Luther 2.04 Review

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Kelvin Green , Paul Brian McCoy
Luther's personal and professional life spirals out of control as he tries to cover up Toby's death and appease a suspicious Baba. He must also protect Jenny from any further harm. At work there's also a killer at large whose actions are ruled by his dice. How do you stop a man who sees life and death as a game and whose actions can't be predicted?

Be sure to go to the BBC Luther site to download "Graphic Spoilers"; short comics providing insight into each week's episode!

Luther will air on BBC America sometime in October. Expect the original 57 minute runtime to be cut back and edited for commercials.

Paul Brian McCoy: I did some digging and found that Luther's ratings stayed steady, even rose a bit over the four episodes!

Kelvin Green: Good news!

Paul: That bodes well for a third season, I'd think.

Kelvin: Yes, I'd hope so.

Earlier in the week you said you had mixed feelings about the finale. Care to elaborate?

Paul: Really just about the final couple of minutes.

Kelvin: What didn't you like? Or rather, what did you dislike?

Paul: The wrap-up of the whole Necro-Porn storyline, really. It just lacked any real strength.

Kelvin: It seemed a bit rushed.

Paul: The henchman runs away, framed for murder, and Luther threatens to tell Alice about Porn-Queen causing trouble.

Kelvin: I wonder if Alice was supposed to be there, but it was rewritten to cover her absence? Certainly the threat of setting Alice on the gangsters seemed a bit toothless when they have no idea who she is.

Paul: Exactly!

I know a crazy woman who'll destroy your life if you mess with me.

Kelvin: It was like a playground threat: "I'll get my mate on you, and she's really hard. She's been in prison and everything!"

Paul: Ha! Yes! And I know it's selfish of me, but I don't want a happy and satisfied DCI John Luther.

Kelvin: Well, I don't know if he's ever going to be properly happy.

Paul: Then they go for ice-cream. ???

Kelvin: I did like the ice cream ending. It was a bit off-kilter, perfect for this off-kilter series. Instead of going off into the sunset, Luther and Jenny go out into the snow for an ice cream. Weird.

Paul: You're right, it's just that it's so strange and off-kilter (good word!) it didn't sit right with me for some reason.

Kelvin: I'd agree with the resolution of the porn plot, but the ice cream at the end seemed very fitting. The snow, the urban decay around them, the way they sat in silence made it less of a conventional happy ending.

Paul: I think part of my problem is that it closes the series at a place where they can just let it go and never come back.

Kelvin: Yes, there is that. It was a bit enigmatic. I wonder if they weren't sure yet about a third series?

Paul: It was like they felt they might not get a chance to make any more Luther, so they decided to end it on an up-note.

Kelvin: Yes.

Paul: I'm sure they weren't hopeful at the time of filming, what with the budget cuts and the way the ratings dropped as the first series went on. They probably hoped to hit the highs ratings-wise from Season One and not drop too far, but surprise!

They hit those highs and maintained it for 4 straight weeks!

That's impressive in itself.

Kelvin: Yes, they seemed to grab their audience better this time.

However, Elba's comments on Facebook and Twitter on the day seemed to put more emphasis on it as a grand finale.

Paul: I wasn't sure what to make of his comments.

Kelvin: Yes, there were some strange comments in there, like the one teasing an Alice cameo.

Paul: That made me go back and re-watch the ending.

Kelvin: Me too.

Paul: For nothing.

Kelvin: Me too!

Paul: I'm really hoping that Ruth Wilson's absence in this season was just a scheduling difficulty and not a creative decision to move Luther toward a more "healthy" relationship.

Kelvin: Yes, I did wonder if Jenny was his new "partner" for the series, and if she too will be packed off and replaced next time, so each series will be Luther + Odd Female Character.

I hope that's not the format they're going for.

Paul: That would not be something I'm interested in.

Kelvin: Alice's erratic appearances do suggest that there was some scheduling clashes somewhere. They brought her in seemingly only to write her out. My guess is they didn't want to upset the fans by writing her out off-screen, so compromised with what we got.

Paul: Wilson's been doing highly praised theater work, so maybe she's just more into that right now. She won the 2010 Olivier Award for her work in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Kelvin: well done her!

Paul: Then last year did the stage version of Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly and this year will be playing the title role in Anna Christie alongside Jude Law.

Kelvin: What did you think of the resolution of the A plot? Like the story with Punch, I thought it lost focus a bit in the second half.

Paul: I don't know. It seemed to hit all the beats it needed to hit and led to a very nice final showdown.

Kelvin: Perhaps it's just me then. It seemed to lack something.

Paul: What did you think was missing?

Kelvin: I'm not sure. Like the first story, we had lots of exciting build up in the first episode, then it doesn't seem to go anywhere in the second. But perhaps that's just me having elevated expectations.

I didn't dislike the second half of either story, but they didn't seem to live up to their first halves. I can't really put my finger on it, alas.

There were moments when it looked like they were going to do something really cool, but didn't, like when the second killer walks out of the police cordon with his bomb vest.

Paul: I agree the scene where he's walking was odd. Seems like there were quite a few moments where they could have shot him without killing anyone else, but the plot wouldn't allow it.

Kelvin: From the first shot, trailing behind him at street level, it looked like they might be doing a foot chase, but at a walking pace, which would have been a fun inversion of the usual setup. But no, it was all helicopters and CCTV.

Paul: That would have been nice! Was it just me or were there a lot more hand-held camera shots following people as they ran or walked in this episode?

Kelvin: Yes, seemed to be, although there were elements of it in the previous episode, too. It was all very ground-level, which made the helicopters and roof-bound stuff this time all a little disappointing.

Paul: That opening scene, with the chase through the train station was impressively chaotic.

Kelvin: Yes, and nicely paced too.

Paul: It seemed like the sound was a bit more intense, as well, with lots of huffing and scraping and slamming into people.

Kelvin: Yes, lots of close sounds.

Paul: Like they just strapped a camera and mic onto a guy and sent him running through a crowd as fast as he could.

Very vérité.

Kelvin: They may very well have done that!

Paul: I guess maybe they were doing it all along, and this was the first time it really jumped out at me.

Kelvin: Perhaps.

Paul: But I felt like I was watching a different show, or a different director anyway, for those opening minutes.

Kelvin: Yes, it certainly was a striking opening, but then so was the previous episode's, which was also very close and claustrophobic, with lots of shots over the shoulders of the people in the petrol station. But perhaps not as much as this one.

I certainly wouldn't mind re-watching the series to see if it was there all along.

Paul: I liked how we didn't know who was doing the chasing there, since it was mostly that character's POV, until he catches up the killer, at least.

And then it's just a guy we've never seen before, trying to be a hero and paying for it.


Kelvin: yes, that was quite effective. I thought I heard him identifying himself as a police officer, but it wasn't mentioned again, so perhaps not.

Paul: I thought the same thing. I'm sure I heard him say that, but then nothing.

Kelvin: Transport police tend to be in uniform too, unless he was off-duty.

Paul: I wonder if that was something they were going for thematically, at least with this second adventure; the idea that playing the hero will get you killed.

It's a dangerous world. Let the police take care of it. And when they can't handle things, let Luther take care of it.

Kelvin: Oh good catch! It was true of the men at the petrol station too. Yes, perhaps that was a theme.

Paul: I understand they originally intended to air these as two 2-hour movies, but broke them up into the four episodes.

So there's bound to be focused thematic elements in each of the two halves of the season.

Kelvin: Is that so? Were they filmed as movies? If so, they did some good editing to make them work as standalone episodes. Or individual, rather than standalone.

Paul: Then we have Luther paying for playing the hero with Jenny, and DCI Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird) is paying for playing the hero with Luther. Of course, those both began in the first adventure, but they really play out here.

I need to sit down and watch them back-to-back to see how it works.

Kelvin: Yes indeed, I think you've hit on something there.

Paul: That scene with Gray almost getting fired was raw. Very nicely done, especially with her Animal Farm quote, about looking in the window and not being able to tell the pigs from the people. Then running outside and almost breaking down.

Kelvin: Yes, and with Ripley's (Warren Brown) underhand dealings to save Luther, too. It shifted our sympathies around quite a bit.

We don't want Gray to bring Luther down, but she did get banjaxed by the supposed good guys, so we feel bad for her, and disgusted by them.

Paul: I did laugh though, when all the boys were like "What's she on about? Eh, whatever. Back to work."

Women, eh?

Kelvin: Ha!

Paul: They should have panned over to show Moss from IT Crowd sitting at another desk, nodding nerdily and looking confused.

Kelvin: They almost had that with Tyres' (Michael Smiley) reaction, as he seemed the most baffled of them all.

Paul: Speaking of whom, we re-watched the Tyres episode of Spaced the other night. Damn I love that show.

Kelvin: (I don't recall what he's called in Luther; he'll always be Tyres to me.)

Paul: Benny, or "Deadhead".

Kelvin: No. Tyres.

Paul: Oh yes. You're right.

Kelvin: Exactly.

I saw him in one of those trashy Sci Fi Original Movies once. Tyres Versus the CGI Spiders or something. I think Lance Henriksen was in it too.

Paul: He should leave every scene with a "My work here is done" voiceover.

Kelvin: "Oi oi, you lucky people!"

Paul: So what did you think of the final confrontation between Luther and Robert Milberry (Steven Robertson)?

Kelvin: Well, in theory I liked it. I knew Luther would have to challenge him - WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY A GAME? -- but the way it was resolved struck me as a bit wobbly.

And we saw more of Luther's preternatural cleverness: how did he know the twin would choose to do the final showdown inside the lorry? And how did Luther read the text on the outside of the trailer from the inside?

Paul: And am I confused or did all the shots come from one direction? Luckily, from the side of the lorry with words on it? I'm pretty sure there was nothing painted on the other side, but I may be mistaken.

I should watch that scene again.

Kelvin: well, there must have been text on both sides, because the shots came from the building side rather than the street side, and we only saw the side facing the street.

Paul: But if the text was on both sides of the trailer, wouldn't his direction for where to shoot have triggered shots into both ends, given that the text would have been reversed on each side? Does that make sense?

Kelvin: Yes, it does. I assume he knew that the shooters were only on the building side. Which again is Batman-type clever.

Paul: Especially since he didn't bother to tell anyone his plan.

Kelvin: And Superman-type x-ray vision, apparently

Paul: I loved the scene when it happened, but I'm kind of pulling back after thinking about it too much.

Kelvin: "Honestly, what I love about playing Luther is he’s such a larger than life character in the larger than life Neil Cross world. It’s like being handed a gift to play a superman type character." – Idris Elba on Twitter/Facebook.

Paul: Ha! Yeah I read that and almost responded with a "Don't you mean Batman?" and a link to our reviews!

Kelvin: You should have!

I feel as if we may have missed some vital data; I think we're supposed to know that the twins can only roll their dice in relative privacy, which is how they could set the trap in the trailer, but it wasn't established anywhere as far as I could tell.

Paul: I just thought Luther led him in there to contain the possible explosion. But again, I need to re-watch the scene.

Kelvin: Yes, it's making less sense as we discuss it! But then Luther's never really made much sense.

Paul: Yeah, it's probably just a case of "enjoy it and move on" like I'm finding with the Department S and Jason King episodes.

They're very enjoyable, but you can't really go much deeper than that.

Kelvin: It probably is a modern version of those kind of shows, and trying to make it make sense, as if it's a standard gritty cop show, is missing the point.

Paul: Agreed.

Kelvin: As Elba says above, it's "larger than life", more Burn Notice than Law & Order.

Paul: Yurp.

I feel like I've become one of those people I hate when I start grousing about details like that with Luther.

Kelvin: Me too. I have to remind myself that it's pulpy, over the top nonsense, and despite all the drab greys, it's not trying to be gritty and realistic.

Paul: You have to use the appropriate critical filters. You can't evaluate it as though it were a Western, for example.

Kelvin: Indeed. Treating it as if it's The Wire or something does not do it the justice it deserves.

Paul: Gotta evaluate it for what it is.

It does try to trick us, though, like you say, with the grittiness and the drab greys.

Kelvin: Yes, it's a Saturday evening adventure show masquerading as a gritty police drama.

Paul: That happened a bit with the last season of The Wire, where the catch phrase was "Let McNulty be McNulty" and one storyline focused on McNulty's crazy scheme to fund the department. It broke with the realism of the rest of the series.

People didn't care for that approach.

Kelvin: I still haven't seen it, to my endless shame.

Paul: Someday.

Kelvin: There are not enough hours.

Paul: I know. I need a job that pays me to stay home and do what I want.

Kelvin: It is one advantage of a four-episode series, at least.

Paul: Yes. If they'd done them as the 2-hour movies I not have gotten to watch them as quickly. I'm still way behind on Kenneth Branaugh's Wallander because I can't get the time to watch an entire adventure in one sitting.

Well, I could, but it's difficult.

Kelvin: I don't know if I watched all of those.
Whenever it's on, I keep seeing the same episode I've seen before.

Paul: We watched the first three but never got around to the second season.

I did, however, just get my hands on Season Two of Van der Valk, though. Heh heh heh.

Kelvin: Yes!

The Wallander episode I keep seeing is the one with Young Beast in as a surly teenager.

Paul: The kid all painted up like an Indian at the end?

Kelvin: Yes, that's the one.

Paul: That's the first one, "Sidetracked."

Kelvin: Maybe I only ever saw the first one then! Is that the same one with the woman who's afraid of the police?

Paul: The second one had the two teen girls who murdered a cab driver at the start. Is that what you're thinking of?

Kelvin: No, I just looked online, and it's the one that starts with the girl setting herself on fire when Wallander tries to talk to her.

Paul: Ah, yeah. That's "Sidetracked."

Kelvin: And Young Beast is running about scalping people. Then Wallander and his dad have a big cry at the end.

Paul: Yes! The second one was stronger.

Kelvin: Apparently my TV only ever shows the first one!

Paul: "Firewall" it was called.

Kelvin: I've seen "Sidetracked" about three or four times. There were six episodes, apparently, and I've only seen one. Blimey.

Paul: We should do a UK Crime Club or something and watch all these shows and just chat them up.

Kelvin: Yes, that's a good idea. It would certainly motivate us to watch them! I'd like to revisit Campion, from the early 90's, with the Fifth Doctor Peter Davison as a 1930s sleuth.

Paul: Interesting. It gets great reviews from what I can see.

Kelvin: I remember quite liking it at the time, but it may have simply been because the Doctor was in it

Paul: And only 16 episodes. All 2-parters from the looks of it. That's interesting.

Kelvin: Yes, it didn't last long, as I recall.

Paul: Well, great. Another show to add to my list of things I don't have time to watch.

Kelvin: Although sixteen episodes is quite long in British TV I suppose.

Paul: Looks like it aired for two 8-episode seasons, adapting four novels per season.

Kelvin: I recall enjoying Cadfael too, which is a whole different kind of British crime drama.

Paul: I never watched any of those, but was aware of them.

Kelvin: Yes, I think they were quite popular over there, but I'm not sure Campion ever made it.

Paul: Only 13 episodes of Cadfael!

Kelvin: Really? I remember that running for years, but perhaps they only did a couple each year

Paul: That one went four seasons with 4 episodes the first time out and then three each for the last three seasons.

Kelvin: Ah yes, that would make sense. So it's not just Luther!

Paul: There's a long history of shortened seasons for UK Crime and Mystery television.

Kelvin: So it would seem!

Paul: Well, do you have a bullet rating for Luther's finale?

Kelvin: I think I'm going to give Luther , but it's a close run thing, as I don't think it was as good as it could have been.

Paul: I agree. While watching it I was easily going to maybe go four and a half, but after some time is about as high as I could go. With even more time to think it might drop a little farther.

But 4 is still good.

Kelvin: Yes, I'm torn between 3.5 and 4, but I think it's easy to be hard on the show, as we discussed above, so 4 it is.

Paul: And with that Luther is done. But is it forever? We'll just have to wait and see.

Kelvin: Indeed. Shall we go for ice cream now?

Paul: It's certainly hot enough.

Kelvin: Yeah, okay, you can pay.

For a look back at Season Two of Luther, check out our reviews of Luther 2.01, Luther 2.02, and Luther 2.03!

Kelvin Green erupted fully formed from the grey shapeless mass of Ubbo Sathla in the dark days before humans walked the earth. He grew up on Judge Dredd, Transformers, Indiana Jones #12, the Avengers and Spider-Man, and thinks comics don't get much better than FLCL, Nextwave and Rocket Raccoon. Kelvin lives among garbage and seagulls and doesn't hate Marvel nearly as much as you all think he does.

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to What Looks Good and Shot for Shot. He currently has little spare time, but in what there is he continues to work on his first novel, tentatively titled Damaged Incorporated. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, sci-fi television, the original Deathlok, Nick Fury, and John Constantine. He can be summed up in three words: Postmodern Anarchist Misanthropy. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.

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