Luther: Series 2, Episode 1

With Luther Staring Up At her Soulfully

Telling that the episode – and the entire second series – opens on Alice. Then Alice’s first few sentences explain who John. Luther. is. “My friend . . . we were simpatico.” Most of the rest is part truth, part smokescreen, part exposition to the audience. The game’s afoot.

Luther doesn’t actually give us an establishing shot of the ‘interrogation room’ until about a minute in, when we find outselves not in the familiar police precinct interrogation room, but a large room with a white-clad man sitting in the corner. A mental institution,where Alice is debriefed, intercut with Luther’s day.

Luther and Various Set DressingLuther gets dressed, makes coffee, and puts a singular bullet in a revolver. We know what’s going to happen, but not how routine he’s going to make it look, and that’s the key. It’s interesting to me the BBC gets to show it (there was a huge US uproar when 24 showed a game of Russian roulette a couple years ago).  Something else that’s interesting is the set dressing. A pair of dumbbells, crossed near the wall. An Asus laptop, held together with duct tape. A folding table, a battery-powered torch. A chess set, with a game just started.

Then before the opening credits, a VO by Superintendent Martin, saying Luther is ‘one of ours.’ The police force, and Us fallen humans, of course.

One thing about British television: it’s even less subtle than US television. From last episode’s closing song to this, it’s definitely going to spell it out. ‘It’ being the ideal of Luther the antihero, but not necessarily the mysteries themselves. Those come slowly, and are often more complicated than just a one-step-solve favored by current US procedurals. There’s the new Elementary, (more on that in a later post) which compares to the BBC’s Sherlock (nothing is clear until the end), and then Luther, (we know who, but not how or when Luther is going to catch up). They all are playing similar games, it’s the way they go about it that makes it good or less so.

Oh, and Luther’s gone and grown a beard! Yet another sign of a Man Lost In the World! (Disclaimer: this snark may have something to do with the fact I think it’s a crime to hide that face under a full beard.) Now he’s at  24-hour diner, playing chess with Mark. Ah chess, the international symbol for complexity, old age, and Men Lost In the World. Too much to hope it’s a shout to this?

Or just had post throw in some buildings in the backgroundThe location scout for this show is superb. When the soon-to-be-victimized-as-cued-by-the-music woman is walking at night, every set along the way is gold. Wherever that tunnel is, the one with the painted pillars and posters behind plexiglass, I one day will go there. While making sure I have company, of course. If, however, I turned around and someone was standing in the dimly lit alley while wearing a creepy Punch mask, I hope I wouldn’t blankly stare for 5 seconds, but instantly fight or fly, like the person who opens and then attempts to slam the door near the end. That‘s the proper response (assuming she doesn’t own a peephole). That’s the response people would tend to have. This episode – and inconsistently, Luther as a show – is unconcerned with how secondary people would act, so long as the response serves the story.

As soon as Luther walks into the new offices, I put my finger on how the overall style has changed (more in Stray Observations).  I don’t like the change. As if my confidence wasn’t shaken enough, they introduce another Woman of Interest, wearing a flashy coat and baubles (wardrobe code for Do Not Trust This Woman), saying she’s known Luther “since my husband accidentally killed a prostitute.”

She is there for Luther’s help. He responds, “So many times I’ve tried to help people by doing things I shouldn’t have done, and, it’s only made it worse.” Of course, now we ‘know’ if he doesn’t do something, it’ll go wrongly.  By guilt and shame and his inner nature, he’s forced again outside the system, where the lines are gray, where he’s comfortable, and where he doesn’t want to play Russian roulette. He says he’ll help. ‘Which is exactly the problem,’ Alice notes later.

Back to the camera movements stalking a girl, cueing us in that this is the next victim-to-be. The Moment Has Come when she steps into an alley off a busy street, the audible cold wind gusts, and everything is strangely silent, even though we see busy pedestrians in the background behind her. I know I said earlier the Brits aren’t subtle, but this is a bit much. Nothing compared to the suspicious actions of our creeper guy, though. Luther acts on a hunch that any 4-year-old should have had, and gives chase, then ignores the creepy feeling the 4-year-old would have listened to, and gets shocked and maced for his troubles. No time to pause, though: three storylines with only Luther to tie them together leads us to segues like

Justin: where are you going?
Luther: to a hospital! [drives to mental hospital to meet with Alice.]

Could've been more obvious. Could've named her Eve.This entire scene is not just good but enjoyable, including Luther’s glances at the nurse and his ‘I’m pretty up to speed on my…lunatics’ line. Alices fairly monotone commentary about women in the mental hospital is just perfect.I’m all about darkness and beauty, but the bit of cheekiness from last series was missing a bit. We know there’s something going on beneath the surface, a subtext in their glances and finger-tapping that will pay off later. Yes, we get the symbolism of the apple, and the fact it’s held by a woman in a walled garden just rubs it in.

Luther must be off, though, to save another woman for herself. It’s this girl, Jenny, who provides the deepest cutting lines – and the most layered, when thinking about the medium – of the episode: “[my mom] is just like the freaks who watch these films. It’s not who I actually am that matters. It’s who they wish I was.”

Despite this plea to let her decimate her own life, Luther sweeps her away (quite literally) and deposits her (quite inexplicably) with Mark North before following a lead about our killer.

You know those times when you yell at the screen for people being stupid? Four times this episode. Twice in the last five minutes. Ah yes,the last five minutes. Let’s break this down. (SPOILERS):

A female who dated the perpetrator and the (so far as we can tell, unarmed) female cop go up to the first female’s apartment. Of course, the Prior Girlfriend lives above a shop. A shop with a video camera. Neither the Prior Girlfriend nor the cop check the aisles thoroughly, but once the video camera POV reveals nothing, and the cut goes to Ripley sitting alone and pensive in the cop car, we know what’s going to happen. We’re going to get lots of spooky hallways, floors creaking, people splitting up, a fuse blowing, shadowy figures that turn out to be nothing, the cop shutting the drapes for the sole purpose that she will not be able to see the cop car any more, and EEEEEEEK, somehow Punch is in the car without making a sound, even though Ripley should have known to lock the door. All this ignoring the fact that Punch’s entire point was ti kill randomly, and after one meeting with Luther, he made it personal and somehow within 12 hours discovered Luther’s former partner and tracked said partner all over London.

Cut to black.

I’m less than impressed with the second series so far. It makes some of the same failings of the first series, but with a less coherent storyline and less pretty cinematography, blocking, and editing. Hopefully it recovers, but it only ha a few episodes in which to do so.

Stray Observations

  • Justin looks even more like an adorable little boy when in uniform. I just want to take him
  • The framing has become much less extreme this season, with a bit more hand-held-cam for that Realistic Documentary Feel, too. They pull a few cute tricks, like putting the establishing shots a few cuts into each scene (the mental institution, the street where the murder happens, the new office, Martin’s conversation with John), literally dividing the screen into thirds using window panes, using one paned window to blur a girl’s eyes while the rest of her is in focue, and putting dialogue over a person’s face in a cut where that person isn’t talking (when perp talks to female art student) but it’s not nearly as drastic – or as good – as the first season.
  • Still some vestiges of the theme of doorways.
  • PRODUCT PLACEMENT!? Oh, come ON!
  • A big man carrying a screaming white woman down the street in broad daylight, and no-one intervenes, maaaaybe. But no-one calls the coppers or even double-takes? See above notes about ‘people, and realism, and stuff.’
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  1. […] you may have noticed, I’m much less thrilled with Luther’s second series than its first. More sensationalism, less stunning […]



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