[Review] - Luther, Series 4, Episodes 1 And 2

Courtesy of the BBC
Luther has begun to mirror it's fellow Beeb-mate Sherlock in more than one way. The stars of both have, since the first series of their respective shows, exploded into international stardom that makes getting them back to film for any significant time a Cold War stratagem of scheduling. Luckily and happily, Idris Elba, like Cumberbatch and Freeman, is in love with the character, and willing to carve out time in order to bring the characters to life again. The net result, and the other major similarity between them, is that the series keep getting smaller and smaller, and further and further apart. Luther has reduced it's episode count each series it has aired, despite increases in it's popularity.

And while I would usually champion the sort of focused storytelling that a condensed episode count brings, that cannot be the case for Luther series 4. While Elba's charm and comfort with the character gets us through the duel episodes, the narrative is unfocused, and attempts to squeeze three or four episodes worth of material into two hours, meaning that anything truly substantive is lost in the menagerie. Which is a damned shame, because of the four major storylines that criss-cross these episodes, two were really interesting and I would have enjoyed watching with more depth.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that once they are green-lit, there's no going back.


Series 3 ended perfectly. It brought the characters of Alice and Luther to places of contentment if not comfort, and managed to find a "happy" ending for two decidedly unhappy people. Yes, as one character in this series suggests, they would have probably ended up killing one another, but that doesn't matter because the series ended. We don't have to think about what happens next. Unfortunately, this series is what happens next, when one of the two leads can't come back. So, we find Luther alone and Alice presumably dead, with her death coming under suspicious circumstances. And so Luther becomes the one man wrecking ball of justice, strong arming his way through the London criminal underground, trying to find out 1) if Alice is really dead, which he isn't 100% convinced of, because how could Alice Morgan die so easily, and B) if she is dead, who killed her? As the impetus of a series, that might have actually been pretty strong. Having Luther go on a one man revenge spree, and call back to all those notions in the earlier series of how much really separates Luther and Alice.

On the other hand, DCI Theo Bloom and Emma Lane are investigating a series of cannibal murders. He is one of Neil Cross' particularly nasty monsters. despite the show starting under the guise of a British Criminal Minds, with Luther specializing in psychological profiles, Cross' monsters are not really the products of  disorders and medications, they are the German Fairy Tales living under your bed. They are horrific creatures of nightmare rather than criminals, so the pretense of a diagnosis is largely symbolic of Luther's connection to the monsters because of his own. Bloom is exploded, sending Lane into a PTSD tail spin, necessitating Luther's return to the force because only he can provide insight into how this thing works and how they'll be able to get him doing his Hannibal Lecter impersonation all over London. As the impetus of a series, that again might have actually been pretty strong. It wouldn't have even needed to fowl up the end of series 3, but could have taken place at any point in the character's timeline.

Instead, both got smooched together, interwoven and forced to fight one another, Amok Time-style for screen time. The first episode does not suffer as much, with the two plots basically keeping to themselves. Most of Luther's story is kept to his quest for Alice's killer, which brings him into conflict with crime boss George Cornelius. Meanwhile, Bloom, Lane and the Serious Crimes Unit hunt down the Eater. It is only in the final fifteen minutes that Luther crosses over in as forced and meaningless way possible, save for the fact that it gave them a chance to give Elba a slow motion "I'm Batman" moment as he puts on his overcoat and tie (cheapest cosplay costume ever, by the way). As it stood, the first episode was a serviceable reintroduction to the character, if a bit of a waste of opportunity. But still far more focused on the characters and the emotions than anything.

Episode two fell apart and shit the bed. It, from minute one, adds in two more plot lines, neither of which add anything to the first two, serve only as time-suck distractions, and result in everything becoming pretty and fairly ridiculous. First is the appearance of Megan, a character that seems like it was probably Alice in the original script until they were sure Ruth Wilson couldn't come back for it. Megan is a psychic that says Alice is talking to her beyond the grave, but it turns out just to be a really pissed off person from Luther's past which draws him into a cold case that has zero relevancy on anything else going on. And relies to such a considerable extent on ridiculous, nonsensical revelations that it all comes off as laughable. Second, is a price placed on Luther's head by George, which manifests itself in exactly one hit attempt. While it is satisfying to a considerable degree to watch Idris Elba bash two schmuck to a pulp with a trash can, this subplot seems like it was added so that it could ultimately provide easy and lazy endings to the others. Because yes, in the end, all the plots dove tail into one another, but it is far from seamless and far more arbitrary and forced.

It very much seems like Cross would have preferred having three episodes in which to play everything out. In fact, the way the episodes are constructed here even make them play like two forty-five minute episodes and a half hour one. Bloom's death is structured and shot like the end of an episode, as is the kidnapping of the baddie's sweetheart. I can't say that having an additional episode would have made the Megan side story make any more sense of seem any more like a waste of time, but a third episode would have given more time for character elaboration and less sensationalism. Emma Lane seems like an interesting and compelling character, and I would have loved to have spent more time focused on her, and the emotional decimation that she felt after the loss of her partner. Hell, I would have loved to have spent more time with her and Bloom together, to see their connection, and make his loss have more of an impact on us and her. Instead, she is slide so far into the background, I can't for the life of me figure out why she is there at all. I suppose to make certain that someone other than Luther was there to pull the trigger at the end. But if the trigger was predetermined to be pulled, then that isn't letting the story tell itself, that is forcing the story to be what you want it to be.

Series 4 pretty definitely sets up the continuing adventures of John Luther as he falls right back into the life that stripped him bare, and successfully negates pretty much all of the development that the first three series builds towards. This will undoubtedly not be the last we've seen of that wool coat. Nor, do I expect, it will be the last we see of Alice, because not for a moment did I actually believe she is actually dead. The Affair will end eventually, and Wilson will return. Series 4 has all the trade marks of being the Final Frontier of the Luther run, being that thing that fans can comfortably skip over and pretend doesn't exist, and likely won't miss out on much. Because as much as Luther striding intently towards the camera at the end of the episode suggests a greater future, this is the first series not to end with a character asking, "So, now what?" And this is the first series that has ended with me not caring to know.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

2 comments :

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  2. I am not happy with 2 episodes from any angle you care to mention... Vey disappointed!

    I feel the same as I do when a series is cancelled (often due to greed and often not taking into account the millions of expats that download and PAY to see these shows.

    If Idris Elba (who think is a great actor) is too busy (or similar) don't bother trying to justify it...it is what it is!

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