This review contains spoilers.
Eighteen months have passed since the BBC aired the last episode of Luther.
That finale was a thrill ride that seemed to tie up many of the series’ loose ends and gave a fittingly bittersweet ending for Idris Elba’s mercurial detective. There have been rumours of a movie but the series looked done and dusted for a long time. Yet here we are, Christmas 2015, and it’s back.
The episode opens with scenes reminiscent of the third season. The premise is simple enough — a woman waits for her husband to come to their new home from work and she hears noises and creaks around the house. The influences from horror cinema are as evident here as they have been in previous series. It never feels tired or derivative, instead proving that when done well, such simple ideas can provide genuine chills.
The story is of the episode is admittedly paint-by-numbers. Luther has retreated to the countryside after the events of the last series, but when two fellow officers pay him a visit he is unable to resist the lure of the job and finds his way back to London. You’ve seen it all a hundred times before but it’s good fun anyway.
The narrative then fits its normal format, following a serial killer leaving enough clues behind to give the police a fighting chance of catching him. It’s a tried and tested formula but one that still works.
The visual imagery is very stark throughout. Those familiar with Luther will note that London is still presented as a desolate urban wilderness. You would imagine John’s ramshackle cottage on a cliff-side to provide a direct opposite to that, an aspirational idyll. Instead it provides a different sort of desolation, a troubling beauty oddly similar to his normal city surroundings.
The cinematic influences are clear. The series of gruesome murders investigated by Darren Boyd’s Theo Bloom and Rose Leslie’s Emma Lane are reminiscent of David Fincher’s Se7en, while the home of killer Steven Rose draws instant comparisons to that of Buffalo Bill in The Silence Of The Lambs or John Doe in Se7en. Imitative perhaps, but effective nevertheless.
Luther‘s faults are much the same as they have always been. It is peppered with clichés, though perhaps proudly so. Characters are created with broad strokes and often without much nuance. Some of the dialogue and imagery is a little on the nose — the exchange between Luther and Theo about getting ‘closer and closer’ to the edge is a particular example. Yet it’s still gripping viewing.
The great cast helps to make you see past all the problems. Idris Elba slides right back into the role with ease and shows why he is one of the best actors working today. His portrayal is more tempered this time, with Luther still reeling from Ripley’s death and coming to terms with his current situation.
The big new addition is Rose Leslie, coming off her star-making turn in Game Of Thrones as Ygritte. Her performance isn’t flashy, instead she offers a realistic grit and intelligence to DCI Lane. Darren Boyd brings a likeable charm to DCI Bloom without actually having to do too much. Other supporting players — Michael Smiley and Dermot Crowley — are reliably good fun to watch too.
The one character missing from proceedings is Alice Morgan. The wonderful Ruth Wilson has been a huge part of the show’s success — arguably as important as Elba — and it is understandable why she is not present. She is busy with surprise hit The Affair so removing Alice may have been unavoidable. Even acknowledging that, her off-screen death feels so anti-climactic for such a bewitching character. Luther seems unconvinced that she has actually died so she may yet come back, and the cliffhanger plays into the idea she could still be alive so we will see what happens. At this stage, even a cameo by Ruth Wilson next week would be great.
So was it worth resurrecting Luther? The short answer is yes. Anything that acts as a vehicle for the enormous talents of Idris Elba will be worth watching — it helps that DCI John Luther is among his most enigmatic and enchanting characters.
The show is much as it has always been — filled with cliché and the odd bit of clunky dialogue, but filled with enough thrills and great acting to keep you watching.