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Whitechapel S01E02; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

whitechapel

Originally aired in the U.K. February 9, 2009
Written by Ben Court and Caroline Ip
Directed by S.J. Clarkson

Starring Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis, Steve Pemberton, and Alex Jennings

My rating: ★★ stars

Stuck in the middle.

This middle episode reveals the weaknesses in the structure of this series of Whitechapel as a single mystery covered over three episodes. It doesn’t stand alone, but it’s not designed to—and that’s okay, if it had had any sense of structure at all.

As it is, it’s just a meandering middle section, drawing out the interpersonal conflicts of the first episode past the point where they make any sense. Once DI Chandler is revealed to have been right about his Ripper copycat theory, his subordinates should have shown less opposition to his pursuing the theory. And, yet, they continue to doubt him—because the show needs to fill three episodes.

Much of the episode revolves around the preparation for and aftermath of the “double event,” the night when the police expect the Ripper copycat to murder two people within 45 minutes, as Jack the Ripper did. However, even before the night of the event arrives, Buchan proposes an alternative theory, that Jack the Ripper was only responsible for one murder that night. And, as the copycat turns out to be a follower of Buchan’s website, he follows Buchan’s alternative theory and kills only one person. The result is anticlimactic.

The action of the episode, created by the false leads the detectives follow, isn’t interesting. While the detective constables debate the intriguing, if outlandish, theories about the identity of Jack the Ripper, Chandler and Miles pursue a soldier who likes to beat up prostitutes, a less-than-captivating suspect. This suspect comes from Miles’s attempts to keep the investigation grounded in prosaic police work, but that’s the least compelling investigative option on which to base the episode.

The cliffhanger of the episode is the arrival of the kidney of the latest victim at the home of DS Miles. Buchan had told the police that the copycat would send the kidney to the detective whom he believed to be his nemesis. Why the copycat chooses Miles is unclear, however, because Miles hasn’t been right about a single thing so far.

The episode does have some strengths. The personalities of the various detective constables under Chandler and Miles begin to distinguish themselves—the young, eager-to-please DC Kent; the affable, if not-too-bright DC Sanders; the sleazy, underhanded DC Fitzgerald. Only DC McCormack, who plays an important role in the second season, is not fleshed out here.

This episode, as well as the rest of the season, does a good job handling the gruesomeness of the crimes. Flashes of the bodies are shown, enough to create a sense of repulsion in the audience, but the camera doesn’t linger on the gore, like murder porn. The extent of the mutilation is recounted in clinical detail by the medical examiner, Dr. Caroline Llewellyn (Claire Rushbrook). Buchan often describes the corresponding historical mutilations in baroque effusions. And then one of the detectives, usually Miles, gives a harsh, staccato version of what was done to the bodies. The effect of this triple recounting impresses on the audience the horror of these crimes from three different perspectives, the medical, the aesthetic, and the matter-of-fact. While the medical tends to mute any emotional response, Buchan’s recountings are meant to titillate. The last version, however, creates the greatest sense of the brutality and the inhumanity of the murders.

In all, the episode needed more structure, and it needed more conflict derived from the investigation instead of from the interpersonal conflicts that drove the first episode. Those conflicts need not have been abandoned, but too much of this episode depended on them. We needed more leads, more clues, more suspects, just more to keep the middle of the story going.

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