Friday, 26 July 2013

LUTHER, 3.4 – episode four

Friday, 26 July 2013
written by Neil Cross |
directed by Farren Blackburn

The third series of Luther came rattling to an end with an air of ridiculousness too heavy for my liking. I long ago accepted this show has inherent weirdness and comes dosed with camp horror, but there does come a time when you want to see things reach a half-realistic conclusion. Unfortunately, too much of this finale didn't hang together very well and I didn't agree with some of the storytelling decisions. The biggest complaint was bringing fan-favourite serial killer Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) back from her European vacation, having heard about Luther's (Idris Elba) problems and now determined to help her "friend" in his greatest time of need. Alice was a terrific character in series 1, but it's clearly a case of diminishing returns with her. She's closer to a cartoon than ever before, which Wilson nevertheless seems to relish playing that way, and her appearance here felt like a cheap way to give Luther some human backup. At least she was used sparingly in series 3, but rumours of an Alice-based spin-off show get less enticing as times passes.

I also didn't buy into George Stark (David O'Hara) and Erin Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird) suddenly deciding Luther must have asked crazed vigilante Marwood (Elliot Cowan) to kill DS Ripley and go after his girlfriend Mary (Sienna Guillory) with his sawn-off shotgun. It was a nice idea to have Luther arrested for murder and freed by Alice to clear his name, but the groundwork wasn't strong enough to support this turn of events. Why on earth would Stark and Gray think Luther would want loyal Ripley dead? The man who he had on audio-tape extolling his virtues and was clearly his only real friend? Ditto his girlfriend of what feels like six minutes. Adding to this sense of dissatisfaction, Stark was ignominiously killed by Marwood in a manner that felt horribly anticlimactic, and Gray followed suit minutes later. Wouldn't it have been better to have Stark and Gray realise Luther was innocent and grudgingly help him defeat Marwood? I just didn't like the direction the story took and series 3 as a whole didn't grasp the possibilities of Stark and Gray's attempt to dishonour Luther in the eyes of his peers. O'Hara was particularly let-down by the material, as his undeniable screen presence and chill-inducing voice failed to compensate.

As a villain, Marwood also turned from intriguing anti-hero to stupid lunatic in this episode. He had a crazy agenda to change how the criminal justice system works last week, but in episode 4 he was just running around shooting at people close to Luther out of a petty sense of revenge. The cat-and-mouse aspect of Marwood's story was still gripping at times (loved that moment when he shot Luther in the leg, or when Alice protected Mary using a single bullet with no gun to fire it), and there were undoubtedly some very dramatic moments in the mix (such as Luther grappling with a Sophie's Choice on a rooftop), but too much about this finale wasn't cohesive or grounded enough for my tastes. It felt too much like a hectic scramble to a finish-line after a significantly better set-up.

Still, the in-credits final scene suggests big changes for a potential fourth series: Luther's chance of a normal relationship again lay in tatters, he's closer than ever to guileful Alice, and it doesn't feel like he can just go back to being a detective as if nothing has happened. Maybe this is the end for Luther on BBC TV (as rumours persist the long-awaited film will be a prequel based on the novel Luther: The Calling, and creator Neil Cross is working on NBC's pirate drama Crossbones), but I sure hope not...

23 July 2013 | BBC1