Luther: Series 1, Episode 6
Episode 1.5 was what most shows would play as a season finale. This episode, 1.6, would be the premiere four months later. Whether because it’s essentially a miniseries, or because it’s The BBC and they can do whatever they damn well please, Luther subverted the usual cliffhanger, perhaps in favor of a better one.
The episode opens with a suspenseful – but not belabored – shot of Superintendent Rose Teller driving in the rain as she listens to a message from a panicked Luther. Rose, who has always championed our (anti)hero stops to pick up . . . Chief Inspector Ian Reed, Zoe’s killer and a bad apple inside the police force. ‘You were right,’ she says. The brief scene kills viewers’ hope that she will help Luther disentangle himself.
Next, we see Luther stumbling through London’s streets in anguish. His primal cries are intercut with Ian’s nervous handwringing, visually signaling us though almost everyone’s disinclined to believe Luther, it’s going to boil down to a one-on-one fight. It later intercuts them nervously pacing, talking on their phones,
That’s almost everyone, because as we the viewers knew, faithful Justin Ripley is going to side with Luther. In the office, amidst mass chaos, the major players announce which side they’ve chosen. Here’s a show that’s not afraid of facial close-ups, of focusing on the listeners rather than the speakers to get those subtle reactions, those facial twitches. It lines three faces up in a shot, one full-on, one in the background barely out of focus, one in profile, and lets them all vie for our attention.
Sides chosen, Ian makes his move, playing the game of ‘tell the truth and they’ll think you’re lying.’ He admits Luther blames him, notes he is technically a viable suspect, then works the ‘I feel so guilty’ angle to help explain his shaky hands and bloodshot eyes. It’s a dangerous, tricky play. Ian must have some strict religious upbringing to have the gall to try it. I’m guessing Catholic.
Justin Ripley goes to the crime scene against his will to find his suspicions confirmed. It’s not Luther. But how to prove it, and how to hedge his bets so that just in case, he can continue with his career? Superintendent Martin keeps a close eye on him, as if suspecting that’s the case; he even gives him the ‘you’re a good cop, but goodness can lead to bad decisions’ speil indirectly, while pretending to talk about other officers.
Superintendent Martin finds his suspicions confirmed, too, at the scene; suspicions of Luther’s guilt. Martin is a by-the-book follower of procedure, slowly do his wheels grind, but consistent is the grain they produce. Rules are important, he says; as important as family and loyalty. The Commander, on the other hand, is out for blood, and these two characters round out the spectrum of coppers, giving us a reference point for every ‘type’ of authoritative figure. With all of them, we are frustrated and impatient, but in the end Superintendent Martin’s slow and steadiness comes in handy.
Finally, we come full circle to Alice, waking from sleep and walking to meet the bump in the night in her sexy yet sensible lingerie. It it appropriate to bait the fandom like that, given the circumstances? Well, sex is as good a tonic for grief as any. Luther enlists her help, and she’s quite eager to give it.
‘Don’t you ever step outside yourself, wonder what you’re doing, and think you’ve gone mad?’
[From here on out, spoilers are major. Proceed at your own risk.]
Now all the players are in motion, we can enjoy the chase. We marvel at Ian’s sly manipulation to have guns trained on Luther. We revel in Alice’s treatment of the whole thing as a delightful romp she knows she’s smart enough to conquer: her facial ‘disguise’ upon holding up the evidence car is sheer to display her utter enjoyment, and her expression as she toys with a knife and watches North and Luther grapple is superb. We see North overcome his understandable dislike of Luther – and by extension, himself, of course – to find the truth. We watch Ripley make up his mind for good, and follow through.
At that crucial point when Ripley decides, many other things happen at once. Superintendent Rose’s belief in Luther’s guilt starts to shake, John confronts Ian face-to-face, the bigger picture starts to dawn on Martin back at the station, and finally, at this apex, the world goes from browns and grays with splashes of red and purple to an explosive, varied canvas. Bright busses and pedestrians circle the two men in the park talking, the tunnels are literally murals of color, even the alleys John runs through are suddenly populated with broken-down teal trucks and yellow windows. Colorful surroundings continue through the end, until Mark and Ian drive into a tunnel covered in colorful graffiti and begin the last chase, closely followed by the whirling lights of sirens.
The theme of doors and doorways has been mostly given up for this episode for mirrors, colors and lights.We have mirrored reflections of peoples’ faces in surfaces that allow for various degrees of clarity: Ian’s blurred in the break room; Alice’s mostly clear in her kitchen; Ian’s clear in the police bathroom; Mark’s from fuzzy to clear in his rearview; Ian partially obscured in the locker room; both Mark and Ian in their rearviews as they race to Luther. Lights blur and whir and fade, in traffic, in the background, in Ian’s locker.
The climax directly addresses the dilemma most revenge movies pose without an answer: is it worse to go to prison and be constantly assaulted and in fear for your life, or is it worse to be dead? Alice and Ian believe death is the worst thing. Luther thinks prison is worse, but he shields his desire in talk of justice. Mark is driven to fury by Ian’s goading, and his irrational response is what shapes the end of Series 1.
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good / oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
- I get how Zoe being out of the picture opens the door wider for the Luther/Alice thing to happen with less ‘mess,’ and it solves the other love triangle, too, but I just can’t help but feel it’s too . . . perfect.
- Based on the tacky art direction in the police break room, someone who thinks weed should be legal and smoking allowed in the break room was asked to make the anti-marijuana and anti-smoking posters.
- Fewer ‘clever’ editing segues than usual. Most notable: from Ian playing with his phone to Superintendent Rose toying with hers; from Ian with the right half of his frame blurred out to Rose with the right half of hers obscured.
- Some beautifully composed frames: the escalator; Alice and John crowding to one side or the other in her apartment to make us feel claustrophobic even with two thirds of the frame blank; Alice in the background holding a red stick while John throws the dismembered gun into the river; the red columns in the abandoned building where John sits on the stairs; the alley behind Luther as he gets out of the car to go towards the meeting place.
- Note who drives when more than two people are in a car. If there’s a woman, it’s always she.
- Only a Brit can get away with saying that staging a perfect murder scene would take ‘a very chilly heart.’
- I’m going to get started on Series 2 very shortly, but until then, here you are: