By Andrew Williams
April 29, 2014
Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and the rest).
Now, this is a story all about how… after the carnage at the end of Series One, DCI John Luther is trying to work through his grief just as a terrifying, theatrical serial killer emerges.
Happy days? Luther S1 had three major things going for it: a pulpy, entertaining atmosphere, the superb lead performance of Idris Elba, and the compelling supporting work of Ruth Wilson as the sociopathic Alice Morgan. I’ll give you the warning now: Alice is barely in Season Two, and it can’t help but lack as a result. It’s still good; it’s just not special any more.
Without Wilson to paper over the cracks, the flimsily developed supporting cast becomes much more of a problem – never really characters in their own right, they’re either used as bait or as less than intimidating threats to Luther’s agency. Writer Neil Cross tries to compensate by giving Luther a damaged young girl to protect from evil pornographers, however the emotional journey never feels earned and it seems like the show as a whole is spinning its wheels (unforgivable in a four-episode season).
What remains effective about Luther is Luther himself. Elba is a magnetic, compulsively watchable actor, and they could do a shot-for-shot remake of Murder, She Wrote with him as Jessica Fletcher and it would win all the Emmys. Similarly, this show can still set up an effective, chilling serial killer… though resolution is not Luther’s strong point, and the two central mysteries come to disappointing ends.
The final frontier: Luther S2 is the plain salted chips to S1’s salt and vinegar – still good, just not as good.
Best episode: Episode 1. As further evidence of how Luther is much better at starting things than finishing them, the first episode is scary, suspenseful and atmospheric. It’s a keen reminder of how thrilling this very dark universe is to be immersed in, even if it’s a promise the series can’t ultimately keep.
Worst episode: Episode 4. And here’s the evidence. Luther stutters to a very disappointing conclusion, the brooding intensity of early episodes replaced with a very strange (and not in a good way) buddy movie.
Season MVP: Left as the sole centre of Luther, Idris Elba absolutely owns the screen. If anything, the lack of anyone to remotely match him as an on-screen persona is to the detriment of the show. Any scene without Elba is automatically less interesting than when he’s present. If only the writing was as good as the performance: Luther far too often comes across as a superhuman psychic rather than a very good police officer, yet even the bad beats are drummed masterfully by Elba.
Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:
Luther is available on Quickflix.