Luther 2.01 Review

A column article, Shot For Shot by: The TV Squad
Last Tuesday, the BBC ONE Crime-Drama Luther, starring Idris Elba as troubled DCI John Luther, debuted its second season premiere (to 5.6 million viewers), as Luther is recruited to the new Serious and Serial Unit, where he is tasked with catching a brutal serial killer who wears a Punch mask as he dispatches his victims. Also, the wife of a man that Luther sent to prison fifteen years earlier asks him to save her daughter from a life of prostitution.

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.

Kelvin Green: Well, I will say this, I think the new series of Luther is an improvement over the first already, even after only one episode

Paul Brian McCoy: Really? Interesting. How so?

Kelvin: Well, I wasn't sure what to make of the first series at first. It seemed to be a bog-standard cop drama but there were hints of it going off the rails -- in a good way -- here and there.

The character of Alice is one prominent example of this. The second series seems much less shy, and is going for "batshit loco" right from the outset with a serial killer dressed as Mr. Punch.

I approve of this more broad and brazen approach.

Paul: That makes sense.

I wasn't sure about the first season either. It was a little hit or miss at times, what with the "killer of the week" approach leading into the bigger ongoing story.

There were moments where I just didn't know what to expect, like with the occult writer episode, or the one with all the writing in blood. I liked them, but the oddness put me off a little.

Which is strange for me to be saying.

Kelvin: Yes, and it took a while for the series arc -- of his friend turning -- to become apparent, to the extent that it almost seemed like an afterthought. They seem to be setting out their stall early this time.

Paul: Well, they've cut the season this time out. It's only four episodes, two two-parters.

Kelvin: Yes, BBC cutbacks hitting hard there.

Paul: I was kind of hoping for a season more like Sherlock, Wallander, or Zen with the three 90-minute movies.

Although I guess two two-parters is close enough.

Kelvin: Yes, that may have been a wiser approach, and perhaps they'll go with that if there's a third series. The format is still very much of the bog-standard cop drama type at the moment. But at least the content is a bit more idiosyncratic.

I would guess that fans of realistic, gritty police drama must hate Luther for its cartoony bombast.

Paul: I have to admit, that I was a little disappointed with this episode. Not overly disappointed, but just a little.

Kelvin: Why's that?

Paul: I'm having a hard time putting my finger on it. At first I thought it was, like you say, the cartoony bombast of the Punch fellow, but that's not really it.

That's the sort of thing that Luther is built on and makes it special.

Kelvin: Yes...

Paul: I think it was the whole "Necro-porn" insertion (so to speak).

Kelvin: Ooer!

Paul: And the saving of the teen from herself and the nasty porno people.

Kelvin: I get the feeling that that will be the link between the two arcs.

Paul: Yeah, and that's part of what troubles me. But I'm probably being overly cautious.

Kelvin: It does seem a bit disconnected from everything else, yes, but I'm willing to overlook it for the moment. Ask me again in a couple of weeks, and I may have something different to say.

Paul: Especially dropping these characters, Caroline and Jenny Jones from something that happened 15 years earlier in the Luther-verse.

Kelvin: Yes, it was a bit dizzying to suddenly chuck in this backstory for no apparent reason. It was good to see Kierston Wareing from The Shadow Line though.

Paul: I almost didn't recognize her! And did you catch that Punch's school friend was the pregnant girlfriend Sara in The Shadow Line, too? Bryony Afferson.

Kelvin: No, I didn't spot that! But I was pleased to see that Punch is the snotty teenager from Spaced (and also the new Head Vampire from Being Human), Lee Ingleby.

Paul: I knew I recognized him, but couldn't place him!

Kelvin: BBC drama has become quite incestuous, it seems.

Paul: Dr. Girlfriend just informed me earlier that Benny "Deadhead" Silver, Luther's tech guy, played by Michael Smiley, was Tyres in Spaced. I can't believe I missed that, too.

Kelvin: Yes, good old Tyres!

I fully expect to see Idris Elba turn up in Doctor Who in a year or two. It seems inevitable.

Paul: Speaking of strange/interesting casting, with The Shadow Line and Luther both appearing so close to each other on the schedule, we've got two series with troubled black male leads cast alongside former Doctors.

Kelvin: Well spotted.

Paul: It's almost like two sides of a coin, these shows.

Kelvin: Yes, The Shadow Line is like Luther's calmer, more sensible sibling, while Luther is all shouty, but both are a little bit mental.

Paul: Ha! Yes!

Kelvin: Elba did hint at a Luther/Wallander crossover a while ago, but I could see Gatehouse making for a fine opponent for Luther.

Paul: I'd love to see Luther/Wallander and see who could out depress the other.

Kelvin: Yes, that's more or less what Elba suggested. I think he said it would be a crying competition!

Paul: "You think you're bleak? I put a gun to my head every morning before going off to work." "Yeah, well every woman I meet tries to kill me, then dies." Etc. etc.

Kelvin: I hope the BBC read this.

Paul: I'll stop before sliding over into slash fiction.

Kelvin: Yes, perhaps it's for the best. No one wants to see Elba and Kenneth Branagh in a sauna together.

Do they?

Paul: The eternal question.

Kelvin: Maybe that's one for the message boards.

Paul: If anyone reading this wants to post some stylishly sexy art -- nothing pornographic please -- to the boards, please feel free!

Kelvin: Special Comics Bulletin No-Prizes are available.

Paul: Bonus points for sneaking Gatehouse into the background, watching.

Kelvin: In nothing but a towel and his little hat.

Paul: Perfect.

Kelvin: We are so off topic, I think we might be on Newsarama.

Paul: Meanwhile, back in the discussion of Luther… I miss Ruth Wilson as Alice.

I want more Alice in my Luther.

Kelvin: Yes, it was a slow re-introduction for her.

Paul: I enjoy their chemistry so much, it seems like a misstep to keep them so far apart.

Kelvin: Yes, although the Radio Times for this week has a big picture of them up close and personal on Tuesday's page, so they're getting to it.

Paul: I feel kind of the same with Paul McGann's Mark North. I wanted him to be more involved, and I'm not sure I care for the role they've got him playing this time out.

Kelvin: Yes, he's now something of a sidekick and that seems to be a waste. Although it is good that he and Luther are not opposed any more.

Paul: Especially since he's off in a run-down apartment doing nothing but waiting for Luther to drop off Jenny (Aimee-Ffion Edwards). Well, not waiting, per se, but you know what I mean.

He's just floating out there in the narrative.

Kelvin: Yes, after being thrust into it at the end of the last series, it's a shame that he's been pushed out to the edge again. Particularly as they went to such lengths to bring the Robin to Luther's Batman -- Warren Brown as Ripley -- back in.

They also introduced a new sidekick in DS Erin Gray -- that's got to be a joke surely? -- and it seems like too much expansion of the mythos too quickly, perhaps.

Paul: I don't know. Maybe Neil Cross just has too much stuff he wants to squeeze into these four episodes?

It's just the first episode, but I felt it was moving away from the stories and characters that I liked the most. Maybe that's really what it was that bothered me. Although I thought the first twenty minutes or so were amazing.

Very good stuff.

Kelvin: I liked how the first series ended with this mismatched team of bad cop Luther, genius murderer Alice and the confused but moral Mark, but they've moved away from that here.

Paul: They've gotten the wrong team back together.

Kelvin: Perhaps they'll bring them back together, but there's not much time in which to do it.

Paul: I imagine that'll be the case.

Kelvin: Considering I started out saying I liked this more than the first series, I haven't said many nice things about it!

Paul: That's my fault for dragging us through my issues.

Kelvin: Yes, I blame you. I'm not even getting paid for this therapy.

Paul: Ha! So what worked for you?

Kelvin: Well, as I mentioned, I liked how they seem to have decided not to bother with trying to be even the least bit realistic and have essentially started with a Batman story.

And Elba is always good.

Paul: Yes.

Kelvin: As is Ruth Wilson as Alice. She's a great character and Wilson does a splendid job.

Paul: Absolutely.

Kelvin: She really does come across as dangerous, even when she's just sitting at a table.

Paul: I have such a crush on her, it's not funny.

Kelvin: Ha!

Paul: That creepy, crooked little grin.

Kelvin: Yes, the weird smirk. It was strange and off-putting in Jane Eyre, but strange and quite fitting in Luther.

Paul: I could imagine!

Kelvin: Yes, it didn't work for a romance, even a dark Bronte romance.

Paul: She's not related to Malcolm McDowell is she?

Kelvin: (Checks IMDB) "She is a grand-daughter of the novelist and MI6 officer Alexander Wilson" apparently, but no McDowell action.

Paul: Well, there's some casing advice folks, get Wilson and McDowell together for something!

Kelvin: Again, I hope the BBC are reading this. I don't know if Alice would work in a more sensible show, but she's perfect in the strange cartoony world of Luther.

Paul: Agreed.

I loved the opening moments of the show, with Luther alone in his crappy little apartment.

Kelvin: Yes, the flat which is barely habitable, with crumbling walls and no furniture beyond a mouldy sofa. It's not clear if it's even a real flat, or if he's just squatting.

Paul: A nice visual representation of what's going on inside his head.

Kelvin: Again, more of that bold, over-the-top world they've created.

Paul: It's kind of the same with McGann, now that I think of it.

Kelvin: And Alice's hospital, which looked more like a Soviet warehouse than a medical facility.

Paul: Yeah.

Kelvin: Or indeed, like Arkham Asylum. I mean, I know the NHS has funding issues, but I've never seen a hospital like that!

Paul: I love how this show uses the sets and streets as almost part of the cast. Like Punch's little monologue about Petticoat Lane.

Kelvin: Yes, Punch's motivations are fascinating, and a bit more interesting than the usual psycho-sexual guff. I like that he's doing it for London, a sort of dark reflection of Cool Britannia.

Paul: But Petticoat Lane and the connecting streets with all the twisting and turning and levels as Luther chased him from the scene made a nice little symbolic representation of his mind, too.

Kelvin: Yes, how it twisted back on itself, into this warren of -- again decaying -- passages and tunnels.

Paul: The external representing the internal. That's nice, subtle writing that I never even thought about until just today.

Kelvin: Me neither, but I think you're right.

Paul: Okay. I admit it. I was too hard on the show when we started.

Kelvin: Ha!

Paul: I still could have done without Punch popping up in the backseat at the end, though. WTH?


Paul: Oops.

Kelvin: Anyway, yes, the ending was a bit Generic Slasher Movie but I'm a fan of the genre, so I'm happy to let it pass.

So, Final Words then?

You seem to have come around to liking the episode a bit more than when you started. Hidden depths?

Paul: Quality writing and directing helped bring me around some of my misgivings with story choices, I'd say.

Kelvin: Fair enough.

Paul: And quality acting, of course.

Kelvin: I haven't changed my opinion much, except that the points you make about the sets and surroundings have made me like it even more.

Paul: My real problems were that the show didn't go where I wanted it to go. Waaah. But that's on me, not the show.

Kelvin: Whereas before I liked it on the level of a gonzo cartoon masquerading as a grim police thriller, you've made me think there's more to it than that, and that can only be a good thing.

Cartoony nonsense is good, but if there's depth behind it too, that's even better.


Paul: I was probably leaning toward giving it 3 Bullets initially, but we've talked it up to for me.

Kelvin: Yes, I think is fair. It's still a bit uneven, and there's not enough Alice, but it's great fun to watch.

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