Ripper Street, S4 Ep2 – Some Conscience Lost

The second episode of Ripper Street resonates with not only an intriguingly dark case but also one with high emotional stakes. It’s an episode centered on Reid and as always, Matthew MacFadyen shines in the role, owning every scene with a powerful performance.

Reid begins to investigate a case of missing workhouse children and after meeting a grieving, mentally-ill mother, he becomes more determined than ever to solve the case. His scenes with the syphilis-stricken Leda Starling are made even more moving when parallels are drawn with his similarly mentally ill wife, who never got to find out that their daughter was alive and well.

Ripper Street, S4 Ep2 - Some Conscience LostThe episode also explored the themes of parents separated from children, not just for the workhouse boys but also for Reid and his own daughter, and Susan and Jackson forced to be separated from their son. As much as the boy is in good care at the Drakes, it still pains his parents to have to be away from him.

There’s an ongoing subplot of Susan getting involved in the business of the shady Abel Croker. She showcases her ruthless skills in negotiation and Croker realizes that she could have much to offer while  she lives in hiding with him. And the case of the executed mathematician, Isaac Bloom, continues to haunt the show as Costello, a journalist from the first episode, badgers Reid about it. There ‘s always a lot of ongoing threads in Ripper Street that tie the whole season together even while there are individual cases.

Ripper Street, S4 Ep2 - Some Conscience LostThere are also some smaller moments that give the other characters some more depth. I particularly enjoyed how smitten Sergeant Drummond was with Matilda Reid and how Jackson subtly teased him about it. And Reid knew what was about at a glance, and his warning glare to the poor sergeant was so much fun to watch. I have to say they make a cute pair, though, and I’m hoping that, even if happy endings don’t come often on Ripper Street, there might be some hope for one there. After all Matilda Reid has gone through in her short life, she deserves some happiness. But we’ll have to wait and see.

It’s a testament to the great writing on Ripper Street that even the procedural elements of the case are never boring or formulaic. The audience is invested in the story because the characters care about the victims and don’t simply see them as cold bodies on slabs. There’s a very human element that grounds each case, no matter how gruesome or elaborate, and that’s what makes the stories more compelling.

Ripper Street, S4 Ep2 - Some Conscience LostBut at the heart of this episode was Edmund Reid just being Edmund Reid, unyielding in his search for justice for the missing children. It is his doggedness and compassion for the poor and the forgotten that drives him to never rest until he has discovered the truth. And when it is eventually revealed that the workhouse master has been mercy killing sick boys because he believes that they are “useless” and a “waste”, the scene is chilling and undoubtedly moving.

“The deserving poor and the undeserving poor,” Reid asks angrily, “Who are you to judge?”

Reid’s dedication to being a policeman isn’t out of some need to see gruesome crimes or to be in the thick of the action. His commitment to his work is drawn from his desire to fight for justice for those who cannot, for those abandoned and forgotten by his harsh society. He has always been one of the best parts of Ripper Street and this episode only re-affirms this. Whitechapel is the better for the return of Edmund Reid.