Last week, after I expressed some befuddlement over the lack of department urgency in pursuing Alice—someone we (and Luther) know to be guilty—for murdering her parents, a commenter (“Telly Viewer 821”) responded thusly:
“I've noted that as a running theme on this show, the higher ups in the police department are just as interested in protecting the rights of suspects as they are in solving the crimes. The notion advanced is that if the police can't definitively prove someone's guilt (with evidence) they aren't allowed to even merely harass them on general principle—compared to American shows where the department's emphasis seems will be on “getting results” (or at least giving the appearance of such by juking the stats) where the “rights of the victim” (or getting vengeance for the crime) will take precedence over that of the suspected.”
That comment shifted my perspective on the show a little, helping to provide some context on why Luther is considered such a loose cannon in the department and why suspects who would be thrown in “the box” for an eternity on American shows could be allowed to wander free. That point was reinforced by “Episode Three,” another gloriously/ridiculously over-the-top case-of-the-week episode about a well-to-do serial killer who’s eluded the authorities for over a decade. Still, the question persisted: What in the hell do you have to do to get arrested in this town?
The Big Bad this time around is one Lucien Burgess, a wealthy young man-about-town who enjoys writing and collecting material about the occult and carrying out the occasional ritual satanic murder. His M.O. is to abduct women, drain their blood over a series of years, and leave their frozen, exsanguinated bodies for the police to find. In a hooky opening scene—the show is getting very good at those—Lucien abducts an upper-middle-class woman, leaving behind her baby and occult passages written all over the walls in his previous victim’s 10-year-old blood. (Judging by serial killers like Lucien and Alice’s Hannibal Lecter-like maneuverings, Luther creator Neil Cross must really like him some Thomas Harris.)
Once again, it does not take the authorities very long to figure out that Lucien is the culprit. And Lucien, being the savvy Richie Rich type that he is, holds a press conference as a way of shielding himself publicly from police harassment. But through his magical detecting powers—this time, through a description of a crescent of light that illuminated a person’s face—Luther correctly deduces that Lucien’s torture dungeon is, in fact, the belly of a ship. And together with his young partner Ripley, they find the boat and the missing woman.
Alas, this is where Britain’s pesky legal rights come into play. Because Luther and Ripley have no search warrant, and because they find the woman dead and not alive, they can’t claim exigent circumstances for entering the boat and thus cannot arrest Lucien without risking the case being thrown out on a technicality. So it falls on Luther to trap Lucien by playing at his weaknesses. Enter Alice, who pegs Lucien as “a naughty child showing off” and advises Luther to turn the tables on him and rebuke his compulsion to dominate. This leads to my favorite scene in the episode, where Luther simply walks towards Lucien on a narrow street and clocks him hard in the face.
Meanwhile, Alice continues to toy in Luther’s affairs, despite his warnings at the end of the last episode. His ex-wife Zoe’s poor, put-upon boyfriend Mark is assaulted, which would be bad enough before the added humiliation of (a) getting beat up by female attackers and (b) having it filmed and circulated like a viral video. The attackers make reference to Luther, so Mark naturally presses charges, resulting in an immediate investigation and a probable suspension for Luther. But Alice, being the master manipulator that she is, coaxes Mark into dropping the charges and tells Luther she staged the whole thing as a way of pushing Zoe back in his direction. Luther doesn’t believe Alice’s assumptions about human nature. And Luther, of course, turns out to be wrong.
Much like last week, I’m torn between thinking “Episode Three” to be overwrought, derivative, and choked-to-the-gills with stock cop-show/serial-killer clichés, and confessing to being greatly entertaining by it. Luther isn’t nearly as smart a show as it thinks it is—and as many American critics have hailed it for being—but damned if it doesn’t have a lot of pulp energy going for it. Each week has been more over-the-top compelling than the last, and the performances by Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, and special guest star Paul Rhys (as Lucien) ultimately give the material enough legitimacy to carry it across. Luther keeps on chipping away at my critical faculties; soon I fear I’ll be rendered helpless by it.
• Nothing creepier than seeing someone licked full-on in the face, as Lucien does to the victim in the opening scene here. To cite another example, I’ve gone on record in calling Tim Allen’s face-licking of Kristen Davis in The Shaggy Dog one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever witnessed in a movie.
• Lucien meet Dexter. Dexter, Lucien.
• A grim twist having Lucien actually drink his victims’ blood. Gets worse when he talks about menstrual blood being the most powerful.
• Chilling line from Alice to Mark, when he wonders what she’d do if he asked her to leave: “I’d have to leave. And then one night, come back.”