Luther Season 3 Review: Now What?

Erin Klingsberg

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“What is it with John Luther and the people he loves?”

The man is nitroglycerin, they said in season one. At the time, I thought sure, he has a short fuse. Because John Luther teeters on the edge. Because he’s violent and emotional and chases serial killers: always a dangerous combination. But now, after the conclusion of season three, presumably the last, I realize I was kind of wrong. See, nitroglycerin combines with other compounds. John Luther isn’t an explosive force that simply detonates, he is a compound that mixes dangerously with other explosive compounds and that combination leaves bodies in its wake.

Season three of Luther returned to some of the show’s overall themes. Luther’s moral compass is called into question by those who don’t understand him. His greyness and questionable improvisations are perceived as criminal, while others remain fiercely and viscously loyal. Troubled psychopaths tangle him in their webs and the dangers of his job hit too close to home.

What’s really quite hilarious about Luther–and Luther is not a hilarious show by any means at all–is that it makes you so so so upset when people come after him for being a dirty cop. But I mean, the dude has hung people off of buildings, physically assaulted suspects, smashed in a lot of car windows, let a man fall to his almost-death, and oh yeah, is pretty much in love with a genius, narcissistic psychopath who killed her entire family.

But of course, what makes you mad is that he’s not dirty. He’s not corrupt. He does have this fierce, almost destructive moral conscience. But said moral conscience isn’t set by society or laws or regulations. It’s his very own, and all of his decisions are made based on that very fact, even if it means breaking the rules.

When it comes to a vigilante killer who claims to not be so very different from John himself, he states that he doesn’t have the right to decide who lives or dies. Season one established him as someone who valued life more than anything, because it’s the only thing, the most precious possession, a human being has. But I mean, after Alice killed Ian Reed after John decided not to, he helped her escape from prison, soooooo…

Oh, John, you’re not an easy one.

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It’s hard to explain this character, which is what makes him amazing, right? I mean I won’t really try to pinpoint him because anyone reading this will know what I mean and if you don’t then stop reading right now and forget everything I just spoiled for you. Jerks.

What I do love is that the two most loyal people in his life are so opposite that I think it’s a testament to his character. Justin Ripley, his loyal partner, is by the book; a simple, good man in essence. Whereas Alice Morgan, devoid of conscience or morality of any sort, will kill for him. Literally. She has.

That dichotomy is great, and that trifecta is the heartbeat of the show. So, needless to say it was quite difficult to watch Justin appear to teeter in the first two episodes. Alice had fled in season two, Mark and Jenny were painstakingly absent as if they’d never existed, and a lot of the personal character draw of the show was somewhat lacking. Toying with Justin’s questioning of Luther’s methods was interesting, but didn’t ring true since he believed in Luther’s innocence so fiercely in season one. And he was the only one. Though I was won back when Luther listened to Justin’s testimony in which he upheld John’s character and conduct with the same vehemence that he always had.

And then, of course, what does this show do? What does it do?! It kills Justin. Great. Thanks, show. I hate you. Killing Justin was akin to killing an actual human puppy, you do know that, right? Luther’s best mate, man. His only mate. Ugh. I can’t I need to move on.

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But of course moving on means that Luther was once again pegged for murdering someone he loved. And once again someone he loved was in danger because he pissed off a murdering psychopath. Amy, his pixie-dream girl who represented normality, was roped into his life and placed in mortal danger. And it was a good plot, because she was sweet and she also existed to prove that John can’t live among the regular folk. Being near him puts them in danger. His having them is his greatest weakness.

To be honest I didn’t really buy the Erin and what’s-his-face from The Departed (the guy who wrote citizens wrong) going after Luther thing. What were they doing, anyway? Were they working on their own? Who authorized that and they for real thought he just went around murdering people? I don’t know I guess I wasn’t paying too much attention to the first episode. The guy slipping out from under the bed like a slithering snake scared me so much that I lost the ability to understand the not-toned-down British accents for a while.

Anyway, I wasn’t convinced. I also missed the intellectualism and the philosophy of the first season. I missed how the cinematography helped inform the theme of negative space, of absence of evidence and the difficulty in proving a negative, of proving innocence. I didn’t care for the handheld, gritty camera work of this season. Sure, it works for the grey, damp, seedy London in which Luther exists, but it’s just so obvious.

Needless to say, despite the Justin arc, and the terrifying creepster murders and hand in a blender episode in the first two episodes, I was missing a lot about what made Luther well…Luther.

And then Alice Morgan showed up.

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Can we talk about Alice Morgan? I mean, I’m going to talk about Alice Morgan, that was a rhetorical question. Luther is a great show. But Alice Morgan is really what makes it a phenomenal show.

The first shot we’re ever shown of Alice Morgan positions her as a victim.  In the absence of context she’s playing a role both for the audience and the police. And then Luther pegs her. Because he sees people, and he tries to undermine her genius because as a malignant narcissist she can’t stand that. But then she flaunts the fact that she killed her parents and he can’t prove it; because though the absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, the burden of proof is entirely his. And she won. Alice Morgan is a certified genius sociopath who murdered her family just because she could.

Alice Morgan is better than Hannibal Lecter because she made sure she’d never get caught. Alice Morgan is better than everyone, basically.

So, how does one come to love a murdering psychopath with no conscience? I don’t know, but watching her scenes is like indulging in decadently rich dark chocolate. She’s confident, intelligent, manipulative, and yet she sees something in John Luther that she reveres. And Alice Morgan doesn’t revere anyone but herself. It’s that connection, between these two seemingly opposite people, that is so electrifying about the show.

I mean, Luther’s driven by all conscience, and Alice is driven by no conscience. But they somehow meet in the middle, in the negative space between them where they can be all like ‘lol due process’ ‘lol ethical codes’ ‘lol manipulating people’. They both live in a world where ethical codes are relative and not universal. They make their own rules.

I digress. Basically when Alice returned in the final episode, bursting in with a freaking gas mask and a tire iron to rescue John yet again, it was like everything was once again right in the world.

“Why’d you come back?” he asks.

“I wanted something,” she answers. “You.”

And isn’t it just like Alice to know exactly when to come back? When John needs rescuing. When John is at the end of his rope. Adding Alice to mix makes the climax that much more delicious. The world is spiraling out of control around her and she maneuvers with the coolest of demeanors, with the ease of pure confidence, a bit of joy. Alice Morgan is always so giddy to indulge in dangerous activities. She’s having fun. Guys…I think she might be perfect.

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But when the vigilante on a nervous breakdown induced murdering rampage has both Alice and Mary at gunpoint, forcing Luther to choose which one lives and which one dies, things get serious. Alice has never been so powerless. And it’s a painful reality that Luther has been. It’s classic Luther, the Luther I missed. And of course, he plays with the poor plebeian’s head by choosing Alice, but then saying shoot Alice, and he doesn’t know what John means. And, of course, Alice couldn’t resist piercing the guy’s throat with a nail. And OF COURSE, the police think they’ve got her, but she once again, like water, slips through fingers and temporally plays switch-a-roo identity with Mary. Oh, lovely Mary, who knows where Luther’s heart really lies, and let’s him go.

They meet on the bridge where they stood off against one another in the first episode. He wasn’t ready to leave with her in season two. He still had work to do. But now he’s finished. He’s done. Maybe now he can make a life worth living.

“Seems to me your conscience has killed more people than I have,” Alice told him earlier.

It has. But Alice will never be in danger of being the victim, a weakness. Instead, she makes him strong. She does the rescuing. It’s the perfect ending I never thought they’d give me. He literally throws in the towel but tossing his overcoat in the Thames. The cop with a conscience rides off into the sunset with the malignant narcissist.

The final line of every season has ended with the same line.

So. Now what?

Anything, John. Anything.

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– @erinklingsberg

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One response to “Luther Season 3 Review: Now What?

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