For those who like gritty crime drama, the BBC’s award-winning Luther, available on DVD, is a must have. Luther is the title on the case for the first series, which consists of six hour-long episodes. The show follows Detective John Luther (Idris Elba, The Wire, The Office), a cop with a tormented soul. Luther may be a genius, but he’s also extremely self-destructive and impulsive. This man is both a catcher of dangerous men, and also, a dangerous man himself. It’s a duality that makes him good at his job, if he can stay sane long enough to complete it.
The first episode of Luther begins with the titular character facing a child killer. The bad guy dangles from a ledge. Luther stands over him, demanding to know where the latest victim is kept. The criminal gives up the information, but Luther lets him fall, resulting in the man ending up in a coma. Luther is cleared of any wrongdoing months later, and returns to work.
This scene sets up everything else that will come. In this moment, the character of Luther is defined as both heroic and having questionable morality. Who wouldn’t want to see a guy who kills kids hurt or dead? But who among us would be willing to stand by and let it happen? What Luther dispenses may be justice, of a sort, but it’s not something most people would approve of.
Nor is Luther proud of his inaction. The results of what he does, or doesn’t do, rather, cause him much torment, and lead to him doubting many things about himself. Throughout the six hours, as Luther hunts (and usually catches) other serial killers, that night haunts him. He is a changed man because of it. Did he do the right thing? Maybe not. Were his actions excusable? Well, that’s a matter of opinion.
Luther is joined on this quest of the soul by Alice (Ruth Wilson, The Prisoner, Suburban Shootout). Alice is introduced in the first episode as a killer herself, brutally murdering her parents and dog. Luther knows she did it, but has no way to prove it, since she has committed the perfect crime, leaving no evidence behind. Luther fails to build a case against her.
But that’s for the best, as Alice becomes a pivotal figure in Luther’s life. Attracted to his complexity and intelligence, which she shares, she becomes obsessed with Luther. She is able to figure out the cause of his torment pretty easily, and intrudes into his life to gather more details. Is Luther an object worthy of study for Alice, or a kindred spirit she’d like to be around?
Not that Luther is always happy with the attention. Some of the things he sees in Alice are the things that he cannot stand in himself. As he questions his own sense of right and wrong, Alice feels like a dark temptation that could lead him down the wrong path. It makes for an exciting and juicy partnership, one that will keep viewers locked to the screen.
There are other characters in Luther, too, of course. Most notable is Luther’s ex, Zoe (Indira Varma, Human Target, Rome). She leaves her husband, not because of what he does in the pilot, which is not a secret to her, even though Luther doesn’t admit to it, but rather, she feels undervalued and unhappy. She cares about him, but doesn’t want to be with him. Luther struggles mightily to win her back, but it’s too little, too late, as she has already moved on with Mark (Paul McGann, Doctor Who, Collision).
Luther’s co-workers certainly appreciate the job that he does, but aren’t always sure about his methods. Luther’s boss, Rose (Saskia Reeves), risks her own reputation to reinstate Luther, and may come to regret it. Luther’s best friend, Ian Reed (Steven Mackintosh, Underworld), would like to be supportive, but it’s not like Luther lets him in more than anyone else. So the working relationship in the unit is tenuous, at best.
Critical reviews for this first series are mixed, but few criticize Elba’s performance. As the title character, he is the meat of the series, and carries it extremely well. For his gifted, nuanced part in Luther, Elba has deservedly won several awards, including an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Whether one believes the story of Luther is enticing or not (it is), Elba alone is enough to warrant a viewing. The rest of the cast is excellent, too, though they have not been recognized for it like Elba has.
Unfortunately, the BBC-released DVD comes with one sole extra, a half hour behind the scenes piece. It’s interesting, as the series creator, Neil Cross, and members of the cast discuss the show. But it’s too bad there isn’t more.
Luther is still more than worth the price. With series two also out and a third ordered, it’s time to catch up for those who haven’t seen it yet. Pick up a copy today.