Ripper Street, S5 Ep3 – All the Glittering Blades

A quiet, moving episode of Ripper Street that focuses on the sad figure of Nathaniel Croker and portrays him as painfully human and worthy of our compassion.

Almost the entire episode is devoted to Nathaniel, showing how he deals with the monotony of life in the cottage and how he yearns for companionship and even some of the chaos of Whitechapel. He meets the Sumner family after the death of its patriarch, a man to whom he has been selling eels, and for a while, he feels like he belongs somewhere. But he seems destined for tragedy, like so many characters on Ripper Street, so things end very badly.

Ripper Street, S5 Ep3 – All the Glittering BladesThough it was unusual not to spend time with Reid and the gang, especially at this crucial time, there was not really much they could do while Nathaniel was in hiding and Dove was covering his tracks. In fact, the few scenes with Reid stressing over this situation felt almost unnecessary in this episode, and it would have worked well had it just focused on Nathaniel’s point of view.

Because we know very little of Nathaniel, from the small scenes he had with Susan in season four, and considering the significant role he plays as the real golem of Whitechapel, it was important for us to spend time with him, to see the man behind the grisly murders, and to understand a bit more of his struggles to contain his animal urges, after the trauma he and his brother suffered as children. When away from people, he is gentle and kind, a stark contrast to his cold and calculating brother who has beastly tendencies too, but is only better at hiding them behind the veneer of respectability.

It was heartening to watch how Nathaniel’s life seemed to gain more meaning as he helped the Sumner family with their business. He bonded with Prudence Sumner and her son, Robin, teaching the latter how to catch eels and then being taught by Prudence how to cook eels. The oldest son, Caleb, was a shifty sort but he tolerated Nathaniel’s presence reluctantly. Caleb looked like trouble from the start and it was clear that he would do something untoward that would push Nathaniel over the edge.

ripper-street-s5-ep3-all-the-glittering-bladesAlthough it was pretty obvious from the moment she was introduced that Prudence would be a love interest for Nathaniel, the way their relationship developed over the course of one episode was handled well. She was able to accept him even after Augustus tried to scare her off. And when more was revealed about the Sumner family, it was evident that Prudence had seen her fair share of darkness. Her affection for him was genuine, and she was probably the first person who had ever loved him in that way. Though their relationship was tragically short-lived, it was a significant turning point for Nathaniel’s character and one that made him more sympathetic.

This was easily one of my favorite episodes of this season of Ripper Street because it showcased what makes the show so compelling – the way it develops its characters and portrays them as human beings, with wants and needs, flaws and virtues, and everything else in between. The show manages to make us feel compassion for Nathaniel, a serial killer, because we witness his own struggles to contain the beast within.

But the tragedy is he cannot do so, no matter how hard he tries, and things spiral out of control towards the end of the episode, when he witnesses Caleb beating Prudence. Full of rage, he bites Caleb, in the same way he murdered Drake and Ratovski. Horrified, Prudence stabs him and unable to control his own strength, he accidentally kills her. It’s a terrible cycle of violence and death, exacerbated by Robin’s witnessing it all and running away. An injured Nathaniel stumbles back into Dove’s estate but the wheels have started turning again and it is only a matter of time before he is discovered once more.