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‘Ripper Street’ Season 2 Episode 1 Recap: “Pure as the Driven”

ripper street pure as the driven snow

The men, women, and poor orphaned children of Ripper Street are back!

The series two premiere started off with a bang – literally, as a lone police officer is stomping his way around Chinatown banging on doors asking after an elusive “she.” He’s obviously not feeling well, showing symptoms of heavy breathing, dizziness, and the sweats.

The man makes his shaky way back to a boarding house, where he is then thrown from the window of his second story home. The poor dude’s leg ends up being grossly impaled on an iron railing. Well done, Ripper Street, if you didn’t have my attention before you certainly have it now.

After the credits roll, we’re reintroduced to Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) as they prepare to break up a riot that’s begun in police headquarters. A merrily violent fight scene ensues set to cheerful violins. The final member of the Troublesome Trio – Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) also makes an appearance as he swaggers unconcernedly around the edge of the violence.

Afterwards, we discover that in the year after the events of series one, H Division’s standing and reputation has taken a downturn. Sergeant Artherton (David Wilmot) tells Reid they either need more men or a Gatling gun, but of course they have the funds for neither of those things. Also because Gatling-gunning down the people of Whitechapel is generally looked upon as a bad PR move.

Some dude then busts in to inform the guys about Copper On A Fence. The Trio arrives on site to rescue him, and Drake identifies the copper as Sergeant Maurice, who works in the district nearby. As the police work to save Maurice’s life and keep the crowd at bay, the camera zooms into a beautiful Chinese woman staring stone-faced at Maurice . Hmm, I wonder if this is the mysterious “she”?

Reid and Jackson investigate the room Maurice was thrown from and watch the jeering crowd on the street. Reid announces that the culprit must be found immediately, else the police will lose even more face with the public.

Drake, meanwhile, is watching over Maurice en route to the hospital and asks Maurice what happened to him. Through the pain, Maurice is able to mutter some warning about a wave of suffering coming to these streets like the Red Sea. Drake later repeats this message to Reid, but neither of them understand its meaning.

As Reid, Drake, and Jackson watch the surgeon try to save Maurice’s life, they notice a fist-shaped bruise on the man’s chest, along with some pockmarking along an old injury on his knee that suggests usage of needles to manage the pain.

Inspector Shine (Joseph Mawle) then bursts in in a frenzy, asking after Maurice . He tells Reid about that woman in a photograph Reid had found in the room Maurice had been thrown from. Apparently Maurice had been in Whitechapel pursuing a K Division related crime – a division which Shine heads – but due to K Division’s distaste for paperwork, there are no files, reports, or records to corroborate this story or give Reid any further leads. Shucks.

At least Shine promises to work with Reid on this case. Before the Trio leave the hospital, Reid stops to chat with Joseph Merrick (Joseph Drake), otherwise known as the Elephant Man.

Reid sends Drake and Jackson off and heads to Long Susan’s place to ask her about the woman in the photograph. Reid’s in luck, because Susan does know the woman, having offered her a job once before, and even gives him a name, albeit a fake one: Blush Pang. Their meeting finished, Susan gets one of her girls to fetch Reid’s bag, and the two promise to keep it “between themselves.” Hmmm.

Back at headquarters, Jackson has a new theory to tell Reid and Drake; they’ve been assuming there was more than one attacker, but during Jackson’s travels he’d witnessed a Chinese monk use only his fist to knock people clean off their feet and three feet backwards. Based on that theory and a casino chip Reid had recovered from Pang’s rooms, they now have a lead to Chinatown.

We then cut to Chinatown, where Pang is seen walking through an ornately decorated casino. She leads a man to the backrooms, where she begins to prepare some drugs for him. Pang quickly escapes out the back when she senses danger – and just in time, too, because the man Reid and co. are looking for – the dude with the fist that can knock people backwards – has come for her.

After word of the incident gets out, Reid, Drake, and Jackson make their way over to the casino where Inspector Shine and his men are already waiting. The man Pang had led to the back room lies dead on the couch he’d been drugging himself on, and Jackson spies similar pockmarks to what was on Maurice’s leg.

He also finds shards of a knife in New Dead Guy’s neck, which Shine, having spent some time doing police work in Hong Kong, recognizes as a part of rival clans trying to gain influence over one another. The fact that the camera keeps lingering on Shine’s face after he divulges nuggets of information like this one makes me think that he’s super shady. Let’s see if I’m right, shall we?

Drake goes home to his wife Bella, who is sweet and supportive of him helping his friend Maurice. Meanwhile, Long Susan and Jackson are having a much different conversation – Jackson asks Susan to run away with him, but she is noticeably reluctant. Elsewhere, Reid returns to an empty home.

Drake visits his friend Maurice at the hospital, where Maurice  is suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Drake snoops around the room until he finds a piece of paper, and sneaks out the hospital, running into Merrick – the Elephant Man – in the courtyard as he leaves.

Drake finds Reid at the H Division headquarters (the Detective Inspector having returned there after briefly visiting his bleak, empty house). The paper Drake took from Maurice’s room was a receipt for opium signed by Blush Pang.

Through use of the receipt and asking around, Reid and Drake are able to find Pang’s opium stash, but they’re not alone – One Fist Knock Out Dude is also there. After a super brief fight scene, Reid and the man are able to talk, and we find out that he’s not being sent to kill Blush Pang – rather, he’s her brother, and he’s trying to get her back home so they can “restore honor to their mother and father.”  Apparently, many years ago, Pang had been kidnapped by a policeman and forced into the opium business.

Hmm, a policeman you say? Gee, I wonder who used to work in Hong Kong and now resides in England? I wonder who keeps having cameras linger on his every expression? Hmmmm.

Reid arrives at the same conclusion, and now Detective Shine is suspect number one. When the scene changes to Shine returning to his private rooms, however, we discover that it’s not quite that simple – Shine didn’t just kidnap Pang all those years ago. They’re in league with each other, and also apparently in love.

Later on, Long Susan receives a letter from her landlord ordering her to pay up an extra amount or she’ll be evicted. She goes to confront the man, but he refuses to budge.

Reid, Jackson, and Drake have reconvened in Jackson’s dead room, where Jackson has finished up one of his experiments. The needle they’d recovered from Maurice didn’t have morphine in it, as previously thought – it has heroin. And in typical reckless fashion, Jackson has just injected himself with the stuff to test its effects on the human body. Like, dude. That was such a bad idea.

The Trio hatch a plan: Reid and Drake head to Maurice’s hospital room to interrogate him, using the promise of a batch of heroin to get answers out of Maurice. They get the location of the lab where the drugs are made, but are just about to get confirmation of Shine’s involvement when the surgeon bursts into the room and kicks them out. Bad timing, that.

H Division tracks down the lab and attempt to arrest Blush Pang, who is there trying to get rid of the evidence. Her brother comes out of nowhere and tells Drake and Reid that he’s not about to let Pang be arrested when he needs to bring her home and return her honor. Fight scene # I lost count breaks out, during which Pang hilariously launches several vials of heroin into some policemen’s eyes.

Pang and her brother are able to escape the building. Jackson, who also seems to have the ability to pop up out of nowhere, stops them at the last second, and police quickly surround the pair. Of course, this is when Shine and his cohorts from K Division swoop in. Shine intends to take both Pang and her brother into custody (most likely releasing Pang later so they can continue their business and sexytimes) and all the credit for solving the case.

Reid ain’t gonna let that fly. He tells Shine that if he wants to take Pang’s brother into custody, he’ll have to fight the man himself – because “my streets, my rules.” Uh, I don’t think that’s how laws work, Reid, but I’ll let this one pass.

The one-on-one battle commences, and of course Shine fights as dirty as possible. Blush Pang cuts the fight short by stabbing her brother to death to protect Shine. Pang is taken into H Division’s custody, and Shine lets it happen – having decided to save his sorry skin instead of hers.

Later that night, Shine sneaks into Maurice’s rooms and kills him via poison syringe, with the only witness to the crime being Joseph Merrick. Shine even has the balls to go and taunt Reid and Drake with the act and hinting that he’s framed Reid for the murder. Dramatic music swells as we fade to black.

Verdict

As loathe as I am to say it, this was a lackluster episode. Once the excitement from the action-packed and fast-paced start faded, there wasn’t much character work that I found compelling and the case-of-the-week felt ploddingly predictable. Save for a memorable scene towards the end with Jackson waxing creepy poetic about the lures of heroin, “Pure as the Driven” was one big miss.

Furthermore, as Ripper Street has, to my memory, consisted of all white people for the entirety of the first season – and mostly white men at that – this makes this episode’s usage of people of color a little suspect. It’s the first time they bring in London’s Chinese population, and it’s all opium this and martial arts that. I realize the need for an appropriately exciting storyline, but as previously stated, the episode’s plot was more yawn-worthy than exciting. This, in turn, creates for an episode that felt pretty damn exoticizing.

Oh, Ripper Street. I had such high hopes for your series premiere. I mean, the trailer featured a Kanye West song and you know that’s my one weakness – how could you do me like this?!

Rating: C-