I’ve always found the British Victorian era (1837-1901) fascinating. It is the time when the world sped towards industrialization, and we get glimpses of the origins of many of the things that are commonplace now. Ripper Street captures the atmosphere of this period – dirty, chaotic, constrained and fixated on rule of law.
In last night’s episode, a toymaker’s murder leads to an interesting look at the meaning of justice. A vigilante mob brings the police a boy who they claim murdered the toymaker. This is a well-organized mob, though, that actually thinks it is the hand of justice. The mob leaders have even gone to the extra step of securing sworn declarations of witnesses who saw the boy leaving the alley where the toymaker’s body was found. Inspector Reid is not convinced the boy is guilty, but is powerless against a swift and merciless judicial system. A judge decides to make an example of the boy and sentences him to death. There is a sense that the court system is like a steam train barreling ahead, uninterested in preserving truth or fairness. There is also a sense that the have-nots are treated differently by this system, and that those in power have little compassion for the lower classes.