In some ways, British detective John Luther (Idris Elba) of BBC America’s drama “Luther” is a classic noir hero — he wears a long coat; he is burdened with pain and grief; he consorts with unsavory people; he never looks well-rested; and he walks on the edge of the law (often at night and/or in the rain).
But Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe never lived in a fictional universe quite as dark and gruesome and horrific as Luther’s. And if it’s hard on Luther, it’s even harder on his fans.
Stuart Heritage, who reviews the show for the newspaper The Guardian, wrote of the first installment, “… you’re sick with terror. You’ve covered your eyes. You’re regretting your decision to watch the bloody thing in the first place. Something horrible is bound to happen.
“And then something horrible does happen, and it’s even more horrible than you expected, and as the title sequence rolls, you’re trying to work out how comprehensively you just evacuated your bowels. It’s good to have Luther back, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” series creator Neil Cross tells Zap2it, “the reviews have been great this year. There was a writer at The Telegraph — well-respected right-of-center newspaper — who just couldn’t review the show properly because she had to stop watching, because she was too frightened.”
As Season 3 opens, Luther is investigating the gut-wrenching crime referenced above. At his side is his trusty sidekick, good-hearted Detective Sgt. Justin Ripley (Warren Brown). There’s even a new love interest, the impish Mary Day (Sienna Guillory).
Says Elba of John Luther in the press materials, “He’s gone through a lot of trauma. Each time you go through anything bad in your life, it makes you a bit more reflective, and it definitely scars you in some way. In this series, he’s looking for peace. But a lot happens this season … I don’t know where it’s going to leave Luther.
“He’s not a fragile man, but he might end up becoming fragile after what he goes through. This series is very much about Luther trying to change his life and get to the finish line.”
That happiness may prove elusive, since on Luther’s trail is Detective Superintendent George Stark (David O’Hara). He’s determined to bring Luther down and plans to force Ripley to help him.
“Their relationship has grown over the series,” says Brown, “professionally and out of the job. They’ve got a bigger respect for each other. As long as Ripley’s worked with Luther, he’s respected him.
“But in the first episode, we meet George Stark, who absolutely wants to take down Luther. That’s very clear. He uses whatever means he’s got, including Ripley. Their relationship is put under an enormous amount of pressure.”
But despite all the grim goings-on, Cross insists that, at its heart, “Luther” is all about the love.
“I like the aspiration and the nobility of that kind of love, and fraternal love, the love between friends. It’s an important thing to all viewers. I always write about very positive feelings, very loving and loyal feelings, but I always have to set them against a backdrop of atrocity.
“I don’t know quite why my taste leans in that direction. But that drive to fear and terror, it’s driven not by the desire to frighten and to terrorize, but the idea that these positive things about our lives can survive in a brutal world. That’s what’s behind it, not pornography, which is the opposite of that.”
If you want to remain utterly unspoiled about Luther’s fate at the end of Season 3, best to leave now.
Other fans have already heard the announcement about this being the last season of “Luther” on television. They may be relieved to know that a movie is being bandied about. One upside of that is a “Luther” movie wouldn’t be much without its title character.
Turns out that Cross can’t quit John Luther.
“I don’t think the weaponry exists on planet Earth to kill Luther. I could never kill Luther, because the character is ripped out of me, and I love him. Although I make him suffer like an unjust god, he is a part of me, and I would find it difficult to do that.”