For the first time in the series, Luther opens an episode with genuine momentum carried over from the previous one. Any expectation at the beginning that the show would naturally focus on Alice and the overarching story were thwarted pretty quickly in episode two, which found the series settling into the case-of-the-week groove it’s adopted for most of the run. But in the grand tradition of two-part finales, the fifth and sixth episodes of Luther could be run as one two-hour special, and it immediately gains an urgency that’s been missing—or at least absent until the case-of-the-week intrigue finally kicks in. “This was the Luther I’d been waiting for,” I thought through much of tonight’s hour, as our hero and his serial killer adversary-turned-accomplice played a cat-and-mouse game with police and with the man responsible for Zoe’s murder. Then the ending happened and left me a little deflated. But more on that in a bit.
Last time we saw Luther, he was fleeing the scene of his ex-wife’s murder, covered in blood and very much looking to all like he was the culprit. The sharks have been circling Luther for a while now anyway: The Police Complaints investigator Martin has tried to peg him for deliberately letting Henry Madsen fall to his near-death, his boss Rose only reluctantly brought him back off suspension out of respect for his abilities, and Zoe’s boyfriend Mark has been wanting Luther out of the picture by any possible means. Having been set up by Ian—who’s back at the office, knowing his word is more trusted than Luther’s—he has to figure out how to save himself and take out Ian, all while dealing with the massive stress of losing the love of his life.
I’ll leave it to smarter people than I to sort out the wisdom and plausibility of Luther’s plotting—commissioning Alice for help, stealing the murder weapon in brazen smash-and-grab, dealing with Ian at the open-air meet-up, et al.—but “Episode Six” was certainly exciting for most of the way, because the stakes could not be higher for everyone involved. (Everyone save for maybe Alice, who looks cheerfully in her element creating mischief for Luther.) Quite apart from any niggling concerns I might have about why the characters act as they do, the episode moves like a shot and suggests what the series might have been had it tried to sustain one evolving and intensifying story over the whole run, rather than sticking with uneven and sometimes shopworn serial killer/procedural material.
In any case, it’s Ian’s word against Luther’s, and Luther is wise enough to know he’s at a disadvantage. What gives “Episode Six” a charge, however, is the fact that Luther isn’t thinking as much about exonerating himself as he is about bringing Ian to some form of justice. He doesn’t know whether to trap him or kill him, but he’s lost his instinct for self-preservation. He wants revenge at any cost. Of course, his enthusiasm proves infectious for Alice, who finally gets a chance to bring her sociopathic talents to the field. “Of all the people in the world,” she tells Luther, “I would never betray you.” Says the scorpion to the frog.
It’s a surprise, though not an unpleasant one, that Luther never loops back around to Luther’s pursuit of Alice, whom he knows to be guilty and who here admits as much. (Asked why, Alice replies nonchalantly, “Because I wanted to,” then adds, “Let’s put Ian Reed in a room with you and then let’s talk about who wants what.”) The end of first series of Luther completes the unlikely evolution of Luther and Alice from adversaries to allies, and the ending if anything reinforces their bond.
About that ending: Closing on a cliffhanger struck me initially to be a deflating end to six hours’ worth of investment in the show, and I’d be curious to see if others felt like they’d been snookered a little. It seems like a case of series creator Neil Cross writing himself into a corner and resolving the problem with a big, fat question mark. Upon further reflection, though, I find myself softening to the open ending a little, just for the sheer ballsiness of frustrating viewers’ expectations so flagrantly. Luther, Alice, and Mark are stuck in a situation that cannot be easily explained: Surrounded by the police, hovering over a gutshot Ian, with Luther teamed up with a suspected serial killer. The second series, set to unfold next year in two two-hour long specials, will set about answering Luther’s “Now what?” question. I’m not convinced Cross will answer the question satisfactorily, but I’m wriggling on the hook, so that’s something.
- Alice: “You’re asking me to be your accomplice? Excellent. When do we start?” If there’s a difference between Alice and Hannibal Lecter, it’s her winning eagerness to participate. Lecter is mostly bored by humans.
- A very nice episode for Ripley, who has to balance his straight-arrow understanding of his duties with his loyalty to Luther and his intuition that his partner isn’t guilty.
- Surreal exchange between Luther and Ian in the open air. “I believe you did it because you did it.”
- Didn’t buy the Ian/Zoe love connection that Ian claims in the climactic scene, but I wonder if we’re supposed to accept that at face value or think of it more as Ian’s ploy to coax Luther into shooting him.