Starring Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis, and Steve Pemberton
My rating: ★★ 1/2 stars
Good character moments can’t make up for a ridiculous mystery.
The third and fourth episodes of the third season of Whitechapel, which cover the second case of the season, show a big improvement over the first two episodes. The show returns to character-driven moments, and the supporting players, who had been notably underused during the first case, play more prominent roles here.
The mystery for these episodes begins when body parts start washing up along the Thames, and the investigation reveals that they were probably dumped in Whitechapel. This case brings in the aid of another inspector, DI Mina Norroy (Camilla Power), who had a torso come ashore in her district. She’s presented as a potential love interest for DI Chandler, and they have a lot in common. They both have an obsession with orderliness and a singular focus on their jobs. When she first meets DS Miles, she immediately clashes with him, as did Chandler when he and Miles first met. Through the conflict between Norroy and Miles, the audience is reminded of this initial discord and can appreciate how much the main characters and their relationship have grown since the first season.
I enjoyed watching the interaction between the characters as they solve the mystery. The episode is at its best when we see the individuals at Whitechapel station working together. There are some nice character moments throughout the episode whether the detectives are working on the mystery—as Miles does when we he chastises Buchan for letting his mania for collecting information about historical crime get in the way of solving the present one—or whether they’re discussing their personal lives—as with Riley’s commentary on Mansell’s romantic woes.
A particular highlight of these episodes is the performance of Claire Rushbrook, who was underused during the previous two episodes. Her character Dr. Llewellyn, the medical examiner, returns to the forefront during this case. What Rushbrook does so well is provide what could be dry scientific explanations with a wealth of empathy.
Unfortunately, despite a great improvement in presenting character interactions, the case is a letdown in terms of the mystery. Actually, it’s a mess—a hodgepodge of romantic obsession, vampire fetishes, multiple personalities, H.H. Holmes, the Marquis de Sade, and “A Rose for Emily.” The characters stumble from one outrageous lead to another. That so many bizarre occurrences just happen to pop up when the detectives are looking in the wrong directions beggars belief. These strange discoveries seem shoehorned in in order to let the series bring up as many historical crimes as possible. The original premise—that of studying past crimes to learn about the present—is proving awkward and contrived when the crimes are not copycat in nature. The series flounders in trying to maintain this historical thread.
The mystery itself has little structure and relies too much on coincidence. Yet, the perpetrator is obvious from his/her introduction because he/she is the only one not suspected at first by the detectives, and the way these episodes are written we know that the detectives won’t get onto the criminal’s trail until the mystery nears its close.
Because I like the characters, I find this season of Whitechapel a frustrating disappointment. As rich as the characters are, the writers seem to have run out of mysteries worthy of them to solve.