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Whitechapel S01E03; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

whitechapel

Originally aired in the U.K. February 16, 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

A satisfying end to the mystery.

The big flaw of this episode reflects the problematic conceit of the series, the idea that the past holds the key to the present. In order to identify the copycat, Chandler must solve the Jack the Ripper murders. However, the series never demonstrates any reason why the copycat knows the identity of the real Jack the Ripper to base his crimes on. When Chandler works out who Jack the Ripper was, he locates the lair of the copycat, but there’s no reason given why the copycat should be working from the same (presumably correct) theory.

This flaw is not a fatal one, however. There’s enough good stuff in this episode to compensate for this flaw, and viewers who do not spend a lot of time analyzing the series might not even be aware of the problem.

This final hour is structured well to increase tension until the audience is thoroughly engrossed in the mystery. It begins with another, in this case final, false suspect, one who is the most interesting of them all, a refugee from Kosovo whose identity has been stolen by the killer. In fact, the minor characters here, the suspect, a postal worker, and a medical van dispatcher, are all interesting, and I credit the series with the effort put into the stock characters. Unfortunately, the one minor character that should be intriguing, the copycat’s intended victim, isn’t. That could be by design, however, as the script repeatedly tells us that the only defining characteristics of Jack’s last victim are that she had long, red hair and ate fish and potatoes for supper. And, indeed, that’s all that defines the copycat’s victim.

The major characters show a great deal of growth in this episode. Buchan is given two great scenes showing how his character has been affected by the events of the season. In the first, he leads a group on his Jack the Ripper tour, going mechanically through his script. Then, the dreadfulness of the crimes strikes him, and he begins dwelling on the humanity of the victims, to the annoyance of his audience members, who just want to hear the salacious details of the crime. In the second scene, Buchan disavows his life’s work, destroying his reputation, in a long shot attempt to prevent the final copycat murder. Steve Pemberton is wonderful and heartbreaking in both scenes.

The other major characters, Miles and Chandler, forge an unlikely friendship as they commiserate over the horrors that they see in their jobs. One lighthearted moment shows Miles welcoming Chandler into the group of detectives by telling him that it’s okay if he’s gay, with the subtext being that the gang is willing to accept him as one of them. Chandler replies that he’s not gay, to which Miles says, “But it’s okay if you are,” leaving Chandler to respond, “But I’m not.” Nonetheless, Chandler is now fully accepted by his subordinates, as they work together to find the copycat. Chandler’s “Sophie’s choice” at the end of the episode—whether to save Miles or catch the Ripper—is a little contrived and heavy-handed, but does provide a nice set-up for future seasons.

The identity of the copycat is satisfying. Like the best mysteries, the solution is both surprising and, yet, natural. Too many modern mysteries go for outrageous twists; here, we get a killer whose identity makes perfect sense and, yet, is not predictable.

While never achieving greatness, the first season of Whitechapel is a solid, entertaining mystery, populated with intriguing characters whom we would like to follow in future seasons. There is one problem, though, and that is, if the series starts with Jack the Ripper, the crimes that form the basis for future seasons can only be anticlimactic.

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