“The legend promises that one day Ron and Reg will return. Resurrected,” DS Miles warned DI Chandler in Season 2, Episode 1 of Whitechapel, wherein we learn there’s a Kray copycat killer on the loose in London.
That day, it seems, is upon us. Proceed with caution. A sense of humor would help too. For Whitechapel requires us to make a lot of assumptions, the safest of which is that this show is not to be taken seriously.
Episode 2 opens with the murder of a patron at the Blind Beggar pub, where the real Ron Kray shot George Cornell in 1966 after Cornell allegedly called him a “big fat poof.” (Ron had affairs with men, including a few well-placed politicians.)
The casualty this time is an unsuspecting patron who happened to sit on the wrong barstool. The only witness is a shell-shocked barmaid, who insists on speaking only to DI Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones). She tells him that Jimmy Kray shot the man.
“Wha…?” says Chandler (or words to that effect). For even though the barmaid—and the rest of the neighborhood—knows there’s a new generation of Krays operating on Chandler’s patch in London’s East End, we, the Whitechapel audience, must accept that DI Chandler’s investigative team is unaware of their existence.
Even DS Miles (Phil Davis), whose father was a Kray associate back in the 1960s, has no inkling about “The Krays: TNG.” Yet here they are.
Identical twins Jimmy and Johnny Kray (Craig Parkinson) are nicely dressed boys and devoted to their old mum, but a little “off,” if you know what I mean. Especially Jimmy. Their mum says they’re the sons of legendary gangster Ron Kray, spawned from a deposit he left in a sperm bank.
Of the real-life Kray twins, Ron was indisputably the crazier one. In 1969, after he and brother Reg were convicted of murder and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison, Ron—who’d been diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic—spent most of his time in Broadmoor Hospital, a psychiatric facility for the criminally insane. He died there in 1995.
That Ron would have been permitted to contribute to a sperm bank seems far-fetched, although he did marry and divorce twice while he was incarcerated. The second of those marriages was to Kate Howard, now known as Kate Kray, who currently makes her living writing books about criminals. Truth is stranger than fiction; nevertheless this fiction is mighty strange.
Of course, golden boy DCI Cazenove (Peter Serafinowicz) knows about Jimmy and Johnny Kray, but he doesn’t take them seriously. “Celebrity offspring who lack the talent and wit of their father,” he tells Chandler, warning him to tread carefully after his missteps in Season 1. “Your career won’t survive another error of judgment,” he says.
Naturally, this doesn’t stop Chandler—he of the dizzyingly steep learning curve. He’s determined to tackle this Kray thing, even though an investigation will place his entire team in mortal danger (Chandler’s already responsible for little DC Kent’s being savaged by goons); even though his tagalong, detective-wannabe Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton), is so freaked out he refuses to pursue the case; and even though Chandler himself is kidnapped by the Krays’ henchmen. (“What are you doing?” he demands indignantly. You can’t just take me!” Yeah, actually, they can. Twice.)
The wildcard here is Jack Cheshire, played by Steve Nicolson. (EastEnders fans know him as Gavin, the thug who terrorized Shirley.) Chandler thinks Cheshire is a “double-agent,” ostensibly on the Krays’ team but actually a trustworthy police informant. Yet by this time we know that what Chandler thinks tends not to be worth thinking. So, who is Cheshire really? And why does he always turn up at opportune moments?
Meanwhile, it’s starting to look like the entire precinct is corrupt—except for Chandler, natch. This worries me: If DI Joe Chandler, with his plodding intellect and paralyzing OCD, is the only honest cop in the East End, then what hope is there for the local citizenry?
It’s all very silly. Maybe that’s intentional.
When Chandler and Miles and disgraced copper Fitzgerald (Christopher Fulford) gather in a pub after hours to wait for a meet-up with Johnny Kray, I was hoping they’d grab some pretzels to go with their pilfered beer. This tale needs a few grains of salt to help it go down.
Season 2 of Whitechapel wraps up Wednesday night on BBC America.
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.