Luther: Series 1, Episode 5
In the opening sequence of continuously moving clips, we get a shot where the main characters are almost out-of-frame. The camera is less concerned with them than it is with the mood, the look. The camera fades to black before the graphic climax, as well. Yes, we’ve gotten to the point where even cold opens must have their climaxes, and where tongues being gouged out is the least of our worries.
Yay, modern art.
I’m an advocate of off-screen activities (sex, violence, murder) having as much/more/different/better impact on a viewer than on-screen. It can be a powerful tool. Here, it’s used to good effect, until they show too much of the aftermath. Leave some of that to the imagination, too.
Did she deserve the gruesome act? Of course not! But. How. Bloody. Stupid. do you have to be to swallow 18 diamonds? And as a writer, how do you at least not try and explain it with a line about ‘to avoid customs’? Speaking of writers, this episode has several storylines and Twists packed in. First up, corruption in the force! Glad to see it’s not just American cops who are randomly squirrely when the plot demands A Twist.
On the love triangle front, Mark makes an ultimatum. First he says “no recrimination, no blame, no nothing, we pick up right where we were and carry on,” but in his next breath demands Zoe can never contact Luther again in any way . . . Dear Mark, those things are opposites. Hear the ticking clock faintly in the background of this scene? That’s either time running out, or the detonator counting down.
Back on the police side of things (Luther isn’t always great with the segues, or giving you a good idea of how much time is passing), the episode makes a Movie Gambit, and gets interesting in a hurry. Most TV procedurals can’t afford – because of time, predictability, too many plot strings, etc – to make that move. Luther makes it, and now I’m on the edge of my seat not just for the storyline, but to see if they can actually pull this off. It’s a game of trust; between John and the kidnapper, between the show and the viewer.
During the climax of the emotional conversation when Zoe comes in to tell Luther goodbye, from 18:30-19:10, the cuts place their faces at the extreme bottom left (Zoe) and extreme bottom right (Luther) of the frames, as each gets their own one-shot from an almost profile angle, rather than over-the-shoulders or straight-on. Not only does this reverse the general rule (Zoe is on the right side of the room, and to the right of the frame in the establishing two-shot, so she should be on the right of frame in her one-shot, the exact reverse for Luther; and they would generally be shot with 3/4 of their faces showing, rather than in profile), but it makes our brains think that their faces are quite close together; though we know they are in fact fairly far apart, viscerally we feel they are almost touching as they try to come to grips with the situation. It’s a superb trick.
Zoe explains, Luther blows up because, well, it’s dumb but also, her timing is terrible, and then suddenly the sirens go off and we’re on to the next act. I’d continue to take issue with the graphic nature of the crime scene, but for two things: the lead-up is perfectly almost non-existant; they drew out some threats and gore earlier, now they don’t need to. And when Ripley asks Luther is he’s OK, Luther responds, “I’m not. Are you?” “No.” It’s a simultaneous partial explanation for Luther’s impotent rage, and Ripley as the audience surrogate is admitting this is disturbing.
Their responses also set up the next scene, when Luther asks Chief Inspector Reed whether he’s all right. Reed responds ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. What a mess, hey?’ While often emotional responses are far different in serialized TV than in the real world, it’s just been confirmed this response is not OK in our world or Luther’s world. Reed cranes his neck to look up at Luther, Luther is staring down at Reed; the shot of Luther is angled up, while the shot of Reed is angled slightly downward. All this mimicks how we feel about the characters and their parts in this travesty. The exaggerated angles continue when Luther and Reed face off in the hotel room, as Reed panics and Luther states, “Help me here, I’m lost. I’m just lost.” Certainly, both men are lost. Still, Reed went rather 0-60. I know no-one on the force saw it coming, so the audience shouldn’t either, but can’t help feeling Reed’s spiral needed more foreshadowing.
I can hardly say more without several large spoilers; skip reading the rest of this paragraph if you want to avoid some vague ones. [SPOILER ALERT] Though the setup may be a bit overdramatic, and the end to the love triangle may have been a bit of a copout (why resolve it like adults when you can just remove the pivot and give two guys an awkward buddy revenge pairing?), this sets up what I can only imagine is going to be an epic storyline for Luther and a tour de force of acting by Idris Elba.
- Now they’re using her so minimally, Alice is near to my favorite part of the show. Supply and demand.
- “Right this second, I’m peddling thin air like Wile E. Coyote.” The British accent makes this line.
- That short, short scene where Reed goes out, hairlit for a short walk to the bench, takes the vodka out of his pocket instead of his phone, then is blurred out of the night as the city lights create broad, colored, slightly hallucinogenic halos behind him: that is good filmmaking with attention to detail, and it is magical.
- When Zoe calls Luther, we see him through the door of a cafe, a door he then runs through, and soon we see him opening the ajar door of Zoe’s house, continuing the theme of doors and doorways. Incidentally, people opening doors to people they shouldn’t happens twice in this episode alone.
- [SPOILER ALERT] I get dramatic arc can’t always carry ‘the right message,’ but implying fighting back gets you killed isn’t a message I’m too pleased with.
- If this were an American episode two seasons old, not sure I’d feel the need for a spoiler alert. But I suppose I feel British shows are more catch-as-catch can in the States, so I must still warn.