Whitechapel: Bring on the Krays!

Whitchapel Season Two with Rupert Penry-JonesWelcome 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.

The Kray twins, Ron and Reg
The real Kray twins, Ron (l) and Reg (r)
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.

Rupert Penry-Jones and Philip Davis
Philip Davis and Rupert Penry-Jones
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.


  1. Jon Jordan

    I really enjoyed the first series of this show and this second is just as good. I’m a bit of a Krays buff and really enjoyed what they did with this.
    Rupert Penry-Jones was great in Spooks but I love the totally different character he plays here.

  2. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    @Jon – Kray nostalgia is a phenomenon and I can see why you find it fascinating. I’ve spent a few days researching it and I want to know more! As for Whitechapel, I don’t mind Rupert Penry-Jones playing a character so different from his role in MI-5/Spooks, but I find Chandler’s naivete hard to fathom or accept. Why in the world would he be fast-tracked? Unless someone wants him to fail…?

  3. Terrie Farley Moran

    @ Leslie, I am staying with the next two episodes to see Cazenove get his just desserts. (I hope.) And I agree about Chandler–he needs to stop taking it on the chin and start tossing out a few shots of his own.

  4. Clare 2e

    I can buy that the PTB want Chandler in place as a suave, urbane, handsome talking head for the brass, leaving the rest of the higher-ups to do as they will while he faces the cameras. To do that job, he has to reach a high enough level first, and of course, he has to give up asking uncomfortable questions and the shoeleather investigating. I hope he won’t.

  5. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    @Terrie – I’m intrigued by Cazenove. Let’s see what happens… @clare2e – Not sure I agree. Yes, he’s handsome, but he’s such a doofus. If he becomes known as the guy who lets criminals escape, he won’t be a very credible spokesman. I am starting to believe that Chandler has been put in this position because someone in this corrupt precinct wants and expects him to fail, so they can go on being corrupt.

  6. Terrie Farley Moran

    @ Leslie– designed to fail — that would make sense on so many levels. Let’s see what happens.

  7. Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

    Didn’t Commander Anderson cut Chandler lose in last season’s finale, saying he’ll no longer support him? I get the sense Chandler’s superiors don’t want him in place at all but they just can’t fire him.

  8. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    Anderson made nice with Chandler right at the beginning of this episode. No hard feelings. It’s just politics. What do you think? Can we trust him?

  9. Terrie Farley Moran

    Anderson is a snake.

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