Luther recap: the story so far

What happened in Luther series 4 and earlier? As we await series 5's arrival on New Year's Day, here's a spoilery recap of all the action...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Warning: contains major spoilers for Luther series one-four.

It’s been a darned long wait — more than three years — but the BBC’s cult series Luther finally returns to our screens on New Year’s Day. Understandably, our memories of Luther’s trials and tribulations may have faded somewhat in the meantime, so here’s a recap of events so far, with a particular emphasis on series four.

What’s happened so far?

Idris Elba plays our eponymous hero, Detective Chief Inspector John Luther. A mercurial copper, Luther is obsessive, temperamental and an unusually talented and dedicated officer known for bending the rules almost to breaking point. He infuriates his superiors (such as series one irritant, superintendent Martin Schenk) with his questionable methods, but in true ‘rebellious cop’ tropes, he gets the job done. Luther investigates the worst of the worst crimes—Satanists with a penchant for kidnapping, paedophile child abductors— all that cheery stuff you want reminding of this holiday season. 

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Following a particularly traumatic case that sees Luther spend a spell in a psych unit, he picks his trademark grey overcoat off its hanger and is thrust back into the deep end with new protégé Detective Sergeant Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) to investigate the murder of a middle-class couple with no obvious motive. Prime suspect for the crime is the couple’s daughter, Alice Morgan (a character played with unsettling relish by Ruth Wilson). Alice is deranged and yet oddly alluring. Through an initial game of wits, John and Alice build up an odd relationship through cat-and-mouse exchanges, two brilliant minds compelled by one another. This infatuation grows from an initial obsession with solving the murder of Alice’s parents before evolving into a very unusual romance.

At this point, Luther’s personal life is a mess. He lives alone in shabby accommodation, drives a battered old car and is desperate to make amends with his ex-wife, Zoe (Indira Varma). His efforts to reconcile lead to a one night stand together before she tells him that she has moved on with a new partner, Mark (played by Doctor number eight, Paul McGann).

Zoe ends up being dragged back into Luther’s world when Luther’s colleague and loyal friend, DCI Ian Reed (Steven Mackintosh), knowingly allows a diamond robbery to go ahead. When the deal goes south and leads to kidnap and murder, the situation quickly gets out of his control. In an attempt to get Luther to see him in person, he visits Zoe’s house. In the panic, Reed ends up shooting Zoe by mistake and framing Luther for her murder. During a bloody showdown in the series one finale, Alice shoots Ian to avenge Zoe’s murder.

Alice is committed to a psychiatric institution after confessing to killing Reed, and despite that probably being the best place for her, Luther’s feelings for her lead him to help her escape. She proposes they run off to Mexico together, but he pledges to stay in London, having (once again) thrown himself back into his job working alongside DS Ripley. Now working for a new unit investigating serial killers led by Schenk, he helps save a teenager from a life trapped making violent pornography and helps to guarantee her freedom through rather amoral means.

Walking into series three, it’s not just unhinged killers continuing to make Luther’s life difficult — the odious Detective Superintendent George Stark (David O’Hara) is sniffing around, trying to uncover Luther’s questionable methods in an effort to bring him down, attempting to manipulate Ripley into implicating Luther in criminal activity. Despite these trials and tribulations, Luther has a new relationship making things a little rosier, as he strikes up a budding romance with Mary, who is something of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl-lite stock character (though gamely played by Sienna Guillory). Stark’s attempts to make Ripley incriminate Luther are fruitless and fully cements their friendship. 

It’s bloody typical that just as their relationship is back on track and Ripley has proven his loyalty, poor Justin is gunned down in cold blood by vigilante killer Tom Marwood (Elliot Cowan). After pursuing Ripley’s killer to a rooftop, Marwood attempts to make Luther choose between Alice and Mary. Alice doesn’t leave the decision up to Luther or Marwood, driving a hair-pin into Marwood’s neck and rendering his Sophie’s Choice scenario redundant. With Mary’s personal life and mental wellbeing somewhat in tatters, her relationship with John ends and Luther walks off with Alice over Southwark Bridge, the scene of an intense encounter between the two back in series one.

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At the start of series four, Luther is alone again, this time on self-imposed exile on the coast. Living in a ramshackle cottage physically too small for him on the edge of a sheer cliff face (the imagery here is so on-the-nose it’s a bit painful), it seems that Ripley’s death and being disconnected from Alice has finally driven him away from the police force for good.

Yet when two police officers — Theo Bloom (Darren Boyd) and Emma Lane (Game Of Thrones’ Rose Leslie) — pay Luther a visit to inform him that Alice has met a grim end in an Antwerp canal, John has yet another death of someone close to him to deal with, refusing to believe she is truly dead. Bloom and Lane return to London to investigate a series of wretched cannibalistic murders that feel more than a bit influenced by David Fincher’s Se7en, congealed corpse in a bath tub and all. While looking around the flat of said congealed corpse, Bloom is killed by triggering a booby-trap bomb, leaving Lane traumatised by the death of her partner.

Meanwhile, Luther is back in London, conducting his own investigation into Alice’s death off the grid. His digging around in the underworld leads him to ‘old-school geezer’ and reputed gangster George Cornelius (Patrick Malahide). In a quick escalation of events, Luther kidnaps Cornelius and handcuffs him to a radiator in a derelict house to interrogate him. Cornelius claims he didn’t kill Alice, but admits he knew her because she had approached him trying to sell stolen diamonds worth millions — all to raise money so she could run away to Sao Paolo with Luther.

Following Bloom’s death, Luther once again digs out the old grey coat and make a triumphant return to police work — seemingly unphased by the act he has a notorious criminal chained up in an abandoned house.

The cannibal killer keeps striking in a chain of well-planned and horrific murders. The only connection between the victims is that they all have had their computers repaired by the same man — Steven Rose. Upon investigation, the police realise that Rose has infiltrated each of his victim’s computers, watching their every move through their webcams. Luther and co. arrive at Rose’s home (surely a homage to Buffalo Bill’s lair in Silence Of The Lambs) with sirens blaring, giving Rose time to attempt to wipe his hard drives and escape through a ventilation shaft. In true John McClane fashion, Luther gives chase through the vent but to no avail.

With Rose having scarpered and Luther recuperating from the chase, a mysterious blonde named Megan Cantor (Laura Haddock) arrives to pass John a cryptic message from Alice; “Stacy has the owl”, before handing him a newspaper clipping relating to Jonathan Black, a young boy whose murder Luther investigated early in his career. He has her promptly taken to the station for questioning for being a bit creepy (and potentially being related to Alice Morgan’s death). Cornelius, who Luther seems to have temporary amnesia about, escapes from his imprisonment and calls John to inform him that he has put a price on his head, which is nice of him. 

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Luther returns to the station to question Cantor, who claims she is a clairvoyant and Alice has passed on her message from beyond the grave — it’s a lie, of course, but for now, her chilling assessment that “hell is real” lends her added creepiness. 

The message relates to Stacy Bell, a girl that Luther always suspected was Black’s true killer. Bell has recently been released from prison and is living back in the area. As she pops off to the shops, Luther breaks into her flat and discovers a toy owl that belonged to Jonathan Black that went missing after his murder. Its presence in her home confirms his suspicions and he sneaks past her as she arrives back at home. As he tries to leave the area, two of Cornelius’ pesky would-be assassins come on motorbikes in an attempt to take Luther down, but he battles them off with unerring ease and a conveniently placed bin. Cantor is actually related to the Black case, having actually been his childhood friend, Sarah Roberts. She returned to Luther implying she murdered Alice to ensure he kept a promise to make sure that Bell was found responsible for Black’s murder. It’s all a bit silly, but oddly riveting.

Cannibal killer Rose is now descending further into madness, arriving at the home of his ex-girlfriend, a university sweetheart. He murders her husband in front of her family and kidnaps her and her children. Luther and DS Lane are quickly in pursuit, ascertaining that he must have taken them to an abandoned hospital in the most cliched ‘deranged murderer’s habitat of choice’ of all time.


Just as they go to enter the building, another hitman after Luther turns up, leading to the duo being split up. After lurching his way through the hospital’s shadowy corridors and up a crumbling staircase, Luther finds Rose and his victims. Rose threatens to kill his former paramour, but Lane appears from the sidelines to shoot Rose, end his reign of terror and get a semblance of revenge for Bloom’s murder.

After the Rose case is wrapped up, Luther meets with Cornelius in an effort to smooth things over. He offers Cornelius Alice’s stolen diamonds in exchange for the bounty removed from his head and some Class A drugs. Confused by how sweet the deal seems for him, Cornelius swiftly agrees and the duo part ways with a mutual respect.

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Luther breaks into Bell’s flat and plants the drugs inside the toy owl, before convincing his unit superintendent Martin Schenk to send officers to Bell’s flat to locate the drugs and eventually link the owl to Black’s murder. As officers arrest Bell, Luther and Cantor watch on, discussing how Alice was Luther’s blindspot and that she didn’t really kill Alice Morgan after all. Luther warns Cantor that he is coming for her and struts off, letting his coat flap behind him in true melodramatic John Luther fashion.

So what next?

The trailers and clips revealed to the public so far have revealed that Luther, Martin Schenk and George Cornelius will all return in series five, with the promise of more psychological thrills and chills. The trailer also seems to imply the return of Alice Morgan — but we will have to wait ’til New Year’s Day to find out..!

Luther series five starts on BBC One on Tuesday the 1st of January at 9pm