Morris to the Russian Embassy. He suspects that Morris is an agent of the Russian Okhrana. Bloom’s brother, Isaac, decrypts a cypher that leads Reid to the conclusion that Russian bombers plan to strike London. Reid has no idea that the plot he has stumbled on is complex and dangerous. Reid learns that Bloom’s murder was enabled and encouraged by London’s own Special Branch of police.
The Special Branch wants to stop the union strikes and arms Morris with bomb materials. The goal is for him to cause an explosion and blame the strikers. But Morris is a double-double agent and has no intention of helping the British agenda. Instead, he plans a much larger and deadlier explosion that will poison a wide area of London. The Special Branch has its own plan to frame Jackson as a leader of the strikers. To get his confession, they beat Long Susan and torture Jackson. But, Jackson is a bad ass. He will not sign the confession and ends up beating down both of his captors.
We learn more about the loss of Reid’s daughter. She is believed to have been killed in a boating accident, but Reid is not convinced that she is dead. When the Special Branch reveals that it knows details about Matilda’s death, Reid is sent into a tailspin. In a shocking moment, Reid kisses Miss Goren. Reid’s action is understandable. He is dealing with a grief that he cannot process – the loss of his daughter. He and his wife are completely disconnected. As with many who lose a child, they have a hard time coming back together because they process the loss differently. Reid opens up to Miss Goren because he is isolated and overwhelmed. His kiss seems like an expression of relief at being able to unburden himself by sharing what happened to his daughter, gratitude for being able to connect with someone, and a desire to end his loneliness. It is heartbreaking when he later tells his wife how much he needs her, and she turns her back on him. It’s not a wonder Reid is seeking emotional comfort elsewhere.
Reid is a complex character. He has a hair-trigger temper, questionable interrogation methods, and treats Jackson like dirt. On the other hand, this episode shows that he is not one to be intimidated or bullied into acting against his conscience or the best interests of the city. Jackson is also complex and intriguing. We know now that Jackson may not be his real name, he may or may not have been a Pinkerton, and he may at some point have enough of being told what to do.
Areas that you may want to research based on this episode include the Haymarket Riot (the Chicago labor dispute Jackson refers to) and the Russian Okhrana. Next week’s preview looks Jackson-centric, so hopefully we will finally get more of his backstory.
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