John Luther is back. The first episode of the third season aired on BBC One on Tuesday, so if you missed it, get on Iplayer and check it out. It is interesting that Luther returns mere weeks after The Fall aired on BBC 2. Of course, there things are scheduled long in advance but being aired so close together makes it easy to compare the two shows. No one would ever accuse Luther of being as realistic as The Fall but then it has never seemed quite as pretentious either. Even when dealing with an art student who’s next project involves mutilating people whilst wearing a Punch mask, Luther has always been fun.
The tipping point for when fun becomes absurd is a fine line. Some of the horror aspects of the first episode have been categorised as ridiculous, such as the killer sliding out from underneath the bed, but personally, I didn’t think it crossed that line. The killer having already been in the house didn’t really seem any more inexcusable that imagining the aforementioned Punch art killer could slaughter someone in broad day light and then just mingle with the crowd. But the audience suspend their disbelief in order to enjoy the show.
Aside from perhaps Sci-Fi, no genre quite engages with the suspension of belief like the horror genre. Regularly the killer will appeared, masked and all, slaughter a member of the ensemble cast and then reappear two minutes later along with the rest of the group, somehow having managed to change and rejoin their friends as if nothing ever happened. When the group of kids find out they are being targeted by a masked killer the first step of any plan will inevitably be to split up. It is the stupidest idea in the world, given that there is one killer and they currently have the numbers advantage but we ignore that stupidity because, by doing so, we can enjoy the show.
So, I didn’t mind some of the horror tropes that the show utilised. In the grand scheme of the episode, I felt they worked in building the tension of a killer on the loose that Luther had to pursue quickly. Unfortunately, that meant the side story, the case of the internet fiend who was killed by the father of a girl who’s online memorial site he had defaced, insubstantial as a consequence. Luther wanted to deal with the case quickly because he decided that the fetish killer was a higher priority. It is hard for the viewers to care about a dead troll or the weeping murderer when the characters constantly want to move on to a better case.
Obviously, what we the audience know that Luther possibly doesn’t is that the case, although real, was set up so that DS Erin Gray and DSU George Stark could investigate Luther, who they think is a dirty cop. This has been brewing since the second season when Gray was much more interested maintaining her career trajectory rather than catching the bad guys. Without any hard evidence though, they have to turn to DS Justin Ripley.
Justin Ripley has always been portrayed as a loyal ally of Luther. Of course, Luther’s first ally wound up killing his wife so Ripley didn’t really have much to live up to. Alice is arguably a loyal ally too but for ally is probably too strong a word. Ripley, on the other hand, has put his life and career at risk numerous times to both serve and protect Luther. When Luther was framed for killing his own wife, Ripley didn’t believe it and interfered when it seemed like the police might have shot him. In the second season, it was Ripley that cleared any record of Luther from DSU Martin Schenk’s computer. Given how they have established the character it is a little hard to believe that in one episode, Ripley would change his tune and turn against Luther.
The suddenness of the turn makes me suspicious. Sure, Ripley was made aware that Luther protected the murderer who was grieving for his killer, but is that really any different than knowing Luther was on Schenk’s computer? Ripley knows Luther’s tactics and knows that his methods aren’t orthodox, but he gets the job done. That has always been a side of his character and a side that Ripley is well aware of. It doesn’t make sense for Ripley to simply turn on him now. It would make sense if this were a play by Ripley to get on the good graces of Gray and Stark. Punching Luther was just to sell the ploy.
I don’t think that Luther knows about Ripley’s plan, although I also don’t believe that he thinks Ripley is seeing Gray behind his back. Firstly, even though Luther saw them together, he never mentioned it or teased Ripley. Whether Luther has deduced that Gray is investigating him is another matter. However, Ripley was once tortured and didn’t give up Luther’s methods so it is easy to imagine that he might put himself in the line of fire so that he can protect Luther whern he needs it most. That said, by the looks of the trailer for episode two, Luther finds out fairly quickly.
So far there has been no Alice Morgan, although she will return. An alternative love interest was introduced in the same of Mary Day, portrayed by Sienna Guillory, best known for her appearances as Jill Valentine in the Resident Evil film series. I did like the car crash scene where they met, such as her joking that he was rushing the scene of the crime and then feeling awkward when it was true felt humorously real. The characters have real chemistry which always makes an on-screen relationship all the more enjoyable to watch. I do wonder what Alice will have to say about all of this though.