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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

F3TV: Luther - series 2, episode 1

Film Flam Flummox

If last year's first series of Luther has taught us anything, it's that however straightforward and simple anything (or, perhaps more importantly, anyone) appears in writer/series creator Neil Cross's dark detective saga, it rarely ever is. Even bearing that in mind, the remarkable swiftness and relative tidiness and ease with which Cross and director Sam Miller have hit the reset button in the opening moments of series 2--especially coming after the harrowing, despairing, boldly unresolved wallop of a note the show left off on--is rather startling. Murderous psycho Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) has taken full responsibility for the climactic events of last series and is finally behind bars, freeing DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) to resume his lawman duties. He quickly rescues loyal partner DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) from between-series demotion, and soon the pair are back on the mean streets of London as part of a new investigative unit headed by DCU Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley), once one of Luther's biggest detractors; an even more surprising peace appears to have been reached between Luther and Mark North (Paul McGann), one-time fiance of Luther's beloved ex Zoe. (And on a more surface note, the first glimpses of Luther himself show him in a state of undress, taking his time putting on that familar rumpled detective suit--perhaps the BBC's shamelessly pandering way to generate some of that Elba-fueled Takers buzz for this series?)

But what immediately follows once Luther is fully dressed--after taking a seat in his disheveled apartment, he puts a pistol to his head in a spin of Russian roulette--just as quickly rattles the viewer back to the gritty reality; even stripped bare and given the chance to start anew, the pain remains, and his old patterns quickly re-emerge. The players' positions have been rearranged and certain circumstances may have changed, Cross appears to be saying, but certain fundamental realities remain inescapable, and it is impossible to truly proceed as if business were as usual. As Luther and Ripley plunge themselves back into work and the investigation of a typically lurid series of crimes committed by a masked psycho, the familiar Case of the Week (or, rather, "Case of the Two Weeks," for this abbreviated four-hour second series consists of a pair of two-part installments) beats are dutifully hit, the scars of past events still reverberate. Mark and Luther are on decent terms, but vestiges of old tensions linger beneath the decorum. While the perhaps most honorable and by-the-book character of the whole show, the cost Ripley had to pay for his Luther loyalty instills fear and trepidation by one of the pair's new teammates. And while he went out of his way to earn him another chance, Schenk reminds Luther that he is still on as short a leash as ever--and that entails strict orders to avoid all contact with Alice.

But, of course, even locked up, her scary/sexy siren call proves to be too strong for Luther to resist, and as Elba and Wilson's scenes together were in the first series, their tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte here is the definite highlight of this episode, bristling with tension, crackling with chemistry. Incarceration has done nothing to "cure" Alice of her warped view of the world, nor dull her astute powers of perception. Cross wisely leaves it to Alice and her otherworldly yet grounded manner of speaking to state what I fully expect to be the focal, underlying concern of these four hours: Luther's choice between his destructively obsessive devotion to his ongoing mission for justice and that of a fresh break and the pursuit of a new life--which could very well lead to the salvation he needs.

In the meantime, though, Luther is still on the case, and the episode closes with a suspenseful final stretch somewhat cheapened at the very end by a gimmick generally reserved as a crutch for lesser thrillers--but I recognize that as a bit of a "tune in next week!" cliffhanging concession to the two-part installment structure of this go-round. If the tease for next week is any indication, this particular case may head to a close but the real meat of the ongoing character and thematic drama truly starts up, with the barely-suppressed internal and interpersonal demons breaking to the surface--and that, not any psychopath of the week, is what Luther is really all about.

Buy the Luther series 1 DVD here.
Sign up for notifications on Neil Cross's Luther: The Calling prequel novel here.


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