While the serial killers and various other creepy-crawly deviants that DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) routinely comes across in his investigations of lurid crimes are the primary drawing card and the major driving force behind the buzz and word of mouth for BBC's Luther, that's really not where the true genius of the programme lies. This isn't to say that the show isn't good for drumming up some old fashioned scares and suspense, and veteran series director Sam Miller stages one of its best-yet examples of such as the capper to this installment's pre-title sequence and then pull off another great jump-scare moment as a bookend later in the episode. What largely distinguishes the show and makes it a far richer and consistently rewarding experience beyond a mere thrill ride is how, now three series in, creator/writer Neil Cross uses the police procedural plotting and paces to slyly and organically inform and build his larger narrative and character arcs that dig deeper than whatever the specific Case of the Week might be.
There are actually two Cases of the Week for this installment, the one most surely to occupy the viewer's mind much like it does Luther's being that of a fetish killer whose victims are found wearing wigs and masks. But before Luther and partner DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) can barely make a single move in the investigation, they're swiftly reassigned by DCU Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley) to a far less sensational murder case, that of an Internet bully, that is almost insulting in how obviously open-and-shut a non-mystery it is. The real mystery, and the true weight of the case, turns out to be the impetus behind the reassignment. Luther's list of mysterious deeds, if not outright misdeeds, in his work over the years has grown to a point where they are no longer so easily shrugged off, much less forgiven, from within the force--and determined to take him down is out-of-retirement DSU George Stark (David O'Hara), who is as obsessive about taking down corrupt cops as Luther is in exacting justice at whatever cost. The case reassignment is but the opening salvo in Stark's newly begun chess game with an unaware Luther, whom he believes--rather justifiably so--is bound to crack and show his dirtier colors in even the most deceptively mundane of job paces.
All too eagerly aiding Stark in his mission is DCI Erin Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird), whose suspicions about Luther's procedures while working in his unit in series 2--and getting smeared in the process--have grown into no less than a personal vendetta. This is but one example of how cannily Cross builds from the established character foundations and continually shifts and evolves their roles, both in terms of character arc and their purposes in the larger narrative. Similarly, while Ripley's dogged loyalty to Luther has been continually confirmed over the years-long course of the programme, so have his doubts about its cost to his own personal sense of integrity. One of the great pleasures of watching the show develop has been how Ripley's role has grown more prominent and more complicated, and accordingly how Brown has grown into one hell of an (underrated) actor. (Sidebar--how the hell has Brown's terrific lead showcase from BBC last year, the haunting, morally complex Good Cop, not received any sort of release, on television or home media, in the States?) Based on what transpires in this episode, the direction and ultimate outcome of Ripley's arc may be the real dramatic linchpin to this series.
But of course no arc remains more compelling than that of the title character. I had my misgivings about the unusual and highly dissonant note of sunniness on which series 2 ended, but leave it to Cross to spin an apparent negative into something promising. Although Luther and Jenny, the young ex-prostitute he took under his wing in series 2, have (thankfully, if you ask me) gone their separate ways in the indeterminate amount of time that passed between then and now, the positive signs of life that friendship instilled in Luther remain. And so what was a unthinkable back in the angst-ridden depths of series 1--Luther engaging in a tentative flirtation with a sweet woman named Mary (Sienna Guillory), whom he Meets Cute in a fender bender--is surprisingly believable now as well as injects some natural moments of lightness to Elba's already multi-faceted portrayal, the character, and the overall proceedings. But as we have all too painfully come to know, Luther is a veritable magnet for trouble, and whether it be coming from a criminal, DSU Stark, his psycho-killer frenemy Alice Morgan (sadly absent this episode, but most certainly in the wings waiting to strike), or, as it too often and tragically is, the ever-churning demons within himself, it remains very much in question if this burgeoning relationship will amount to or last beyond mere moments.
Visit my The Films of Idris Elba site.
Read the Luther series 1 reviews here.
Read the Luther series 2 reviews here.
Buy the Luther series 1 DVD here.
Buy the Luther series 2 DVD here.
Buy the Luther series 3 DVD here.
Buy Neil Cross's Luther: The Calling prequel novel here.