‘Become A Man’
Jack the Ripper returns to Ripper Street this week as a pantomime villain in a play. Rose is back too, now a waitress at the music hall with dreams of making it big. Whilst the play is happening a member of the London Council is kidnapped when the room is plunged into darkness. H division are called in to solve the mystery.
This episode was not focused on the usual three policemen but Long Susan and her girls. The storyline centred on the kidnapping of three different men and the gang of women that are behind. After Walter de Souza is taken (the councilman at the beginning), it’s believed that the female councillor’s supporters are behind it. When Thomas Ely, a lawyer, is taken from a bed in Long Susan’s brothel, along with Susan herself, this theory is quickly dispelled. In fact this gang are victims of the harsh London streets. They’re all members of the match-girls who protested the poor working conditions and severe health risks they were forced to endure (toxic white phosphorus was one of the materials they had to work with). One of the girls fell victim to this and is revealed in a bit of a shock scene to have the majority of her jaw missing.
With the gang leader, Raine, filling Susan in on their past, we find out that the thing that ties these women together is their misery and hope for revenge. Long Susan starts to develop sympathy for them and especially Raine who she creates a strange bond with. Raine’s justified anger takes an extreme turn when she looks to burn the kidnapped men in an act of retribution. With the violence, aggression and hatred she’s displaying it’s implied that she has become everything she hates. In essence she has become a man.
This is an unusual episode of Ripper Street. Unlike the villains they’ve shown before, Raine is a grey area villain that you actually feel empathy for. It exposes the plight of all women around this time, trying to make it in a male dominated world. Like Susan, Raine is only trying to empower other women and build a safe community for them to flourish in. Both of the main actresses bring powerful performances to this episode and by the end of it I have much more interest in the character of Long Susan.
My criticism with the previous season of Ripper Street, with the writers not giving the female characters enough to work with, is addressed in this episode. Instead of them being damsels in distress they show hard, clever, empowered women. It’s a very strong episode and I hope they continue this thread of story with Susan and give the female characters more storylines where they can shine.