directed by Farren Blackburn
I know a lot of people have flipped over series 3's third episode, and it's easy to see why—considering it climaxed with Luther's most painful and unexpected death, which I won't spoil until further into this review. It was also unashamedly provocative and thorny in its Death Wish-esque tale of a middle-class gent called Tom Marwood (Elliot Cowan), his wife murdered by a scum bag given early release, who duly snapped and now patrols the streets of London with a sawn-off shotgun, exterminating the capital's human vermin. The opening sequence was particularly fun, as the audience's expectations of the scene's villain alternated between the "benevolent-sounding man" taking a woman home after a bowling night, to the street gang that attacked their car looking to rape and kill, to the surprise intervention of unlikely vigilante Marwood.
Luther's a big, ballsy show. It sometimes has moments of subtlety that work well as a counterbalance, but this episode was only really intending a full-on assault. The thing is, while I found it very entertaining, it also came across as dumb and simplistic in its points of view. Marwood was an amalgam of lots of other screen vigilantes, and his agenda was sorely predictable (to try and provoke a change in the public justice system)--although I enjoyed the twist of him kidnapping a convicted paedophile and letting website visitors decides the nonce's fate via an online poll. That said, a similar idea formed the basis of a Millennium episode 16-years ago.
I think the main reason I didn't fall for this episode completely is that everything felt a little calculated to me, and it exposed some issues with Luther's four-episode format. There just wasn't enough time, or effort, put into making us care about Marwood as a character, or see things from his perspective enough. Worse, a sub-plot with George Stark (David O'Hara) resuming his attempt to catch Luther (Idris Elba) by turning his new lover Mary Day (Sienna Guillory) against him fell flat. We haven't known Mary enough to care about her, or her relationship with Luther, after only three episodes, and it's a little bizarre that Stark perceives her as Luther's "weak spot". If Mary was Luther's wife/fiancé, or even a long-term girlfriend, I wouldn't have such a big problem with it, but he's only known her a matter of days. It's a shame the BBC can't give us more Luther a year, because four hours isn't enough time to forge connections... so when they're under threat it's harder to care. It also doesn't help that Stark was so humiliated last week that his character feels 'all bark no bite' now.
Still, what about that insane ending? It was so shocking it almost made me forget the shortcomings of this hour. I didn't think DS Ripley (Warren Brown) was in any danger when he confronted Marwood by himself, unarmed. Marwood didn't feel like the kind of man who would shoot an unarmed officer of the law, either. So when poor Ripley took a blast of Marwood's shotgun to the chest, instantly killing him, it was one of the biggest surprises I've had from a TV show this year. In hindsight, the omen of Ripley's demise were plain to see (he was accepted by Luther as a true friend, talk of a promotion was raised, his fake relationship with DCI Gray started to become real), but I really didn't see a tragic ending in his stars. If only because Warren Brown's was becoming the Robin to Luther's Batman, so it's a shame that dynamic has gone from the show.
Overall, episode three was another wild and crazy ride, capped with a stomach-hollowing shock that naturally elevates expectations for the finale considerably. The silly Stark investigation's running a little dry for me now, but things for Luther are so excruciatingly tense I can't wait to see what the resolution is (Ripley dead, Mary's life in danger). The show definitely suffers from having a shorter run, because it doesn't have enough time to make everything work to its maximum potential, but as a weekly horror in cop show clothing it's still hard to beat.
16 July 2013 | BBC1