Via Roger Ebert’s invaluable film glossary, here’s the entry on “The Law Of Economy Of Characters”: “Movie budgets make it impossible for any film to contain unnecessary characters. Therefore, ‘any apparently unnecessary or extraneous major character is undoubtedly the villain’ (Rising Sun, 1993); or, ‘any neighbors who seem unnecessary yet are given dialogue will be more than merely neighbors.’ (The Pacifier, 2005)”
Heading into the fifth episode of Luther’s six-episode run, I’ve written about 3,000 words on the show and probably haven’t spared more than one or two words for DCI Ian Reed, the classic “other guy” who works quietly alongside Luther and the gang. In previous episodes, the only thing you really could say about Ian is that he served as part of the control group, that non-brilliant breed of workaday types who lack Luther’s intuition but represent stability and normalcy on the force. So it’s both bluntly ironic that he turns out to be involved with the bad element and a bit of a rip-off. Who is this guy, anyway? And what purpose did/does he have on the show, beyond being such of sterling example of The Law Of Economy Of Characters?
Nevertheless, “Episode Five” is one of the more exciting run-throughs of Luther’s crazy/compelling M.O., and finally issues a genuine cliffhanger into the finale. Really, it’s a shame that Ian hadn’t been more of a presence until now, because his situation in the episode teases out some complexity of character. Yes, Ian is in cahoots with jewel thieves, and he does some terrible things when his back is against the wall, but he’s repelled by the sadist who carries out the kidnapping that opens the episode, and his actions are defined more by panic than calculating evil. He’s an interesting villain for this hour—I just wish we got to know him better.
The episode begins with yet another in a string of hooky openers: As a moving truck leaves with the last of their things, a wealthy couple prepares to zip away on a flight to Rio, but they’re stopped by a group of gun-wielding home invaders. The ringleader, donning we later discover is a fake Mike Tyson-esque face tattoo, demands the husband relinquish the 18 cut diamonds he knows to be in his possession. When the husband claims to know no such thing, the kidnappers dash off with his wife and demand the diamonds in exchange for her life—and, to show they’re serious, they cut off her tongue and send it to him. The husband enlists Luther and company to retrieve his wife under an extremely tight time frame, but there’s a wrinkle to the case: The diamonds are in his wife’s body. And had he told the kidnappers, they’d have gutted her for them.
The pursuit of the kidnappers leads to one of the more suspenseful stretches the show has produced: A sting where Luther, using jewels lifted from the evidence room, arranges a public location for the husband to drop the jewels. The sting goes awry, as you might expect, but the way it goes awry is intriguing: The husband, so protective of his wife’s life before, decides to flee with the dummy diamonds and basically leave her to the wolves. Meanwhile, Ian frantically works in the shadows to resolve the case in a way that will keep his involvement under wraps. All crackerjack stuff.
The episode ends with Ian, still panicky and unstable, shooting and killing Zoe. And when Ian flees into the night, he reminds our hero, “This is your fault, John. This is your doing.” While that’s not strictly true, Luther’s conscience is already burdened enough to where this will take him over the edge. Plus, after discovering Zoe’s body, Luther leaves the scene with blood on his hands, literally, and we’re left with tantalizing uncertainty about his future on the force and his future as a man capable of surviving great tragedy and sin. Bring on the finale!
- In all the hubbub, I failed to mention Alice, who doesn’t play that strong of a role this hour. However, the intimate scene between Alice and Luther in the church reveals just how close their relationship has become and how much Luther, in particular, has been persuaded by her dark insights on human nature. “There is no love. Most of us are cruel and deceitful.”
- A memorably grave threat from the kidnappers: For whatever percentage of the diamonds he receives, he sends back a like percentage of the kidnappee. Yikes.
- British folks (or bit torrent types) who have seen the finale: Please take it easy on spoilers. Or at least mark them properly. (You’ve all done just fine at that so far, but I wanted to emphasize it anyway.)