Friday, May 25, 2012

TV Report: Luther

After admonishing myself in a post last week for not just sitting down and watching the 10 episodes of Luther already (top spot in my queue for a couple of months now), Becca prodded me to turn them on and we became immediately wrapped up in it and had to watch straight through to the end.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the show; the first episode starts off with a bang, showing us a London cop who's not above letting the killer he's after fall from a great height to put him out of action. John Luther is troubled, not squeaky clean, but dedicated and a genius. When he returns to work (he's been on forced leave between the opening and start of the episode proper), he investigates the murder of a family that left only the daughter, Alice Morgan, alive. I'm not spoiling anything when I say that Alice is the killer--it's the only thing that makes sense, and what's really great here is that it's not treated as a revelation. Luther figures it out after one interview with her, noting her lack of empathy and marking her as a sociopath, but the kind of genius who needs to be recognized for her genius, even if she's done an incredible job cleaning up after herself. There's no way to pin the murders on her, but it's important to her that Luther knows she did it and that he's duly impressed by how clever she is.

So what's interesting about this show is that so much of it is about these two geniuses on opposite sides of the legal spectrum. Alice thinks they should be friends, because only Luther can appreciate her genius and she respects his. He's the only person she's designated as her equal, and seeks his approval. She starts to meddle in his life--he's got a wife (Indira Varma) about to leave him for a man she fell in love with (Paul McGann) while they were separated--because she feels protective of him, but also because she wants to constantly remind him how close and like-minded they are. It sounds like a cliche, but it's surprising how complex and fascinating it really is.

The first series is one of the best I've ever seen. Idris Elba is riveting as John Luther. Though there's plenty of police procedural here, there are so many emotions at play. The morals are always in question; there are lines Luther is quite willing to cross, but only because his ultimate goal is to catch the criminal and get him off the streets. He becomes so consumed by the dark side of the crimes he investigates that you start to wonder how he'll ever crawl back out of it, and what kind of prices he'll have to pay. It's a truly excellent performance, and deeply involving television.

I was cooler on the second series, however. It has a shorter amount of time (4 episodes vs. 6 in the first series), but after the grand emotional play of the first series, the stakes just can't get personal enough in the second series to really ramp up the tension and suspense the way the first series does. Especially since Alice has at first a much smaller role, and then disappears halfway through, cutting off one of the most important nerve centers from John Luther's character. They try to make it personal, giving Luther something of a daughter surrogate, and while it's still clever, I never really felt as invested as I did in the first series. I felt like before we were seeing a dark, driven man who was compelled to help people even at the risk of his own personal happiness and mental well-being, and did so as a cop... and in the second season we're just watching him be a cop. I kind of hate myself a bit for making this comparison, but if the first series is Batman, the second series is Batman if he took off the suit and got a day job solving crimes. It's still an interesting series, but not in the special, intense way the first one is.

That said, it's still better than a lot of the cop shows I've ever seen--I don't tend to like cop shows, with some big exceptions like Wire in the Blood--and at this point I think Idris Elba could just angrily bark the phone book at the camera and I'd find it compelling television. (And side note: what a sexy motherfucker he is.)

I just read today that Luther will get a third series in 2013, and I'll watch that as soon as it comes somewhere I can see it.


Bärrÿ said...

I love Luther and totally agree with your thoughts on the second series. It's good but it really needed Alice's brand of sexy, brilliant crazy. Also, it needed another cop to oppose Luther's methods and Ripley to tell them to shut up.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

I was happy to see you got around to this one. It was one of the best things I have seen in years. Looking forward to him in Prometheus.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I had, in fact, noticed what a sexy MF-er Idris Elba is even before MLuthor.

John Seven said...

Love Luther. Ruth Wilson is my choice for the first female Doctor, actually. Proper quirky. Did you see her Jane Eyre? Quite good.