Luther: “Series Two, Episode Two”
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Luther: “Series Two, Episode Two”

There’s a scene—okay, several scenes, but we’ll focus on this one—in this second episode of the second series that typifies just how outrageously over-the-top Luther has gotten. Luther responds to a call from Caroline, the dodgy woman whose daughter Jenny is caught up in a pornography ring. It’s an obvious trap, but Luther strolls right into it anyway, with an ex-copper escorting him upstairs to a table where Caroline, a sadistic matron, and her oily grandson Toby await. The ex-cop nails Luther’s hand to the table. And after a quick yelp of pain, Luther just nonchalantly engages in the negotiation, as if his hand isn’t NAILED TO THE TABLE, as if he pretty much expected such a thing to be part of the natural course of the day. Even later, when he makes his way out of the house, he immediately places a cell-phone call, frustrated only by the makeshift bandage coming undone.

This is badassery maybe, but of a sort that undermines Luther as the flawed, tortured, identifiably human detective the show wants him to be. Throughout “Episode Two,” his ability to puzzle through the motives and actions of Cameron, our serial killer on the loose, is more than just uncanny—it’s superhuman. He divines that his partner Ripley, who Cameron kidnapped at the end of the last episode, will keep him alive only if the police ignore Cameron’s pleas for attention. He concludes that Cameron’s particular evil is not about explosion but implosion—the eradication of life, the ultimate expression of a nihilistic mind. And from that, he divines that Cameron is going after children and determines the location where he intends to take them. And while it’s true that his colleagues deserve a hat tip—particularly Gray and Schenk, who track down Cameron’s former cellmate and the lowlife who helped him change his identity (among other things)—his instincts are a tad too sharp.

Nevertheless, Luther is striking me as a better show this series than last so far. By cutting the run from six episodes to four, it’s no longer spinning its wheels on (mostly lousy) case-of-the-week business and can just step on the gas hard. Only two cases are in play so far: Cameron the serial killer and Jenny the freed Internet porn star. Add to that Alice as the wild card, and that’s all Luther needs to power through the four allotted hours. While the storylines are pulpy in the extreme—and inspire more chortles from yours truly than last time—they come with a healthy jolt of excitement and momentum, too.

Tonight’s hour picks up at the crime scene where Cameron made off with Ripley, whom Luther is convinced is alive and knows how to stay alive. As Cameron tortures Ripley with ropes and a red-hot poker, Luther and the gang change strategy by looking into the killer’s past rather than trying to anticipate his next move. The newcomer Gray and the veteran Schenk team up for standard procedural work, enlivened by Schenk’s colorful threat to the black marketer who worked on Cameron’s documents. (“It’s come back on you like the hand of God. And the next words from your mouth will determine the weight and velocity of the staggering tonnage of shit that’s about to plummet onto your head.”)

Meanwhile, like Ray Liotta in the last third of GoodFellas, Luther keeps another pot stirring as he checks in on the Caroline-Jenny situation, which has grown more complicated since Jenny was sprung from the porn ring. Turns out that some very bad people are not happy about letting Jenny go and threaten terrible things unless Luther talks a protected witness out of testifying against them. Using poor, put-upon Mark to create a diversion to banging into one of the protector’s cars, Luther slips into an apartment and successfully advises the witness to amend his statement. And when Ripley escapes Cameron’s evil clutches and helps thwart his attempts to gas a busload of kids—a children-in-peril sequence that’s in extremely poor taste, right down to the drippy music cues—good ol’ Luther appears to be two for two.

Except not really. There are a full two hours of this thing left, and it’s not about to put a bow on either one of the cases yet.

Stray observations:

  • Cleaning corporate offices… empty spaces… bleak artwork… the banality of evil, the evil of banality… implosion… children as a target. (A look inside Luther’s brain.)
  • Cameron is a pitiful, needy, whiny serial killer, which takes some of the threat away.
  • Curious to see more from the porn-ring trio, who resemble the sort of motley crew that tends to pop up in David Lynch movies.
  • “Do I have your permission to write a book about you?,” Ripley asks Cameron, in an attempt at ego flattery so transparent that I was disappointed his abductor didn’t pick up on it.
  • “I gotta go. Heavy day.” Yeah. No kidding. How’s the hand?
  • I enjoy Ruth Wilson’s performance as Alice as much as anyone, but it’s laid on a little thick at times. A line like “They’re Wile E. Coyote and I’m the Road Runner—Meep! Meep!” falls on the right side of camp, but when she starts fantasizing aloud about leaving the country with Luther so they can “swim with sharks” and eat from the deadly puffer fish, it’s just too much. I began to wonder what Alice must be like in the hours between dangerous activities, when she does her laundry or flips through the in-flight magazine. Banality of evil indeed.

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