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Whitechapel S03E05-E06; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

whitechapel season 3Originally aired in the U.K. on 27 February 2012 (ep. 3.5) and 5 March 2012 (ep. 3.6)
Written by Ben Court and Caroline Ip
Directed by Jon East

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

My rating: ★★★ stars

The bogeyman is loose in Whitechapel.

A masked, black-clad figure on a murder spree terrorizes Whitechapel. This case, the third and final one of season 3, hearkens back to the atmosphere of the first season, brushing up against the horror genre. The two episodes feature a number of horror tropes: a babysitter stalked by a psychotic killer; a search through a darkened, possibly haunted house; a knife attack on a showering woman; an escapee from a lunatic asylum returning to the scene of the crime where he murdered his whole family; and, most importantly, a bogeyman.

“The bogeyman” is how the lone witness to the first crime, an eight-year-old girl, describes the killer of her babysitter. The police at Whitechapel station discount her description as the imaginings of a scared child. This murder occurs just hours after a famed family annihilator escapes from a home for the criminally insane. Naturally, the detectives believe that the two incidents must be connected. Just hours later, Buchan’s psychotherapist, Morgan Lamb (Lydia Leonard), is attacked walking alone in a parking garage. She saves herself by playing dead and is able to provide the police with a description: tall, thin, all in black, wearing a mask, looking like the bogeyman.

Whitechapel has never included any supernatural goings-on, and they don’t come in here, nor did I expect them to. However, I found the inclusion of increasingly ridiculous elements from ghost stories and urban legends to be an interesting idea. The show has a lot of fun playing with its characters, who face very real crimes, on the one hand, and, on the other, ever more ludicrous evidence and situations. It wisely doesn’t veer into the realm of comedy or parody. Instead, it takes the more interesting path of presenting absolutely seriously the conundrum the detectives face—the prospect of imminent tragedy caused by the rapid pace of spree killings while the only suspect is a figure of fantasy.

For once this season, Buchan’s contributions to solving the case were integral and not contrived. His understanding of the bogeyman lore proves the key to solving the crimes. And Buchan gets more character development as he undergoes psychotherapy to get over his feelings of guilt over the previous case. In that case, he let his distractions prevent him from finding a crucial file sooner, contributing to the death of two more victims.

While it’s nice to see Buchan have some meaty scenes this season, these episodes suffer from a surfeit of characters talking about their feelings. Such psyche exploration not only halts the momentum of the story, but is awkward and out of character. Buchan may be okay with expressing his emotions, but Chandler and Miles would not be so willing to engage in soul-searching.

Kent and Mansell have more to do during this case than they ever have previously. Mansell provides comic relief, spending most of the time worrying that he’s seen a ghost. However, Kent shows real growth from the sensitive guy with a habit of sneaking out to the parking lot to cry that he was in the first season. He gets aggressive with a witness and even goes so far as to disagree with Chandler. The show doesn’t delve into the reasons for this change in character, but there is a suggestion at the end of the season finale that they’ll be explored in the next season.

As a series, Whitechapel has always had limited sex appeal. However, these two episodes seem to be under orders to wedge in some sexuality. First, there’s the needless, albeit blurry, shot of a naked victim getting into a shower. Then, Chandler has developed a new obsessive-compulsive habit, that of changing his shirt several times a day, whenever he feels unclean or out of control. Thus, the viewers are treated to several scenes featuring Rupert Penry-Jones’s bare torso.

Also, as with the previous case, the script sets Chandler up with a potential love interest—in this instance, it’s the psychotherapist and almost murder victim, Morgan Lamb. I found it difficult to believe that a smart, attractive, seemingly normal woman would be attracted to someone with as many problems as Chandler. Sure, he has a nice torso and all, but he’s clearly struggling with mental illness. Then, again, given Morgan’s profession, she may find Chandler’s dysfunctionality a turn-on. Ultimately, however, Morgan and Chandler’s scenes together lack chemistry and heat.

In the final analysis, these episodes succeed on the strength of the mystery. Its leveraging of clichés, its intensity in mood, and, finally, for the first time this season, its uncontrived use of relevant historical precedent to solve the crimes make the mystery an engrossing one.

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