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Luther: Season 2, episode 2 (2011)

Luther 2010 Idris Elba

It’s impossible to discuss this without detailed spoilers so do not read this unless you have seen the episode.

Well, DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown), the loyal sergeant, gets his reward for being back on the stairway to heaven, police procedural style, by being kidnapped by Cameron Pell (Lee Ingleby), the nutter. We shall pass calmly over the practicality of how the nutter gets into the police car without being detected, overpowers the big policeman, persuades him to leave the car, and then transports him away from the area (presumably thrown over the back of a llama or some other means with an artistic flourish). Anyway, now DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) is on the scene of the abduction, DCI Martin Shenk (Dermot Crowley) is already worried his man’s anger will get in the way of a cleanly run investigation. This set-up has all the hallmarks of another criminal ending up in a hospital in a coma and that’s not going to look good on anyone’s record. So having got the formalities out of the way, it’s on with the hunt. In the meantime, the loyal sergeant has problems. It’s all to do with a blowtorch, a hot iron and suspense as to what’s going to happen.

Jennie Jones (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) is still handcuffed to a chair with Mark North (Paul McGann) acting as jailor with bathroom privileges a challenge. Heavies approach Caroline Jones (Kierston Wareing) (her mother) to get their prostitute back. Except when they explore options with the mother, it seems it may all be part of a plan to entrap Luther. This gives us a twin track narrative. The nutter telephones and Luther ignores him. Our hero has done his psychoanalysis 101 and decides the only way to beat this nutter is to treat him as if he does not exist. He’s to be an “absence”. As an idea, this is clever. I’ve no idea whether this form of provocation would work in the real world. Either way, it doesn’t stop the episode from having a pleasingly dynamic quality. Hey, Luther’s right. What a surprise. The nutter gets upset by being treated as if he has no importance and starts talking to the loyal sergeant instead of torturing him. No, wait. Spouting this rubbish is torturing the loyal sergeant. But at least they’re talking.

Luther and Alice Morgan in a moment of intimacy

Luther and Alice Morgan in a moment of intimacy

It seems the nutter inherited some money when his mother died so Luther has everyone searching for where it went. He also announces to the media that he’s scaling back the hunt for the missing policeman. Shenk and the DS Erin Grey (Nikki Amuka-Bird) interview and intimidate people they identify as having helped the nutter set up a new identity. It turns out he’s bought a bus and a large amount of sodium hydroxide. Leaving the loyal sergeant tied to a metal bracket bolted to a brick wall, the nutter is off to pick up children from a local school. While the cat’s away, the loyal mouse plays with the bracket and eventually breaks free (rusty brackets have no strength when the cat’s away). Shenk and Grey go off to find the bus. Luther picks up the sergeant, embracing him like a long-lost brother. They check the GPS on the nutter’s car conveniently left next to the hideout. This enables them to identify the probable place where the children will be taken.

Anyway, in the second narrative strand, the bad people led by Baba (Pam Ferris) take Caroline Jones hostage, drive a nail through Luther’s hand to show they mean business, and tell him to find out where the police are holding a man who will implicate her grandson, Toby Kent (David Dawson) in people-tracking activities. These bad guys act all psychopathic to frighten Luther, but he’s just angry he has this nail in his hand when he should be out catching the nutter. Except he can’t ignore the threats to Caroloine and Jennie so, with Benny Silver (Michael Smiley) doing the research, our hero breaks into the safe house with Mark’s help and he instructs the witness to withdraw his statement implicating Toby Kent.

Martin Shenk (Dermot Crowley) proving competent in an interview

Martin Shenk (Dermot Crowley) proving competent in an interview

In the main narrative thread, we have the silly situation of Luther and his loyal sergeant getting to the factory unit before every other police officer in London. They reduce the nutter to a snivelling wreck by refusing to treat him as a serious threat to the children he has locked up in his van. With everything happily resolved on this front, Luther returns to his seedy flat where he finds Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) waiting for him. She’s escaped from the secure mental hospital and asks him to run away with her to distant lands featuring places beginning with M. He refuses. Disappointed she gives him a kiss and leaves. He goes to get Jennie and brings her back to his place. Not having read the script, he assures her she’ll be safe there.

Although elements of the episode are idiotic, e.g. cars crashing into each other or through iron railings and still being driveable, the overall effect is as gripping as television episodes ever can be. Luther continues to be restrained, which is a major improvement, and Shenk proves interestingly competent. The loyal sergeant gets to show a heroic quality while the others in the team remain ciphers. In a one-hour episode, there’s no time for everyone to get their moment in the spotlight. This leaves me a chance to offer a word of praise for the villains in these first two episodes who have managed to come across as rather more credible than the more melodramatic criminals from the first season. This has provided Luther with direct antagonists and given the episodes a better balance.

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 1 episode 6 (2010)
Luther: Season 2, episode 1 (2011)

Luther: Season 2, episode 1 (2011)

Luther 2010 Idris Elba

Luther: Season 2, episode 1 (2011) starts as we know it must. Deathwish DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) survives his morning ritual of Russian roulette and sets off to work as all happy adults must go to their own personal coal face to continue mining. There’s just the one problem with this opening sequence. At the end of the first season, we were left with something of a messy cliffhanger. I had hopes this might signal a shift into a better level of credibility. Rashly, I dared dream this season would deal with the aftermath of the shooting. There we were with three people standing over one body, police sirens wailing in the background. Glossing over this problematic situation would be unacceptable, I thought. So, of course, that’s what Neil Cross does. By his standards, it would be boring to deal with the messy details of whether Alice shooting DCI Ian Reed (Steve Mackintosh) was self-defence or an execution by majority vote, Mark North (Paul McGann) supplying the second vote for death. All we see is DCI Martin Shenk (Dermot Crowley) interviewing Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) who’s intent on taking all the blame for killing Ian Reed. The things we do for whatever passes for love in a sociopath’s mind. When Luther meets up with Mark North, there’s no obvious consequence for either of them. No suspension for Luther whose knife wound seems to have healed nicely. No prosecution for Alice for pulling the trigger. Not even an interview shown for Mark North. It’s just life moving forward as if nothing seriously unlawful has occurred.

Alice Morgan saying, "I did it. It's a fair cop."

Alice Morgan saying, “I did it. It’s a fair cop.”

I know I should not be hankering after a season of what might have been, but just pause for a moment. Alice Morgan is clearly guilty of murder and Mark North incited the shooting, making it their common purpose to kill. Running self-defence would fail because neither Alice Morgan herself nor the others were in immediate physical danger. She’s also not provoked by the words being used so another possible defence falls by the wayside. At an early stage, Ian Reed’s excessive criminal activities over the years will be revealed. Vast numbers of criminals currently residing in HM Prisons now allege they were framed by this crooked policeman. All his files have to be reviewed and DSU Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves) would probably be fired for failing to notice. Now we come to the interesting part. From the early days, Luther was aware of Ian Reed’s criminal connections and actions but he did not blow the whistle. In its own right that’s a criminal offence. Shenk would have a field day (or week) bringing multiple charges against Luther and seeing him locked up. This is four episodes of tense drama as we build up to Luther, Alice Morgan and Mark North going on trial for murder. Will the jury convict once they understand exactly what happened?

Ah well, you can’t always have what you want. Indeed, we’re back to normal in the big city as we watch one lone woman attacked by hooded and masked weirdo who then uses her cellphone to call all her friends (and the vet) to announce the news of her passing. I suppose that crime shows some degree of originality. The only one to have suffered any loss from events is DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) who’s working in uniform as a custody sergeant. Luther sweeps into the station and recruits him into a new serious (this time it’s to be really serious) crime. Amazingly, Shenk is in charge of the unit. He’s no longer investigating fellow police officers. He wants to get back to the real world and locking up serious criminals. Not surprisingly, he’s had to call in favours and twist arms to get the role. Saving Luther meant spending a lot of his goodwill with the “management”. Now he’s under pressure to ensure his star performer doesn’t go off the rails (again) (sorry, was he ever really on the rails?). There’s a new DS Erin Grey (Nikki Amuka-Bird) who’s worried her own career may be wrecked by working with Luther. Since these series are naturally perverse, this means she’s destined for greatness.

Cameron Pell (Lee Ingleby) appealing to the world for recognition

Cameron Pell (Lee Ingleby) appealing to the world for recognition

A new face, Caroline Jones (Kierston Wareing), comes into the police station to see Luther who arrested her husband for murder some years in the past. Jennie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), her daughter, was all messed up by seeing her daddy humiliated and arrested. Now grown up, she’s run away into a life as a more extreme prostitute. For her next paying gig, she’s arranged to go through a form of consensual rape which is to be filmed. Reluctantly, Luther agrees to talk with her. IT whizkid, Benny Silver (Michael Smiley), tracks down where the filming “might” be taking place. Luther goes there, finds much activity, and talks with Jennie who claims to need the money. There’s rent to pay. So he arrests her and leaves her in handcuffs with Mark North. They talk. Two damaged people forced to externalise their losses.

After a second murder, Luther scans the crowd at the murder scene, sees a likely suspect, and runs off after him. Minutes later, we’re back into darkness. This time it’s cellar territory. With the unerring accuracy of the bloodhound, he tracks the man down. They fight and the man escapes — needs must when there’s an hour to fill. Fortunately Luther has bitten the man and has a DNA sample. Now they have a name and a background. It’s Cameron Pell (Lee Ingleby), a failed artist who has an obsession with Springheeled Jack and is out to make himself into a legend. He kills a third time, taunting the police with a live video feed of the dirty deed.

In an idle moment, Luther visits Alice. She may have avoided prison but is now in a secure hospital — apparently she tried to kill herself (several times). She advises him to give up the police force and live for himself and not for others. Those others are all just vampires. He thinks back to his suicidal tendencies and agrees he’s not going to hang around for long. This just leaves me a final word. If we put aside personal issues and treat this episode as a standalone, it proves to be quite an effective atmosphere piece. There’s not a lot of detecting going on but it does build up into quite a pleasingly tense sequence at the end. Although the cliffhanger is woefully contrived — the rear doors on police cars are not kept locked and open silently — it does keep the interest going.

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 1 episode 6 (2010)
Luther: Season 2, episode 2 (2011).

Luther: Season 1 episode 6 (2010)

Luther 2010 Idris Elba

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.

Steve Mackintosh in a more predatory mood

Steve Mackintosh in a more predatory mood

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.

Warren Brown being quite bright and increasingly loyal

Warren Brown being quite bright and increasingly loyal

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.

Paul McGann worn down by the situation

Paul McGann worn down by the situation

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).

Luther: Season 1, episode 5 (2010)

Luther 2010 Idris Elba

Luther: Season 1, episode 5 opens with the mundane task of moving house. This can be such a strain so James Carrodus (Thomas Lockyer) and his wife Jessica (Donatienne Dupont) were prepared for bad things but perhaps not this. There they are, standing in an empty flat, when a truck from the same removal company that took their furniture away, pulls up outside. Sadly this is bad people who seem to think this art dealer has converted ill-gotten gains into diamonds through a money launderer. Having taken the trouble to come, they are not going to take no for an answer. Leave no stone unturned, they say in the idiom. So with his wife kidnapped, the husband comes into the police station asking for DCI Ian Reed (Steve Mackintosh). With the man he knows out of the office, DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) and the increasingly reliable DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) step forward and hear an edited story of his wife’s kidnapping. Luther persuades DSU Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves) to borrow diamonds from the evidence safe. This breaks the chain of evidence and will kill a current case dead if the loss is discovered. But they can surely keep hold of these diamonds, right?

Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) and John Luther (Idris Elba)

Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) and John Luther (Idris Elba)

Once alerted to the scale of the impending disaster, Reed goes to see Bill Winingham (Alexander Morton), the money launderer with whom he has a corrupt relationship and who set up the robbery through Tom Meyer (Danny Lee Wynter), his nephew. Meyer called in the American specialists, Daniel Sugarman (Ross McCall) and Evangeline Nixon (Ania Sowinski), to collect the diamonds. Reed tells the nephew that if he doesn’t rescue the woman, he will personally kill everyone in sight. This is the type of behaviour for which the British police is well known. Meanwhile the ransom drop with the borrowed diamonds goes wrong as the husband gives up the wife and runs off the the borrowed diamonds. Worse the nephew is intercepted as he rescues the kidnapped wife and both are killed by Daniel Sugarman. It’s a bad day for everyone when Reed is instructed to arrest the money launderer for conspiracy to commit kidnapping and several murders. Reed has been at the heart of the unfolding disaster. If he had trusted Luther to rescue the woman, she and the nephew would still be alive. He now has a problem. While Luther knows of his dodgy past and might be prepared to help, there are too many loose ends lying around which might lead back to him in any event. The episode now becomes almost entirely centred on Reed as he tries to decide what to do for the best.

Ian Reed (Steve Mackintosh)

Ian Reed (Steve Mackintosh)

On the romantic front, Mark North (Paul McGann) is taking a few days away from Zoe Luther (Indira Varna) so she can decide what she wants. She comes into the police station to tell John he’s surplus to requirements. This is just what he needs to hear at the height of this kidnapping. Distressed he calls on Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) and finally agrees with her that there is no love. As a natural contrarian, she confesses she killed Madson for unselfish reasons — because she couldn’t stand to see Luther hurt. At last we have a clear understanding between them.

So no more discussion of the plot. For the first time in this series, Neil Cross managed to get everything right through the simple expedient of focusing on the characters and letting the situation unfold at a natural pace. There’s real tension in the attempts to capture the kidnappers as they pick up the ransom. Similarly, the slow disintegration of Reed is beautifully handled. This character as played by Steve Mackintosh has been rather in the background up to this point but, as the threats of exposure grow more real, this turns into a very well constructed performance. Unlike others who have rather overacted when coming into the limelight, Mackintosh shows the slow decline into despair, toying with the possibility of suicide. But then he pulls himself back from the edge. His performance gives the episode a solid base from which Idris Elba can launch his more extravagant style. They make a good pair. The upshot of this episode leaves everything poised for the last episode in this season. For once, I’m actually looking forward to watching it.

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 6 (2010)
Luther: Season 2, episode 1 (2011)
Luther: Season 2, episode 2 (2011).

Luther: Season 1, episode 4 (2010)

Luther 2010 Idris Elba

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.

Rob Jarvis as Graham Shand

Rob Jarvis as Graham Shand

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!

Zoe Luther (Indira Varna) and Mark North (Paul McGann) at home

Zoe Luther (Indira Varna) and Mark North (Paul McGann) at home

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).

Luther: Season 1, episode 3 (2010)

Luther 2010 Idris Elba

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!

Burgess (Paul Rhys)

Burgess (Paul Rhys)

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.

John Luther (IIdris Elba) and Zoe (Indira Varna)

John Luther (IIdris Elba) and Zoe (Indira Varna)

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).

Luther: Season 1, episode 2 (2010)

July 20, 2013 3 comments

Luther 2010 Idris Elba

So here’s the brief for the production team. What’s required is a dark police procedural, i.e. we get an emotionally disturbing crime in each episode for the officers to investigate, and the key characters are in a perpetual state of turmoil. That way, we flirt with the horror genre where the humanity of the characters is under threat from what they experience and how everyone reacts. Key to all this is that both DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) and Zoe Luther (Indira Varna), his wife, feel a terrible sense of guilt (albeit for different reasons). Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), of course, is a sociopath and feels no guilt for anything she does, including emotionally torturing the Luthers. The problem with this structure is that it can become monotonous. Although the more minor characters are relatively normal, their contribution is not enough to leaven the overall frenetic tone. It’s all hyper by virtue of the individual crimes and the interaction between Zoe and Mark North (Paul McGann), Luther and Alice. So in the first episode, we have a crime which is considered particularly terrible. A daughter kills both her parents. If Luther is seeking justice for the dead, he should be implacable in his pursuit of Alice. So far, it looks as if she’s bright enough to avoid giving him enough evidence to secure a conviction. The irony, of course, is that in their different ways, both Luther and Alice are monsters so they understand each other and, to some extent, are attracted to each other.

OK so here we go with Luther: Season 1, episode 2 (2010) and, yet again, high-intensity music blares out as two police officers are shot to death under a railway bridge. It’s another of these melodramatic starts to an episode, set in darkness with long shadows and exaggerated camera angles. . . until we’re back to Luther standing on top of a roof as if he might be going to jump. Well no such luck! Mark North comes into the police station and admits he threw the first punch which began the fight the arresting officers saw. This lets Luther off the hook, and Mark is in Zoe’s good books for setting the record straight. This leaves Luther to talk with DCI Ian Reed (Steve Mackintosh) until he’s sent off to examine the scene of the police shooting. It all looks staged as an execution. Further investigation shows the shooter took out the video cameras in the area except for the one capturing our man walking into the area. The body language on display enables Luther to identify the man as a soldier. Alice telephones to say she’s investigating how Henry Madson (Anton Saunders) comes to be in a coma. She says she’ll take the results of her investigation to Zoe. That really puts Luther in a good mood. Terry Lynch (Sean Pertwee) comes into the frame as the executioner, but he’s in jail. So that leaves his son Owen (Sam Spruell) who might be taking revenge on the police for locking up his father. So to prove the point, we see Owen shooting a police woman responding to a prank call. This brings multiple officers to the scene and he then shoots six dead as a sniper. DSU Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves) gives a pep talk and sends out the beleaguered troops to find the bad guy.

Sam Spruell as the cop killer

Sam Spruell as the cop killer

To help the police, Owen posts a video to YouTube attacking the British government and demanding the release of his father. He claims his father should not be locked up for attacking a police officer. It was post-traumatic stress wot made him done it. Ever thoughtful, Alice offers to help in the investigation, but ends up threatening Luther. Alarmed, our husband manqué asks Zoe to leave London. This leads to a big argument between Zoe and Mark who doesn’t believe the threat is credible. He thinks Luther is playing mind games, looking to control his wife.

Meanwhile Luther goes to visit Terry Lynch in prison. They reminisce. Luther had a father in the army, but when he was old enough to defy his father, gave up trying to please him. But Luther opines that young Master Lynch has been sent out to do a job. Papa says he won’t call his son back unless he gets his sentence reduced. Reed searches the old man’s cell and finds a sim card. He suspects a trap, but with no other lead, they triangulate where the phone can be found. The SWAT team go into the empty house and find a bomb. Four die and six are injured. This bumps the case up to the anti-terrorism unit. Luther’s off the case. As if. So Luther goes back to Daddy and they exchange threats.

To keep the melodrama going, Alice breaks into Zoe’s home with Mark, and they discuss Luther. Zoe says she proud of Luther but doesn’t want to stay married him. Alice asks Zoe whether she believes Luther tried to kill Madson on behalf of the dead. Zoe says she doesn’t think Madson deserved to live.

Meanwhile, using the medium of television, Luther has made a target of himself. He goes into a council estate, broadcasting his presence on a police radio knowing the son can overhear. We then have a ludicrous Russian Roulette sequence until, having distracted the nutty lad by allowing the trigger to be pulled five times without it going “bang”, Luther overpowers the boy and slaps the handcuffs on his wrists. Another case solved by the man with the magic head (it’s magic because he can prevent the gun from going off). This is patently absurd. We’re supposed to think Luther has been suicidal because he was standing on the edge of the roof. That’s why he’s willing to die himself but not willing to let the idiotic soldier to kill himself. Except he allowed number one son to put the gun to his head twice and pull the trigger. He only acted when he knew it was a sure thing. What’s worse is all the cod psychology of the son failing to live up to his father’s high expectations. I don’t believe tough Daddy would have caved into the threats and given Luther all this dirt on his son.

Luther then calls up Alice and, when they meet on the bridge, says he’ll kill her unless she agrees to leave Zoe alone. Alice claims she’s now his friend. She thinks Zoe is admirable and she gives her word she will not contact Zoe again, well Brownie’s honour (as if chocolate cake has any honour). Satisfied by this peace accord, they go for a cup of coffee, not as friends, of course. I’m still on the fence. I’m finding it difficult to adjust to Idris Elba as Luther. The performance seems to lack consistency. Ruth Wilson as Alice, however, is rather endearing in a macabre kind of way. She’s the one factor keeping my interest. Hopefully, her role will be maintained and provide Luther’s character with a little more ballast to avoid being swamped by his inner demons. For now, I’ll persist.

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 3 (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).

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