Random Musings: Luther is a top-notch detective series




    Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) John Luther (Idris Elba) returns in the third and final seasons (or series, as they say in the UK) of the BBC crime drama Luther, now on DVD.
    As I stated in my previous post about Luther, at http://www.michronicleonline.com/index.php/your-voice/opinion/patrick-keating/5551-random-musings-luther-combines-elements-of-holmes-and-marlowe , DCI Luther spots the clues that everyone else misses. He’s also willing to play fast and loose with the rules if doing so catches a killer and protects the people of London.
    That hasn’t made him many friends; and in season three he finds himself under investigation even as he investigates various crimes. This leads to tensions with his partner, Detective Sergeant (DS) Justin Ripley (Warren Brown), who is being pressured to report any extra-legal activities on Luther’s part.
    The investigation is headed by Detective Superintendent (DSU) George Stark (David O’Hara), who is just as willing as Luther to orchestrate events and manipulate people to get results. This includes giving Mary Day (Sienna Guillory), the woman Luther had recently begun seeing, a thick file listing all the things Luther purportedly had done. Luther insists that Stark is lying.
    The viewers are never given specifics about these allegations, but we know what Luther in capable of, based on his actions of the previous seasons. And in the first episode of the third season, he holds a man over the edge of a high-rise balcony and demands information from him about a murder.
    Like I said, Luther is good at spotting clues; and in the first season, he determined that brilliant scientist Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) murdered her elderly parents. However, he lacked evidence and was forced to release her.
    But he pursued his investigation and later confronted Alice with the facts of how she got rid of the gun. He still couldn’t prove anything, though. Meanwhile, Alice began “investigating” Luther.
    This lead to a complicated relationship between the two, with Luther threatening to plant evidence that someone else killed her parents— something her ego could never stand, even if she’d never admit to the crime herself— if she didn’t stay away from his estranged wife.
    By season three, as Elba said in a documentary on the DVD, Alice has become one of Luther’s “accomplices.”
    “He needs her,” Elba said. “It’s a very sort of odd relationship, but it works for them.”
    In fact, in season two, Luther broke the law to help Alice, feeling he owed her one.
    In that same documentary, Wilson describes the relationship between Alice and Luther as a cat and mouse game, which she believes both characters miss.
    “She’s always said to him, ‘why don’t you join me?’” Wilson said. “‘We are equals. We are similar beings.’ And I think she’s come back to try and lure him out again.”
    Guillory observes that this final season is about, among other things, Luther mitigating “his compulsion to do the wrong thing for the right reasons. Or the right thing for the wrong reasons, depending on how you see it.”
    This tendency has blown up in Luther’s face on more than one occasion. In season one, he didn’t share with his colleagues the fact that he remained in contact with Alice or that she’d made certain threats, so a outburst he made over the phone gave them cause to believe he was guilty of a subsequent brutal act of violence against someone else.
    In season two, Luther reluctantly agreed to help the widow of a man he arrested years ago, as well as her daughter, who’d been “messed up” as a result of those events. His reluctance stemmed from his awareness that his efforts to help by doing things he shouldn’t have done only made things worse.
    But, wrong thing for the right reasons or right thing for the wrong reason, Luther did try to help. And things got worse.
    In the documentary, O’Hara observed that Stark’s methods aren’t dissimilar to Luther’s in many ways. Yet one thing that sets the two men apart is that Stark is so sure of his “facts” that he refuses to even entertain the notion that Luther might be on the level when he tries to warn him of danger. Like some other characters, Stark is either unable or unwilling to entertain the possibility that his preconceived ideas might be wrong.
    In some ways, Stark’s mind-set reminds me of Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), the implacable pursuer of Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), in the “Corner of Hell” episode of the superb series The Fugitive. Gerard catches up to Kimble, a pediatrician on the run after falsely being convicted of his wife’s murder, in a backwoods community. There he finds himself accused of attacking a young woman.
    Just as Kimble maintained that he’d seen a one-armed man running from the vicinity of his home when he was returning from a drive, Gerard offered as his only defense that he saw a man with baseball cap flee the scene. Almost all the men in that community wore baseball caps, making Gerard’s identification useless. Yet despite finding himself falsely accused, with slim evidence to offer in his defense, Gerard still insisted the one-armed man was a fantasy.
    Granted Stark was not under investigation, nor was there ever any indication that he ever had been, so the parallel isn’t an exact one. Still, he and Gerard share an “I’m right and that’s all there is to it” attitude.
    Gerard’s name, by the way, was a deliberate echo of Javert, the man who hounded Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. It’s not clear if Luther creator and writer Neil Cross had any symbolism in mind when he named O’Hara’s character, but the name “Stark” definitely fits.
    In all, Luther consists of 14 episodes; six in season one, four each in seasons two and three. If you like crime/detective shows and/or engaging and flawed characters, Luther is worth a look.

Copyright 2013 Patrick Keating

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