Luther returns to our screens, two years after the last series aired, walking out of a burning building dragging a suspect behind him, not even stopping to pause as an explosions rips through the doorway he has just moved away from. Of course he does. It's a great opening for one of the gruffest detectives around and a welcome return for Idris Elba in the role. Neil Cross' series about the titular police man with a dark and tortured past has never been anything but gripping and whilst the change in format for the second series didn't quite match up to the brilliance of the first, it remains here. The current run is four episodes consisting of a pair of two-parters, allowing for some lengthy character development and also, some nasty, nasty crimes.
Heading up the Serious and Serial Crime unit, you always know the criminals in Luther aren't going the of the fluffy bunny variety and so it proves again. Tell me, did you check underneath your bed last night and make sure all the doors and windows were locked? I certainly did, because those two murders in last night's episode were terrifying. A testament to Sam Miller's direction, the first sequence with Emily Hammond was torturously slow and took place in complete silence before some screeching strings that frightened the life out of me as the fetishistic murderer's head popped out from underneath the bed. I already knew he was there thanks to the long, lingering shot of Emily's feet from under the sheet, at which point I was already shouting at the television telling a fictional character to get out of their house (Luther does this to me).
The suspense didn't end there though and the playing with horror conventions worked really well throughout the episode to ramp up the tension to the point of it being almost unbearable. This was particularly effective with the closing murder scenes of the episode, playing like a house invaders narrative, albeit with less build up than something like The Strangers. The murderer again hiding in the house, though this time in plain sight under a dust sheet in the attack. Again, Miller takes his time with the set up, allowing the husband to get perilously close in near silence before the murderer struck loudly and violently. This was another shouting at the television moment, I'm not ashamed to admit.
One aspect that Luther has always handled well is the multiple strands to each story that is presented. Whilst Luther and the ever-dependable Ripley (Warren Brown) were investigating the Hammond murder, they were also given the murder of Jared Cass, an internet troll and now part of a post-mortem graffiti exhibition. This led to one of the finest scenes in the episode as the pair were led to the Barnaby family, whose daughter had been killed and later defiled on the internet by Cass. Lucian Msamati's grieving father was heartbreaking to watch and made even more painful by Luther's decision to warn him obliquely that they knew he was the killer. As the blender was plugged into the wall, I hid behind a cushion and shouting at the television once again. This episode put me through the wringer.
However there was another plot strand that didn't work, or at least wasn't allowed the time to develop that it perhaps should have been. With the antagonising DCI Erin Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird) returning with a big ole grudge for Luther and hiring an unhinged DCU Stark to work the corruption charge she's just been dying to hit Luther with. They do this by recruiting Ripley to their cause. Yes, the same Ripley that risked his career and life back in the first series because he believed that Luther hadn't been the one to kill Zoe. The same Ripley that has been by Luther's side loyally for a huge amount of time. Apparently, all it took to turn him was a bit of casual strangulation.
Now Ripley has always been Luther's moral compass of sorts, tasked with reining him in when the DCI gets a bit violent or unhinged and I can understand that that would take its toll on a person. Yet it was unbelievable in such a short space of time, with little to no development leading into it. It's a character moment that jarred and whilst Brown has performed excellently, I can't help but feel this could be a bit of a bum note in the series, designed to add yet another menace to Luther's progression. On a positive note though, the interaction between Elba and Brown in the scenes where their relationship starts to fracture was deftly handled with just a couple of quick glances to let you know of Luther's suspicion or Ripley's shifty attitude. It just could have done with some more build-up.
Finally, in amongst all this death and tension, there was also a nice bit of light relief as Luther met someone who was labelled 'love interest' from the moment her bumper clashed with our detective's old banger (not a euphemism). Sienna Guillory's Mary Day emerged from her car (told you it wasn't a euphemism) in a slightly Manic Pixie Dream Girl-ish way, but I won't hold that against her just yet as I liked her scenes with Luther. A nice bit of banter between the two about his name, which also provided some neat character analysis, was a welcome break from the episode's darker moments.
I can't be the only who is missing Alice already though right?
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