While histrionics and melodrama-tics typically garner all the attention, to say nothing of awards, to pull off nuanced, complex subtlety with barely even a word spoken is not only far more difficult to pull off as an actor, but much more richly, if rather subliminally, captivating and rewarding as a viewer. Given his physical stature and general intensity to match, it's all too easy to overlook a key component as to why Idris Elba's portrayal of DCI John Luther has been so indelible for three series and running. It's not only the explosive eruptions of emotion that all too (often self-) destructively manifest in his ongoing investigations of violent crimes and pursuit of justice, but the quieter grace notes that occur within the margins. No more powerful of an example comes near the end of the second episode of series 3, when he catches his partner DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) in a rather compromising position. When Ripley opens his mouth presumably to offer an explanation and/or excuse, Luther shuts him down in ever-authoritative fashion with a brusque "Shut up, Mr. Ripley; you might just spoil my good mood''--and most actors and directors would be content, understandably so, to leave it on such a curtly glib note. But director Sam Miller lets the moment hang for another beat, and for just a split second after he finishes speaking, a shocking yet painfully honest change in expression befalls Luther's face and eyes--one of genuine hurt. For all of his outward toughness that comes with his job and his history, that history just as strongly informs how Luther would, however fleetingly, drop his guard as another one of the very few people whom he could ever count on and trust over the years appears to, like many before him, fall by the wayside.
It's a rather, for want of a better term, beautiful moment in an episode that for the most part runs counter to it, not only in terms of its quiet pitch in relation to the admittedly loud and sensational overall world of Luther, but in that it's a deep, character-rooted beat in an episode that is, for the most part, largely plot-driven. That, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing, as writer/series creator Neil Cross packs in some new twists to the Case of the (Two) Week(s). (This episode reveals series 3 to be formatted rather similarly to series 2, its four hours essentially a pair of two-part installments.) The ongoing hunt to catch the wig-and-mask fetish killer leads Luther and Ripley to another, equally shady and dangerous figure in a development that, both in terms of plot and character type, too blatantly echoes Saw for my taste, but Cross and Miller do milk it, as they have done all else, for maximum tension and suspense that builds to and culminates another heated confrontation at the climax.
Other heated confrontations, in radically different senses, however, leave stronger impressions than those tied to the main procedural plot. DSU George Stark's (David O'Hara) mission to take down Luther continues, the depth of his obsessiveness casting diametrically opposing doubts in their respective partners, with DCI Erin Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird) harboring growing questions if doing the by-the-book "right" thing is truly that; and Ripley apparently rapidly reaching his loyalty limit with Luther and his methods. This thread progresses more swiftly than expected in this hour (owing to the abbreviated four-hour series duration) and does so in rather surprising fashion--though one gets the sense that the seeming tidiness with which this issue is dealt in this episode will just make way for a bigger mess yet to unfold. Ditto that in terms of Luther's connection with sweet shopkeeper Mary Day (Sienna Guillory), which moves from the previous episode's gentle flirtation to real potential for romance as the two get to know each other and their foibles. To be frank, thus far Mary comes off more as an idea than a character--a ray of winsome hope in Luther's ever-dreary day-to-day--and thus credit goes to Guillory for filling in the blanks and keeping in check and grounding Mary's sunniness by smartly, simply underplaying. Her warmth indeed comes off as a contrast to and, for Luther, an appealing retreat from all the other gritty goings-on, but she's not so light and bright as to not naturally and believably exist in the programme's overall dark and dangerous world--which will most certainly come to infect Mary and her burgeoning relationship with Luther, as it inevitably does anyone who comes into his orbit, in the remaining two episodes of the series.