What happened to crime?

Luther, 2013 (series 3)

Review by Peter Hulm

The most puzzling aspect of Luther's third season is its sudden descent into macho aggression and masochism. It's as if someone had decided to ape The Wire because both starred Idris Elba — and then almost forgot the crimes the British police officer is supposed to be tackling.

Instead of crime-solving what we get is an intra-police struggle. The tension of the crime stories, though all serial murders, completely evaporates.

Presumably, the rather incredible pursuit of Luther by police investigators in series 3 seemed a good way to writer Neil Cross  of increasing viewer interest in what Luther was doing at any particular moment.

Since Luther was never going to do anything but the right thing, however, we never felt him any danger unless the unappealing investigators (David O'Hara and Nikki Amuka-Bird) rigged the game.

The comparison with The Wire is unfortunate. Despite its gritty feel for London scenes, Luther in series 3 fails to deliver any of the social questioning of the American series or of the French cop series Spiral.

This may be more in line with Luther's origins: Sherlock Holmes stories and Columbo. But it turns its feel for London's grubbiness into a background to be ignored or a buried social commentary that the main story resolutely leaves out of account.

For example, are rich psychopaths like Alice Morgan interesting while poor ones are pathetic? That's how Luther expects us to treat them.

The most telling comment came from the investigator who grabbed his wouldbe police informant round the neck then said: "It's not very nice is it, when a police officer carries out his own idea of justice." But it was never followed up.

It's as if the creators had forgotten that we know who the killers are from the beginning — and often so does Luther — so that the mystery is simply how Luther will catch them, and with the best episodes, the interest is in the surprizing relationships — often with Luther (Alice Morgan), his ex-wife and partner, or between other characters.

Britain as Nazi Russia

Even in the third series, the writing and acting can sometimes be as sharp as ever. A young loan-shark complains of Luther's police tactics as coming from "Nazi Russia". Lucian Msamati is effortlessly moving as a father whose family is victimized by a cybertroll after his young daughter's death. But then in the next episode he is stiff and offputting.

Warren Brown as DS Ripley, despite his instant screen likability, seems to have nothing much to do here (except die).

Nikki Amuka-Bird, similarly, has almost no background to work with, except being British-African and ignoring it (though surely viewers can't). Even Person of Interest did better than this with its police characters.

The sense of the workplace as something sustaining has also gone. Luther's partner (Steven Mackintosh) crashed and burned at the end of the first series. His boss (Saskia Reeves) simply vanished.

In their place we have the boss who was previously investigating him (Dermot Crowley) and a computer specialist we never get to know.

Embarrassing love interest

Trying to start up a new love interest for Luther is nothing much more than awkward. Would any normal woman in 21st-century London meet a man, even one claiming to be a copper, at the top of a building in the middle of the night? And what are we to make of Luther calling her only after a tough day when everything else was going wrong? Is this really a sign of maturity or sensitivity towards others? He could at least have explained he was feeling depressed.

It is difficult to know how to read the scenes between Luther and the woman (Sienna Gillory). We are never sure how interested in her Luther really is — and leaving this unexpressed (conventional British inarticulateness?) doesn't cut it dramatically. It comes from cookie-cutter British adolescent dramas rather than from feeling for the characters (since we are never let in on what Luther is going through).

Inadequate motivations

The series has always suffered from inadequate motivation for the behaviour of its main characters (Luther included). A number of viewers complained after the third series that the writing was terrible.

How Luther reaches his conclusions we have no idea. There's no Sherlock Holmes at work here. Just Columbo's clownery and fumbling. And for the viewer, there's no thrill of spotting the same clues that Sherlock would pick up on.

The collapse of any social commentary the series might have been aiming at diminishes the previous episodes in memory. It's not hard to feel cheated by the indifference with which the self-destruction of Luther's best friend is treated in later episodes, the killing of Luther's wife or the removal of his sympathetic boss.

Even the puzzling theme song from Massive Attack no longer makes sense for the series (if it ever did): Love is like a sin, my love, for the ones that feel it the most...

Review of the fiirst two seasons.

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