‘Ripper Street’: Series 1 finale review

Though not quite the best offering of the series, Ripper Street’s finale had plenty in the way of thrills, spills, ginger ponytails and last minute rescues. Rounding off with a bittersweet twist in keeping with this show’s gloomy undercurrent, ‘What Use Our Work’ was a fitting finale to a series that will be sorely missed.

Keen viewers will have noticed shades of the series opener in the finale. As you might remember, Episode 1 centred on obsessive Ripper hunter Abberline seeking to pin the grisly murder of a violinist on ol’ Jack. Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) eventually discovered it was some posh bloke making snuff films and managed to save prostitute Rose from being offed last minute.

This week – following on from last week’s cliffhanger – we opened with Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) banged up, fingered by Abberline as the Ripper. And, once again, it was Rose who went missing and had to be rescued. Seriously, come on Rose. Have some sense.

This time around, the villain was the cream-clad, soft-spoken Victor Silver – a previous Ripper suspect presumed dead in the same shipwreck that injured Reid and supposedly killed his young daughter Matilda. Reid, convinced Silver would know what happened to Matilda, was hot on the trail, whilst elsewhere, Drake (Jerome Flynn) sought comfort in a highly platonic night with one of Susan’s girls, and the police station mourned for Constable Hobbs, murdered by Jackson’s foe Frank Goodnight last week.

Essentially, the central plot – revolving around Silver’s plot to kidnap women and sell them overseas (with the assistance of Game of Thrones’ Hodor) – was largely just there to enable the various character arcs to come to a temporary conclusion. Abberline’s desire to finally convict someone as the Ripper and Drake’s unfinished business with Rose were at the forefront here – not to mention Reid having his end away with Miss Goren, the saucepot.

The best, and most poignant, bit of storytelling that went on, though, revolved around a misdirect about Reid’s lost daughter. In the episode’s climax, Reid discovered that one of Silver’s captives – a young girl seen early on to get us all shouting “that’s his bloody daughter!” at our tellies – was not in fact Matilda, as he had so desperately hoped.

Despite what its title may suggest, this is not a series solely about deus ex machina plot devices. Ripper Street, whilst entertaining with its grisly crimes and juicy Victorian slang, also quietly and consistently reminds us that, some of the time, there won’t be a happy ending. The villain will get away, an innocent will be lost in the line of duty, the hero and the damsel will not find lasting love and a missing child will not turn up miraculously out of thin air.

It’s not a perfect series by any means. But it’s the small flourishes, and the storytelling choices that fly in the face of its audience’s expectations, that make Ripper Street a cut above your bog standard period piece or police procedural.

With the news that a second series is on its way, we won’t have to wait long for more. Until then, we doff our bowlers to you, Ripper Street, for a job well done.

Aired at 9pm on Sunday 24 February 2013 on BBC One.

> Order Ripper Street on DVD on Amazon.

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