Reids Between The Lines
How flawless acting and a crime-nerd puzzle bailed out a tiresome subplot.
The kid quest: it's a problem, narratively. It reduces the TV parent to a single trait, the desire to reunite with his/her child, often at the expense of the character's sense of humor, perspective, and overall likability ("WAAAAAALLLLLLT!!"). It tends to eclipse a show's genre, because even if, for one still-annoying example, the show is technically a fantasy/P.I. procedural, it's considered impolitic not to put the feral hell-dimension spawn ahead of all the other arcs. And even if it's an interesting and appropriate story for a given program, the kid quest requires a likable kid, acted in a reasonably professional manner, a rare (Kathleen Stabler) combination (Maureen Stabler) indeed (Dickie Stabler).
Ripper Street's version had shaped up to include all of these problems. I enjoyed Angreid quite a bit, in no small part because it took him offscreen for a bit, but mostly because, when he returned, he'd discarded looking primly down his nose at wrongdoers in favor of just yelling a lot and throttling people. But...in the service of finding his child, which became not just his sole preoccupation in "Your Father, My Friend" but that of the entire credits, so we can tick the first box above. The second box gets a tick as well; Ripper Street is, technically, a cop show, and everyone's doing police work, but the matter of the train wreck and Long Susan Creepshaw LLP's involvement gets elbowed to the side until Reid tracks down Mathilda.
And: Mathilda herself is a Manic Pixie Drowned Girl of the first order, alas. Wafting through Whitechapel, entertaining the flirtations of the desperately annoying Epcot-Cockney pimplet Harry Ward, taking food from strangers and cocking her head like a pigeon at "Uncle Ben," Mathilda as written is the sort of twitchy drip you don't quite see the up side in finding.
A funny thing happened, though, once Angreid unearthed his old Crazy Wall map of the Ripper murders -- the plot started to grow on me. I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that the accuracy of the Ripper-victim photos and crime scenes on the map is what began to turn the ship here, and it's not as though any halfway competent PA couldn't have dug them up from Crime Library.com, but the production included the ones that even many Ripperology books consider too upsetting for the picture section. That in turn led to a bit of puzzle-solving that nods to Ripper buffs, as Angreid and the team parse out where Mathilda might go next. In the background, Jackson is quietly helping without discussing What It Means for his friendship with Reid, and he's not exactly picking a side. He knows something has soured awfully in Susan, and he's mourning it on some level, but then of course they have alley sex (another Ripper-case nod, sort of), but then he's tracking down the evidence against Creepshaw.
Angreid finds Mathilda in her old bedroom at last, and it's here that I finally bought in, because this is some splendid acting from Matthew Macfadyen and Anna Burnett both. Reid is simultaneously pleased to have solved the puzzle correctly, overjoyed to see his daughter, and terrified that the wrong word or tone of voice will put the bird back in flight. His carefully businesslike tone when he first comes upon her there is just perfectly done. Likewise Burnett's guiding of Mathilda back to reality and the truth of her father's goodness. The considered and controlled acting by each of them makes the other's character's investment much more relatable; all the impatience I felt about this narrative prior to its resolution made that resolution more effective. (Honorable mention to Adam Rothenberg's face when he sees Mathilda, then politely removes his hat. The men's silent conversation is wonderful.)
I had already scribbled down "Schmaltzing Mathilda" as the title of this week's RS piece. Then I crossed that out and put "Reid 'Em And Weep." Then Susan shot Reid in the head, IN THE HEAD YOU GUYS! and now everything's ruined again, but "Your Father, My Friend" had rewarded my faith in the show well before the gory showdown that put my jaw on the floor.
IN THE HEAD. Unless the show pulls a Fitz, shit's about to get really weird, no?