Luther: Season 1 episode 6 (2010)
Since we’re going to be heavily into spoilers, you should not read this unless you’ve seen both episodes 5 and 6.
So as Luther: Season 1 episode 6 starts, Zoe Luther (Indira Varna) is dead and DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) has run off. DCI Ian Reed (Steve Mackintosh) can’t get himself into the right place to influence the investigation. That role falls to DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) because he has no long-term track record of loyalty to Luther. Mark North (Paul McGann) comes into the police station and is interviewed by DSU Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves). He passes on the news that Luther and Zoe had resumed sleeping together. If Zoe told Luther that she was going to prefer Mark, it would give him a motive to kill her. Of course the police are into damage limitation mode. Instead of thinking about the situation, Rose uncritically believes she’s going to be blamed for taking Luther back into the unit. That means she’s going to throw Luther under the bus to protect herself. DCI Martin Shenk (Dermot Crowley) is nominally in charge with DCSU Russell Cornish (Matthew Marsh) taking overall responsibility. Whether he ultimately proves guilty, they want Luther under arrest before the press get hold of the story.
As we might expect from the first five episodes, Luther goes to see Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) and tells her what has happened. He wants her to be his accomplice and she’s delighted to agree. This is proving to be a fascinating relationship. All the evidence to date suggests full-blown sociopathic tendencies, yet she seems quite naturally to pass beyond the bounds of a normal friendship. This is not to say the relationship is anything other than platonic. So far, there’s been nothing more than a slight touch and each straying into the other’s personal space. Yet, at an emotional level, they have a strong bond. When the gun is found, Jason tips off Luther and together, Luther and Alice arm themselves and intercept the car taking the gun to the police lab for testing. They steal the gun. Having carefully wiped it down, Luther throws it into the river which has an air of redundancy about it, but makes him feel better. Ian now decides he has to get proactive and calls Luther to arrange a meet. Luther gives him a time and place. Ian now plays on Rose’s insecurity and arranges for a sniper to be watching, ready to shoot. He hopes to make the problem go away by provoking Luther into violence which will mandate a shot.
Luther and Alice persuade Mark to go into the police station. When everyone’s out shooting to kill, he’s to use the code to the padlock guarding Ian’s locker and take the diamonds (interestingly prescient of Luther to “know” where the diamonds would be hidden). Shenk distrusts Jason but has no evidence on which to deny Jason the right to go out with the armed team. As anticipated, the meet goes ahead. The coded exchange between Luther and Ian is excellent but Luther putting his hand in his pocket as if to pull out a weapon is misjudged. He wouldn’t do that. Justin’s warning Luther when the sniper is about to shoot and subsequent arrest is unnecessarily melodramatic.
The ending of the episode deserves special praise. To understand why, we have to go back to the first four episodes which, to my mind, played the wrong game. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a police procedural investigating wholly unusual crimes with exceptional criminals. Once in a while, blending in a little horror helps to show a different side to our police officers who must suddenly confront something wholly extraordinary. But this series has been one aberrant criminal after another, so all we’ve seen have been officers working in abnormal circumstances. It would have been far more interesting to see this tinderbox team investigate the theft of a handbag from a local store. Indeed, the idea of John Luther combusting while trying to persuade a reluctant witness to give up a car thief is very appealing because it gives us a scale of values. This is what he’s like when nominally at rest. This is what he’s like when it actually matters. But because the series has never dialed down the intensity, we’ve been left with the worst kind of melodrama. The settings and camera angles have been chosen to create a dark atmosphere with the lighting team particularly hard at work to generate shadows. Backed up by the music score, it’s all been over-the-top. But this last pair of episodes suddenly remembered that the greatest horror is in the capacity everyone has to self-destruct.
Steve Mackintosh’s performance has been terrific. There’s been little sign of overacting as the situation has slowly slipped out of his control. The change of pace at the end when he tries to provoke Luther and Mark is beautifully judged and gives the three others in the scene a steadiness to react against. Set against this has been John Luther finding a route to redemption. He could have found something to smash, whether animate or inanimate, but he’s largely kept his temper in check and plotted out a way to achieve salvation. The episode is also nicely judged by not resolving matters. It would have been too neat an ending to be even remotely credible if Luther had been hailed a hero for unmasking Ian. The real world is messy and this outcome feels absolutely right.
So having started on a weak basis, the series finishes strongly and I can understand why it won awards. It also leaves me interested to watch the start of the second season to see how it plays out. I confess to being surprised at myself but I’ve been forced to change my opinion of the merits of the series. In real terms, this is a triumph for Neil Cross. I decided to do a retrospective on the television series because I enjoyed the book, but didn’t think Idris Elba was right for the role. Fortunately the script changed enough to give Idris Elba the chance to calm down. Then I found his performance in the narrative arc more convincing. The addition of Ruth Wilson as Alice was inspired. She’s been watchable from the outset. The relationship between this pair has been the glue to hold everything together. Even Paul McGann as Mark North has a chance to shine at the end, making this a very even-handed ensemble piece.
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 4 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 5 (2010)
Luther: Season 2, episode 1 (2011)
Luther: Season 2, episode 2 (2011).