Luther’s Legacy

Luther is less of a TV show and more of a comic book.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s got all the pulpy sensibility of a comic, the sort of haphazard violence and motivation that makes for thrilling panels. Between its elegant direction and its surprisingly eye-popping cinematography, it almost seems like it’s already leaping out of a page. 1920Or vice-versa: The show could’ve been easily adapted into a gritty, complex antihero graphic novel, without much changing the characters.

The show’s attempts to frame Luther, its titular hero, as the sole protagonist always seemed to fall a bit short. Both Luther and Luther crackled best when Alice was involved, and its side characters always seemed to be bursting at the seams to do more, thanks largely to the actors. Removing Alice—or at least downplaying her role in Luther’s life—left the show limp, exposing more cracks than foundation. Its second season never managed to quite earn the Luther saves the teen hooker with a heart of gold emotion it wanted to. The third, wrapped itself around and around trying to give Luther a proper (but not too high) wall to climb. And the fourth—well, the fourth didn’t have Alice did it? It was merely left to examine the hole she carved in Luther’s life, and this show is best when it isn’t examined too closely. luther-idris-elba-ruth-wilson.jpg

Because as a TV show it could never quite make the connections it needed to. The show is ultimately saved thanks to its cast of captivating player, obviously and notably including Idris Elba, who imbues Luther with the weight of the world and an aloofness that is seldom matched in antiheroes.

But the writing was never quite up to snuff. Luther wasn’t as interested in the relationships of it all as it was in the way the show and its players met up with Luther. Alice was the only one who consistently felt like a good sounding board for Luther, but the show couldn’t keep up things to do with her without going too big. Without any sort of receiving outlet, there’s no where for our favorite London cop to get a good buzz. It leaves a viewer thinking that the crackle of Luther was more akin to that of House of Cards than The Wire: All sizzle, and no spark.

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For the Greater Good

I’ve been enjoying my cruise through BBC’s Luther. It’s a great showcase for Idris Elba, Hollywood’s leading man who perpetually needs more time, and I can’t think of another show that seems to paint its supporting cast so minimally yet still yields mostly rich stories from them. It’s ludicrous, often, but it’s matched by its appealing watchability. But there are some criticisms that haven’t gone unnoticed. For now we won’t touch on how the women often get fridged or take the fall for Luther’s methods. Today we’ll just talk about how Luther is a cop.

It’s a profession, but it’s a lifestyle. Luther is framed to be the sort of guy whose whole life has pointed him here; his methods, his madness, they all add up to brilliant cop. But he also doesn’t play by the rules (classic). He routinely breaks not only protocol but trust with the public he’s sworn to protect. And it’s all in the name of the “greater good”—something the narrative rewards him for. He’s the title character after all, everything he does is if not sympathetic than at least understandable.

But in a year when U.S. police have killed over 700 people since January 1 that mentality takes on a new danger. Police in procedurals are used like toilet paper, they’re easy to reach for and often sullied. That constant dimensional narrative, available in whatever flavor of cop show you like, helps humanize the police force, making them seem dimensional in the face of the protestors against them—who are, in turn, often not multi-faceted. And when we see narratives like Luther‘s, it helps reinforce the narrative that police always know best, even when they are clearly crossing a line.

For anyone out there who thinks that’s not true, that pop culture shouldn’t be taken so seriously or that seeing that narrative isn’t aiding and abetting: When was the last time you saw a show that humanized DOL workers?

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*actual speed