The long-anticipated third season of Luther premiered last week on BBC America. For some reason, they decided to play one episode per night, so the entire season was done in 1 week. I hate when they do this, but for this show it is particularly difficult to deal with. I couldn’t sleep after the first episode, and I was really upset after episode 3. To squeeze all that emotion into one week is a lot for me. I think Luther requires some recovery time, because precidence has shown that he (and we as the audience who implicitly support him as the protagonist) is going to get walloped repeatedly. If no one he loves is murdered in an episode, it’s a good day for John Luther. He could write a very good version of ‘It was a Good Day’ by Ice Cube. That’s how shit his life is. And to live in that world for four nights repeated is a lot to take.
In episodes one and two, he’s chasing a truly disturbing foot-fetish murderer. A guy who hides under beds–cue me not sleeping. He also hides in attics under semi-opaque sheets pretending to be a mannequin. And makes cat noises so you go up in the attic to see what your cat has got into. Then he murders you and your husband, and steals your shoes. I have an attic and a cat! And shoes! I am still traumatized by this. During episode two, someone uses the phrase ‘extremely muscular vaginas’. Hearing this, I think my face arranged itself in a perfect wide-eyed emoticon expression. I may have done a comical double-take. I mean, wtf.
There’s a second case where a man, Ken Barnaby seems to have killed the internet troll who was taking pictures of the Barnaby’s dead daughter and photoshopping them onto porn shots and sending them to the Barnaby. The world truly weeps for the loss of that guy. Luther is reluctant to persecute Barnaby, because of his own sense of conscience, and Ripley has to force the investigation to its conclusion. The truly fun part of this subplot is Barnaby’s attempt to get rid of his own fingerprints. Color me nauseated.
Luther is also dealing with his (as usual) precarious position at work. He’s being investigated by the British equivalent of Internal Affairs–an un-retired and slightly-obsessed DSU Stark is determined to prove that Luther isn’t just a crooked cop, but a murderer. Fun fact–Stark is played by David O’Hara, aka Albert Runcorn in the 7th Harry Potter movie. DCI Erin Gray, who used to work with Luther and butted heads with him constantly, is Stark’s right hand woman. They’re trying to convince DS Ripley to turn on Luther.
But…come on. DS Ripley has shown time and time again that he is unfailingly good and unfailingly loyal. He’s the un-touched one among them, and that’s why Luther protects him and cares so much for him. Still, we know Ripley is a good guy, and we know Luther can act like a bad guy to get done what he thinks is right. The seed of doubt is planted in Luther’s mind, and in our own.
On the rare up-side, he’s met a lovely woman named Mary, who’s surprisingly innocent and normal, and makes him smile. And be happy?!? This can’t last, right?
Episodes 3 and 4 deal with a different villain. Tom Marwood is, really, a dark version of Luther himself. He’s a vigilante killer, specifically going after criminals who have been convicted, but because of flaws in the justice system, are out on parole or free to walk around. Marwood’s wife was raped and killed years earlier, by a man newly paroled. Marwood goes after pedophiles (or paedophiles, if you’re British) and murderers, truly heinous criminals. Like Dexter. Of course, Luther has always walked the line of wanting to enact his own form of justice rather than relying on bureaucracy to get the job done. But he has to take a stand for due process, and finds himself in the awkward position of having to save the life of a convicted p(a)edophile, after a mob of violent morons comes to watch and ensure the man’s execution.
You know something bad is going to happen from the first few minutes of episode 3. Luther invites Ripley into his house, to meet Mary. Luther is happy, talkative, easy-going. This is new. And ominous. Later, Luther tells Ripley he should have been promoted long ago, because he’s capable and good at his job. Oh no. No no no.
I won’t spoil anything specific, but like I say, it’s obvious from the first moments of that episode that something is going to happen. This show had never allowed Luther to be happy, and he’ll be severely punished for this moment of bliss. That’s just the way this universe works.
I will say that the moment at the end of episode 3 is when Tom Marwood stops being a vigilante out for justice and becomes just a killer. A killer because he likes it and he can’t stop. He’s become everything he hates, but instead of facing it he decides to blame it all on Luther, and to go after everyone Luther cares for.
Episode 4 is really suspenseful, with all the different plots coming to a head at once. Alice re-emerges. I like Alice–I don’t want her as a mate, but she’s a great character to watch–to help Luther get out of his current jam.
At the very end, in the very last scene, Luther takes off his signature grey coat and drops it into the Thames. It occurred to me, just then, how much of the superhero model the show follows. Batman, especially. Luther always lives in the shadows, always surrounded by sadness, so that he can try to keep it light and bright for others. Someone has to get into the mud to keep the rest of us clean, according to this universe. At the end, though, he’s had enough. He takes off his cape and he leaves it behind. There are talks to bring Luther to the big screen, so I wonder what will bring him back into the fray. Superheroes always try to escape their shit lives, but they have to come back to save someone/something they love. They can’t live with the guilt of ignoring the idea that they could make a difference.
Luther is one of those shows, like Dexter, that is engrossing and disturbing and bleak. You’re in the trenches with this really morally-questionable, but charismatic, character. You implicitly trust his decisions because he’s your protagonist, and the more you watch the less you question what he’s doing. With Luther, we take his side because he is going up against the most terrifying monsters you can imagine. He’s a saint, comparatively. But when you step away and think about what he does, and how he breaks the rules and justifies his actions by always being right about whodunnit, it’s really terrifying. The ending especially made me sit back and say…wait a minute. Our hero just wandered off to start a life with a murderous sociopath. What does that say about him? What does it say about me?!
Even though Luther always makes me feel a bit squiffy about my own ethics, I will keep watching it because it is so compelling. Season 3 was no exception.