Welcome back to Whitechapel, where the criminals prefer to recreate famous old crimes rather than come up with new ones. Watching this series—now in its second three-episode season on BBC America—is like listening to a radio station that only plays cover versions of classic hits. Makes you realize it’s awfully hard to improve upon the original.
This time we’re dealing with a “Krays tribute band,” as one character calls them, revisiting murders of the Swingin’ Sixties, when twin brothers Reg and Ron Kray were the crime kings of London.
Personally, I can’t think of the Krays without Monty Python’s Doug and Dinsdale Piranha coming to mind. But that’s just me.
Fact is, dapper gangsters Reg and Ron were the original “diamond geezers”—criminal celebrities (celebrity criminals?) of the highest order, and regardless of the fact that the twins were bloodthirsty psychopaths, there were—and still are—plenty of Kray apologists in the world. The argument being that Reg and Ron only ever harmed other gangsters (brutally, hideously… but still…) and while the Krays were running things, the streets were perfectly safe for law-abiding folk.
In the 1960s, when the Krays headed “The Firm” in London’s East End, you rarely heard a word against them—largely because their victims were terrified into silence. Our Whitechapel team is about to encounter the same situation. Someone’s picking up where the Krays left off, viciously maiming and killing local thugs. The blokes down the boozer (where “Georgy Girl” is on the jukebox!) know who’s responsible, but no one’s talking.
“The last lad was found on the floor of a pub toilet. They had to put the remains of his face in a bucket,” we’re told.
So it’s like that then.
Like my Criminal Element colleague Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, who covered the first eps of Whitechapel here, I’m a fan of MI-5 (known as Spooks in the U.K.). By extension that makes me a fan of Rupert Penry-Jones—Adam Carter in MI-5—who stars as DI Joe Chandler in Whitechapel. This is not an advantage. For while Rupert in MI-5 was a take-charge hero you’d follow into a booby-trapped nest of terrorists, Rupert in Whitechapel is so painfully out of his depth you wouldn’t trust him to lead you to the police station cafeteria.
In his first case as DI, he tracked a Jack the Ripper wannabe, and—spoiler alert—the baddie got away. But only, we learn two minutes into this episode, because Chandler opted to save the life of his colleague, DS Ray Miles (Philip Davis) instead of chasing down the killer.
Since their failure to nab the Ripper, Chandler’s team has been ostracized. This makes DS Miles hopping mad.
Chandler, on the other hand, seems blissfully unfazed. He acts like an overgrown Hardy Boy who can’t wait to start his Next Big Case. He even has the nerve to tell his boss that he’s bored with his job! Did you say, “career suicide”? Not for our pal Chandler. The boss simply assures him that a big case will find him soon. (Patience, Grasshopper.) And, Abracadabra! Up floats our first dead ex-gangster, an elderly former associate of the Kray twins who washes ashore on the riverbank minus his brain.
Then, Alakazam! Who should resurface but Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton), sensationalist crimestalker from Season 1. Turns out he’s not only a Ripper expert; he’s a Krayologist, too, and he has some theories about the case. Chandler’s happy to see him. Miles is not. No spoilers there.
We’re also introduced to police golden boy DCI Torbin Cazenove (Peter Serafinowicz). Simply put, the confident, wily Cazenove is everything Chandler is not. No question about how he rose through the ranks (although his method for motivating employees is a tad unorthodox).
So, when Kray Redux is taken from Chandler and reassigned to Cazenove, is anyone surprised? Even Chandler—who’s astonished by everything—can only manage to say “waaah” and flounce out of the room. Nevertheless, he won’t let it go, which leads to more people being maimed and killed as Chandler blunders forth with Miles grumpily in tow. Along the way, we’re warned there’s a mole in the station. (Mind you, this is just a guess, but I think the source of the leak might be a little obvious.) We’re also clued in to some suspicious aspects of our main characters’ backgrounds. I’m guessing those revelations are mere red herrings, but maybe I am—like everyone else in this series—guilty of underestimating Chandler and his show.
“You don’t know what I’m capable of,” Chandler hisses to Miles, vowing to exact revenge after a colleague is seriously wounded.
For now, all I can say is: I hope he shows us soon.
Leslie Gilbert Elman blogs intermittently at My Life in Laundry. She’s written two trivia books and has a few unpublished fiction manuscripts in the closet to keep the skeletons company. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.