This review contains spoilers.
1.2 In My Protection
Imagine your worst nightmare: a plague of zombies, an infestation of giant spiders under the bed, or a massive scratch on your limited edition The Dark Knight Rises Blu-ray … Now try and fathom something far more evil and you will have a vague idea of the level of depravity that the second episode of Ripper Street approaches. That’s right. Last week, it was Victorian snuff movies. This week, it’s Children Who Kill. And how. Think Oliver Twist, if Tarantino had been around offering advice to Dickens during a session in the local ale house, after devouring a year’s worth of penny dreadfuls.
The episode starts with the killing of a toymaker. A fourteen year old boy carrying the dead man’s possessions is brought to the police by a group of vigilantes who seek justice for the streets of London. This group is lead by George Lusk, played by Michael Smiley who, as usual, does not fail to impress. Assuming the role as a voice of the people with lynch mob mentality and the kind with lack of attention to details, he stirs up tension among the public and openly taunts Detective Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), claiming that he and his force are ineffectual and his mob need to do his job for him. Lusk rallies them to court and seeks the ultimate punishment for the boy, who refuses to neither speak nor deny the charge and is sentenced to death.
Enter Carmichael, played by the phenomenal Joe Gilgun of This is England and Misfits fame to stir things up as Whitechapel’s very own X-rated Fagin. Leading an army of orphan-criminals, he plays the perfect psychopath, demanding respect at all costs. And he’s not merely teaching them to pick a pocket or two. There’s something much darker going on with him.
But Reid is perturbed by the child’s silence, and aided by a concerned lawyer and orphanage governess, decides to get to the bottom of what actually happened and what is currently going on at the hands of Carmichael’s thirst for unyielding subservience, obedience and crime. Oh, and his army of teeny, tiny assassins.
Meanwhile, our American friend Captain Jackson is once more prevailed upon to do work for Reid. First though, he has his own The Hangover-style puzzle to solve in order to retrieve a ring he drunkenly gambled away – a piece of evidence that links he and Susan to their shadowy past.
Woefully underestimating Carmichael, things turn nasty for Susan and Jackson quite quickly. To save their rather attractive criminal hides, Jackson sells out the location of Reid and the boy: the local orphanage. Now this is where things get scary. Really scary. The thing with small children is that they can climb things easily, aren’t scared of falling over as much as adults and haven’t developed a full sense of conscience or consequence. They’re fearless, in other words. Especially when they’ve been trained to be that way. In a bravura piece of television, the orphanage essentially becomes a trap, with it being only a matter of time before the pesky little killers break in through roof windows and tiny spaces.
For an eight-part series, we seem to know very little about the lead characters, which keep the audience guessing and hopefully tuning in. There are hints of their pasts but no blatant explanations. For example, what makes Detective Sergeant Drake the strong and silent type? And what secrets are Jackson and Long Susan running from? More importantly, will that sexual tension ever lead to anything? We’re given a bit more of an insight into the private life of Reid. We’re aware that he’s married, that their relationship is strained and his upper body is horrifically scarred. We learn that his wife has become a Church-goer to find solace due to the loss of their daughter, but we’re not entirely sure if she’s missing or dead. Hence the personal importance of this case to Reid.
Perhaps you might think these ultimate events are described in a somewhat too black and white manner at the end with strained hugging and weepy moments. You might, that is, unless you’ve been scarred by the antics of the killer kids. I won’t lie, I recently watched the film version of The Woman in Black, so I think I’ve got a lot of recovering to do. Sleep tight.