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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

F3TV: Luther - series 2, episode 3

Film Flam Flummox

The scariest moment thus far in the entire run of Luther comes early in this third hour of series two: the conspicuous absence of Ruth Wilson's name in the opening credit sequence. While the titular DCI John Luther is a ceaselessly compelling character in his own right, what has consistently taken the program a crazy, creepy step beyond is Wilson's character of murderous sociopath Alice Morgan, the unlikely yet undeniable spiritual kin to Idris Elba's tormented detective. To remove the proverbial yang to Luther's yin is a perilously potentially shark-jumping moment at worst by writer/series creator Neil Cross, and appears a remarkably risky dice roll at best.

How fitting, then, that the latest Case of the (Two) Week(s) centers on literal rolls of the dice--on which a (what else?) a psychotic serial killer depends on making his moves on how and when to strike. The pre-title sequence, in which he wreaks nighttime havoc at a service station, serves not only as an appropriately chilling intro to his modus operandi but also the rather brilliantly unnerving approach Cross and director Sam Miller appear to have adopted for this Alice-free installment. With the admittedly most theatrical, just-shy-of-over-the-top element out of the mix, events, however expectedly gruesome they become, play out with an unexpected matter-of-factness and something approaching understatement--thus making them all the more disturbing for it. That opening scene proves to be just a warm-up for an office-set startler that occurs mid-episode, which is shocking not only because of the intense violence but the lack of score or anything else to juice up the moment; the straightforward calm stealthily leads to a rawer, greater wallop than any louder, more obvious mechanics could.

And so follows the rest of the episode, whose lower outward register belies the chaos on constant verge of eruption, resulting in a lingering under-the-skin tension that keeps one consistently on edge during the quiet. In Alice's absence, the new focal kinship of Luther's is that with young ex-prostitute Jenny Jones (Aimee Ffion-Edwards), and their more playful, quasi-parent-child dynamic as shown in an early breakfast scene makes for an injection of lighter energy that feels a bit alien to this dark, heavy world Cross has created--and, inevitably, reality almost immediately sets in with the entrance of Toby (David Dawson). Introduced in brief but indelibly brutal fashion in the previous episode, the suit-clad grandson of/henchman to Jenny's ruthless former employer Baba doesn't brandish any sharp objects for most of his expanded screen time this episode, but his cooler demeanor makes him all the more menacing--and without hammering any literal nails, he corners Luther into some dirty work. This turn, in another textbook example of how thoughtfully, intricately Cross layers and interweaves his ongoing plot threads and character concerns, rouses DS Erin Gray's (Nikki Amuka-Bird) initial concerns about Luther's character into full-blown suspicion, at which Luther's ever-loyal partner DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) characteristically, reliably scoffs. (Speaking of stealthily evolving developments, Ripley's evolution from junior partner to smart, tough, capable cop in his own right has been one of series 2's most unexpected delights.)

After weeks of seeing him riddled with angst, screaming in anger and agony, haunted by demons, or driven to the brink of insanity by them, an interrogation room scene finds Luther at the top of his game: formidably intimidating without ever raising his voice, confidently collected and in control... or so he thinks. As I remarked on the close of episode 2, "however much Luther means well for others, it almost assuredly won't mean the same for himself," and indeed the slow-simmering tension finally explodes by this hour's end with a double whammy of both an inspired turn in the Case of (Two) Week(s) and a new existence-threatening predicament for our ever-aggrieved protagonist--but these events in and of themselves may be nothing in comparison to the even larger minefield that is most certain to be set off by them in the grand finale.

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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