Luther: Season 1, episode 4 (2010)
For Luther: Season 1, episode 4 (2010), we open to strains of gentle music while observing the sentiment and quiet calm of Graham Shand (Rob Jarvis), a murder, who has just taken a life and nicely posed the body. He pauses, remembering the day and then removes a necklace from his latest victim. Well, at least we’re back into the night and dealing with obviously disturbed people. No more middle class criminals flirting around in suits. This is one of your common or garden sex killers. And, in the best traditions of an inverted crime story, we then follow the happy killer home after his “late shift” ostensibly recovering and repairing taxis. He’s in the mood and celebrates his good residual feelings by giving his wife the necklace as a birthday present, followed by a slightly different present in the bedroom.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch where DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) is crashing after his feel-better session with Zoe Luther (Indira Varna) — he’s never been what you might call a happy camper, but he’s certainly feeling less like smashing up the furniture today — the telephone wakes him. DCI Ian Reed (Steve Mackintosh) calls him in to consult on what now seems a series of three murders. Not just a serial killer, you understand. It’s a murder spree. Luther thinks the man is in the police database. It’s just a case of asking the right questions. Which he promptly does with DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) doing most of the heavy lifting off screen to narrow down the pool of suspects with unlikely speed.
Meanwhile Henry Madson (Anton Saunders) our man in a coma with stories to tell about Luther, is showing signs of waking up. Both DSU Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves) and DCI Martin Shenk (Dermot Crowley), the complaints man, arrange to be on hand to ask the right questions just as soon as he’s well enough to answer. Aware of impending disaster, Luther warns Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) off. He thinks the police will be following him wherever he goes so he can’t keep on seeing her. That upsets our dear lady. Needless to say, she’s not going to take any disruption to her lifestyle lying down. Unfortunately he’s not properly grateful when she kills Henry. Killing Madson just finishes off what Luther started. He should be grateful. So Alice goes to rat out Zoe to Mark North (Paul McGann). Oh more happy days as Mark and Zoe try to work out where they might be going with their relationship. Zoe is guilty as Hell but patches things up with Mark. Luther is history again!
The problem with this episode is easy to state. It’s not what we’ve come to expect as a pure Luther episode. A significant amount of the time is spent observing the serial killer and his wife. This is not a police procedural focusing on Luther’s David Bowie approach to solving crimes. It’s more like a “true crime” story in which we’re invited to understand the context for the killer’s decision to take several lives. His wife is being unfaithful. He’s impotent unless he kills. So to try to win back his wife in the bedroom, he goes out to kill. It may not be a good plan, but it might save his marriage. Once Ripley has magically tracked down the suspect, Luther spends time holding Mrs Shand’s hand in the interview room as he gets the inside story of their marriage. Graham was a serial thief, stealing handbags to keep himself (and his wife) happy. She didn’t call the police even though she thought a handbag fetish was an immensely creepy kink. You don’t shop your husband to the local law in this part of London. But eventually it all became too much and she left him. Devastated, he staged a big suicide act and that persuaded her to come back. Now this. . . The ending is the worst kind of melodrama as, completely departing the real world, we have a contrived rescue which excludes Luther from the final confrontation — he might be daft enough to sneak off to meet up with Madson’s killer or just to run off to a Russian airport to avoid extradition for a crime he did not commit. That means the arrest all goes wrong in one of the more absurd endings for what’s supposedly a realistic police procedural.
Having hit what I thought was a reasonable balance between developing the central characters and investigating the crime in the last episode, this gets it all wrong in a different way. Even though it’s a good idea for Alice to kill Madson and then take revenge on Luther by driving Zoe away again, the killer overcoming his psychological impotence is too big a distraction. With only two more episodes to go in this first season, I remain to be convinced this series featuring Luther is any good.
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 3 (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).