Well, it turned out I spoke to soon. From the tear-jerking episode 5 and onward, “Ripper Street” improved massively, to the point that if I think back to the first few episodes that once frustrated me, I now find them quite enjoyable, as they’ve become a part of a bigger story that cumulated in a near perfect finale. Every episode early on, which once seemed episodic and had no connection whatsoever, had a point that was mentioned and expanded upon in the final parts of the show.
Well, except for episode two. Just…no. That one is downright boring and may very well be the basis for my entire original opinion in my previous blog post. But since episode two, I got everything that I wanted from my show, resulting in a near perfect blend of character and criminal drama, and me finally beginning to understand who is who beyond “the American” and “the guy wearing that hat, not to be confused with the other guy wearing another hat.”
Now, if one had been watching this show’s episodes as they aired, this switch in opinion would have happened slowly leading up to the first season’s glorious final episode – but in this case, because I was playing catch-up after forcing myself through a show that bored me for half of its running time, it must seem to a reader as if the show, and my thoughts, went through a transformation overnight.
I thought about how this happened (and so quickly!) and decided that it comes down to the fact that in the course of the show, immediately after I stopped watching just long enough to write an opinion blog post, what I wanted from the beginning of the show actually happened: the characters, rather than the crimes, became the focus of the show.
In hindsight, I probably missed a critical point in the show, maybe overlooking how the first few episodes were meant to create the world the characters were exploring, setting the scene for future events. I admittedly became impatient waiting for what I wanted more than anything – a reason to care about the characters – and do think that had I had any say in the presentation of the show, I would have rearranged the episodes (or at least cut out episode two entirely) to allow for the meat of the show, which I argue began with episode five, to reach the audience sooner.
I know I’m being a bit stubborn about the point of including character development with this show, which actually makes minimal sense considering I had joked that this show is Victorian London Law and Order. “Law and Order” is not exactly what many critics to be the prime example of how to do character arcs t in a TV show.
But despite my original jokes, I now think I was wrong when I made that comparison. “Law and Order” can get away with its characters being minimally fleshed out because it needs minimal character development. Why? That show has never actually been about the police. It is always about a crime, about the victims of it, and about the people affected by the trial that inevitably takes place. It’s a legal drama through and through.
“Ripper Street,” meanwhile, is a mystery drama. Half of the fun of this sort of show is the crime: the other half is what happens to the characters as they solve the crime.
Fortunately, the BBC team eventually figured out this difference. And with the writers finally putting their best feet forward, my complaints have been proven wrong, and I’m glad they were. As of the end of season one, “Ripper Street” has indeed begun to rise and meet the potential of the show I saw a trailer for during the holiday season of 2012 – even if it continues to disappoint me in terms of 99% of the show having any true connection to the actual crimes and effects of Jack The Ripper.
But we can’t have everything we want, can we?