Blightyvision: “Luther” Series 2

Starring Idris Elba, Lee Ingleby, and Aimee-Ffion Edwards
Written by Neil Cross
Directed by Sam Miller

The original six-episode run of “Luther” was one hell of a roller-coaster ride: dynamic characters, gritty weekly plots mixed with a dark metaplot, and fantastic performances from both familiar and unfamiliar faces.  With the crazy cliffhanger that ended the first series, the promise of a second was a huge relief.  Not only that, it was exciting to think of the stories that could stem from the three major characters (Luther, Mark, and Alice) who looked to be the starring trio of any episodes to come.

Well, here’s the thing.  The second series is equally gritty and shocking, the cases are just as over-the-top, Luther is just as disturbed and disturbing … but those other two characters?  The ginger nutjob and the nice-guy-turned-borderline-homicidal?  Well, I hope you’re not as attached to them as the first series likely made you, because basically they don’t matter anymore.

Now, to be fair and before I go on, the focus of “Luther” has always been the titular antihero — no doubt about it.  But a lot of what made his character shine was his interaction with the bizarre, occasionally harmful personalities around him.  Perhaps it’s the fact that the major metaplot conflict of the first series was (apparently) resolved; perhaps Cross thought these characters couldn’t do any more to push Luther’s own characterization forward.  Regardless of the reason, he now finds himself in the less-than-desirable presence of Jenny (Ffion-Edwards) after her mother — the widow of a man he once arrested — asks him to rescue the girl from being forced to star in cheap back-alley porn.

With her on hand, Luther embarks on a pair of cases: the first an art student emulating the Victorian fairytale criminal Spring-Heeled Jack, the second a killer who chooses his victims by a roll of the dice.  Each story is two episodes long, making this series a neat little four-episode run.  With this setup, Luther is becoming much more a character immersed in a story rather than a character to whom stories come.  Members of his department still figure in (especially Warren Brown returning as DS Ripley, who gets one hell of a beating), and Jenny’s mother is always lurking in the background.  But as of the end of this series, Luther has become someone you look in on rather than someone you follow.

All that said, and having gotten used to the storytelling change, the tone has not changed at all. If you can’t tell from the brief case descriptions above, it’s still dark and stomach-turning and makes you feel like a bit of a badass simply for liking it.  And because of that — and because any character development in Luther is not that dreaded “softening” you sometimes get when abrasive characters get their series renewed — regardless of who stays or goes, the show remains very good and very watchable.  Even when the name of the actor I signed on to watch was no longer in the credits, I continued watching of my own volition, not simply for reviewing purposes.

This short series ends with resolutions to its cases and a benign landing point for the degree of metaplot it maintains.  At this point “Luther” could easily end, quasi-end to return whenever the writers and cast fancy a la “Jonathan Creek,” or pick up next year.  The change-ups this series have placed the show in a nice convenient spot for whatever the future may bring.  And regardless of what characters stay or go, or how long any future series run, if it maintains what it’s become, it will be just as worth watching should it continue.

Just, you know, don’t eat while you watch.

“Luther” Series 1 is currently available on DVD, and a BBC America run/DVD release of Series 2 is likely in the near future.  Sadly, Series 2 has far fewer cases of hot guys beating each other up, but all the other warnings from the previous review still stand.