Thursday, 7 July 2011

LUTHER, 2.4: do you want to play a game?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The finale of Luther was an odd beast, as the two-part storyline took a backseat for a considerable amount of time, in order to focus on Jenny;s (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) subplot that's been rumbling along from the start. The situation with Jenny remained frustratingly vague in key areas (can someone tell me what leverage Babs had over Luther exactly?), but this episode delivered a fitting and exciting conclusion, with Luther (Idris Elba) having to dispose of Babs' grandson Toby (whom Jenny had killed in self-defense), while simultaneously finding a way to frame Babs' ex-cop henchman Frank (Alan Williams) for his murder.

Last week's situation with the psychopathic twins escalated, once Luther realized the Milberry siblings are involved in a real-world role-playing contest with each other—earning points for who, where, and how they kill. The finale lacked episode 3's gloriously distressing set pieces, unfortunately, although the climax was suitably tense, compelling and potently ridiculous—with Luther trying to disarm "walking bomb" Nicholas Milberry (Steven Robertson) on an evacuated street, where he played Nicholas at his own game by sloshing gasoline over himself and gambling his life on the roll of a die. In hindsight, so much of Luther's plan rested one good luck (how did he know Nicholas would want to play this high-stakes game in the back of a nearby lorry?), but this show has never really withstood scrutiny. We just have to accept that Luther has the uncanny ability to make clever judgments like that, and predict criminal behaviour with unerring accuracy.

The only major complaint about Luther series 2 is the fact it was a negligible four hours long, telling only two different stories (well, three if you count Jenny's overarching subplot). This brevity was apparently due to Elba's availability (he was shooting Thor and Ghost Rider 2), but nevertheless the series felt occasionally awkward because there wasn't enough time to do certain ideas or characters justice. It wouldn't surprise me if this was designed to be a six-part series, but corners had to be cut to squeeze it into two-thirds of that preferred time-span.

Of particular note, Mark's curious return as Luther's friend was ultimately pointless (where did he go after episode 2?), and it was a shame there was no good reason for serial killer Alice's return (given only three scenes over two episodes). The two hours per story format worked very well (as it did for series 1's conclusion), but we could definitely have done with another few hours on the Jenny/Babs issue—which felt underwritten and confusing in places, then criminally wasted Pam Ferris as a matriarchal villain. That was such brilliantly left-field casting, reminding me of Margo Martindale's presence in season 2 of Justified, but Ferris just didn't have enough time to craft a rounded, despicable villain. (Although having a goon hammer a nail through Luther's hand into a table was a memorable introduction for her.) I can only hope Babs returns if there's another series, and is treated better.

The finale ended with "surrogate father" Luther licking ice creams with Jenny, teasing us with final line "so now what?" for the second series in a row. That's indeed the question on everyone's lips. I'm sure writer/creator Neil Cross and the BBC hope there's a future for this show (which found a healthy, appreciative audience that escaped it last summer), but so much relies on Elba's ability to fit Luther into his schedule. Speaking recently, Elba said:

"... we'll have to see what the appetite is like for it at the end of this series. If it's a good, healthy appetite then we'll figure out how we're going to do some more. I wouldn't mind seeing a larger version of Luther, maybe a film perhaps. Or take over television for a week, boxset-style Luther. You know, event television."
So that sounds promising. It's also possible the show might become an irregular series of feature-length specials, a la Prime Suspect and Messiah. Whatever happens, I just hope this isn't the last we've seen of the outrageous, gruesome, darkly comical, persistently gripping Luther. He's so good at solving grisly crimes he rarely needs to take his hands out of his pockets.

What did you make of Luther's finale, this second series as a whole, and the future of the show in light of Elba's commitments?


  • The Millberry's brothers' "book code" was based on the Gideon's Bible, you say? It was strange to see Luther treat that revelation as a clever twist, when pop-culture's taught us that most psychos use The Bible for such means. It struck me as odd that Luther presented the Bible reveal as an ace piece of detective work, when it's actually a crime thriller cliché!
written by Neil Cross / directed by Sam Miller / 5 July 2011 / BBC One