Merrick the Elephant Man wants to tell Reid about Morris’ murder, but he is scared into silence by Inspector Shine. Meanwhile, a woman is killed and her child abducted, leading Reid and Co. to a troupe of sideshow performers who acted as the woman’s surrogate family.
A pregnant woman runs down the streets of Whitechapel in the rain, obviously in labor and looking for help. She bursts through the doors of the hospital and Treaves eventually comes along to perform the caesarean. Later, as the woman rests in her bed with her child, a person comes along whom the woman recognizes. Frightened, she takes her child and fleas from the shadowy figure, begging them not to take her child from her.
Later, Reid and Co. are gathered around her dead body as Treaves tells them she was found in the morning at the foot of the eastern stairway and that her child is missing. There was no source of identification on her, but Treaves reveals a rather distinctive identifying feature – she had a tail.
Fred Best tries on a prosthetic ear that hides his injury from last season. He attends Morris Linklater’s funereal where there is a lot of tension between H Division and Inspector Shine. A fight nearly breaks out between Drake and Shine, but Reid breaks it up. Fred loves all the scandal for his paper.
Jackson inspects the woman’s body, says that she sacrificed herself to save her baby and that she was kept well for a while by someone who cared for her. Reid asks about the freakshow performers and Drake says they have recently kept themselves by the railway arches. As Reid leaves, he runs into Abberline who has brought them another man to add to their ranks, a young man named Albert Flight. Reid protests due to his age and last season’s death of young Hobbs. Abberline insists as Drake and Jackson critically eye the new recruit. Abberline warns Reid not to make accusations or take action against Shine without the proper evidence.
Susan pays a visit to Duggan to pay him rent for her house. He casually reminds her of her obligations and the deal she made with him. She leaves in a hurry. Meanwhile, Reid and Co. pay a visit to the sideshow performers to ask about the woman. The performers identify the woman as Stella Brooks and they talk to a twitchy man named John who last saw her seven months previously and had been searching for her ever since. He becomes enraged by Stella’s death and that perhaps that she had been cared for by someone he recognized and he hits Jackson in the face and struggles his way through Reid and Drake to escape the vicinity. Turns out that John’s gift is that he is impervious to pain and that Merrick was a friend of Stella’s.
Merrick reads the paper about Morris’ death and is determined to tell someone what he saw. Meanwhile, Shine pays Treaves a visit to ask him what he plans on saying at the inquest. Treaves refuses to tell him, saying that its between him and the coroner when the time comes. Merrick comes along to tell Treaves about Shine, but is frightened away when he realizes that Shine is in the room. Shine recognizes Merrick’s fear for what it is and pays him a threatening visit in his room. Merrick is frightened into silence.
Reid has Flight look up records for John Goode, the sideshow performer, to see what his story might be. Reid visits Merrick to ask about Stella, but Merrick is scared to talk to him about anything lest Shine should think that he told of the murder. He becomes upset and rings for help. Treaves is aghast, thinking that Reid has been threatening or harassing Merrick.
Reid, Drake, and Jackson share a drink and mull over John Goode’s reading – some books by a man named Francis Galton, who takes Darwin’s theory of evolution a step further by developing the theory of Eugenics, the method by which weak qualities may be bred out of people and the stronger qualities bred in. Flight arrives with news of John Goode, a brawl some months back between him and Stella Brooks. Flight wants to take a turn through the streets to track down Goode based on his habits and Reid gives the go-ahead, but tells him to take Drake with him.
A Dr. Corcoran gives a lecture about Eugenics while Goode sneaks around in the shadows. He tries to break into his office while he’s busy, but a watchman comes around and scares him away. Meanwhike, Drake and Flight happen across a house that takes in drunken brawlers for the night. Drake protests going in, saying that its a long fight out if they get cornered, but Flight eggs him on. They go in to look for Goode, but get cornered and have to fight their way out. Drake takes Flight home with him where Bella dresses his minor wounds.
Meanwhile, Jackson has dinner with Susan and shows her some travel brochures for places they might relocate to where they could both find good work. Susan reveals that they don’t have any money, that it all goes to Silas Duggan. Jackson obviously recognizes the name as something bad and an argument ensues. Meanwhile, Shine gets his hair cut at Duggan’s barbershop and sends a man of his to watch Merrick to make sure he doesn’t talk. Reid, meanwhile, visits Merrick again and asks about Stella Brooks. Merrick tells him that Goode felt a rage against their child and that Stella couldn’t forgive him for that. Stella went to John’s father, who was a doctor.
Reid goes to collect Jackson, who is still arguing with Susan. Susan tells Reid that Jackson has designs on leaving Whitechapel, which hurts Reid. He gives Jackson the silent treatment as they walk together. Finally he tells Jackson that John Goode is not their man’s real name, and that they must find out why a rich doctor’s son would seek out friendship among a troupe of sideshow performers. They find out that Goode had been institutionalized under Karl Crabbe, a man from last season they had imprisoned for pimping out a young patient to a wealthy entrepreneur. Reid goes to talk with him.
Crabbe insists that Reid tell him about what happened to his wife before he will tell him anything about Goode. Jackson found Mrs. Reid in the gutter, barely dressed and demanding drink. He carried her away as she screamed wildly. Reid had given her false hope to believe that their lost daughter was alive and it ruined her when it turned out not to be true. Krabbe cannot tell Reid Goode’s real name, but says the father was a doctor and that Goode and his brother were subjected to a regime of torture in order to strengthen them against the disease of the blood that killed their mother. The brother drowned himself, and Goode must think that his child is cursed with the disease as well. Meanwhile, Merrick prepares to visit Reid at the precinct to tell him about Morris’ murder.
Goode visits the museum where his father, Dr. Corcoran, works. Meanwhile, Jackson identifies the disease as Huntington’s and theorizes that Dr. Corcoran likely subjected his sons to torture in order to fortify them against the disease and breed Huntington’s out of the family line, stealing his grandson in order to test for signs of the disease. They discover the name of the doctor and go to the museum to question him. Meanwhile, Dr. Corcoran performs some tests of his infant grandson.
Merrick runs into trouble on his way the precinct and Flight saves him from a mob. He takes Merrick to the museum where Reid goes to find Corcoran. Meanwhile, Goode takes the child while Corcoran’s back is turned and climbs the stairs of the museum, intending to throw himself and the baby off the balcony to their deaths. Reid arrives and tries to talk Goode down, to no avail. Flight arrives with Merrick, who climbs the stairs to where Goode is and convinces him to come down.
After everything is set right, Merrick talks to Reid, knowing that he is a man who puts all above himself and is a man he can trust. He tells him that he saw Shine kill Morris. Shine’s man lurks in the shadows and knows that Merrick told the police what he saw. He runs off to tell Shine. Reid sends Flight to take Merrick back to his room and to watch outside to make sure he stays safe. Later, while Flight sleeps outside Merrick’s room, Shine sneaks in and forces Merrick to lie down, which by some quirk in his deformed physiology eventually suffocates him. Reid, Abberline, and Co. arrive later to find Merrick already dead.
Abberline forces Shine and Reid to shake hands and move on with their jobs.
Well, there you have it – the death of the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick. It certainly didn’t take long. And what better episode to explore his life and death than one in which the potential evils of Eugenics is conveyed. If Eugenics became common practice, we’d never have such a man as Joseph Merrick, and certainly not one with as unique an outlook on life. The point of this episode, obviously, is that there is beauty beyond our ailments or physical appearances. The world of Victorian London would have people such as John Goode and Joseph Merrick believe that their deformities or diseases make them less than human, undesirable, and ultimately monstrous – when in fact it is the so called “normal” men who do evil that are the monsters. Even Reid, who is the best of men, caused such pain for his wife that she ultimately went insane.
On a side note, I continue to be impressed by this show and its use of historical material. The death of the Elephant Man was quite accurately portrayed, having died of suffocation as he lie down, probably unable to right himself again. In David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, this is portrayed as an act of suicide, Joseph Merrick finally lying down, sleeping as a normal man, and finding his peace. Here it is portrayed as murder. The fact of the matter is that no one knows how it happened, whether intentional or accidental, only that it happened. The use of the new science of Eugenics, derived from the relatively new theory of evolution and natural selection, is also quite well done. I am always fascinated by Reid’s knowledge and fascination for these emerging sciences and current events. It is one of the aspects of his character that I love the most, his continuous curiosity about science and progress and his search for knowledge in an unenlightened town.
This is a show that has always fought to stay on the air. It was barely renewed for its second season, only being picked up again through fan outcry, and was highly unlikely to be renewed for a third season. However, the powers that be have spoken, and by some miracle, a third season is exactly what we’ll get. Not only has it been renewed, but renewed through a landmark deal between BBC America and Amazon, who has acquired the UK subscription streaming right. Exciting news indeed! Filming for season three is scheduled to start May 2014.