Luther opens with a hooded figure chasing a scared be-suited man through a…well I’m not actually sure what it is, it’s an industrial complex of some kind, one of those ones that looks like it was purely designed for chase sequences in thrillers. He eventually reaches a dead end on a metal bridge/gantry over a deep hole (seriously was this place designed by the same guys who built the Death Star?); the hooded figure reaches him and reveals himself to be… Stringer Bell from The Wire? In this though he has a London accent and doesn’t seem as composed. He also seems to be a policeman not a drug dealer, weird. Yeah ok it’s actually the actor Idris Elba, who’s American accent was so flawless in The Wire it’s actually weirder to hear him with his natural accent.
Anyway, Elba plays John Luther; loose-canon-cop-on-the-edge-who-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules-but-gets-the-job-done-with-nothing-to-lose-except-a-long-suffering-wife-who-can’t-deal-with-the-fact-he’s-married-to-the-job-more-than-her. So we’re dealing with the height of original characterisation here. Turns out the man now hanging from the gantry is a serial paedophile/murderer/rapist; they’re vague on the details but we get the idea. He’s hidden his latest victim somewhere and Luther wants to know where. He shouts and repeats things a lot (“You’ve lied, LIED and LIED!”) and the editor enjoys cutting to a different close-up every time he makes the repetition. From the adverts I thought they would have played him cooler but he seems more like a Daily Mail reader; just shouting a lot and shaking and naming other girls (always beginning their names with “little”) the evil dude killed or whatever; then eventually letting him fall because he believes in swift justice and letting him fall is the swiftest thing he could think to do.
Cue a really classy opening title sequence that seems kind of incongruous with the rest of the show’s tone. I guess that was his James Bond pre-credits sequence.
We fast forward to 7 months later and John has been in a psych ward and the dude he let fall is in a coma. It’s not explicitly stated but it’s implied it was the previous paedophile case that lead to Luther’s mental break, but he’s all better now and is put back on the ‘team’ (it’s a special unit that as far as I can tell is just a typical homicide unit but it’s got to be special because that’s how these shows work). Luther is teamed up with a fresh faced new detective to the team who declares “I put in the request months ago to work with you. I chased it up 3 times a week; in writing”. Rather than finding this obsessive and creepy he takes it in his stride, now out of the psyche word Luther seems to be slightly more laid back and cool again, or just really into this guy.
It’s a show that consciously wants to be more American, more Hollywood. We get a new murder for Luther to investigate that at first isn’t exactly a massive step away from the likes of’ Midsomer Murders’ but everything feels exaggerated; quick cutting between shots and the murder looks to be by someone “professional”, no meagre murders of passion for Luther, that’s too run of the mill. We even get a silly scene played completely straight of Luther’s boss and her boss talking about Luther:
“You’re playing a dangerous game betting on him”
“It’s not a bet, it’s an investment”
Aha, nitro-glycerine? I’m not sure if the writer’s are aware how cliché of cop films/TV shows this kind of discussion is, but their bizarre choice of adjective to describe Luther does make me think they were going through a list of words already over-used to describe how dangerous a loose-canon cop is and that’s what they settled on as underused. (Though nitro-glycerine is one of the ingredients of TNT AKA dynamite, so technically he’s saying Luther is “dynamite” but I guess that’s not really the idea he’s trying to get across…)
Anyway, the investigation goes on as usual for these shows and Luther interviews the daughter of the murdered husband/wife/dog. She’s got kind of crazy eyebrows and something seems a little off about her. Luther yawns and stares at her expectantly, she doesn’t react and he leaves the room proclaiming to the rest of his team “it’s her, she did it!” Yes you’re reading that right Luther just sussed out the murderer based on whether she yawned when he yawned.
“When you yawn other people yawn it’s the same part of the brain that deals with empathy, she doesn’t have any she murdered them”
Now I enjoyed this moment for its complete silliness and how serious they seem to play it, but it does signal the sudden shift 20 minutes into the episode of actually becoming a really good show. The daughter, Alice, is some child prodigy genius sociopath, Luther knows she murdered her parents and she seems pleased he knows, but he can’t prove it. So begins a really fun, tense and well performed series of cat and mouse interactions between Luther and Alice. For all the cliché and silliness it began with (ok so it still continues cliché but it is good cliché) the show steps up a notch and turns into a serial killer/cop plot. It builds up well, Luther’s estranged wife gets threatened, Alice gets more and more interested in Luther and wants to break him; prove that in trying to protect his wife and do the right thing he’ll break the law he’s trying to uphold. Like I said, not massively unique (it’s almost a bit Batman/Joker), but the interactions between the two of them is great and I’m a sucker for that kind of serial killer/cop back and forth.
It seems the show wants to be more American not just in presentation but in structure as well. There will be an overarching storyline throughout the series as well as standalone plots for each episode; each episode plot seems to be clichés stolen from American cop films, episode two involves cops being killed that Luther has to stop, another episode will see a satanic cult killer etc All condensed into the 60 minute format. The bizarre turnaround of the first episode definitely has me intrigued and I’ll be checking out the rest of the series.