Luther: "Episode Four"
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Luther: "Episode Four"

The new Robert De Niro-Edward Norton drama Stone opens in flashback, with De Niro’s character as a young man (played by Dollhouse MVP Enver Gjokaj) getting into his fight with his wife. Ground down by their contentious marriage, his wife storms upstairs and starts packing her bags; he responds by picking up their baby and dangling it from the upstairs window. It’s quite clear that he’s serious: If she leaves, he’s prepared to kill their child. And from there we cut to decades later, with the marriage still intact and the wife essentially held hostage all this time. The movie doesn’t follow-through on this disturbing beginning as well as it might, but the flashbacks give us a sense of how a broken marriage can held together by threats and emotional intimidation.

I couldn’t help but think of Stone during the A-plot of tonight’s Luther, which tries with some (if limited) success to comprehend a woman’s marriage to a serial murderer. Though she’s not aware of the degree to which his twisted mind has manifested itself—she does know of his fetish for women’s handbags—their domestic life is defined by his volatility and her fear. So when she finds out that he’s been murdering single women lately, she’s shocked but not surprised; it’s not like he hides his disturbing nature—or does a terribly convincing job of it, anyway—but there’s nothing she can do. She’s his prisoner.

The last three episodes of Luther have been up-front about the identity of the culprits Luther and company are pursuing, which has given us a window into their psychosis, but where the other episodes offer more stock serial-killer behavior, “Episode Four” gives us a better glimpse of their everyday life. It has some problems—the actors playing the killer and his wife are not very good, and the climax is totally ridiculous—but it’s notably fresher than the other case-of-the-week episodes so far.

Of course, this once again means Luther is draaaaaaaging its feet on the overarching plot, which it now has only two episodes to wrap up. On that front, Henry Madsen has woken up and started talking, and his vocabulary post-coma is but a single word: “Luther.” (I’m reminded of Mr. Burns coming to in part two of the “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” episode.) This is bad news for Luther, since Henry’s testimony could lead to his expulsion from the force. With Henry awake, Martin Schenk and others are certain to scrutinize Luther more closely to keep him from tampering (or killing) the witness, so Luther is forced to tell his frenemy Alice to back off a little. She’s peeved about this development, and being the deranged psychopath that she is, she takes care of the obstacle between them by knocking off Henry herself.

We’ll see how the close, complicated relationship between Luther and Alice plays out in the coming weeks, because she’s lured him into a dangerous game and seems very much in charge at this point. Their collaboration has benefitted Luther in a lot of ways—Alice’s insight into the criminal mind has helped close some cases, her manipulative powers brought Zoe back to him (for a night, anyway), and her knocking off Henry took care of a big problem for him—but it’s given her incriminating information on him, which in turns protects her from arrest. We’ll see if Luther has an endgame in mind, but as it stands, moving on Alice for murdering her parents would almost certainly cost him his job, if not more.

And frankly, I’m ready for the Luther-Alice showdown to come back to the fore. “Episode Four” is another more or less satisfying hour, with some insight into the domestic life of a killer, but the show needs to stop spinning its wheels. Enough undercard, onto the Main Event.

Stray observations:

  • Saw that taxi fake-out coming from a mile away. Another Silence Of The Lambs lift; if you’ll recall, the authorities descend on the wrong house in that movie, leaving poor Jodie Foster to go head-to-head against Buffalo Bill.
  • Is “Mad World” really an option in British karaoke bars?
  • Funny reference to David Bowie’s Burroughs-inspired, cut-and-paste method for writing lyrics.
  • Male humiliation has been a theme of this show (e.g. Zoe’s boyfriend’s entire arc), and it surfaces again in the killer subplot here. The scene where the killer brags about screwing his wife to her lover is easily the most chilling moment of the episode.
  • Handbag fetishism. Hard to look dignified doing that.

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