It’s five months after Jack the Ripper has ceased his murderous spree and a walking tour of the sites of his killings stumbles across what appears to be a dead prostitute – killed in a very familiar manner. Now it’s up to Detective Inspector Edmund Reid to find the killer before the press can create terror with its lurid headlines. Welcome to Ripper Street (BBC America, Saturdays, 9/8C).
The premiere of Ripper Street, I Need Light,’ opens with the juxtaposition of the discovery of the murder victim by the walking abovementioned tour and a bare knuckle boxing match that appears to be highly illegal. The scenes are connected by a young constable reporting the murder to Det. Insp. Reid (Matthew Macfayden, Pride & Prejudice, The Pillars of the Earth) – without revealing that he’s ‘blue’ – while another copper, Det. Sgt. Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones) wins the illegal bout.
To discover whether the woman was killed by the Ripper, Reid enlists the aid of American ex-army surgeon Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) in hopes of learning what he needs to know before Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline (Clive Russell, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) – Reid’s partner (when they worked the Ripper case) – can claim the woman’s body and feed the potential frenzy.
Things are not as they seem, as Reid suspected, but before the murder is solved, he will encounter an unscrupulous reporter, an equally unscrupulous photographer, brothel owner Long Susan (MyAnna Buring, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Parts 1 & 2) and her best girl, Rose (Charlene McKenna) – not to mention a brand new kind of photography (with all its ramifications).
Written by series creator Richard Warlow (Mistresses, Waking the Dead) and directed by Tom Shankland (Dirk Gently, The Fades), I Need Light is a fairly briskly paced proto-procedural that, at times, feels like the evil twin of The Murdoch Mysteries – or a fusion of elements from The Murdoch Mysteries and Copper – as it mixes its period and the beginnings of forensics with its infinitely grimier districts.
The mystery is clever enough and combined with the illegal boxing/fight fixing subplot, results in a darkly entertaining hour. There’s enough character work done to give us the basics on who the main characters are – and some intriguing relationships established.
Like BBC America’s Copper, Ripper Street begins with an episode that shows a lot of potential and has begun to fulfill some of it by the closing credits. Like Copper, the show’s second episode, In My Protection, deepens the characterization while taking another familiar topic – gangs of child thieves run by a Fagin-like boss – and spins everything in its own dark way. Let’s just say that, by comparison, Oliver Twist had it good working for Fagin.
Saturday might not be the usual night to premiere a dramatic series, but if Syfy can garner a couple million people for its original Saturday night B-movies, then Ripper Street should be able to draw lovers of the kind of dark, disturbing mysteries to it.
Final Grade: B
Photos by Tiger Aspect/Jonathan Hession/courtesy of BBC America