Ripper Street: “Live Free, Live True” Review
The penultimate episode of Ripper Street Season Three tackles gender bias and abortion rights, plus Drake gives Rose a pressie.
Inspector Reid is back to work in full force, while newly reunited daughter Mathilda stays home waiting alone. Rose comes to a decision that impacts the rest of her life, and Susan wades through a multitude of stumbling blocks as she attempts to shore up Obsidian Estates. Doctor Frayne consults her mentor, Jackson cracks a safe. “Live Free, Live True” gives us harrowing examples of what gender inequality means in the real world, and a certain hated character returns. Spoilers for “Live Free, Live True” follow.
When a poor frightened-looking woman gives what appears to be her last dollar to a chemist—most of us already know what’s coming: abortion. Then as now, the illegality of abortions leads to unsafe, unsanitary conditions and the unscrupulous doctors who take advantage. The girl is found vomiting her guts out in the streets, and is tended to by her adoptive father, George. George works construction at Obsidian Estates. Mary is also being wooed by her father’s boss, Edwin Havelock. Havelock seems like what Brits would call a “right little prick,” but perhaps there’s more there than meets the eye.
The chemist, Currie, is murdered, and it’s learned that he’s been treating his patients with a dangerous led solution—poisoning several. Drake and Reid investigate, though Drake is confident that Reid is back to work too soon. Jackson finds money stuffed into the facial cavities of the murdered chemist. Ew. Mary has been taken to Obsidian clinic where Frayne is disgusted to see another young woman victimized by unscrupulous abortionists. Frayne maintains that she could perform abortions safely, cleanly, and affordably for them—except that she’d be breaking the law. Even then, criminalizing abortions only serves to negatively impact the women who need them.
Frayne meets her mentor, Doctor Rolle (note: this pro-abortion doc also played the boyfriend who knocked up the main character in Felicia’s Journey) and agrees to petition Susan Hart to offer contraceptives and abortion services in her clinic. Susan won’t even consider it. I have trouble believing a former madame isn’t more open minded about such things. But she’s trying to be legit these days. Across town, Rose is taunted as she hauls her bags down the street and away from the Morton home. She has left her man. Susan takes her in, while explaining how difficult it is to run a business as a woman. The men she must deal with practically dare her to do something about the shoddy way they treat her. She’s not having it. She didn’t endure Capshaw and that other oaf to have it come to nothing.
Havelock takes Mary to the clinic, where Frayne assures her that she will not die. Reid and Drake question Currie’s assistant, who claims to know nothing. He probably doesn’t know much, but refers the detectives to an address, and a safe. Watch for the terror in his eyes when they force-feed him the chemical they’d been giving the unsuspecting women. Jackson figures out a way to open the safe with gunpowder—leading to a hilarious scene and one of the only light moments in “Live Free, Live True.” The safe opened, (with the help of that annoying primitive typewriter) it’s learned that whoever was supposed to be performing these abortions was actually experimenting on unwitting patients.
Mathilda arrives at H-Division unannounced. Reid is horrified that she would walk the streets alone, having skipped out on her governess. He calls Cobden to come care for her, not stopping to consider why Mathilda would do such a thing in the first place. Meanwhile, Rose informs “Benito” that she has left Morton, and now resides with Miss Susan. Drake is glad of the first thing, but scolds Rose that Susan is not to be trusted. She’s taken aback at his vehemence—and honestly, so was I.
Drake heads to Obsidian construction to have words with Havelock and stumble across George, Mary’s father. George is horrified to hear Mary referred to as Havelock’s wife. When both men find Mary at Obsidian, a fight breaks out that draws the attention of the law. We learn that Mary will never be able to bear children. She is distraught to hear it. At the construction site, Susan confronts a man who is trying to double deal her. She’s not having it. The shoddy treatment she gets from the businessman strengthens her resolve.
At Obsidian, Rose and Susan talk about how the men at the brothel used to reveal their many secrets to the girls. Of course this can be used to her advantage. Susan approaches the dickish businessman with some interesting facts about him ripping off other people. She informs all the men that if they’ve ever been to her brothel—she knows their secrets. The shifty eyes and downcast expressions that follow are priceless. In the end, the businessman is shamed into signing a legit contract. Victorious, Susan exits the men’s meeting and proceeds to vomit on the sidewalk. Enter Fred Best, to ask her if she knows that her father, Ser Barristan Selmy (just kidding, his name is Swift, but it is the same actor) has vanished. Where could he be heading? We think we know.
The scene where Drake and Mathilda share strawberry ices is adorable. Full of riddles and wistful conversations. Mathilda is tired of being told that everyplace is “no place for a little girl.” The perils of a woman’s existence are a stone drag, then as now, it seems. Back at Susan’s place, Frayne again approaches her benefactor about allowing her to perform abortions. Suddenly, Susan is all turned around about it. She says yes, and then reveals that she is pregnant. As far as we know, it’s Jackson’s child, spawned during their night of standing-up-alley-giggity. Wow.
Eventually, the fact-finding reveals that George, Mary’s adoptive father, is biologically a woman. Molested by her own vile father along with many of her sisters—she took Mary and ran away, adopting the look and name of a man so as to have some standing in society. Watch for George to say in defeat, “You have unmanned me.” Truer words were never spoken. That poor man. Despite the tragedy George endured, and the bravery undertaken to overcome it, George is arrested for murder, and is bound to hang for it. They take George out, clad in a dress, leading Mary to beg them to show her father some dignity. As they haul him off, George pleads Mary to promise that she’ll “Live Free, Live True.”
Rolle arrives at Frayne’s office to show her the procedure they’ll be using. But wait—this isn’t just abortion, it’s sterilization. WTF?!? She is horrified. This isn’t what they discussed. Rolle is totally fine with preventing women he sees as lowly from ever having children. Frayne is about to throw her mentor out on his ass, but that’s when Reid and Drake show up to arrest him. She gives him up immediately, declaring him a criminal and looking more angry and sad than we’ve ever seen her. Go Frayne! Bye Bye, Rolle! When Reid says he’ll see him in shackles, we know he means it.
Havelock implores Mary to give him another chance. She won’t. Indeed, Mary will “Live Free, Live True,” even if it means forgoing any happiness that might have been afforded to her. It’s a tragic tale that had me crying by the end. Back to Reid and Mathilda, we wonder if he’ll really take the girl away to live someplace nice—the sea, maybe? He says he needs to stay a bit longer. But I think Cobden hit the nail on the head—Reid’s ego may like to think everyone in Whitechapel needs him. But really, his only responsibility is his daughter—everyone else will do find without him, even Drake and Jackson.
Rose and Bennet meet up for their date, and Drake apologizes for scolding Rose. She forgives him. The look of happiness on his face when she agrees to marry him is bliss. He gives her a ring that doesn’t look as tiny as he seems to think it is. They’re finally both happy. I half expected Morton to jump out and shoot one or both of them. But no…it really looks like they both might get the happiness they need and deserve. I’m glad Rose finally has her head on straight.
But we know Ripper Street isn’t all happy endings. Jackson visits his ex-wife, Susan. She calls him by his real name, and says she was going to call him. We know she wants to tell him she’s pregnant, but he’s not having any of her nice chatter. He tricks her into touching a photo of them—one full of spent gunpowder. See, he’s still trying to prove who shot Reid—and thinks it was her. The fingerprints will prove it. We know it was, but were sort of hoping Jackson will never find out. That’s when Swift—Susan’s father busts in. And…scene.
“Live Free, Live True,” was a poignant and tragic episode. As much as I love Reid, he’s clueless about what it should mean to him to have his daughter back. He’s a single dad, which means he shouldn’t be working a zillion hours a week, and he ought to take care of himself. Drake’s engagement is a wonderful thing, while Jackson and Susan are in for peril. Swift is a bad man, sure to figure prominently in next week’s Season Finale. The only happy news for fans is that we’re guaranteed two more seasons of Ripper Street.
See you’s next week!