So when it all came down to it the meta-narrative of Season 2 didn’t really amount to much. For all of the Russian Roulette and fatalistic declarations of intent the show simply lurched into a new paradigm, spick and span and ready for a new season. At first when I saw the season was only four episodes long I assumed it would be an epilogue of sorts, tying up the ambiguous ending of the first season. The more transitory nature of the season seems to represent a gamble on the BBCs part. The original season wasn’t a ratings behemoth, but the show built up a dedicated fan-base very quickly and this season seems to have been a test of the waters to see if it could be viable for a longer run. Whilst I’m happy to see Idris Elba get more work, it feels like the show has lost a little of its edge in its attempts to franchise itself. On its own terms the episode was pretty fantastic, offering a great conclusion to its central plot. However once again the meta-plot was the thing that irked me. In Season One the overarching plot was largely Luther and Alice’s relationship, which hit a natural crescendo in the final moments of the final episode. The pornographer plot felt flimsy and malnourished, like the show felt it should have some overarching plot but didn’t want to commit to it and shrugged its way to a conclusion.
The fandango between Luther and the pornographers should have been exciting and vital, Luther’s attempts to hide the corpse and protect Jenny a catalyst for tension and drama. As it was the plot never really gelled due to the fact that we didn’t really care about any of the main antagonists and their threat was dispensed with almost effortlessly. Alice was a consistent, lethal, presence at Luther’s side in the first season; the pornographer’s meanwhile haemorrhaged menace as soon as the episode started. In contrast the geriatric gangster who stumbled around after Luther seemed less like a threat and more like a sitcom punchline. As Luther played hide the corpse I could almost imagine Frank Wallace, previously mentioned aged gangster, amiably shaking his fist at Luther’s rascally ways.
Seeming to understand this, the episode dispensed with the primary threat as efficiently as possible. The problem was that the primary case, a pair of maniac brothers attacking random people as part of some elaborate game, was a far bigger and more compelling threat. As such an octogenarian hit man feeling up a bit of damp carpet and mincing around with a gun didn’t feel particularly vital. Overall the episode felt like it was trying to quickly deal with any lose ends the season had set up, an odd state of affairs considering that the season was only four episodes long (and was initially created as a double bill of two hour episodes). Luther’s new team had a dissident within it, who was promptly shut down just as she was starting to question Luther’s motives. The violent pornographers, despite apparently being a massive crime enterprise, seemed to shuffle off meekly to the side lines once their decrepit muscle was dealt with. Jenny had transitioned from potential intellectual foil to Luther to something close to a surrogate daughter. Even Mark and Alice were nicely side-lined, with this episode all but confirming that Alice was gone for good and trying to deny the very existence of Mark. Essentially by the time the Season had finished we were at a point of status quo, which feels odd for a show like Luther.
In an attempt to not be overly negative I’ll refrain from discussing the overarching plot and focus on the primary plot. Following on from last week’s spree of hammer fuelled mayhem we had the revelation that our killer had pluralised himself, his twin brother picking up the bloody baton where he had let off. The opening of the episode, with a brief recap of the previous episode, the opening titles and then a smash cut into pandemonium, was amazing. Like with the previous episode the moments involving the killers had a chilling, cinematic quality, moments of frenetic violence interspersed with unsettling calm. In fact what eventually let down the main plot for me was the writing itself. Luther is a show that often pushes boundaries, but is also quite happy to resort to stock clichés. As such scenes with Luther despairingly growling that ‘he had to get into their minds, had to find a way in’ severely dented the goodwill the bravura direction had earned the show. Similarly Luther confronting the killer at the end felt vaguely ridiculous partially because the killer had apparently graduated from hammers and knives to high-tech explosives and partially because Luther seemed to not really know how to communicate with the killer. Him goading the killer, referring to himself as a ‘boss’ who had to be killed before the killer could progress to the next level, gave me horrible flashbacks to the early 90s when middle-aged TV detectives tried to talk to kids about their new-fangled video games.
Even Idris Elba, usually adept at spinning turgid prose into some vital and interesting, seemed defeated in this scene. Whilst the resolution was a nicely done piece of misdirection, it just felt like the entire episode escalated really quickly. I mean did the hammer killer intend to make himself a suicide bomber, or did he have a special emergency bomb-jacket in case he got surrounded by the police? Because he didn’t seem particularly fussed about actually killing anyone with his vest of explosive peril, but the implication was that this was his ultimate endgame. Then again I was kind of hoping that Luther might have tried to psych out the killer by declaring himself a Mind Flayer.
It’s not really fair to hold the show to your own expectations, but I’m surely not alone in being a little underwhelmed by the final scene with the pornographers. This scene, capping off the entire seasons subplots, essentially amounted to Luther wrangling his way out of the season’s predicament by telling Grandma Pornographer that someone would kill her if anything happened to Jenny. At first I wondered why this threat had any purchase, it’s not like Grandma Pornographer had Iplayered the first season to verify that Luther actually knew a psycho-killer, and then I wondered how anyone thought that our hero threatening to have an old lady murdered was a great way to end the show. Luther is a show that often went to dark places and painted Luther himself in shades of grey and black, but it just seemed like a really blunt way to diffuse the threat. It would be great if it became a meme in the show, with Luther busting out his serial killer coupon every time an episode was fast approaching its end.
Idris Elba is the glue that holds the show together and he continues to be absolutely fantastic as John Luther. It’s just kind of annoying seeing the show not really keeping pace with his excellent performance. If Luther does return next year, and I assume it will after this rather comprehensive retooling, then I assume it will continue from this status quo. If this transitory period allows a few further seasons of Luther, seasons with the verve and energy of the first season, that consolidates their strength then we’ll be in for some great television. Season 2, despite some great moments, just felt hopelessly hamstrung by an overarching plotline that nobody really seemed invested in.