It’s an odd one, is Luther. Personally, it’s one of my favourite shows to watch. But all the same, it spends most of it’s time veering wildly between brilliance and stupidity. On the one hand, you have the engrossing portrayal of Luther by Idris Elba. Yet on the other, you have a seemingly endless collection of people hearing odd noises and walking up dark staircases to their untimely demise. Part of the show wants to be more of a character drama about the man himself, while the other half just enjoys playing with the stereotypes that make police procedurals so watchable.
This battle feels most obvious in the fourth and latest series of the show – though with a mere two episodes on offer, whether it can be called a series is questionable. Apart from the fact that there just isn’t that much of it to watch, the biggest problem that comes with this is the fact that the series ends up almost exclusively featuring those two warring elements.
In series past, there have been an array of macabre villains on display, and these instalments are no exception, with the antagonist this time being a guy who seems intent on piecing together his life by quite violently consuming bits of his victims. So far, so Luther, yet the problem is that where previous times would go beyond the basic ‘MO’ of the killer and explore their personality a bit more, here, we literally only see the murders, and the briefest of escape sequences. Any backstory is given via proxy, with dialogue uncharacteristically clunky for the show in its exposition.Meanwhile, there is the equally undeniable fact that Elba is typically assured in his role. He consistently excels in putting across subtle bits here and there – varying degrees of anger, frustration and intellect, rather than just portraying ‘Luther is angry’. Here, he gets a lot to play with, dealing with the loss of Alice Morgan in between this series and the last. Whether Ruth Wilson’s absence on screen is a good thing for the show on the whole – I would argue it is, the large majority of Luther fans, it appears, would not – is another matter, but her character’s effect on Luther has always been an interesting one.
Yet while he receives good development, the same can’t be said for the characters whose names aren’t in the title. Besides returning characters in Benny and Martin, the ‘tech guy’ and police chief respectively, both of whom have been there since the start, this year has a completely revamped cast, yet none of the additions gets personalities beyond broad strokes. Rose Leslie’s Emma never goes beyond her understandable grief, while Darren Boyd’s Theo serves his purpose as Luther’s honest yet inadequate replacement, there only to show how good Luther himself is. Overall, Justin is sorely missed after his demise last time round.
Series four represents what feels like peak Luther, with the show falling into a routine that might not be all that good for it. The ending sets up for another outing sometime in the future, and hopefully that features the show back to its best.