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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Jane the Virgin’s got half the story right

Jane the Virgin Episode 8 spoilers below. If you’re not at Episode 8 I advise you come back later. And if you’re not watching the show at all I advise you start. 

While I was catching up on CW’s excellent “Jane the Virgin” last night, I found myself disappointed for the first time by that show.

“Jane the Virgin” never goes full virgin; it never says that there’s anything wrong with sexuality–whether you’re having it or no. Jane herself wavers on her decision to wait from time to time, and has made it clear that she’s “a virgin, not a prude,” when it comes to her sexual exploits. In addition to all the other minority it tackles (illegal immigration, family, class, women of color, lesbians) I found myself wanting to stand up and cheer the show for its full on embracement of sex postivity/neutrality that ran so strong through it.

Last night’s episode featured the inevitable plot of Jane having to fess up to the (former) playboy she’s seeing about how he wasn’t going to be getting lucky anytime soon. It led to an awkward, uncomfortable dinner, and a problem the dashing Rafael couldn’t quite wrinkle out.

"But I had already cleared my schedge tomorrow to be all night to get lucky"
“But I had already cleared my schedge tomorrow to be all night to get lucky”

Ultimately they do talk it out, and Rafael says he’s fine with waiting (and fighting) for the relationship to reach that point. It’s a fabulous moment of acting on the parts of the leads, managing to find the balance between romantic fantasy and grounded emotion.

But what I feel was missing from the conversation–and from the show as a whole–is a discussion of the intimacy that can grow from sex.

The show, an adaptation of a telenovela, follows Jane, a hard-working young woman who’s pledged to save herself for marriage who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. The initial concept didn’t sound appealing to me, but when my person and I happened to find ourselves tuned in for the premiere I found myself engrossed because of the way it rooted its virginity politics in a choice Jane made for herself (even if it was ushered in a bit by her very religious Grandmother’s lectures on purity).

It seemed to me that the show would open a dialogue around sexuality in a way that hadn’t quite been explored before in the media: that sex or no, there’s a benefit to taking time to figure out what you want, and waiting until you’re ready, no matter what or when that decision is. Obviously that would involve an embrace of a young woman who was waiting for marriage (even if she knew it was an arbitrary day), which it did. But it seems more reluctant to dive into what sex can bring and foster, like an emotional intimacy that may be what the parties in the relationship feel ready and excited for.

Throughout their courtship, Jane has always expressed concern that Rafael’s history as a playboy was too much for them to overcome, and Rafael has always been adamant about his growth from his former, reckless persona. I was excited for “Jane the Virgin” to finally hold him up as the counterexample to Jane: perhaps sex crazy when he was young, but as someone who understood the closeness and warmth that could come from a sexual relationship. But I guess, like the titular character, I’ll just have to keep waiting.

Total Affair of the Heart (Episode 2)

For previous posts, check the tag here

It seems odd, but the second episode of “The Affair” might be one of the best I’ve seen. (As in of second episodes, not just of “The Affair in general.) To me, second episodes are normally rife with retreading and re-presenting the world we only just got introduced to. But “The Affair” manages to build on the platform it has and continue the momentum without missing a beat. In fact, episode 2 brings an unusual comfort for a show only on its second chapter.

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We still don’t know everything. Far from it, the show seems set on keeping the mystery alive. But the jolt of noticing the differences in Noah and Allison’s accounts of their day is gone. All of a sudden it feels much more like a playful engagement with the audience’s sleuth side. Those little a-ha moments as opposed to a monumental shift of doubting what you thought you’d seen.

Similarly, we’re left more attuned to what each of these characters is bringing to the relationship–and what they’re bringing to their partner. It’s clearer now that Noah sees himself as someone who needed to be drawn into the relationship; his account of Allison is much more flirty and open than Allison ever seems to be. He sees the affair as something he resisted, fought, but was pushed and pulled into. Similarly, Allison needed someone to draw her out of her shell (where she’s been encased since she lost her child, I’m assuming), and in Noah she finds someone who almost forcefully demands her to be a (sexual) person. He knows nothing about her, and it’s not the “stranger in a gas station bathroom,” fantasy so much as it is a reflection of just how tired she is living as herself. She hates that her mother-in-law corners her and tells her of her strength, and she hates the flicker of pity that has punctured all her conversations.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things this show is doing is brining attention to an audience that everything is being filtered–and using that to elevate and complicate its players. Whether it’s through Alison or Noah’s perspectives, there’s really no chance for us to see a clear, nonbiased version of any character. The closest to a wholly clear perspective would probably be the brief cuts to the (what I’m assuming is) the present, with the cop, but I’d wager soon even those will be turned against us.