Luther: Series 2, Episode 2
When the ‘previously on’ montage rolled, I wanted nothing more than to see Luther jettison its entire 2nd season premise (more solving of murders, but with a new group of faces in a new office, blah blah blah) and take Luther and Alice on the lam. I immediately came back to reality and remembered Ripley’s intense danger – which, really, doesn’t he a little expect for not locking his doors? – and realized they were going to pull a ‘hours later’ sort of flash, where Ripley was missing, Luther was beside himself, new girl cop Erin Gray was berating herself, and the killer was making just-cryptic-enough-to-keep-the-suspense-up contact while leading the police straight to him.*
Spoiler Alert: stop here if you don’t want to know whether I was right.
This is the sort of trick TV shows can pull because of the existence of episodic breaks – or occasionally, commercial breaks. Other than the most structurally daring, well-edited movies, films can’t pull off this kind of move. Audiences would cry foul. But put it in a serial, and it’s par-for-the-course.
We cut between Luther’s team searching for clues and Punch taunting and burning a strung-up Ripley. A little erotic asphyxiation here, a little torture porn there, some gore gross-out sprinkled in for good measure, the camera lingering lovingly on the knife or saw or hot poker (literally!) in the foreground . . . Luther, these devices should be beneath you. Without your extreme blocking/angles, movie-worthy cinematography, and psychological foreplay of Alice and Luther, you’re naught but a modern network procedural with a gorgeous lead in gorgeous suits. So why can you only produce six episodes per season?
Back in the subplot, Mark is still keeping watch over Jenny, our garishly made-up wanna-be-slasher-porn-star teenager handcuffed to an armchair. Nothing strange about that at all. (That’s apparently what he gets for sleeping with a still-married woman.) Jenny’s mum is involved with some Bad People who come to collect, and we’re ostensibly supposed to care whether Mum can get them off her back. I for one was given no reason to care, and so was more annoyed than anything. We’re also given no reason for Luther to care about the woman; he should care more about his missing partner and the new hole in his hand. CHRIST FIGURE ANALOGY ALERT!
Rule Of Thumb: if you can see someone’s eyes, that someone can see you. Our Punch wears a mask to torture Ripley, then goes intoanother room, pulls the mask off, and immediately looks through a wide opening directly at Ripley (or so we are led to believe by the editing). Are we to believe he ‘forgot’ and let his guard down that quickly? If so, he should have been caught by the police ages ago. Within a couple scenes, he’s addressing Ripley face-to-face, and though it’s explained away with some psychobabble, it’s truly just the director using the mask to artificially fluff the tension and weirdness of the torture scene and the later mass murder scene; that head-tilt wouldn’t be nearly as creepy without the mask. Cheap trick. The insanely shallow depth of field causes Punch to come in-and-out of focus as he talks about banality and shadows is another cheap method meant to make us feel imbalanced, but ends up distracting. It’s as cheap as Punch deciding to kill rather than do anything decent, helpful, or important to achieve his desired ‘luminosity.’
Finally, 22 minutes in, we have a little fun. A diversion, a break-in, a heist! Luther sends Mark off with Jenny and seems to have tied up this plotline.
Next thing we know, we’re back at headquarters, missing a chunk of why a suspect has been brought in for questioning about a fake identity. We assume he came from the knife store raid. The interrogation does have a little of the uncommon framing and distinct lighting setups we saw in season one, though it doesn’t tak them quite so far; in my opinion that’s a drawback, but others may like the less extreme version here. Gray thinks the signs point to a bomb, but Luther sorts out that it’s got to be children, a twisted Pied Piper attacking what’s most beloved and that which will make him most remembered. Ripley calls, and our assorted heroes run their various directions, chasing the climax.
Since Punch didn’t ‘ruin his surprise’ by blurting it to someone who couldn’t possibly live to tell about it, the audience is in the dark as much as Luther et al. are. When the showdown arrives, Luther dispels the tension by telling Tim, ‘He won’t hurt you. You know why? Because if he did, I’d be free to come over there and kill him.’ He proceeds to cap the mask psychobabble by throwing it away, but really, the best parts of the scene are between Luther and Punch/Cameron, talking man-to-murderer.
Now what are we to do with our ten remaining minutes? Well, Luther being Luther, we must personally deliver Jenny to her mum for a strange, manipulative, pouty-lipped conversation in which Luther announces he plans to stop being a copper. He leaves and goes back to his house, where awaits Alice, mocking his dramatic half-attempts at suicide and proposing a reckless romp of the countries of the world. In her usual tactless way, she announces “It’s not me that’ll end up killing you. It’s them.” So of course, he leaves and goes directly to pick up the damsel in distress whom he’d just washed his hands of. If Jenny’s supposed to take the place of Alice, we’re all in trouble.
Follow all that?
A 42 minute format would serve this story better; it’d force them to trim some subplots and tropes, and perhaps make the whole thing less Soap Opera. In place of summing up, I give you this summation of the whole series up to this point, which is, as they say, spot-on.
- *I wrote that entire paragraph before the episode started. What I’m trying to say is, I’m not watching this show for its surprises.
- How many times have I yelled at the characters on TV to just. not. pick. up. the. phone. Finally, a main character willing to do it, and the superintendant has to go overrule him.
- Glad to see we’re back to the doorways motif.
- ‘How you feeling?’ ‘Like a freshly squeezed zit.’
- I use more hyphenated words writing about Luther than anything else. Don’t know why that is, but I’m blaming the Brits.
- Is the slight homoerotic tension between North and Luther all in my head?! Serious question.
- Elba’s pronunciation of ‘bogeyman’!
- The scene of the abandoned bus with cell phones ringing in empty seats was chilling.
- If you were wondering where you’d seen Punch/Cameron before, he’s Stanley “Stan” Shunpike from the Harry Potters. You’re welcome.
- The promos and descriptions of episodes are truly awful.