This review contains spoilers.
Last week’s review made an argument for the return of Luther being worthwhile on the basis that Idris Elba and the talented cast make average material better. While the cast are reliably excellent, maybe it would have been best to leave Luther on the shelf after all.
Compared to a full series, a two-part special doesn’t allow a lot of room to develop new characters or create a threatening villain; the story needs to be told with some urgency and purpose. That’s the main problem with both episodes of the 2015 Luther specials — they don’t actually feel very special at all.
The whole thing feels a bit under-baked. Proceedings here are slow but Luther is a show renowned for its breakneck speed. Slower, considered moments can work well but the pacing is simply uneven. The episode begins where we ended last week, with Laura Haddock’s Megan Cantor passing Luther a message from Alice. John diverts away from her and goes straight back into investigating the serial killer plaguing London, yet the episode never really picks up enough speed from here to take off.
Part of the problem is that the story line surrounding Alice’s mysterious death feels pushed to the background. Alice is a character audiences have been invested in since the show debuted and Luther’s best moments as a series have involved her and Elba together, showing off television’s oddest sexual chemistry.
Last week the announcement of her death felt anti-climactic and nothing happens to change that perception. Luther delves into a past case to try and figure out what happened to Alice and it proves intriguing viewing — perhaps this thread would have been far more effective as the episode’s entire focus rather than playing second fiddle to another ‘monster of the week’ murderer.
Elba is at his best during these moments, laden with grief yet also very much channelling that sorrow to find out what has happened to Alice. Laura Haddock shows great promise and the verbal exchange between Megan and Luther at the episode’s end works but the part does her no favours. If, as hinted at, she does prove to be Alice’s murderer, can the audience truly believe that Cantor was capable of offing the incomparable Alice? I didn’t buy it, despite Haddock anchoring the role with an odd sense of disquieting detachment.
Elements of the narrative regarding the serial killer do work. The abandoned hospital is a typically creepy setting reminiscent of several video games and horror films, while music is used very well to create an unsettling atmosphere at points. It all just feels like well-trodden ground. When DS Lane finds the gun in John’s glove box, you know she will end up shooting him to get revenge for killing her partner in last week’s episode. Rather than the confrontation between the police and Rose being tense, the outcome is heavily sign-posted. Rose Leslie portrays Lane’s grief well, if in a more overt way than Elba.
In 2013, John and Alice walked off together over Southwark Bridge, with viewers left to consider their future together. With both actors moving onto bigger and better things, it seemed an apt place to end their story — on the run, still in peril as they always seem to be. This two-part special did not tell a story strong enough to justify bringing the show back.
The ending hinted at more Luther to come. If it does come back, let’s hope it comes back better than this muted effort; and with Alice Morgan back from the dead and firmly back in the limelight.