The Ripper follows the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe (pictured in second row, second from the right), a serial murderer of 13 women, among numerous other acts of violence.
I have always been (somewhat guiltily) interested in the stories and psychology behind serial killers and, if the overstuffed-to-the-point-of-bursting world of true crime entertainment is any indication, I am far from alone in this fascination.
I am not, however, what you would call an afficionado by any means; I know the names of the monsters that everyone knows … Dahmer, Bundy, Gacy, Jack. When I saw that Netflix had a new miniseries titled The Ripper I, naturally, thought it was about the last of these. What I found instead was the dark tale of the Yorkshire Ripper, a name I had, for one reason or another, never heard of.
I always love learning about new tales of the nefarious and intrigued by The Ripper and its tightly focused narrative.
One of the things I appreciated the most about the series was how it jumped right in. There is not much exposition beforehand, and when the backstory of the town and the grisly events that transpired there are eventually explored, it is explored briefly and concisely. The pacing is, in other words, quite good. It is always important to get some background to events such as these, but plenty of other true crime documentaries tend to overdo it a bit to pad out excessively long run times. I did not have this problem with The Ripper, as the societal ills and political climate are essential to the story of the police and their attempt to hunt down serial murderer Peter Sutcliffe, not to mention the fact that the series is only four episodes.
This leads me to another aspect that I appreciated: that the story is primarily concerned with the police, the victims of the Ripper, and (to a lesser extent) the lamentably sexist society that allowed such a man to thrive in the first place.
Sutcliffe himself is not given much attention when he is eventually caught, which I also realize might be a big turn-off for people interested in the macabre details of what it takes to make a monster such as he. Some also might find issue with the undeniable feminist overtones that the narrative has, calling the series too political or biased. I did not feel this way about either hypothetical complaint, as the murders are still the primary focus and there is an undeniable gender theme to the story of a man who only killed women and a police force that bungled their response partly because of sexist assumptions (like assuming that all of the Ripper’s early victims were prostitutes simply because they were single and impoverished women).
As one of the interviewees says, the goal is to “push him back into the shadows and bring the women out.” It’s not a bad idea, but I also realize that it’s not what some people want to see.
All that being said, the series is not preachy, nor is it an in-depth societal treatise. This is all just window dressing for a true tale of murder, mayhem, and missed opportunities.
The Ripper is a slightly-better-than average documentary that, to me, was slightly elevated beyond that because of the fact that it was conveying information that was new to me. So give it a shot.
The Ripper is now available on Netflix.