Luther

"Now what?"

[Warning: There will be no spoilers in this review, but there will be some serious swearing right from the start]

Luther is fucking batshit insane. I'm talking Nicholas Cage levels of uncontrolled insanity here. Everything about Luther is extreme and outrageously OTT. Gritty realism? Authentic characters? Believable plots? Bah, these are not things that concern Luther. This is a show for people who thought Wire in the Blood was too restrained. And yet, it is also highly addictive. No matter how ridiculous and unbelievable it all gets you still find yourself anxious to see the next episode.

Created by Neil Cross, Luther centres on DCI John Luther, a detective working for the London's Metropolitan Police Service. He isn't so much a character as a collection of fictional cop clich├ęs. He's a maverick, he's intense, he has a dark side, he's obsessive, he doesn't play by the rules, he's intuitive, he gets in killer's heads, his marriage is a mess, and he gets angry and smashes up his office at least once an episode. I'm not exaggerating with that last one. Luther's habit of destroying his office is such an integral part of his character that the BBC used it to promote season two:



About the only thing Luther's got going for him is the fact he's played by an actor as great as Idris Elba. Only someone like Stringer Bell could turn this caricature into an award winning role. If anyone else was in this role, I doubt I would be able to overlook how unoriginal everything about this character is. But with Elba, who is clearly having a lot of fun with this role, I just look right past that and go along for the ride. And it is one hell of a fun ride.

But Luther isn't just a one man show. There's also Alice Morgan, Luther's seriously disturbed nemesis/stalker/confidant/potential love interest. Oh, Alice, you adorable psycho. With hair so radiantly ginger it makes Melisandre weep with jealousy, Alice is an absolutely ridiculous character, but Ruth Wilson is such an absolute joy in the role that you can't help but loving her. John and Alice's twisted little relationship is the best thing about this series. They are so good together that the show suffers when she leaves halfway through season two.

The rest of the regular cast is a little mixed. Stephen Mackintosh is increasingly twitchy as Luther's best mate, Ian Reed. Warren Brown, Dermot Crowley, Indira Varma and Paul McGann are all a little on the bland side, but that could just be because they seem to be the only ones giving subtle and restrained performances. And Saskia Reeves just embarrass herself with the worst cockney accent ever attempted by a genuine London native. My eardrums are so relieved they got rid of her character by season two.

The first season finds Luther and his colleagues chasing after one absurdly ludicrous serial killer after another: unhinged ex-soldiers who gun down policemen, a narcissistic Satanist with a vampire fetish (you don’t get that on Midsummer Murders), and sexually frustrated husbands with unfaithful wives (okay, you might get that on Midsummer Murders). Episodes range from the preposterous to “oh come on, you're taking the piss, surely?”. Just when you think it can't get any more insane, along comes the awesomely deranged season finale, an episode that's as nail-bitingly gripping as it is preposterous.

The format of the show is changed slightly with season two. Cases are now spread across two episodes rather than one, allowing for a stronger, more in-depth season that tones down the show's insanity a tad without losing what makes it so addictive. Following the climatic events of season one, Luther is, rather inexplicably, still working as a police detective, only now for the entirely made up sounding Serious and Serial Crime Unit. More inexplicably, this is all at the behest of former nemesis, Detective Superintendent Martin Schenk – now seemingly Luther's trusted BFF. There's still those absurdly ludicrous serials killers to content with, including a pair of twins who get under your skin and make you squirm, not to mention a sinister porn queen played by Pam Ferris. Yes, The Darling Buds of May's Pam Ferris.

The third season retains the same format as the second and sees Luther still chasing after loopy serial killers terrorizing the capital, including a Vinnie Jones look-a-like who dresses his victims up like Siouxsie Sioux (you definitely don’t get that on Midsummer Murders) and a vigilante who gets the public to vote online whether a paedophile should live or die. At the same time, he has to contend with a DPS (Directorate of Professional Standards, the Met's Internal Affairs basically) investigation lead by DSU George Stark, a copper as ridiculous as the serial killers Luther hunts. This is the guy who is supposed to fighting police corruption and he goes about that by putting people in a choke hold until they testify against their boss. If this is what the Met considers appropriate behaviour I don't know why they're after Luther.

Sadly, season three is also the end of Luther. The final episode was an absolutely mental affair which benefited greatly from the glorious return of Alice. It brought the entire series to a close in style, with only minimal heartache. But this may not be the definitive end. Fortunately for the addicted, Cross and Elba have hinted that film could be in the works. Better still, Cross has said he's working on a possible spin-off centred around Alice.

One more thing before I go, at one point during the first season Luther mentions contacting a Detective Munch with the Special Victims Unit in New York. This means that Luther takes place in the same fictional universe as the Law & Order shows, Homicide, The X-Files, Arrested Development and, my god, The Wire. My brain may be about to implode from all this insanity.

Three out of four destroyed offices.

4 comments:

Paul Kelly said...

Bonkers finale, hopefully setting up a movie. The only thing bad about Luther is the truly shitty season lengths. Four episodes? Give me a break.

Despite Alice only appearing in the last episode, I suspect her cumulative screen time was probably more than season two -- so I'm happy. I just hope this isn't the end.

You're spot on about Elba bringing respectability to a role which in lesser hands may have come across as a lifeless caricature. Despite being totally OTT, everything about Luther works. Great twist at the end, too... although I'm curious what Alice meant about Luther's choice being clever.

Anonymous said...

Really cool article on why Luther works when it really has no right to. Luther is essentially the goddam Batman and Alice is a Catwoman/Joker hybrid. Poor Justin is Robin. The same verse as X-Files/the Wire ect..the mind boggles..
Good thing Stabler retired from SVU..he and Luther working on a case would be a little too crazy and they'd really rough up suspects.
But yes..Elba and Wilson make it work.
Anna

Daniel said...

I watched the pilot of Luther awhile back, but was deep into too many other shows to give it a real shot. I didn't realize it was finished (aside from the possibility of a film, as you mentioned), so that means I could burn through it pretty quickly. You've definitely sold me on putting this series back on the top of my list.

Excellent article, it was a very entertaining read!

Josie Kafka said...

I can't read this article, since I've only watched 1.5 episodes of Luther. It sounds like that was a mistake, and I should watch the entire run?