Reviews

The Troubled and Charismatic 'Luther: Season 2'

The second season of Luther remains wonderfully suspenseful and excellently acted.


Luther 2

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Dermot Crowley, Warren Brown, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Paul McGann, Pam Ferris, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Kierston Wareing
Network: BBC
Release date: 2011-10-25
Amazon

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.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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