Netflix’s ‘Ripley’ Recap & Series Summary: What Is The Significance Of The Caravaggio’s Paintings?


The 2024 thriller drama series streaming on Netflix, Ripley, is an aesthetically enjoyable show with equally exciting intensity and narrative, making it a truly fresh watch. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s famous Mr. Ripley character, the eight-part series follows a struggling young man, Tom Ripley, as he is appointed to a special mission in coastal Italy and gradually gets engulfed in a life of crime and deceit. Shot at exquisite locations and in rich period-specific black and white color, numerous frames are simply brilliant to look at. The performances of proven talents like Andrew Scott and the deft direction of Steven Zaillian make Ripley a fantastic and enriching watch.

Spoiler Alert

What is the series about?

Ripley begins sometime in 1960 or ‘61 in New York City, where Tom Ripley lives a difficult life, seemingly riddled with poverty and a lack of any serious opportunities. He stays in an old co-operative apartment building with shared bathrooms and facilities, evidently at a meager rent. However, the sense of him lacking opportunities is immediately proved untrue, as Tom’s profession is revealed within the opening few minutes. The protagonist, Tom Ripley, is a grifter, meaning he relies on small-scale scams and frauds to make ends meet. He has a special knack for getting hold of patient details from various doctors and medical practitioners in the city and then scamming them through false bills sent through letters and telephone calls. All money is ordered to be sent to different post collection boxes across New York City, all of which are accessed by Tom under different fake identities, and he earns his living in this very unlawful manner. 

However, at present, his usual business is dwindling as Tom faces severe pressure on different fronts, including the IRS investigating him and some seemingly dangerous men following him around the city. He has to make his way out of a bank and completely abandon his created identity when the officials decide to do a background check on his name. Around this same time, a private investigator by the name of Al MacCarron finds him and informs him that a wealthy businessman, Herbert Greenleaf, has been looking for Tom for a very particular job. Tom initially refuses to take the offer seriously, and he does not even want to meet the businessman. But with the other avenues in his life closing down, he has no choice but to give in to the demand and finally goes to the shipyard to meet with the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf. 

The owner of a shipbuilding company, the ludicrously rich Herbert, is concerned about the wayward spending of his son, Dickie, who has been away on vacation in Europe for an extremely long time. Having found out that their son wants to become a writer and painter in Italy, Herbert and his wife Emily want Dickie to be brought back to the USA, for they feel him to be simply wasting his family money away. A few years ago, Dickie and Tom seemingly met at a party somewhere in New York, although the latter does not remember this meeting at all. At present, though, Herbert has found out Tom Ripley’s name from Dickie’s other friends and believes Tom to be his son’s close friend as well. As the exact details of the job are mentioned, the protagonist cannot believe his fortune. 

After all, he is to go over to the coastal town of Atrani in southern Italy and find Dickie Greenleaf, to then convince him to return home to the USA. Not only would all of Tom’s expenses be paid for by Herbert, but he would also receive regular remuneration for his work. Ditching his previous life and all the petty fraudulent involvements, Tom Ripley writes his only living aunt a scathing letter and leaves for Europe in the hopes of finding a completely new livelihood.

Why does Tom commit the murders?

The protagonist in Ripley is undoubtedly also the lead antagonist, simply because of his lack of a moral compass and his overall violent nature. Towards the beginning of the series, he limits his illegal acts to financial frauds and scams on a very personal level, but there is always the potential for Tom to go all out. Once he arrives in Italy and finds Dickie and his current girlfriend, Marge, on the beaches of Atrani, he immediately plots his next steps, the first of which is to befriend the couple. Tom is incredibly scheming, which is an important side of his character, and although Marge is not convinced by his claims, Dickie starts to believe that he is truly an old friend who only has good intentions. Within a short while, Tom admits to Dickie that his father had sent him to Italy in order to get him back to America, and this move works wonders on the self-indulged rich young man.

Dickie does not see any evil in people generally, and he is unable to identify the clear tourist scams in the works against him. While this might be because of his overall gullible nature, it might also be a sign of ignorance born of privilege and wealth. Dickie is more like an American tourist roaming the small towns of Italy, firmly believing that people in such a beautiful place cannot be evil at all. Therefore, in this sense, the man becomes an obvious target for Tom, although the protagonist plans something extremely big with him. Despite his parents disliking his extended vacation in Europe, Dickie is still sent a monthly allowance from his family fund, with which he goes about pursuing passions like writing and painting, none of which he is even remotely good at. Naturally, Tom spots a real opportunity to embezzle more funds in this situation.

Tom Ripley writes a letter to Herbert Greenleaf, informing him that he has met Dickie and has convinced him to return to the USA, but only after a month, as the latter wants to finish his painting course in Italy. Tom asks for an extra month’s fund from Herbert, while he tells Dickie that he has told Herbert that he no longer wishes to work with him. Having presented lies on both sides, Tom waits for his time to strike, for he wants to remove Dickie completely from the scene and place himself as the only son of the Greenleafs. The plan is to get rid of Dickie and then pretend to be the man, regularly collecting the allowance checks from Herbert and also enjoying the lavish lifestyle that Dickie has set up for himself.

The plan faces a major hitch, though, when Herbert finds it strange that his newest recruit has been able to convince his stubborn son so quickly, and so he writes a direct letter to Dickie. This informs the latter that Tom has been lying about his intentions, and so Dickie takes Tom on a trip to San Marino in order to confront him about this. Dickie’s idea is to warn and threaten his new friend and then ensure that he goes away from Italy, but what he does not know is that Tom Ripley is a force to deal with. Tom sees this as the best opportunity to strike, and he kills Dickie Greenleaf, to then take on his identity. Returning from San Marino, the protagonist tells Marge and the others that Dickie has decided to move to Rome for a few months, and he sells off Dickie’s house and yacht to cleverly siphon all the money for himself. A final prized possession of Dickie, a painting with the signature of Picasso, is secured by Tom in a safe vault while he tries to find a buyer for it through a local gangster.

Although Tom manages to settle into a life in Rome, posing as Herbert “Dickie” Greenleaf, the next challenge he has to face is in the form of Freddie Miles, the childhood friend of Dickie. Although not made clear, it is suggested that Freddie has some connections to the criminal world or that he is resourceful and intelligent enough to be a threat. It is to be noted that although the actor playing Freddie, Eliot Sumner, identifies as gender-neutral, the character of Freddie is referred to by the pronoun “he” throughout the series. When Freddie is informed by Marge about the sudden disappearance of Dickie and the fact that Tom is supposedly accompanying him on his travels now, he already figures out what is going on. Freddie confronts Tom, and the latter is already too deep into his own lies to give up, meaning that he kills Freddie as well and then dumps the body at the historic Appia Antica. There are moments when Tom Ripley makes some unintelligent mistakes or leaves some loose ends, which make Ripley all the more convincing, but his cunning and resolute nature also make up for these instances as well.

Why does Tom not kill Marge?

Gradually, as Tom tries to settle into a completely new life impersonating Dickie, troublesome situations arise for him elsewhere, as the boat on which he had killed Dickie (and which he had failed to destroy properly) has been found near Naples. Along with this, the dead body of Freddie is also discovered, and the whole connection with Dickie Greenleaf is also uncovered in Rome. This investigation poses a bigger threat to Tom because of the determined police inspector, Pietro Ravini. Although Ravini is not the sharpest tool in the shed, as he misses a number of major discrepancies in the case, his intent and desire to solve the mystery take him to great lengths. Ravini’s mistake throughout his investigation is that he never doubts Tom’s claim of being Dickie Greenleaf and thus never doubts that something grave might have happened to the original Dickie.

In this regard, Marge is naturally the most crucial character, and she can make matters worse for Tom by notifying the authorities about the protagonist’s real identity. It is surely Tom’s exceptional skills in fraudulence that, on one side, convince Ravini that he is Dickie, and on the other, convince Marge that Dickie has gone somewhere without informing anyone of his whereabouts. This situation works perfectly for Tom as he moves away from Rome to Palermo and finally to Venice, where he settles under his own name. But when Marge suddenly comes to Venice solely to visit Tom, the situation suddenly becomes tense, especially when she finds Dickie’s personal ring in a box at Tom’s new house. Tom prepares for the worst in this case, too, as he readies the ashtray to strike her down, even imagining a lie to tell the police later on. However, he stops himself at the very last moment simply because Marge believes his lie once again and, therefore, does not pose a threat any longer.

Tom tells Marge that Dickie had given him his expensive and unique ring to hold for him until he returned from his adventures across Europe. This is indeed a very unconvincing lie, but Marge still believes it, as she perceives this to be proof of Dickie’s mental instability and his desire to either end his life or, at least, never return to his usual life. Therefore, Tom also abruptly stops the blow he was planning in his head because, after all, he does not enjoy the act of killing by itself and only kills when necessary. Furthermore, there is a sense throughout the series that Tom wants to be perceived as a good person by everyone, and so when he sees the opportunity that Marge is gradually turning in his favor, he decides not to kill or harm her.

Does Ripley get caught?

When the identity of Freddie is discovered, Dickie is considered the lead suspect in the case by Inspector Ravini. But the officer never suspects that Tom is lying about his identity, and in the way of things, it is believed by the world that it was Tom Ripley who had died in the boat incident, and Dickie Greenleaf is the one still alive. Ravini considers Dickie to be the suspect in the mysterious disappearance and possible death of Ripley as well, not knowing that the exact opposite had happened. Tom evades the police, moving from Rome to Palermo, from where he disappears completely, throwing off a fake trail and making it seem like Dickie has fled the continent and moved to Tunisia. Instead, he returns to the rented apartment in Rome to retrieve his original passport and then moves to Venice, where he rents an old house and starts to live in it. He also cleverly writes a letter to the landlady in Rome, informing her that he does not wish to return and also thanking her for her services. This brings a complete end to the identity of Dickie Greenleaf.

Dickie going fugitive leads to Ravini officially announcing the man to be the lead suspect in the possible murder cases, and this gives Tom the chance to report himself as alive to the police in Venice. Soon, Ravini comes to Venice to have a discussion with Tom, which the latter aces with the correct use of lighting, a beard, and a wig, as well as with his unassuming pretension. Ravini concludes that Dickie has truly run away to Tunisia or is hiding somewhere untraceable to the police, and that Tom has nothing to do with any of the incidents. He also reports how letters written by Dickie to the bank, which all had proof of a mechanical error that was characteristic of his original typewriter, ascertained that nobody else had been faking his identity. Once again, Tom’s exceptional intelligence when it comes to devising such crooked plans shines bright, for he had brought along Dickie’s typewriter after killing him.

Once the police investigation is over, Tom has to face Dickie’s family, as his father, Herbert, comes to Venice to meet with him. The private detective earlier seen, MacCarron, is also present, and together they want to know what happened to Dickie. Tom gives them the same account and is once again able to convince them that Dickie had, in all probability, committed suicide. Various claims by others, including policemen, hotel managers, and also the letter to the landlady in Rome, also make the family believe this outcome. Therefore, Tom’s impersonation and his execution of the plan also involved acting out the necessary emotional states of Dickie, and all of it ultimately protected him from trouble.

During Ripley‘s ending, Tom starts getting invited to the gala parties organized by the rich in Venice, and it is here that he meets with a man named Reeves, who seems to immediately identify the protagonist’s real self. Reeves is also an impersonator, just like Tom, and he has been doing it for a longer time, considering his age. When the coast is finally clear, Tom gets in touch with Reeves and gets a fake British passport of himself made in the name of Timothy Fanshaw. This is clearly going to be his new identity, but it is also not seemingly a random name he had thought of at the moment. In fact, the Picasso painting that he had stored away for all this time had been deposited under this very name, which is also probably why the police never got to know anything about it, and no extra suspicions were raised. Finally, Tom Ripley retrieves the painting, and since he is in no shortage of funds at the moment, he decides to keep it at his Venetian house, making his fake identity as an art collector even stronger. 

But Ripley also ends with a final twist, if we may call it so, as Inspector Ravini finally receives the published book of Margie on Atrani. In it, he sees the photograph of the real Dickie Greenleaf for the first time and immediately realizes that he had never met the man. Naturally, this revelation makes everything clear for Ravini, but by the time he would be able to work on it, Tom Ripley would perhaps be long gone from Venice and maybe from the continent as well.

What is the significance of Caravaggio’s paintings?

Throughout the duration of Ripley, Tom is fascinated by the Italian painter Michelangelo Caravaggio after hearing of his name from Dickie and Margie. After seeing some of his paintings on display, Tom is genuinely impressed by his unique use of light, and interestingly, it is also Tom’s specific lighting of the room during his final interrogation with Inspector Ravini that clears his name from any criminal suspicion. But the more overarching similarity between Tom and the infamous artist is their propensity towards violence and human emotions that are not very openly expressed or discussed. Many of Caravaggio’s paintings show human figures expressing strong bitter emotions like hatred, contempt, and jealousy, and Tom’s actions are indeed more real-world expressions of such feelings and the associated desires. Ripley makes the connection between the two very obvious in its eighth and last episode, which features a scene from 1606, in which Caravaggio flees Rome and takes shelter at his family estate after having killed a man on the streets. The artist had murdered a young man named Ranuccio Tommasoni for reasons that are still not clear to historians, but it would not be wrong to guess that he, too, must have had some reasons of convenience, just like Tom. The very last moments of the series also show Tom Ripley recalling the moments of his two gruesome murders with a sense of pride and pleasure, as well as imagining himself as the modern-day Caravaggio, having created a life out of crime and deceit that is no less than art. 

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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