‘Luther’ Season 3: Was it A Proper Send-Off?

Season three of Luther featured the ending the audience wanted–Luther and Alice walking off into the sunset, embracing that strange, dangerous bond that binds them together–but was it an ending the show earned?

For the moment at least, it appears that season three was Luther‘s swan song. It was a bloody, brilliantly acted elegy for a series that could frustrate and a character who never failed to be entrancing. Watching Idris Elba slip back into Luther’s well-worn coat to take down criminals and vigilantes alike was a gift. He gives the slightly unhinged cop trope a spin all his own. We see this most clearly in the ways the show balances Luther’s physicality, passion and gentleness. He can dangle a man off the side of a building to get an answer faster, but he can also gently examine Mary after she plows into his car. He’s not an angry cop; he’s just an obsessive one. The kind of man that can push the boundaries of ethics, who even struggles with them when the choice between the law and his own sense of justice is compromised. These are the traits that make Luther such a rewarding character to watch, particularly since Elba is the one bringing him to life. Unfortunately, the show around him is full of missed opportunities.

The first half of the season went for straight up procedural bogeymen who lurk beneath beds and in attics, as character after character walked into their traps without ever running for the door. There is an artistry to these creepy, horror movie-esque scenes that gives them an illusion of depth. Luther is relentlessly stylish in the evocative ways the series depicts the grim streets and crime scenes of London, but the lingering shots of victim after victim become old quickly. We know that Luther will find the fetishist even as he is being investigated by shady internal affairs officers because that’s what he does: he solves crimes in the face of insurmountable odds, and often at a great personal cost.

This season was no different; he takes down the fetishist before he can kill three more women, and he quickly susses out what the internal affairs officers are up to. Where season three soared was in its character work. Luther, Justin and Alice were brilliant, and when the season leaned on these established characters it crackled with energy. Particularly poignant was the moment when the staunchly singular Luther allowed himself to tell his partner, after hearing Justin’s taped statement about Luther’s integrity, that he was his best mate and he loved him. Of course, we knew that Luther’s happiness in that moment as he embraced the idea that he had a true friend was short lived because Luther isn’t Luther unless his heart is being ripped out. Even the knowing couldn’t rob Justin’s death scene of its power. The loss was immense, and the way Elba played it, first begging for Justin to get up and then lying down beside him until his boss arrived on the scene packed an emotional wallop.

Unfortunately, the plots that led to the moment were flimsy. The internal affairs officers came off as two people on a witch hunt, wielding pitch forks with little thought. Luther is a vigilante cop in many respects; sometimes he takes justice into his own hands, or pushes too hard or not enough if he believes the crime was warranted as was the case when he gave the tortured father of a dead woman a head’s up about the need for fingerprinting leading to a horrifying blender incident. What sets him apart from the true vigilante who appears in the season’s second half is his sense of ethics. He’s a cop at heart and although he faces temptation–and on occasion succumbs–he generally attempts to adhere to a code. It would have been easy for the series to compare and contrast the characters, both of whom have suffered the pain of brutally losing a wife, both of whom have felt the desire to take justice into their own hands, but because we had a mere two episodes, the vigilante became unhinged at an accelerated rate, leaving no time for true moments of mirroring. The vigilante would have made the perfect big bad for the final season, but by splitting the season into two segments that opportunity was squandered.

The investigation never quite clicked either, nor did Mary whose presence as the pixie in Luther’s fantasy life was so slim we had no opportunity to know her (Note: I watched the episodes via BBC America, where episodes can be edited to fit the timeslot, so perhaps Mary got a better deal in the original cuts). Her relationship with Luther was so brief it would have made the rooftop climax laughable if not for the brilliant return of Ruth Wilson’s intoxicating psychopath Alice.

Alice lit up the final episode; her cool confidence reminding us of just how good Luther can be when Elba and Wilson come together. Give her leverage and a fulcrum and she can lift the world. Give her bad a guy and she can stab him in the jugular, putting a swift end to his reign of terror. Give Luther a choice and he’ll always choose the mad women who has his heart. While I have many quibbles about the twisty, dead end road that got us to the moment where Luther tosses his jacket into the River Thames and allows himself to be swept away by Alice, as they walk (or limp in Luther’s case) off into a future where perhaps they can embrace the mayhem, I was wowed. The door remained open on the off chance that the increasingly famous Elba could choose to return for a fourth season, but I’m not sure it’s possible for creator Neil Cross to come up with a more indelible scene to end on than Alice and Luther together at last, his coat (and maybe some of his grief…) carried away by the currant. Was the moment earned? Perhaps, not entirely, but when endings that perfect roll around, it’s best to revel in the moment, rather than nitpick about what brought you there.

What did you think? Was season three as a whole satisfying? Will you be happy if that’s the last we see of Luther and Alice? Sound off below.

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