by Kristin Battestella
Rupert Penry-Jones returns as Detective Inspector Joe Chandler for the second, three part series of Whitechapel. This time, Chandler, Detective Sergeant Ray Miles (Phil Davis), and the East End team must unravel several violent crimes mirroring the actions of the infamous Kray Twins. Soon, the detectives find themselves targeted by a new pair of Kray descendants orchestrating a complex web of law-breaking and corruption.
Cold credits with period cityscapes, sixties gangsters, and mid century boxing establish this Part One won't be a Jack the Ripper copycat case continued. DI Chandler is bored with routine, simplistic cases, and the snickers from the rest of the establishment won't let him forget the letdown of the Ripper results. Fortunately, new blood and violence intercut with the banal of detective dinners jars the empty idle of the quiet squad room. They shouldn't be excited when the phone rings, but floaters and precious few clues break the tedium of nothing to do but clean and re-clear desks. Whitechapel balances both the research of the crime – right down to a handmade shoe – and the extremes of the job well. Is there an insider on the case? Who has the skill and authority to pursue policemen at home? Escaped prisoners are found dead while past shades of Kray connections and mysterious informants add more than a whiff of organized crime and higher corruption. Anonymous tips, gang related parallels, and heavy costs within the department send constables walking away from the case. Perhaps the Krays' infamy may not be as well known stateside – certainly their tale isn't as popular for Ripperologists. However, Whitechapel weaves a complex case of thugs, violence, and an up the ladder trail. At times, there are too many names, who is who, dismissed suspects, and scared witnesses, but by Part Two, arrests are made despite a not always helpful Organized Crime Division.
Escalating interconnected crimes erupt over street cred and criminal celebrity while mistaken identities, suspicious damages, and squad room construction directly interfere with the case. All are looking over their shoulders and ties at home assure no one ever truly gets out of East End. With such threats and abductions, this case isn't going to be solved by doing things proper and by the book. Paranoia is getting to the boys on Whitechapel, and the squad remains behind the ball thanks to tense consequences, old retributions, and a reluctance to talk from those in the know. An old fashioned bar room shootout sets up Part Three, leaving fatalities and disbelief in Whitechapel's wake. Everyone is on edge, suspecting resolutions in the wrong places and clouding the case with personal viewpoints. Whitechapel assures we are just as interested in our constables cracking as we are about the cracking of the case, and the learning to do their deductions the hard way makes for some superb trauma at times. Granted, the previous Jack the Ripper aspects can be oft done. However, this organized crime meets regular cop corruption same old can be found anywhere, and these unmemorable by comparison plots feel both stretched too thin and a little much for only a three part season. This should have been a taught, one off, ninety minute telemovie. Instead, Whitechapel sets its crime war stakes high – almost too high for our boys to win, rushing the changing of the tide with good cops versus bad gangsters symmetry turning into a slightly silly boxing ring ultimatum. Fortunately, despite a ridiculously simple and downright obvious answer, actual investigating pieces together the clues held all along, thus putting Whitechapel back on track for the finale.
Forget the jokes and Police Awards receptions, Detective Inspector Joe Chandler is more than happy to pick up the phone for a “We got one!” whodunit. Unfortunately, his eagerness to be on the street doesn't prepare him to be out of his element with rough crowds or tossed from private pubs. He marches about like he can handle himself, talking to whomever he wants as if his badge means something special. While he shouldn't be underestimated, he is off on the wrong foot with this case, playing into the criminals' hands, and getting caught – literally in the boot of the car as they say. He's warned to back off the case and should be looking over his shoulder more, but Chandler won't give up even after several mistakes. The suspects themselves tell him he is the wrong sort of policeman for this investigation, but Chandler attests that he doesn't care what people think of him whether he is in line or not. Of course, he's threatened to “take a holiday” and given one by force – not to mention his car is stolen and a donkey is left waiting in his parking space. He wanted a case to solve, however, the gangster games accentuate Chandler's OCD, and Joe's counting thumbtacks and sorting them by color to keep steady. Self-medicated drinking may curb these obsessive compulsions, but such interference doesn't help Chandler or the case. Our detective truly breaks once blood is on his hands – forcing him to realize he isn't the best cop and that's okay.
Crusty as ever but no less heartwarming in his own way, Phil Davis has no airs or graces as Detective Sergeant Ray Miles. He's right to call out the department politics and upward moving brown nosers for making Chandler the laugh of the force when Chandler's putting his team's safety before solving the case saved Miles' life. Unfortunately, Miles is having a tougher time getting back to the job than he likes to admit. Going his own way is one thing, but panic attacks and more pent up anger than usual mean Miles isn't always forthcoming with his previous ties and Kray family connections. Surprisingly, it's Steve Pemberton returning as Ripperologist Edward Buchan who helps Miles in a begrudging information exchange. Buchan knows a thing or two about the Krays and his amateur detective work comes in handy for the team. Again, I'd like to see more of Claire Rushbrook as forensic pathologist Caroline Llewellyn, but it is tough to have her involved beyond morgue moments. Although the ensemble is a bit too crowded this season, we like the detectives and root for them even when the writing is too thin or convenient on Whitechapel. At times the secondary police are too obvious, interchangeable, or unevenly used. Ben Bishop (Hunderby) as new transfer Finlay Mansell doesn't do much while Sam Stockman's young DC Emerson Kent idolizes Chandler – and pays for it dearly. George Rossi as family man and burly jokester John McCormack struggles greatly with the Kray situation, but Christopher Fulford as the demoted Constable Fitzgerald is still about the squad room, too. While Craig Parkinson (Misfits) is fun in his villainous dual role, Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead) as looks are everything, highly decorated Detective Chief Inspector Cazenove is worried about department embarrassments when this broadly written character is embarrassingly obvious on Whitechapel. If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck...
Now then, camera work should be used to accent the scene and build atmosphere, not call attention to itself with flash flash flashy as Whitechapel seems to think it must do to stand out compared to other police procedurals. Although not as bad as the debut season, this distorted photography or artsy scene changes aren't necessary when better straightforward filming is interspersed with brief narrations on the past crimes. Sepia slices via period crime photos and a montage mix would be okay – except slow motion is tossed on top for excessive hitting it over the head emphasis. It should be one or the other, and Whitechapel tries to look super sophisticated when the intrusive glossy dumbs down everything. Brief forensics scenes, surgical masks, and at the crime scene inspection do much better in adding that touch of macabre and violence. Shadows, alleyways, and darkness add a fitting sense of danger for our team while traditional editing builds the stalking scenes and ominous faces in the window. Now that these episodes are five years old, the use of technology is also minimal compared to the increasing instant crutch in more recent shows. Our detectives have cell phones – ahem mo-biles – and computers, but fortunately those devices are not an essential part of the crime solving.
After what feels like years of waiting, I was finally able to see this second series of Whitechapel on Hulu Plus. The DVDs never seem to be available here across the pond, so a few ninety second ads aren't a bother. The subtitles can be irksome at times, but it's easy to marathon these three episodes – which you almost have to do to keep all the details fresh. Yes, wise Whitechapel viewers will see the answer in the first ten minutes of the first episode. This isn't eerie anymore, and the tonal shift toward standard police drama is drastic enough to put off audiences who tuned in solely for the debut season's Ripper update. However despite the uneven writing flaws, viewers watching Whitechapel for the characters and the conspiracy possibilities can enjoy the yelling at the tele drama here.