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Luther: “Series Two, Episode Three”

Illustration for article titled iLuther/i: “Series Two, Episode Three”
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Much as I’ve been inclined to criticize Luther’s plot mechanics—and of course its pulpy indulgences, which are laughable and compelling in equal and oddly complementary measure—the show has been putting together some terrific suspense sequences this season. The misdirect that ended the first episode of the current season marked a sudden and thrilling shift from “edgy” procedural to horror film. (Only to shift right back again when the attacker turned out to be a particularly neurotic serial killer.)

Tonight’s entertaining hour opened with the show’s best suspense sequence to date, a tense scene that begins with a young man skulking around the cars at a gas station and slowly escalates into vandalism and violence. Separating the action into two distinct planes—the miscreant on the outside, the anxious and horrified customers inside the convenience store—the scene plays out much like an audience watching a movie that suddenly becomes real. At first, this menacing stranger mesmerizes them, but there’s no specific cause for alarm, other than the feeling that something bad is about to happen. When he graffitis one car and smashes another with a small bat, the trance is broken, and the confrontation is out in the open, with unarmed victims helpless against a deadly arsenal.


A later sequence, which finds the same guy impersonating a courier and going Oldboy on a floor full of businesspeople, is equally good and doubly gruesome, with the nervy payoff that he didn’t leave the scene after his rampage. Silly plot developments aside—and they’re present, as usual—this is just first-rate filmmaking, explicit and nasty yet carefully calibrated for maximum tension. They vary in style, too: The opener at the gas station is a slow-burner, patient and dread-inducing; the office building melee, by contrast, is a purposeful rush, as our villain slips swiftly past security checkpoints and information desks, and brings the hammer down as soon as he reaches his destination.

All that said, what year is this? Having the chaos agent rolling the dice in a real-life Role-Playing Game echoes the moral hysteria of the 1982 Dungeons & Dragons movie Mazes And Monsters. (Incidentally, Tom Hanks’ first lead role.) And then to close with Marilyn Manson’s 1995 cover of “Sweet Dreams,” 10 years after this classic Onion story, made me chuckle a little. Movies and television are full of reactionary movies about whatever scary things the kids are into these days—if they didn’t, who would Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood kill?—but a killer LARP-er seems especially silly and dated. (The scene of Luther taunting the perp in the interrogation room by rolling his precious die was too much. Each roll made him twitch like Tio Salamanca in Breaking Bad.)

After Cameron’s apprehension last week, the one remaining overarching thread has Luther protecting Jenny on the sly by doing her former keeper’s bidding. Luther’s affectionate relationship with Jenny—and Jenny’s less-than-affectionate relationship with her mother—is less compelling than the bind in which Luther has once again found himself. Without knowing anything about his superior’s current predicament, Justin says it best: “There’s a difference between getting your hands dirty and being dirty.” And that’s where Luther has to operate again in order to protect the life and future of a young woman who isn’t at all certain what her next step might be. When the episode ends with Jenny having jammed a knife into her tormentor’s neck, the mess has literally spread to Luther’s living room, and his hands will have to get dirtier to clean it up.

Stray observations:

  • Apologies for the shorter-than-usual write-up, but I’m dashing off to a late screening of Margaret, which is closing after one week, despite a sudden surge of critical support.
  • A commenter last week complained that my griping about case-of-the-week stories in cop shows is akin to griping about a kiss at the end of a romantic comedy. A fair point, but I’d argue that (a) crime procedurals have evolved into longer story arcs and more importantly (b) Luther is not unfolding over 22 episodes but six in the first series and four here, which makes it possible to go deep on single cases. And though the Cameron subplot has ended—and Alice has mysteriously disappeared for good—Luther’s second season has been stronger for giving fewer cases more time.
  • Nice lurid touch having Toby the pornographer having a cell phone conversation as a lesbian love scene plays out in the room behind him.
  • Nikki Amuka-Bird hasn’t been given much to do as Detective Sergeant Gray, other than being the dull by-the-books type who won’t compromise herself on Luther’s behalf. Surely there’s another layer, yes?

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