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Luther (2010 TV Series)

LutherA review by Nalini Haynes

8.7 stars on IMDB

Season One: ★★★☆☆ three out of five stars
Season Two: ★★★★☆ four out of five stars
Season Three: ★★★☆☆ three out of five stars

Luther is a gritty British police procedural TV series (840 minutes) opening with Luther (Idris Elba) allowing a man to fall to probable death in retaliation for raping and murdering children. The fallout for Luther, now suspected to be mentally unstable, was nine months’ suspension and the loss of his marriage although his wife has neglected to tell him of her live-in lover.

Following on from this opening are several individual stories following seasonal and series-long story arcs where Luther stalks murderers even when he doesn’t have evidence; Luther stalks his wife; the first suspect, Alice Morgan, stalks Luther and internal affairs stalks Luther.

The police procedural stories are interesting. Legislated procedure hampers justice so Luther keeps one foot on either side of the law to get justice for all the right reasons. I enjoy shades-of-grey stories expanding on real problems with the justice system.

Luther being mentally unstable is alternately a strength and a weakness. It seems Luther’s instability arises from his ability to empathise with serial killers. Getting inside the mind of psychopaths is as hazardous to one’s mental health as changing rods in a reactor by hand without protective gear was hazardous to one’s physical health. However, Luther is usually right and the innocent rarely get caught in the cross-fire.

Luther cares passionately about the victims, acutely feeling his failure every time a subsequent victim dies, which also pushes him to the edge.

The writing falls down when it crosses the line into melodrama, Luther interrogating prisoners alone; failing to report harassment by Alice and Internal Affairs; failing to get the union involved; failing to get a lawyer; punching walls and not being sent on leave… Melodrama may make for engaging viewing or it may alienate viewers by breaking suspension of disbelief. I found myself thrown out of the story when Luther, supposedly a very clever man, failed to take basic precautions.

The cinematography jars. Closeups of people’s faces often place them to one side of the TV screen, looking towards the side to which they’re closest instead of the further side. Various other tricks are either aimed at being ‘new wave’ or intentionally keeping the viewer off balance, serving to make me more acutely aware of watching the TV, focusing more on the frame of the TV and less on the story.

Many people – Freya Robertson and Daniel Haynes for example – applaud Luther for its gritty storytelling. I’m not as enthusiastic although Luther is just as good if not better than a lot of the police procedurals on TV. Luther’s peak was the second season.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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