Luther: Season 1, episode 3 (2010)
At first I’m not convinced I’m watching the right series. The sun is shining through the windows. A young mother is playing with her baby. Where’s all the darkness and foreboding? And then of course this perfectly charming man wearing an immaculate suit knocks on the front door and that’s an end of the happy times. Without so much as a by-your-leave, we really are back with the melodrama of Luther: Season 1, episode 3 at full throttle. By some means not clear, the man manoeuvres the woman out of the house and into his car. I suppose it must have been the threats that kept her quiet in a public space. And just to confirm we can’t possibly have anything normal on the scene for too long in this series, DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) gets called into the house from which she was taken. The walls of the hall have been covered with text written in blood. It’s all terribly Satanic and must have taken hours to do using a step ladder and small paint brushes. It’s not clear where the woman is during this decoration process. This repeats a crime of ten years ago where the investigation went terribly wrong. There’s a suspect, of course, but because of the political overtones, no-one is to go anywhere near this suspect unless there’s clear evidence implicating him. Well that’s the usual red rag to a Luther. No talking with the man we all know did this. Ha!
We now follow the pattern of the first two episodes for the first half of the hour long episode, interweaving the over-the-top crime with the domestic entanglement between our two couples. Mark North (Paul McGann) is beaten up when he gets out of his car outside the house now occupied by Zoe Luther (Indira Varna). Convinced John Luther would be so petty-minded as to arrange this, Mark goes in to make an official complaint to DSU Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves). It was Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), of course. She’s taken it as her personal mission to drive Mark away so that Luther can have Zoe back. What a wonderfully well-intentioned sociopath she is, even arranging to have the attack videoed and posted to Luther’s email account. After some discussion between Luther and Alice following the arrival of DCI Martin Shenk (Dermot Crowley) the complaints man, Alice goes to see Mark and admits she was responsible. She convinces Mark that things will go very badly if he fails to withdraw the complaint. In due course, Shenk accepts the situation at face value. A witness has changed his mind and no longer believes John Luther was at fault. But he gives the warning he will take Luther down if he has to come back.
Not allowing himself to be distracted from the kidnapping, Luther calls in Richard Henley (Andrew Tiernan) the policeman from ten years ago. He’d been undercover for fifteen months but Lucien Burgess (Paul Rhys), the suspect, had recognised him as a police officer and tied him to a chair. Having provoked him, the suspect let him go and accepted a beating. This gave rise to a big claim for damages and the collapse of the case against him (even though he was guilty, of course). It’s an oldie but goodie plot device and, for these purposes, adequate to keep the police away from him until now. He anticipates someone will come and Luther duly obliges. It’s all terribly civil but Burgess calls a pre-emptive press conference to warn the police away from him again.
We have to endure Burgess draining blood from his latest victim. In theory, she’s to be kept alive so she can be continuously drained to produce enough blood to write another set of messages on walls. But time is short on this abduction. Luther speculates that Burgess has a narrow boat. Young DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) does good work and tracks it down. They break in without a warrant. No-one is going to connect this to Burgess because he used a proxy to get title. They find the woman’s dead body in a freezer. So now Luther has to persuade his young sidekick to keep quiet about finding the body. Luther ups the stakes by assaulting Burgess in the street. He takes a DNA sample and pretends to plant the evidence on the boat. DCI Ian Reed (Steve Mackintosh) then calls Burgess and makes blackmail threats, demanding money to suppress the blood evidence Luther has allegedly planted at the scene. All this gets wrapped up in a surprisingly low-key fashion. I’m not at all convinced the case would stand any chance in court but, for whatever period of time, it does get the nutty killer off the streets.
In the second half, there’s a very distinct shift of tone. The first two episodes are a nonstop potboiler. No-one pauses for breath as they all plunge headlong forward. This is the first time we see proper interaction between Luther and his new DS who proves to be competent, doing some good research when Luther is hiding from Shenk. Reed is also starting to come more into focus. But the real interest comes from the stresses in the relationship between Zoe, Mark, Alice and Luther. No matter what we might think of Luther, a man who’s shown capable of reducing a door in his house to matchwood with his bare fists, he does seem to have engendered considerable loyalty in Zoe. She’s now taking his side and finding Mark’s inclination to think the worst of Luther somewhat annoying. So Luther and Alice have a heart-to-heart. He has evidence she paid Mark’s attackers, but he gives it to her in the hope she will respond constructively. It’s an interesting but almost certainly a futile ploy. Zoe however comes to Luther to apologise for not trusting him. Oh dear. Alice has engineered the beginning of a reconciliation.
Once this stops trying to be a horror story of Satanic, i.e. sadistic, exsanguination, it actually makes a decent shot at engaging the mind. I’m not saying the series would be better if it dealt with more normal crimes. I understand the point of having Luther work such exciting cases. But I think the series would be better if the general tone was more matter-of-fact. There’s a slightly unpleasant salaciousness about the detail of some of these crimes which jars slightly. I think the real purpose of the series is to explore Luther the man and his relationships. That has been diluted by all this gratuitous melodrama. Hopefully the tone will now follow on from this last half hour and settle into a better pace.
For a review of the prequel novel, see Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross.
Reviews of the television episodes can be found at:
Luther: Season 1, episode 1 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 2 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 4 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 5 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 6 (2010)
Luther: Season 2, episode 1 (2011)
Luther: Season 2, episode 2 (2011).