Originally aired in the U.K. on 11 October 2010
Written by Ben Court and Caroline Ip
Directed by David Evans
Starring Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis, Steve Pemberton, and Alex Jennings
My rating: ★ 1/2 stars
An inauspicious beginning.
Continuing Whitechapel beyond the Jack the Ripper copycat mystery presents a number of difficulties. First, any subsequent mystery will necessarily be less compelling. Second, the need to preserve the premise of the series, in which present-day crimes are solved through their connection to historical crimes, limits the stories the show can tell.
The writers, thus, have chosen the only possible crimes that can attempt to answer both problems, the crimes of the Krays, notorious identical twin gangsters from 1960s swinging London, the only British criminals besides Jack the Ripper famous enough to be known outside of Britain.
As the first episode begins, the characters from Whitechapel station are suffering from the consequences of letting the Ripper escape in the first season. The once-promising career of DI Joseph Chandler has been derailed, and he’s stuck investigating boring domestic crimes with his subordinates in Whitechapel. We see Chandler and his cohorts at a celebratory dinner, where, despite the fact that DS Ray Miles is receiving an award for being injured on the job (after being stabbed by the Ripper in the first season finale), the Whitechapel officers are relegated to a table in the back near the kitchen. Meanwhile, DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Torbin Cazenove (Peter Serafinowicz), newly anointed as the head of the organized crime division, sits at the front surrounded by Commander Anderson and other Scotland Yard bigwigs; Cazenove, who also receives an award, represents the career Chandler could have had if he had let Miles die and caught the Ripper back in the first season.
This opening scene is well-done. It immediately shows conflict, even before the mystery has begun, and it positions Chandler, Miles, and the rest of the Whitechapel officers as underdogs the audience wants to root for. It also shows the growth in the relationship between Chandler and the Whitechapel officers, particularly Miles. Chandler is now one of the gang, well-respected by his subordinates, no longer an outsider.
Unfortunately, the rest of the episode doesn’t reach the same level of accomplishment as the first scene. The episode contains too many crimes, including three maimings and two murders, leaving little time for any of them to impact the audience. Only the first murder, that of an old man fished out of the Thames, is given any significant screen time. The final maiming, that of young DC Emerson Kent, is the most meaningful crime to the viewers because we know Kent as a character. We remember him as the most sympathetic of the DCs at Whitechapel and the first to give Chandler a chance as boss. The episode, however, gives little time to the fallout of this crime.
In this episode, we’re introduced to a trio of antagonists and possible suspects for the copycat of the Krays: Cazanove, who is revealed to be a dirty cop; Steven Dukes (Andrew Tiernan), a thuggish organized crime boss; and Jack Cheshire (Steve Nicholson), a mysterious member of the criminal organization who offers Chandler tips in solving the mystery. That these are bad guys doing bad things is clear. What is not clear is what role, if any, the three play in the crimes. That these characters’ roles and motives are unclear in the first episode is fine for a mystery. But that these motives and roles still nebulous at the end of this season is a problem. The introduction of these characters, both through writing and performances, does nothing to make them compelling or distinctive to the audience. Indeed, this episode suggests that a conspiracy may be behind the copycat of the Krays. Conspiracies usually don’t make compelling antagonists. They’re less immediate and human than individual villains.
Edward Buchan, the ripperologist from the first season, reappears here. The writers have expanded his backstory to make him a historian of crime in general, not just of Jack the Ripper. His role is similar to the one he played in the first season. He makes observations and predictions that turn out to be accurate but are doubted by the police officers. Pemberton’s performance of Buchan as both astute and petulant proves a highlight to the season.
Initially, Miles ignores Buchan, and Chandler can’t decide whether to heed his information. It seems that Buchan’s relationship with the police officers has shown little growth since his introduction in the first season. However, in a nice surprise, Miles reveals that he actually knows that Buchan is right but is only pretending not to believe him because of Miles’s personal connection to the Krays. This connection, which will be explored over the season, proves the strongest part of the mystery, as it arises from the exploration of characters.
DC McCormack, Dr. Caroline Llewlyn, and PC (formerly DC) Leo Fitzgerald also return from the first season. Added to the cast is Ben Bishop as Finley Mansell. In this episode, Mansell does little to distinguish himself as a character. After Kent’s maiming, Chandler offers his officers the opportunity to excuse themselves from the case. Only McCormack, Miles, and Mansell agree to keep investigating. McCormack and Miles, at least, know Kent and seem to have a reason for continuing in the dangerous investigation. Mansell is new to the station and his motive for continuing, when the other (unnamed) officers who presumably have been there longer don’t, is unclear. Mansell isn’t even given enough development to be a generic new guy, showing no neophytism; he’s more like part of the scenery.
In all, this episode features too much: too many new characters, too many crimes, too many leads, too many suspects, too many theories. It’s all just too much for us to care about anything.