The Troubled and Charismatic ‘Luther: Season 2’

[26 October 2011]

By J.M. Suarez

The BBC’s Luther 2 picks up shortly after the dramatic ending of the previous season. Luther (Idris Elba), Alice (Ruth Wilson), and Mark (Paul McGann) are all dealing with the fallout from the death of Luther’s fellow police officer and friend, Ian Reed; and the death of Zoe, in varying ways. 

DCI John Luther is now on a new unit, Serious and Serial, with DSU Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley) as his boss. The previously at odds Luther and Schenk are now working together, with Schenk’s full approval of Luther’s unorthodox approaches. First on Luther’s agenda is bringing DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) in to work with him, as Ripley is the scapegoat for many of Luther’s dangerous decisions. The new unit also includes DS Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird), an up and comer in the police department with grand ambitions. Where Schenk was Luther’s workplace adversary in calling his methods into question, Gray now fills that void as she has heard rumors of the “dirty” cop and is determined to steer clear of any trouble.

The second series of Luther is only four episodes long and consists of two cases, spanning two episodes each. As the series has already established that the mystery and tension come from the ways in which Luther attempts to catch these killers, rather than a traditional murder whodunit, the second season continues the same tradition. While the first series managed this brilliantly, balancing Luther’s uncanny instincts with believability is the only real misstep in the second series. Perhaps because of the shorter season there is not as much time to delve into how Luther is able to pinpoint his suspects so quickly. There are a couple of scenes in which Luther’s mental leaps, correct though they may be, are somewhat hard to accept.

Amidst Luther’s police work, his personal life still remains complicated and difficult for him to juggle the two. While his marriage may not be at the forefront of his personal drama this season, he is dragged into protecting a young girl, Jenny (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), from a dangerous group of powerful and connected criminals. While initially reluctant, Luther is unable to step away from helping her and in turn, places his job in jeopardy. By enlisting Mark in his plans, it’s clear that they have retained their understanding following the death of Zoe. It would have been nice to see a bit more of the two of them interacting, but with Zoe gone there is little reason, making Jenny’s protection a nice way to bring them together.

Similarly, Luther’s complex relationship with Alice is given less time in the second season, particularly as Schenk is adamant about Luther staying away from her. There are two wonderful scenes between the two that are a highlight of the entire season, but also show just how well Elba and Wilson work with each other, and how compelling the characters are together.

The series consistently shows how Luther attracts a certain kind of person into his life, usually somewhat unbalanced or unwanted, but willing to trust him. His inability to stay away from the Alices and Jennys that cross his path make for a problematic personal life that often bleeds into his professional career. It’s precisely because of Luther’s ambiguity in dealing with the two sides of his life, often breaking rules and putting himself in compromising positions, that makes the series as interesting as it is. Luther continues to be a hero, but if that means his decisions are sometimes called into question, so be it, because in the end, Luther isn’t trying to be a hero. He’s only doing what he thinks is right even if it sometimes makes things worse.

Here is where he is most in conflict with Gray: where Luther is more interested in the circumstances and people affected by them, Gray is concerned with following the rules, making her extra careful around Luther. She grows to see that his approach does get results and his instincts are excellent, however, she is unbending in her sense of right and wrong. As Gray is suspicious of Luther and his methods, Ripley is as loyal as ever. His loyalty is rewarded with Luther’s loyalty in return, but he is not blind to the questionable choices Luther makes. In fact, Ripley plays the go-between for Luther and Gray, seeing the merit to both approaches and trying to make each understand the other.

The second season of Luther may not be as brilliantly executed as the first, but it’s still an excellent portrayal of the troubled and charismatic Luther. The season does seem a little rushed at times and the shocking death of Zoe is hard to top in terms of game changing moments, but the cases are still nail-biting and filled with twists, and Luther’s personal life continues to be as intriguing as ever. The series remains wonderfully suspenseful and excellently acted, particularly with the number of formulaic procedurals dominating television these days, Luther stands as a quality series, not just another cop show.

There are no bonus features included in the DVD release.

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