At this point, DCI John Luther’s entire career could be summed up with “It’s not what it looks like, I can explain!” There cannot be a police detective on either side of the Atlantic so often set up for the murders of people closest to him, none of which (of course) he committed. In a callback to the first season, Luther’s fifth (which just concluded its four-episode run on BBC America) ended with Idris Elba’s now-iconic chief inspector again framed for murder, via a fairly large logical leap. Because this has happened before, yet given the fact that Luther always catches the show’s nasty killers, DSU Martin Schenk (Dermont Crowley) first strips Luther of his signature coat but then uses it to cover up the handcuffs he places on him. You can like Luther, but you really can’t trust him.
And thus ends, at least for now, the latest trials of our beleaguered detective. It’s been four years since the show’s two-part seasonette, and six since the last proper exploration of Luther’s world. The TV landscape has changed dramatically in the interim, and so has this series. When it began, Luther was a cop procedural that also incorperated a brilliant study of the mental toll the job takes, augmented (in this case) by the peril that Luther’s loved ones were facing. Because of that season’s success, series creator Neil Cross has doubled and tripled down on this conceit in subsequent episodes, where becoming Luther’s wary-but-ultimately-allied detecting partner is undoubtedly a death sentence. Being even an acquaintance of Luther is a health hazard, though; there isn’t anyone in Luther’s life who hasn’t been threatened or straight-up killed by a psycho, and Season Five was no exception.
But like the truncated Season Four, there’s quite a bit about these new episodes that feel like pale imitations of what the show once was. Ruth Wilson still breaths a lot of life into the proceedings with her twisted take on the killer Alice, and there were innumerable callbacks to when we first met her (the same is true with the return of Paul McGann’s Mark, who ends up nearly killed every time he has the misfortune of running into Luther). And Luther’s central theme—of justice over procedure—played out in a number of compelling scenes. But nothing about the George Cornelius story was particularly interesting after the initial meeting (and Patrick Malahide’s performance), and ultimately it felt like an overly-long setup for that final “reveal” of the staged photo that we knew he was going to use. Serial killer Jeremy Lake (Enzo Cilenti) also felt like a kind of a Red Dragon knockoff, or a composite of gruesome killers that never really came together (with a tumor thrown in as well for … good measure?). It was also a missed opportunity to not further explore the role Jeremy’s insane wife Vivien (Hermione Norris) played in his “games” as well.
What Luther continues to excel in, though, is horror. The deaths are grisly, and every shot and sequence of a murder (or the hours leading up to it) remain harrowing. Still, in this season it felt like a pastiche of crimes from various killers. Jeremy was all over the place with his techniques, if he even really had one. Every kill was completely different and performed with almost supernatural precision while being unobserved. Jeremy killing the young man who witnessed him in the act of murdering the hammer-and-nail guy is the exception, but even then, was no one else on that street looking out their window? When Alice shot Wunmi Mosaku’s DS Catherine Halliday, did anyone pull aside a curtain to witness what happened? How did Jeremy manage to string up a corpse along the Thames in broad daylight without being noticed? This is London after all!
Luther careening off into the deep end in terms of logic isn’t new, but it really stretched credulity this time around. The finale also confirmed the series’ new MO of Luther’s partner always dying, and it’s a shame that Catherine was only introduced to make us sad when she was unceremoniously killed. At least Benny (Michael Smiley) got a hero’s death, but seriously, how do they recruit officers to this location where literally everyone gets killed except Luther? (Watch your back Schenk!)
The (second) death of Alice feels like this could be the end of the series, but just like Alice, never presume you’ve seen this last of it. A sixth season that investigates Luther’s emotional fallout from losing Benny, Catherine, and Alice would be worthwhile, especially if it clouded or adversely affected his ability to be the consummate brilliant detective we know and love. Luther hardly had time to pause, let alone think, in these manic episodes. The only thoughtful moment was in an ill-conceived flashback where Luther makes love to Alice, and then casts her aside to watch the news and lament about all the people he could have been saving. He is, rightly or wrongly, responsible for the deaths of a lot of people on this show. Another season that slows down and faces the weight of that would be a worthy reason to see the coat restored to its rightful owner, without cuffs this time.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat, and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV