In some ways, this series is yet another of those detective stories that are all born of Sherlock Holmes. John Luther is absolutely brilliant, morally questionable, and operates independently of superiors, friends, etc. The thing about Luther that makes him compelling is his tightrope act between the good and the bad. He is one of those ‘ends justifies the means’ sort of men, on whose bad side you would never want to be. He’s also someone you would want with you if you ever got into some serious crap. It’s clear he wants to be a good man, but perhaps he finds the impediments and shortcomings of modern life and of rules prohibitive.
I watched season one a year or two ago on BBC America, and was recently given season two on DVD. Season one revolves mostly around Luther’s wife Zoe, and his new friendship with Alice Morgan, a brilliant sociopath. To be perfectly honest, there are lots of cliches. Separated from wife, check. Attracted to evil but brilliant woman, check. Breaks the rules, yelled at by superiors, check, check. But, it really doesn’t matter. Much of what carries this drama beyond cliche and into the realm of compelling is Idris Elba’s (Thor, the Wire) performance as John Luther. He makes the character real and scary and heartbreaking.
Season two is disappointingly short–only 4 1-hour episodes–and doesn’t have quite the punch of the first season. That’s usually the case with this type of show, in my opinion. The writers, etc. use up so much of their wonderful material in the first season. The second ends up seeming almost immaterial. On the other hand, the villains of the second season are almost more terrifying to me. Both of the main criminals/killers of the second season are nondescript white men in their twenties acting out against what they see wrong with the world. Obviously this is a common sentiment. Anyone that doubts this should think about how many books and movies have come out lately about the apocalypse. It is as if all of us are realizing at the same time that something has gone horribly wrong and we are all headed in the wrong direction. These men are not geniuses like Alice Morgan. They are simply out to cause as much destruction as possible, as much fear as they can. In my opinion, that is far more scary. Add to that my supreme distaste at realizing that one of them is played by Stan Shunpike. I will never be able to watch Prisoner of Azkaban the same way again!
I really enjoyed the actual police work in the second season, but didn’t care for the side plots. Aunt Marge makes an appearance as some sort of evil porn mogul, and Luther ends up taking in and protecting a young girl to keep her from doing some truly sick stuff on video. This whole subplot seemed pointless to me, and with only four episodes the writers barely had time to set up the situation before they knocked it down. It was a contrived way to get Luther to break the rules, to do things he shouldn’t, to live up to the perception of him as a morally questionable character. Now, I do understand that after season one, there was nothing left for him to lose, and that meant he could not be influenced by others without someone vulnerable being under his protection. Still, I dislike the way they did it.
I will say, this is a great series. What I find that sticks with me, though, is not anything good. The sparse and gritty styling, combined with the absolutely realistic violence, is truly terrifying. This isn’t gore for the sake of fear, like a Saw movie. This is violence as it is in the real world. Surreal in its mundane nature and its unbelievable consequences. It is chilling.