Tag Archives: Luther

The Fall

The-fall-highres_8colI don’t think I knew about this show when it originally aired in the UK (early summer 2013). It’s on Netflix Instant here; it never aired on US TV.

There are a lot of police procedurals on TV. Way more than the world will ever need. There have been nearly 750 episodes of CSI and its spinoffs. And they just ordered another CSI spinoff focusing on computer crime. And don’t get me started on Law and Order (original, Criminal Intent, SVU, UK, Elevator Inspector’s Unit). So…most of them aren’t even good shows. They’re completely unrealistic with their ludicrously attractive casts, featuring police women in 6″ stiletto Louboutin shoes, lab scientists who are inexplicably present during police raids, SWAT missions, interrogations, the incredibly posh sets that no government could afford for what little lab resources they have, and their superhuman ability to zoom and ‘enhance’ CCTV footage to make a picture clear enough to identify perps and even take their fingerprints off the water bottle they can see through the camera. They are all stupid shows. The only good ones are those that either a-makes the situation goofy or b-show the darkness that comes with the job. Psych is my favorite version of the former, and Luther is a great version of the latter.

The Fall is neither as dark or as devastating as Luther. But it has a lot going for it, and is infinitely more worth watching than any episode of CSI (even that one Quentin Tarantino directed).

Reason the first: Gillian Anderson.

3619467-high_res-the-fall.jpgI have seen very little of her acting, as the X-Files scared the crap out of me when it was on TV–I was 12 when it premiered.

But I did see her in the recent miniseries of Bleak House and she was wonderful in it. In The Fall, she plays DSI Stella Gibson. She travels from the Metro Police to Belfast because of a missing woman. If Stella Gibson were a man, the character wouldn’t be much different, and would be a bit of a cliché. Cold, unemotional, focused on the hunt for the killer. Serial killer, Gibson believes after examining several similar cases. Gibson is smart, logical, eminently capable, and confident to a fault.  She asks to be introduced to a fellow cop because she thinks he’s handsome (she doesn’t say that last part). When she starts talking to him, she just casually (but pointedly) mentions her hotel’s name and her hotel room number. I don’t think I would ever have the guts to do something like that, but omg I wish I had that sort of confidence. I had to stare at the screen for a minute with my mouth open to recover from that scene.  The guy gets the hint and shows up later, and Stella is just as take-charge in that scene as she is during press conferences. Her character and her performance are very interesting and fascinating to watch.  She does approach her job as a hunt, and uses her ability to understand the killer to help find him.

Which brings us to reason the second: Paul Spector

-James-Jamie-Dornan-once-upon-a-time-31217066-569-740

Jamie Dornan plays the killer. He hasn’t been in much before (an American show, Once Upon a Time), but he’s about to be much more famous. He’s playing the lead in the 50 Shades of Grey movie.  A movie I plan to avoid with all resources available to me. Same strategy I’ve applied to the books, and it’s worked so far.

In the Fall, the viewer spends almost equal time between Gibson and Spector. We see the killer prepare, research, stalk.  We see him kill. We also see him at his mediocre job, with his wife and children. We see his infatuation with the babysitter. It’s a bit like Dexter, in that we see from both points of view. But though Dexter is a terrifying person and a serial killer with a much higher body count, I find Spector far more terrifying. Dexter has his ‘code’, his set of morals, and that makes the bitter pill easier to swallow.  Spector goes after professional women, brunette, pretty. He strangles them, slowly. He bathes them and paints their fingernails after they’re dead. And then he goes home to his wife (a neonatal nurse) and 2 children. His daughter suffers from night terrors. He has a normal life, and when he is with his family he seems like a normal man. In the end, he is able to keep his family together, which keeps him from being exposed as a killer. He is able to feign normalcy well enough to be assumed innocent.

Which leads us to the big problem with this show.  The ending. After 5 nailbiting episodes, the show ends with a cliffhanger.  The hunt is on a break, because Spector has left town. It’s not just a cliffhanger, it’s more of a no-ender. No resolution, no pause to collect thoughts, just a fade that leaves you thinking you must have accidentally hit pause and of course there should be another 5-10 minutes to this damn show! Frustrating!

The good news is that they are filming the second series soon. From what I’ve read, it should pick up exactly where the last one stopped. Right back to the pursuit.

This is a minimalist show. Not a lot of dialogue. Sparse. This makes it difficult for me to qualitatively describe what I liked so much about it.  I can only say that it was well-made, well-written, well-acted, and kept me interested without the need for big twists and unexpected coincidences. And how many shows can you actually say that about nowadays? Very few. I totally recommend watching it.  But keep in mind that you will be irritated when you reach the end.

 

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Copper, Season 2

Copper_S2_DVDThe second season of Copper ended last month, but I haven’t felt particularly excited to review it. The truth is, the show is just not exciting enough to talk about for an entire 500-word post.  But, if you were wondering whether you should watch it, I’m here to tell you you shouldn’t bother.

As season 2 opens, a lot is going on:

  • Corky has been reunited with Ellen (his wife), and they are living together with Annie (the Lolita from season 1), but things aren’t going well.  Ellen and Annie are both mentally disturbed, and their time together does nothing to improve either of them.
  • The 6th ward gets a new boss , Brendan Donovan. Corky likes him because he’s Irish, and he at least purports to want to bring order and justice to the seedy parts of town.
  • Copper-Blog-DonalRobert and Elizabeth are to be married, but Elizabeth is keeping the horrible secret that she was conspiring with Kennedy (the confederate traitor).
  • Dr. Freeman and Sara prepare to move back to 5 Points to confront their horrible memories of the race riots they endured, and so that Dr. Freeman can practice where his skills are needed

By the end of the season, a whole lot of shit has happened.  One of the women is dead, another is addicted to morphine, Lincoln has been assassinated, Sarah’s mother has been rescued from the deep South, Frances Maguire is reinstated as a detective after being cleared of all charges. Donovan proves to be formidable and despicable.  Dr. Freeman, Robert, and Corky are forced to remember and relive their horrible experiences in the war.

With all of this happening, you’d think the show would be truly compelling.  In trying to think about what has me so ‘meh’ about it, I can only land on the writing.  There’s little suspense, and emotional peaks and valleys for the characters are more like speed bumps.  Maybe it’s just the sheer number of characters we need to care about that makes it difficult, but…It’s almost as if the writers are afraid of being too climactic.  But this isn’t a Jonathon Franzen novel, it’s a TV show about an incredibly dramatic and violent time period.  They’re not afraid to show nudity and violence, but they do seem incapable of focusing on grief or tragedy or disgust in a quiet and overpowering way.  In the entire season, I never felt a strong emotional connection with the characters.  None of them.

Part of it is that we’ve all seen shows about the detective, obsessed with justice, willing to go to any length to see it done.  Luther comes to mind as a show where this is done perfectly.  But still, it’s a common trope.  If you’re going to make that the crux of your show, you have to do it in an unusual way, or do it unusually well.  I don’t think Copper accomplishes either thing.  And I think it’s got to be down to the writing. But I don’t know what goes into the directing, so maybe I’m not knowledgeable enough to point out the flaws there. I’ll let them share blame.

The show exists in a world where death is nearly constant, so I think it’s inability to show grief is what bothered me most. They devote almost an entire episode to the funeral/wake for Corky’s wife.  She’s been mentally ill, she was pregnant (did we ever find out who the father was?!), and then she killed herself.  What a better writer could do with all of that…but for all that happened, it’s as if she just died in her sleep one night after a peaceful life.  Death is something that (in my opinion) you can’t pretend you’ve experienced if you haven’t.  It seemed to me, watching this episode, that the people involved with it either had never experienced true grief, or were desperately pretending they hadn’t.  It didn’t ring true at all. Real grief, especially at an unexpected loss, involves a fair amount of numbness, of shock and inaction.  There should be anger, in this situation there should also be relief. And then more anger. But it was just flat, a flat grief that I have never experienced in my life.

I just read that the show won’t be returning for a third season.  Obviously I’m not terribly disappointed; I wasn’t going to be turning in either way.  On the other hand, I feel like it should be common practice for networks to either a-let showrunners know in time for the last episode to be a true finale or b-give the show one last episode, maybe during the summer, to create some closure.  I despise leaving a show behind on an open-ended episode.

The show had some compelling characters–I imagine this is down to the actors who played them–but they were never given enough to do.  I rooted for Corky, as I was meant to. I liked Robert and Eva.  Dr. Freeman is a tough one; he was presented as such a paragon that it’s difficult to take him seriously as a character.  But I liked him too.  These likeable characters were always bogged down by such tiresome secondary characters and plot lines that I never felt I had time to appreciate them in the show.  In fact, a lot of them are likeable because they are around such unsavory (or worse, boring) characters.

The whole season was just–and I feel terribly harsh for saying it–a waste of time.

 

 

 

 

 

Luther, season 3

Luther-Season-3-Key-ArtThe 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.

ds ripleyBut…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?

Luther IIIYou won’t be surprised to hear that Luther dispatches with the foot fetish killers, because he’s Luther and he’s the smartest one in the room.

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.

Channel Surfing: Luther Seasons 1 & 2

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.