Throughout the four-episode run of Luther’s second series, there have been two story arcs, one major and the other tangential, that have survived the entire run: The major one involves Jenny, the young Internet porn slave that Luther literally pulled from the set, risking great personal and professional peril; and the tangential one involves Detective Sergeant Erin Gray, a straight-laced newcomer given the obligatory role of questioning her boss’ fidelity to the law. And considering the amount of time devoted to both stories, Luther more or less whiffed on them badly while excelling at wrapping up a serial-killer(s) case it kicked off just an episode ago.
Jenny first. Last time we saw Jenny, she was sitting over the body of Toby, the pornographer, who had broke in to Luther’s apartment to drag her back into servitude, only to wind up with a steak knife in his neck. As Episode Four begins, Luther comes home to this scene and immediately thinks of clever ways to get out of it, as if dealing with bloody cadavers on his living room floor were de rigueur for him. (This is not a criticism, by the way. Getting into and out of stick situations is what Luther does every day. A bucket, a sponge, some tarp and duct tape, and a double-cross are all that’s required here.) But as he tries to calm the hysterical Jenny, one line stood out for me: “I’ll never let anyone hurt you. Ever.”
Does this feel at all earned? From the 10 episodes of Luther so far, we know our hero’s sad history. We know he’s lost his wife—first to another man (who disappeared unaccountably after Jenny-babysitting duty), and then to murder. We know he feels like his chances at achieving any kind of intimacy with another person are remote, and that he exists in so dark a place that only Alice truly understands him and she’s a deranged killer. “Saving” a defiled innocent is something such dark characters do—consider Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, for one—but Luther’s fatherly words to Jenny ring hollow, because there’s not enough support from the previous episodes to make that relationship resonate. His impulse to protect her is an understandable moral decision; he’s fundamentally a good guy who wants to help people, and he’s willing to do dangerous and extra-legal things to accomplish that. But to treat Jenny like his daughter is another matter, and I don’t think the show earned that connection.
Still, the Det. Gray subplot is much further off the mark. Her entire purpose this series has been to serve as the primary threat to Luther within the department. For a while, it looked like she was being set up as someone with more nefarious motives, but really she’s just a young cop who wants to play by the rules and doesn’t want to get sullied by her boss’ reputation as a dirty cop. So she’s uncomplicated and plays a limited role, and within even those narrow parameters, she fails utterly. When her attempt to nail Luther for breaking into Schenk’s computer falls short, Gray’s only purpose is to make our hero seem all the more heroic for his courageous showdown with the bomb-strapped LARP-er.
Beyond those two not-insignificant points, however, Luther’s second series ends with an exciting and satisfying showdown, provided you’re willing to roll with the extreme unlikelihood of last week’s apprehended LARP killer having a twin brother who’s also on a rampage. (And you should be willing to roll with such things, I think, given the pulpy tone the show has established.) To reiterate a point I made last week, the secret to the show’s success this go-around hasn’t been the plotting so much as the direction, which has given key sequences a suspenseful edge. When Luther and company manipulate the incarcerated Robert to help them track down his still-active, point-scoring brother Nicolas at a coffee shop, it leads to a properly tense and beautifully executed tete-a-tete between Luther and Nicolas. Not only that, but it actually justifies the silly Russian Roulette business from the first episode, which at the time seemed like a desperate cop-on-the-edge cliché. (Though, happily, Luther had no intention of relying on a roll of the dice to determine whether he lived or died.)
Overall, this was an entertaining few episodes that leaves enough open for a third series while wrapping the rest in a pretty little bow. Alice’s absence from the show is the biggest mystery, since her Lecter-like advisement of Luther seemed like the engine that was supposed to drive it forward. For now, she’s merely the specter hanging over Toby’s mother’s head, and a red herring for the rest of us. Seems about right for this crazy, loopy, addictive show.
• Some nice scenes between Luther and ex-cop Frank, who reminds me a little of Mike the Cleaner on Breaking Bad—a professional who works for the bad guys, but with a soft allegiance to them. Frank seemed to appreciate the quality of Luther’s double-cross with Toby’s body.
• Love how it takes about one minute for Luther to look past the twin brothers’ massive book collection and determine that Gideon’s Bible is the code source. Why do the other detectives even bother?
• “You’re totally epic.” “Totally.” Not exactly “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” but it’s something.