“They’ve set up a new unit”
Series 1, and particularly episode 1, of Luther has to rank as one of my favourite bits of television in recent years, so it was great news to hear that a second season had been commissioned. But given that my main enjoyment came from the ladies of the show, it was perhaps unsurprising that my enjoyment didn’t quite reach the same level. Taking place months after Series 1 finished, rebel detective John Luther has now joined the Serious and Serial Crimes division after some time off following the shocking events of the season finale. There, he continues to deal with the worst of human nature and utilising his own inimitable approach to catching these criminals.
For our purposes here on a Ruth Wilson level, there’s no denying that the character of Alice really has run its natural course and so it feels like a bit of a cheat having her be the first face we see just to recap the events of the series 1 finale. She reappears a couple of times after that but not in any meaningful way for the main story, so it’s a bit of a letdown. And Saskia Reeves’ Rose is not given the farewell she deserves as Luther’s former boss which feels a real shame, the impact of his repeated actions on her life and career could have been something rather interesting to explore.
With just four episodes to play with (which were originally intended as 2 2 hour long epics), Neil Cross’s writing has a little less room in which to explore its larger concepts and the attempt to provide a larger series arc with the character of Jenny never really felt like a success to me, relying on previously unknown connections rather building on the work of the previous season. There’s also only so far that the self-destructive instincts of a man can be explored in this format without creating too much of a sense of false jeopardy. As with Doctor Who, putting the main character in life-threatening situations is rarely that effective in the knowledge that there is more to come, qv the opening Russian roulette scene.
All told though, it is still a classy piece of British television-making, its unique visual language remains intriguing and it fizzes with great ideas. Making Pam Ferris a vicious matriarch of a crime dynasty, generating a genuinely creepy scene by having people trapped by their fear inside a petrol station, setting up a neat set of conflicting loyalties as colleagues new and old continue to question Luther’s motives. It may disappoint a little but given the standard of the first series, this is still quality stuff.