As one of British TV’s more graphic and gory shows, Ripper Street has featured a copious amount of blood in its time, increasingly so now it’s made the jump to Amazon.
Naturally, the next step was an episode that was all about blood.
‘A White World Made Red’ began with a superbly atmospheric opening scene ending in the sight of a pale, inverted corpse strung up from the ceiling, which set the tone effectively for the macabre instalment that was to follow. Just as last week’s episode dealt in psychologically chilling ideas such as experimenting on children, this episode considerably dialled up the gore factor for an episode that probably wasn’t for the squeamish.
The gore was not merely deployed for shock factor, however – it was used sensibly as a vital element of yet another solid case-of-the-week that built nicely on established themes from this season.
Just as Season 4’s opening episode dealt with the Indian community of Whitechapel, ‘A White World Made Red’ turned its focus to the community of Polish immigrants for a restrained yet thought-provoking glimpse into Victorian perception of immigrants.
Detective Thatcher’s (Benjamin O’Mahony) observation of the immigrants as ‘aliens’ bear the same resonance and relevancy to modern day events as in ‘The Stranger’s Home’, but this episode makes sure to explore the other side of the debate too with the more inclusive opinions of Reid and the lecturer he visits, presenting a balanced, intriguing debate on a weighty subject that’s cleverly nestled right in the middle of a case-of-the-week.
‘A White World Made Red’ also derives considerable tension from Jackson’s illegitimate activities regarding the faking of Susan’s death by cleverly tying in prison worker Probyn into the case of the week.
Ripper Street is continuing to reap the benefits of expanding its scope outside of simple weekly cases, with Jackson’s involvement in a theoretically separate plotline lending the case of the week a greater sense of weight and emotional investment because it puts a central character at great risk of losing his reputation.
Adam Rothenberg continues to combine magnetic intensity with snarky charm, adding layers upon layers to a character who is becoming more and more intriguing each week.
With all this strong material, and a tense climax that makes Detective Thatcher into an unlikely hero in a nail-biting sequence as immigrant Magdelena (Julia Rosnowska) loses blood, it’s something of a pity that the instigator of this compelling case is so conventional.
It’s all executed very well, but the concept of a parent resorting to violence to save a terminally ill family member is a well-worn trope, and despite the strength of the script and performances, Ripper Street can’t quite hide the fact that at the very core of ‘A White World Made Red’, there’s a pretty standard story of a desperate father doing terrible things to save his daughter.
Despite this underwhelming reveal, this episode does give an encouraging indicator of what Ripper Street is trying to do this season. I criticised the show last week for the minimal plot advancement with the central villain, Croker, and there’s not an awful lot on that front this time either, but it’s becoming clear that Ripper Street is doing something very different this year.
Instead of a major serialised storyline that takes up a significant portion of most episodes, there seems to be more of a thematic throughline here with the theme of parenthood. It’s a theme that has percolated throughout the entire season so far, with each episode providing a notably different take on the idea, accompanied by the overarching storyline providing Susan and Jackson’s child, Conor.
There’s still a serialised arc, but it’s clearly less of a priority this season – and now that this through-line appears to be emerging, it’s hard to criticise Ripper Street for changing up its formula each year and refusing to rest on its laurels.
While the scenes at Casa Croker are relatively minimal in number this episode, the handful we do get are densely packed with revelations and shocks. There’s the intriguing contrast of Susan and Croker, two criminals who feel drastically different levels of guilt for their crimes, and this pairing is made an awful lot more interesting by the final twist, in which Susan stabs Probyn before breaking down in tears.
Susan has always been a fascinating character, an anti-villain of sorts who’s committed plenty of crimes yet feels considerable guilt for each one, and this latest twist only twists the knife (ahem) in that regard.
Just how will Susan react to her latest murder? And is Croker planning to corrupt her?
Premiered on Friday 29 January 2016 on Amazon Prime Video.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know below…