By Arturo R. García
In a better world for Idris Elba, we’d be writing about the return of Luther, the cops-and-robbers drama he produced for the BBC, in more glowing terms: the rising film star (thanks to Thor) coming back as a producer and lead for his relatively-little project that could. But given that the show’s ratings actually decreased during its’ first season despite Elba netting an NAACP Image Award and a Golden Globe nomination for his work in the title role, let’s just be glad it’s back at all.
Especially since the show ended that first season on a suitably squirmy cliffhanger: when we last left the despondent Detective Inspector, he was in the absolute wrong place at the wrong time – standing near his friend’s bloody corpse with his co-workers, convinced he was involved in another murder, closing in. His last question before we hit the credits – “Now what?” – would surely be the first one answered this year, right? Especially since showrunner Neil Cross only had four hours to wrap the case this year?
The show returned to British airwaves Tuesday, though no word yet on if and when it will air on BBC America. So far, though, the answers are few, while the problems for Luther are new. Be aware, spoilers are under the cut.
As it turns out, we don’t pick up the action anywhere near the events of the finale; the premiere takes us to Luther a year later. He’s alive and, somewhat surprisingly, now serving as the lead investigator for a new, L&O-ishly named “Serious and Serial Unit.” Even more surprisingly, the man formerly charged with investigating him, DSU Schenk (Dermot Crowley) is not only his supervisor now, but Schenk reveals that he “fought long and hard, and fought dirty” to keep Luther on the beat.
For his part, Luther spends some time reconnecting with the few people he can relatively trust. He rescues stalwart partner Ripley (Warren Brown) from his demotion to desk jockey to once again play Sancho to his Quijote, and also makes time to visit his wife’s boyfriend Mark (Paul McGann), the other emotional casualty from last year, even if, as Mark says, calling them close “is probably pushing it.”
But what Luther is not, of course, is alive and well. He lives in what seems like relative squalor – not that Luther’s ever been high-maintenance, decor-wise – and he’s discovered a rather disturbing morning ritual, the first sign that trigger warnings are still in effect for this show.
The reason why Luther’s legally, if not emotionally, free is a sacrifice by his gal-pal fatale Alice Morgan (Rose Wilson). Alice happily confesses to taking (uh, make that shooting) the bullets for Luther. At this point, Alice is a willing resident at a “secure” mental ward. At least, she is for now. When Alice suggests to Luther they could escape to warmer climates, it’s as casual for her as suggesting a spot for lunch.
When she offers to help him with his latest case, Luther initially scoffs: “No. I’m pretty up to speed on my lunatics,” he says. But at this point they’re too intertwined (“We grew close,” she tells Schenk. “… I pitied him.”) for either of them to walk away so casually. And Luther also seems to know this – he’s going behind Schenk’s back to visit her, after all.
Alice might have gotten a kick about this season’s first antagonist, a failed artist (Lee Ingleby) with a knack for the theatrical, a Punch mask, and a hatred for the “cretinization” of the world. So his career choices were limited to serial killer and film critic? (Kidding.) Anyway, the killer – and just like last year, there’s never any doubt as to who the killer is, even when we “meet” him unmasked – has taken it upon himself to teach London how to be scared once again, drawing on the Victorian character Spring-heeled Jack for inspiration as he assaults and kills several young women in the first hour alone.
Luther also faces a different sort of domestic trouble, when the vengeful wife of a former collar (Kierston Wareing) bugs him into trying to nudge her daughter Jenny (Aimee Ffion-Edwards) out of her life as a “sex worker” – specifically the willing victim in a series of snuff films. It shouldn’t spoil things too much to tell you that Luther takes the most awkward route possible to fulfilling his latest duty.
So not much has changed about Luther, even if the world around him has changed dramatically. His newest squad member, DS Gray (Nikki Amura-Bird) is already questioning his leadership, but not because she’s insolent; she just knows what running with Luther did to poor Ripley. Even Luther, the character, seems to know his time is running out; he admits to returning in part to get Ripley’s career back on track. If the past of both the character and the show are prologue, then Luther probably won’t get a graceful ride into the sunset. But the question going forward is, can Elba the producer make this show a hit for Elba the actor on its’ way out?