Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Luther Review: "Episode 2" - Is Luther Really a Horror Show?

David O'Hara and Idris Elba stage an epic standoff in "Luther"

As I was reading the critical response to last night’s season premiere of Luther, a thought hit me.  What if I’ve been looking at this all wrong?  What if Luther isn’t a crime drama?  What if it’s actually been a horror show all along?  Watching the second episode from this perspective does change things a bit.  It certainly doesn’t excuse the fetishization of the killer (though it certainly explains it).  We still get a long, wordless scene of him riding the bus after his latest kill and we get an extended scene as he stalks through his next victim’s house (complete with overwrought music), tastes her toothbrush, and dewigs in front of a mirror.  None of this material provides any insight into the killer (Paul Ellis as we learn), mind you.  Everything we learn about him we learn from his elderly mentor, who was the original Shoreditch Creeper, who killed Ellis’s mother, and whose nurse is the new target.  For a gritty crime drama, this treatment of the killer and his victims* would be trite and merely “Awesome Serial Killers [Being] Awesome” as Alan Sepinwall put it earlier this week.  But considered through the lens of a B-horror movie, it’s oddly appropriate.  Not really interesting or informative, but appropriate.

* Would you be surprised if I told you we get a scene with multiple women sobbing while bound and gagged?

Viewed now as a horror show I thought the second episode was a definite improvement on the premiere.  We spend a lot of time tracking down William Carney, the original Shoreditch Creeper who turns out to be an elderly man who was imprisoned for forty years for unrelated crimes and who is now mentoring Ellis and using him to finish his past intended crimes.  It’s not entirely clear why Ellis is helping the man who killed his prostitute mother, though suggestions are made that he was neglected and perhaps was grateful to Carney.  The lack of motivation for Ellis is perhaps this story’s greatest failing as we never get any real sense of why he’s doing what he’s doing.  And when combined with the absurd anticlimax (Ellis throws himself out a third story window when it becomes clear John has physically bested him), it just leadenly sinks.  Ellis’s suicide is also a convenient cheat because it allows the police to arrive (Luther confronted Ellis alone obviously) just in time to see a dead killer on the ground and John looking down on him from the window.  Obviously, Luther’s been in this position before (and let the criminal die before), but this particular example is just an easy out for writer Neil Cross.  With the killer’s suicide he doesn’t need to follow up on the case at all and he gets to throw more gas on the Luther-as-criminal fire.

But the main investigation is really just the side dish to tonight’s delicious entrée, which is the confrontation between Luther and Stark, as John tracks Ripley to Stark’s hideaway and completely turns the tables on his investigation.  The scene between Idris Elba and David O’Hara is just electric as John stares down his opponent before taking his evidence and walking out leaving a string of threats hanging in the air (“If you take me down I will take you down even faster and even harder”).  It's tough to think Stark will just let his investigation go, even if see him tearing down his own creepy victim wall.  But if Luther was more of this and less “Awesome Serial Killers [Being] Awesome” it would be a much better show.  The fact that Ripley refused to turn on John is just icing on the cake.

A couple of spare thoughts –

The investigation into Jared Cass’s death kind of fizzles with Ripley just arresting Ken Barnaby at the end.  I really expected there to be more to it, though Barnaby blending his hand to avoid giving fingerprints pretty well cemented his guilt.

Luther and Mary progress in their relationship with a day of phone tag following their night at the café.  It’s nice to see John as something other than a hard-edged cop though, knowing this show, there’s bound to be an unhappy ending.

“Mr. Carney, I’ve got a message for you.”

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV

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