It’s been awhile since we have been able to suffer and stew with our favorite British, non-Holmes detective John Luther. The acclaimed BBC psychological drama has been off the air for two years now, so returning fresh and ready to take on so much baggage as a viewer is a task all unto itself. The hope loyal fans have for in its titular character is that Luther one day finds the means to be happy again. However, that has been as likely as him taking off his filthy coat. While we once again hope for good fortune to possess the DCI’s ravaged mental health, we know that all that ever comes in the way is heartbreak, death, and bleak optimism by series end. The brief four episode run aired over the summer in the UK but saw its stateside premiere tonight on BBC America. The ride gets rough as usual but the constant dark corners of the show allow the character to develop and open up more, and Series 3 does a bloody good job of doing that.
Right from the start you are already exhausted with tension as Luther and Ripley literally are carrying a bunch of suspects from a burning building. From here we follow a woman coming home late at night and undressing to sleep for the evening. You know something is bound to happen but you don’t know when. As our murderer makes his first appearance from hiding under a bed, the unease returns that has been missing from your life for a few years. The murderer wraps his victims up making them to resemble a crude Barbie doll and screams maniacally as he goes for the kill. Welcome back to the world of Luther’s urban England.
Series 3 picks up pretty much where Series 2 left off; Luther still possessed by his work but always getting the job done by cutting corners in jurisdictions he shouldn’t be. Between our copycat murderer and a case involving a dead internet troll, not to mentions being hounded by Internal Affairs, Luther has his hands full. Trained lap dog DS Justin Ripley is by his side as always. While initially all is normal, we soon learn Ripley has been tapped by Internal Affairs to record all of Luther’s moves to see where he can be nailed and his copper career brought to an end.
Neil Cross once again delivers superb writing and suspense, but the show would never be as good if we didn’t have Idris Elba constantly morphing the character. This man is simply tired mentally and physically. I don’t think the man has ever rested in the series and while things seem stable with his apartment littered with post cards from someone (possibly Alice, possibly the girl he sort of adopted at the end of Series 2), he is still struggling to separate his personal life from his work. So how does a troubled widower find time for a social life with all these cases to solve? Enter a new love interest in the form of Mary Day; a blonde pixie who doesn’t understand personal boundaries but has the quirky sensibilities that would attract a troubled man like John Luther.
Relationships are everything in Series 3 but their ability to pan out and develop come in short supplies overall. In the premiere we see Luther’s love life blossom and also see a long standing friendship begin to crumble. Indeed it is rather rough to watch Luther and Ripley exchange blows in the office, but the whole subplot involving Justin questioning his longtime partner seems a bit forced. Never mind that it’s coming from the jurisdiction of the obnoxious and by the book Erin Grey and retired copper George Stark. The sudden distrust of Luther on Ripley’s part is odd considering that there have been much worse circumstances for him to decide to question his partner.
While these relationship troubles give a great scope to why Luther can’t keep loved ones around, it’s the cases that provide some real hallmarks. In the internet troll murder case we get the highlight of the episode as Luther hangs a loan shark off the side of a high rise. The plot thread that involves a couple that the troll Jared Cass terrorized after their daughter died is quite brilliant and well-acted. The husband of the couple, Ken Barnaby, is absolutely haunting as a father struggling with grief and motive in light of what he and his wife had experienced. If there is one constant in the show beyond the writing, it is how well acted the show is.
Overall the first new episode of Luther in two years is a real knock out despite small gripes. The remainder of the series is just as riveting and thrilling. While the end of the road for this polarizing yet highly publicized series seems to be instilled in this current run, it leaves on a hell of a high note showing just how gripping and psychologically involved a sometimes clichéd detective show can truly be.