After the top-to-bottom intensity and major character and story arc shifts of last week's installment, it's not at all shocking that the fourth episode of Luther finds the tone and pace dialed down a bit. What is surprising, though, is that this episode is not merely calmer relative to the last, but that director Sam Miller (who also helmed episode 3) uses a gentler hand and a lower key, period--and for an episode that, while not as pivotal as the previous one, does not lack for either important overall plot developments or lurid subject matter. The latter respect comes by way of DCI John Luther's (Idris Elba) Case of the Week, which centers on no less than not only a serial murderer of women, but one with a serious handbag fetish. While this storyline does build to a rather graphically violent climax, it ultimately feels a bit mundane, for writer/series creator Neil Cross does not use the week's criminal concern to either illuminate and enrich Luther (except for revealing him to be a David Bowie fan) or the other characters, nor does it inform the continuing story arcs in any way. It's the first time in the series' run where the self-contained plot of the week plays like a routine procedural episode.
Thankfully Cross continues to not be routine when it comes to the ongoing character matters, which take turns both expected and not. With the exposure of his career-threatening secret appearing all but inevitable, Luther finally seeks to make a decisively clean break from any sort of contact with the ever-eager-to-"help," ever-batshit-crazy Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), which sets her off even more--and brings about an unexpectedly abrupt resolution (though not exactly closure) to one of the longer-looming issues. After the previous episode's events, Luther and wife Zoe (Indira Varma) begin the hour not exactly estranged, but the rediscovered closeness proves to create new complications that may leave them even further apart. These aren't exactly insignificant developments at all, but Cross and Miller play them (aside from one requisite freak-out apiece for Luther and Alice, that is) in an unusually understated fashion, which is a bit refreshing coming after the frantic previous installment not to mention a rather surprising choice overall. But such an approach paired with a less than thrilling Case of the Week leaves the episode feeling a bit minor and wanting. With only two more weeks to go, here's hoping next week's penultimate chapter finds the tension and energy level jumpstarted in preparation for the big finish.