Luther – leaving with a bang

lutherEVERYTHING ends: that is inevitable. When Neil Cross, the creator of Luther announced the most recent series, its third in four years, would be its last it seemed a brave decision.

Police dramas can, in theory, keep going as long as the writers have ideas about cases but to finish it after such a short time seemed appropriate; Luther was such a large character and Idris Elba’s performance was so towering that eventually the world wouldn’t be large enough for him.

An exercise in concise storytelling, it managed to pack the same amount of story as a standard 12 episode run into two double-parters.  Overall, the individual stories of a killer whose choice of make-up revels in a distinct form of the Gothic and a middle-class vigilante were effective at portraying the wider Luther universe and placing it firmly at a level pitched slightly higher than reality. The second of the two was particularly interesting considering Neil Cross’ discussions in interviews of Luther as effectively comic-book stories – the villain a spin on the classic Batman myth, a man driven to vigilantism by tragedy but pushing him that bit further over the edge to show why you’d never sympathise with Batman if he abandoned the cape and picked up a shotgun.

The series could be accused of trying a little too much.  A storyline involving Stark and Gray, two police officers trying to bring down Luther never really takes off, spending too long in darkened offices having arch discussions about events we’ve already seen. A romance between Luther and Mary, a vintage shop owner, generates a low-key chemistry between the two characters but barely seems to work beyond giving Luther a form of redemption and damsel in distress to save. Yet overall, the scripting is strong, the dialogue is, if anything, wittier than it has been before, allowing characters time to breathe and to joke with each other.  Cross is a writer of distinct style and hopefully on the basis of this, one who, if given free rein, can create something special.

The cast perform admirably. Michael Smiley brings life and humanity to the relatively small role of Benny, the resident tech specialist and Warren Brown brings a quiet dignity to Luther’s partner, Ripley; yet the series always belonged to Elba. Luther is meant to be all at once a genius, a romantic hero, a bruised grieving husband and a moral centre to the insanity around him. Elba rises to the challenge delivering a near-perfect performance. There was only one character that was ever able to truly stand up to Luther and that was Ruth Wilson’s psychopath Alice and her return to see the series off is a reminder of the greatness it was capable of.

The series leaves us with an open-ended question; ‘So now what?’ There are rumours of movies and spin-offs but in the end, I’m happy if this is to be the last we see of Luther. He came into television as a more brutal form of detective than we’d expected and left it with enough of a bang that we are sad to see him go.

Everything has to end, that is inveitable, but at least they were able to do it on their own terms.