If there was ever an opening theme song that perfectly encapsulated the programme it heralded, it has to be Massive Attack’s eerily hypnotic ‘Paradise Circus’, which continues to dominate and entice audiences into Luther. Its words, “The Devil makes us sin” proclaims the show as a purveyor of evil that will leave you gaping with disbelief at the atrocities humans are capable of, as seen with its previous three series. But with series 4 already in the past, did it really do justice to its bloody expectations?
We’ve been missing Luther for a long time now, so any sighting of the show is welcome. But Luther isn’t half as grimly satiating as it has been, even if the most unconventional cop in London, DCI John Luther, portrayed by Idris Elba, returns with the same impenetrable presence that gave the character the longevity he needed to flourish. Series 4 finds Luther in isolation on the coast of England being paid a visit by his London colleagues, who come with dark news about Alice Morgan, Luther’s long-time love interest. But soon a psychopathic murderer targeting random civilians forces Luther to don his grey overcoat and red tie once again and stop London from drowning in blood.
Luther’s return to the force is given the spectacle it deserves. The unveiling of his attire, the traditional over the shoulder camera angle of his strong-footed walk, and the starkly grim shots of the London skyline, signalled the return of the bleak and intrepid storytelling that made Luther tick from the beginning. In Luther, London is the most dangerous place to be, but can Luther convincingly clean up his bleak abode for the fourth time? Well, if you thought Luther reached the bottom of its own bleakness at the end of series 3, with the death of his partner Justin Ripley, the beginning of series 4 finds Luther in desolation beyond the fringes of society being faced with a grey truth. The series begins with the serious potential for its character to be taken to new places, along with producing a murderer so chilling its unreal. However, as the episodes wear on, and the story remains well below its grim self. It really should have gone down a different route, but instead, Luther ran out of ideas in its attempt to continue the ‘magic’ of the show.
Luther is traditionally a creepy, deranged show that attacks its details in order to produce an atmosphere of stark realism where anything is possible. But by the end of episode 2, the psychopathic murderer isn’t that exciting anymore because we aren’t allowed to behold his fetish in all its twisted glory. This forced the show to rely on its protagonist’s sheer presence to guide us through until the very end. It feels like the murderer was merely a tool deployed by the filmmakers to keep Luther and the audience busy whilst it worked out the Alice Morgan plotline. Still, its originality can be seen through Luther’s unfolding life, which is given more prominence than the murderer, perhaps more so than any other series. But why involve Alice so heavily in the series when Ruth Wilson isn’t available? Wilson was undeniably the only other character on par with Elba in the whole series, seen by the fact that the duo have made it to the big time. But the use of her name without her presence results in an emptiness which is detrimental to Luther’s savage impact. Her inclusion shows a lack of ambition from creator Neil Cross, who by the end of the double bill, looks like he has not raised a new development on the horizon we did not already know.
“For us, the lack of suspense is rife because this psychopath is too shy for the camera and so we only get to see his snatching tactics – hardly the stuff of nightmares!”
Luther is the best at evolving those eerie moments just before one’s death. The suspenseful camera angles make silence all the more frightening. Surprisingly, Luther has its murderer doing this twice, once at the beginning and end of the first episode, where two unwitting victims are subjected to intense psychological torment. The cannibalistic murderer who kills and consumes out of jealousy is terrifying for the unsuspecting victims whose souls are crippled as every second passes. But he lacks the interest of other killers because we can see who he is from the off, so is devoid of the mystery that could have supported the below-par depiction of his killing spree. This psychopath is bereft of any humanity because he spies on unsuspecting people, eats them and terrorises their loved ones. But the cause of his mental sickness is his destructive enviousness of those who have more than him in life; a terrible motive that has no end and makes no sense. Series 4 borders on the edge of psychological horror, but without much of the psychological investigation that gave the show its uncompromising reputation.
Idris Elba’s John Luther is as always mentally suffering, but this time is more of a free spirit on a mission to discover what happened to Alice. Alice is his kryptonite and in series 4 we get to see him without his typically armoured mentality of saving the day, allowing Luther to explore interesting and previously unexplored territories in his character. Without a doubt Elba continues to be the best feature within Luther, but the only difference with this series is that he is the only one continuing to break new ground. This series’s new character additions are all side-lined, underperformers, who are never fully functional – a problem synonymous with Luther’s main drawback.
2 episodes is just not enough! It used to be 6 episodes, then 4, and now 2! Luther is a hefty series that knows how to overflow its content, providing intense and difficult storytelling that gets to the barebones of its own existence. A frail 2 hours has made series 4 puny. Luther needs more time on screen to truly send ripples down our psyche, but series 4 is just about enough of Luther to make an impression. Though, we really didn’t need his return unless it decisively made exciting progress. It shows the BBC’s half-hearted desire to produce the series; if they were not passionate enough to trust the series with its ratings, then it should have left Luther in his self-inflicted segregation.
Luther unsentimentally returns for a fourth series with Idris Elba still dominating the London skyline, but the shortage of episodes damages every aspect of Luther’s formidable impact.
Images sourced from BBC’s Luther, series 4