Luther: Series 5 – Aired on BBC (UK) 1st- 4th January 2019 (Review contains SPOILERS)
Luther has been a flagship show for the BBC since 2010. Combining the less glamourous landscapes of east London with grisly murders and a troubled detective (who just happens to be played by the tall and fragrant Idris Elba) has been a consistently winning formula. Until now. The latest season of Luther felt somewhat clunky and laboured, more of a Luther-by-numbers than previous outings. Given the amount of outstanding television crime dramas that have sprung up, it feels somewhat inevitable that a show that is now eight years old feels like it is struggling to keep up.
John Luther is not a good man. John Luther is not a law-abiding man. John Luther doesn’t even wear his seat belt when he drives *at night.* However, he is also a damn good policeman. This contradiction, which felt exciting for the BBC when the show started, now makes the character look a bit like a dinosaur given the current crop of new, exciting, innovative crime dramas out there. He feels a bit of a walking cliché as the televisual landscape has moved on around him. Idris’ stoic portrayal of the damaged detective, never giving away Luther’s motives, now comes across as disinterest or just plain tired. Luckily, Luther is saved by the supporting cast of characters, meaning John Luther is probably the least interesting thing about Luther (I still love you, Idris).
In the worst kept secret of recent TV history (given she was in all the publicity material), the return of Alice Morgan was very, very welcome. Alice is a fascinating character and played with mischief and menace by Ruth Wilson. As Paul McGann’s character Mark said she’s “not a psychopath”, she is far more complicated and interesting, with many more layers than Luther himself. She’s a creepy bundle of joy. Her relationship (or not) gives Luther dimension and depth. The scenes with Wilson and Elba together are the best in the show. New police recruit Catherine Halliday (the gorgeous Wunmi Mosaku) is also a great addition to the team. Wide-eyed, enthusiastic, and wanting to do the best job she can, she also brings out a more interesting side of Luther.
The award-winning show has been known for its gritty and macabre depictions of crime, with some of the set pieces really being the stuff of nightmares. The side serving of murder in series five starts with the sadistic slaying of a man with nails hammered into his entire body. Unfortunately, the act is witnessed by a young man on the street who is then hunted by the killer with the LED hood (a great, creepy device). His body would be left with gauged eyes and tongue in a playground.
However, the murders begin to feel completely throw away as they are given so little air time between the wider story arcs between Luther, Alice, and old school gangster caricature George Cornelius (Patrick Malahide). What starts as a promisingly sinister case becomes nothing more than unpleasant punctuation between Luther and Alice’s passive aggressive (or let’s face it, just aggressive) dance.
Luther just feels outdated for an audience now familiar with those sophisticated Scandinavian and *whispers* European thrillers. It tries its best but the closest it comes is in the magnificent, if stark, modern home of psychiatrist Vivien Lake (Hermione Norris) and her surgeon husband Jeremy (Enzo Cilenti). The glass walls and modernist lines are straight out of a Scandi-noir and make for an excellent, elegant home for murderers. The thoroughly cold pair would have made wonderful central characters, but their story becomes little more than a foot-note in the Eastenders-esque dance with George Cornelius.
A friend of mine said, when I mentioned I watched Luther, “WHY? The women in it are all insane, the slain or just plain want to be men”. I defended the show, saying it was just a bit clunky and BBC-ified (never ones to be cutting edge) but was ultimately entertaining enough to make you ensure you checked under your bed at night. However, after the final episode, I’m afraid she may have been right.
My heart sank as first DS Halliday was shot and then Alice Morgan plunged to her (surely for realz this time) death from some scaffolding (echoing the fate of a murderer in the very first episode of the show, where Luther lets him slip to his death). Two more interesting female characters seemingly knocked off while Luther gets quietly escorted away in handcuffs. Luther alone is a very unappealing prospect (again, not you Idris, I still love you).
At times brilliant (*that* bus scene), at times terrible (no more Eastender gangster battles, please), Luther continues to be an oddly entertaining muddle. With the demise of the show’s best character the drama is surely now written into a corner.
Unless Vivien Lake can make an audacious escape from prison…