Within the first ten minutes of the third episode of Luther, the audience is treated to a man thrusting his tongue at and then licking a woman's face, words scrawled on walls in fresh human blood, and one of the series regulars washing his bloody face after suffering a brutal beating. Such newly in-your-face boldness I initially completely chalked up to a change in director--at the helm this time is Sam Miller, taking over from the first two's Brian Kirk--but it soon becomes apparent that this episode serves as a pivot that signals a dramatically (in every sense) dark and intense turn for the back half of the series. For a start, stories don't come much darker or more intense than DCI John Luther's (Idris Elba) Case of the Week, that of a satanic kidnapper and murderer who keeps his victims in a freezer while he does all sorts of nasty business with their blood.
For all the surface, sensationalistic shocks that come with exploring such grisly territory (including an instance of blood drinking, no less--not for nothing did the usually lax BBC affix a content advisory), writer/series creator Neil Cross cannily packs his biggest punches in how this case impacts the much larger picture of no less than the entire series. In my post on episode 2, I predicted that in this episode "the week's case will be closed in one way or another, but ongoing saga of John Luther will more likely be untidier than ever," and while I was correct, I had no idea quite to the degree, nor just how Cross would organically, seamlessly intertwine the concerns of the week's procedural case with further enriching the characters, relationships, and larger story arcs--to say nothing of just how much Cross corrupts the already-shaky status quo. For all his investigative acumen, Luther finds that the only way to nab this latest psycho on the scene is to enlist the counsel of another, the ever-present, ever-unhinged Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson, creepy-crazy-captivating as ever)--who on her own has already been serving up unsolicited "help" in trying to bring Luther and estranged wife Zoe (Indira Varma) back together. But whatever immediate results this uneasy alliance may yield on both those fronts, the lasting overall fallout promises to be detrimental, if not outright devastating, to Luther. Indeed, by the hour's end, not only is Luther back in even lesser graces with his superiors, his relationship with supportive but straight-arrow partner DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown, finally getting a bit more to do) has been severely tested, and Alice's sense of spiritual kinship with him is proven to be not so much twisted than it is true. The real suspense for the remaining three episodes lies not in the question of if Luther will suffer his ultimate downfall but if he will care enough to save himself.