Wednesday, 22 June 2011

LUTHER, 2.2: beware the bogeyman

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Well, that was a harrowing hour, taking episode 1's setup to the next level after the kidnapping and torture of DS Ripley (Warren Brown) by masked weirdo Cameron Pell (Lee Ingleby) in a sewer, as Luther's (Idris Elba) team desperately tried to locate their colleague while starving Pell of the oxygen he craves: attention.

A scene where Pell rang the police department and Luther chose to ignore him, against usual procedure for negotiation, was a particularly effective and tense moment. Luther's the kind of character whose insight into the scum of the earth vacillates between plausible (the handling of said phone call) and ludicrous (his deduction that Pell's purchase of bomb-making material is to cause an implosion), but somehow Idris Elba makes it all work. John Luther's a larger-than-life character, which is exactly what a show like Luther needs as its beating heart. It's probably why ITV's Whitechapel struggles at times, because it's arguably dafter but involves characters who are too everyday.

Everything involving Cameron Pell worked very well in this episode, buoyed by Ingleby's alert performance as the deranged wannabe-legend who hides behind his Punch mask in order to carry out his crimes, and is obsessed with loss and emptiness. It was a stretch for Pell's m.o to go from brutally murdering women to kidnapping a school bus of children and arranging to have them asphyxiated with van exhaust fumes, but there you go. Luther's not going to win any prizes from crime psychologists about its verisimilitude, but the way it goes about its business is relentlessly gripping. Strictly as entertainment with pulp comic-book influences, it's tough to beat.

Less successful was how the episode tried to weave a disconnected subplot through the story, with Luther dealing with the repercussion of "freeing" teenager Jenny Jones (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) from life as a sex worker and porn star. This arrived in the form of Jenny's redoubtable "boss" Baba (Pam Ferris) and her creepy son Toby (David Dawson), who tried to persuade Luther to give Jenny back by nailing his hand to a table. Given the pressure and race-against-time nature of the Pell case with Ripley's life on the line, it just felt strange that Luther would occasionally drop out of the storyline and attach himself to another one—using Mark (Paul McGann) to help him ensure Jenny's escape from her seedy past. It's understandable to include some respite from the main story, but I'm not sure this was the best way to go about it. That said, The Darling Buds Of May's Pam Ferris as a matriarchal underground porn baroness? Genius.

There continues to be wonderful production value to this show, too. London has never looked better in a drama; the show combining its architectural beauty with centuries of grubbiness, often soaked in the amber yellow of street lights. This episode's use of crumbling buildings and the abandoned docklands, with their shell-like warehouses, was particularly evocative and fit the idea that Pell's obsessed with decay and bareness.

I also like how Luther overcomes a common problem facing all BBC drama, in sustaining a story for an hour without it feeling voluminous. In most BBC shows there's 15-minutes of flab to every episode, but Luther has enough irons in the fire to keep each episode full. Here, the last 10-minutes were almost entirely taken up with another appearance from serial-killer Alice (Ruth Wilson), likening herself to Looney Tunes' Road Runner ("meep meep"), who's escaped from hospital and arrived to try and tempt Luther into eloping with her overseas. I'm intrigued to see where Alice's story is headed, as she feels like a character who belonged more in series 1, but proved so popular that she was brought back.

Overall, episode 2 was a good resolution of the Cameron Pell storyline, let down by subplots that felt a little misplaced and deserving of a full hour to themselves. I understand why they were there, and each contained some memorable moments, but because we only have four hours this year I think I'd prefer less distraction.


  • The song played over the end credits is this track by Joan As Police Woman called "Flash".
  • 5.23m people watched this episode, down 370,00 from last week's premiere. A drop's always expected, but that's small enough to not really matter.
  • How does Jenny do her make-up in the morning? It looks like she smears a boxing glove in eye shadow and just punches herself for awhile.
  • I like the feeling Luther's a father figure to many people (his team, Jenny, in some ways Alice), and this episode's villain Pell was ultimately defeated the same way a parent would calm a toddler having a tantrum. Ignore them.
written by Neil Cross / directed by Sam Miller / 21 June 2011 / BBC One

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