Starring Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis, and Steve Pemberton
My rating: ★ 1/2 stars
Premise is running on empty.
The structure of Whitechapel changes with the third season. The first two seasons each presented one mystery spread over three episodes. The third season features three mysteries each lasting two episodes.
The nature of the mysteries also changes. The first two seasons of Whitechapel dealt with copycat crimes, so delving into history to solve them made sense. A third copycat would be too much of a stretch for any series, so Whitechapel shoehorns historical perspective into the third season by having DI Chandler hire Buchan as a researcher to examine past investigations for any insight they might provide on current cases. Unfortunately, all the attempts the show makes to connect the present mystery to the past are labored and tenuous.
The failure of the element that makes the show distinctive, the historical background, leaves Whitechapel a standard police procedural—and not a very good one at that. The mystery that comprises the first two episodes of Season 3 involves a mass-murdering serial killer. Initially, the murderer kills all the workers save one at a tailor shop. He then turns to annihilating families, always leaving one victim behind. Even with the high body count, the crimes are not interesting. Despite the carnage, the crimes don’t seem nearly as significant as those of the first two seasons: the Jack the Ripper copycat and the attempt to rebuild the criminal empire of the Krays. The guilty party here is obvious to the audience, if not the detectives, pretty quickly, and the motive seems inadequate to the amount of bloodshed. Sure, psychopaths perceive the world differently, and what may seem like an inadequate reason to most people may be perfectly sufficient in their minds. However, the audience should at least get the sense that the motive is adequate to the killer’s level of crazy, and that’s not the case here.
If the mystery doesn’t work in a police procedural, the interactions among the crime-solvers should be entertaining enough to carry the show. Alas, now that we’re in season three, the detectives carry on briskly and efficiently in their methods, which is to say that they’re in a boring rut. The lack of interpersonal conflict and the lack of a personal stake for the detectives in solving the crime prevent any compelling drama from coming out of the process of detection.
The show, however, does offer two subplots related to the personal lives of the detectives. DI Chandler sticks his toe into the dating pool, and DS Miles’s wife has a medical crisis. However, neither of these subplots grows out of the characters—the characters react to events rather than cause them—and neither fits organically within the episodes. The cliffhanger from last season—the revelation of Commander Anderson as a Machiavellian kingmaker—is dropped entirely. Anderson never appears again in the series. (Whether actor Alex Jennings had become unavailable, I don’t know.)
We also miss any significant contribution from the minor characters. The remaining DCs from the previous seasons, Mansell and Kent, are barely seen. This season’s first episode opens with a sequence of all the detectives celebrating at Mansell’s wedding, suggesting that we’ll see more camaraderie among the detectives, but that’s not the case. Mansell and Kent barely participate in the investigation; more screen time is given to the new DC Megan Riley (Hannah Walters). Also appearing only on the fringes is Dr. Llewellyn; her portrayer, Claire Rushbrook, is utterly wasted with the little that she is given to do.
In fact, everything seems wasted—the great character dynamics that were created during the first two seasons; the abilities of the cast members, particularly the main three, Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis, and Steve Pemberton; and the time of the audience members who sit through two episodes that are this disappointing.
STUFF THAT INTERESTS ONLY ME:
Suspect Marcus Salter (David Schneider) has a genetic medical condition that is never named. The symptoms (photophobia and hypermobile joints prone to dislocation) suggest that it’s Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.