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A character like John Luther doesn’t come around that often. It’s even more rare when the actor for that role is so perfectly cast, with such a nuanced performance, that it feels like the character is a real person. Idris Elba’s John Luther is one of television’s best performances.
It’s been a much-anticipated two-year wait for a new season of Luther. Show creator Neil Cross and BBC America decided to make a two-and-a-half hour TV special instead of a regular full season. With such an iconic character as Luther, and with so many possible plot lines, viewers have always been left wanting more. And with season four’s ending, I’m sure other fans like myself are crossing their fingers for a Luther movie or at least another season special that will tell us what happened to the character John is looking for. But more about that in a bit.
This season four special had everything Luther fans could want: Idris Elba kicking ass in well-choreographed fight scenes, Idris Elba back in John’s signature coat and red tie, walking tall and confidently through the streets of London, Idris Elba showing a full range of Luther’s emotions. There’s plenty of Idris this season. And new cast members Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Laura Haddock (Da Vinci’s Demons) are great additions this season as Emma Lane, a detective working at John’s police station, and Megan Cantor, a mysterious person from one of Luther’s past cases.
The suspect this season is one of the most monstrous and gruesome suspects Luther has ever had to investigate. The monster the police are tracking down is a cannibalistic serial killer who works as a computer repair guy and uses people’s webcams to monitor his unsuspecting prey. The show does a great job creating scenes that give the viewers insight into the cannibalistic killer’s demented mindset and how he enjoys terrorizing his victims.
The camera work, sound effects, and music all help to set a creepy tone during the killer’s scenes at his creepy apartment. The props include a mixture of modern and vintage technology, including old TV monitors, refrigerators, and Polaroids. However, the camera never shows the cannibal in the act of killing. Instead, viewers are shown the horrifying aftermath as we follow John and Emma investigating the crime scenes. This gives the season more of a tense and suspenseful viewing experience.
This season’s pacing is the best this show has ever accomplished. The story never feels over-saturated or rushed. There are lots of quiet scenes with gorgeous camera work that follow characters through landscapes without needing dialogue. Even in these quiet scenes, writer Neil Cross and director Sam Miller are able to create an intense build-up. Then, when the moment calls for it, the action bursts into the frame and catches the viewer off-guard. This juxtaposition of low-energy scenes with high-action scenes creates an intense tone. The show accomplishes this several times over the season four special. This remarkable tone-setting is put to good use during the killer’s attack scenes and John’s fight scenes.
And what is John fighting for? At the beginning of the season, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), John’s companion, is nowhere to be seen. As it was hinted at in the season three finale, the two of them were planning to run away and start a new life together. But John is shown alone, standing near a cliff on the English coastline, on the edge. It’s apparent right from the get-go that since we last saw Luther, he’s become even more of a lonely, solitary man, haunted by his past. In a dream-like sequence interspersed with footage of Luther standing on the cliff, John talks to his deceased partner DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown).
John is brought back to reality when two detectives show up at his beach house and tell him that Alice is dead. Finding out what happened to Alice gives John a clear motivation that he pursues over the course of the season. By the season’s end, Alice’s fate remains intentionally unclear. That’s why I’m hopeful Luther could return as a film or at least another season special. Alice was so important during the first three seasons of the series that even her absence is a major plot point this season.
It’s also intentionally unclear by the season’s end if Megan is Alice’s killer. John believes that Alice is still alive, and he is unsure about Megan. This season, Cross seemingly wants to present Megan as a replacement for Alice, and it works. The two women are quite similar. Megan proves to be as cunning, sinister, and unnerving as Alice. In a scene reminiscent of the first season, John and Megan sit side by side and exchange tense and sometimes threatening dialogue. To John, Megan is another enigma for him to solve. If the show ever does return again, the story could follow John and Megan, and eventually answer the question of Alice’s fate.
Overall, story-wise, this season is emotionally compelling. Rose Leslie gives a strong performance as Emma, a detective who, like John, loses her partner in the line of duty. John makes her promise not to cut corners. He’s been through it before and he doesn’t want her to end up like him. But an important theme emerges halfway through this season: how do the people investigating such monstrous killers not become monsters themselves? In a telling scene, after her partner is murdered by the cannibalistic serial killer, Emma approaches Benny Silver (Michael Smiley) as he’s working at his desk. She tells Benny that she wants to find the cannibalistic killer and rip his heart out and eat it. Emma sounds vengeful, and in the end, she manages to get that revenge. But Emma’s dialogue about cannibalizing the killer is clearly intended to highlight how this line of work can take such a huge toll on someone’s psyche. Luther and his colleagues have seen horrific things. Maybe it’s no wonder then that John has turned out the way he has.
-That ending allows plenty of room for a possible fifth season or a movie (which Idris Elba himself hinted about in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter).
-Was that Alice’s telescope at John’s beach house?
-The suspense was so intense! I was yelling at my TV when that poor guy was looking for his parents, and I nearly fell out of my chair when the killer sneaked up behind him wearing his mother’s dress.
-I believe that a character is never really dead until their death is shown on-screen. Alice’s death wasn’t shown on screen.
-Idris Elba would be an amazing James Bond. Just saying.