End of Season Report: Luther, Season 3

9 Dec

Luther and his nemesis

British cop drama Luther aired its third season this year, although it’s a very British season, made up of just four episodes. The first two seasons were solid but unspectacular fare that largely relied on television police tropes, particularly the cop-that-breaks-all-the-rules-but-is-always-right. Still, the seasons had their moments, starred the always wonderful Idris Elba, featured one really interesting character named Alice, and well, there weren’t that many episodes so the quality didn’t have to be as high to make the seasons worth watching (I’m aware that’s a very backhanded compliment). 

Normally I try to make some broader points in these end of season reports and hit on a number of key plotlines. Here, though, there was one element of the third season that basically ruined it for me and that’s pretty much what I’m going to focus on.

Here’s the problem with Luther season three, the most frustrating and worst season of the show to date. They took a good idea and executed it exactly the wrong way,which led to a season which was worse than if they good idea had simply been absent altogether.

Let me explain.

Here’s the good idea. Luther is an unethical police officer who violates both ethical and legal boundaries to solve cases and punish guilty offenders. This is something that would be extremely controversial in real life, is fairly controversial in the show, but it’s something viewers have occasionally been taught to root for in their television heroes. Heroes don’t play by the rules and they get things done anyway they have to; technicalities be damned. Thus, this season, the Luther writers smartly decided they were going to introduce someone who looks into Luther’s  misdoings and tries to find out if they’re true, and if so to take him down within the system.

That’s a good idea. Here’s how you do it right. The internal affairs-type people looking to get Luther are completely neutral and simply interested in finding the truth. They’re not interested in personal vendettas; they’re interested in people following procedures that exist for a reason. Internal affairs-type people always tend to come off as bad guys in TV shows for the same reason borderline unethical cops come off as they good guys; the cops are trying to get results, while the internal affairs people are worrying about bureaucratic bullshit while the real cops go after criminals. So, the key to have this plot thrust work is ensuring that the agents coming after Luther are trustworthy and passionate, so they’re on an even playing field with Luther, and it makes you think, well, maybe Luther, this character that I’ve been rooting for, maybe there are good reasons that he should go down and get investigated and possibly punished for his indiscretions.

Here’s what they did. The head internal affairs person investigating Luther, George Stark, is a drunk absolute nut job who cares much more about railroading Luther than he does about justice or law or really anything. It’s unclear why he cares so much since we’ve never seen him before and it’s unclear what kind of official permission he even has to be conducting his investigation. At least his helper and second in command has been at odds with Luther for some time and has a legitimate beef. Stark comes out of absolutely nowhere, despises Luther for reasons that are unclear, but is far from being above using the same exact underhanded tactics to get Luther that Luther might use against a criminal. Not only is it unbelievably hypocritical, but Stark has an insufferable superior attitude about the whole ordeal which makes him all the more despicable.

I’m open to rooting against Luther. I could be convinced. He rubs me the wrong way often and I’m tired of that cop-who-disobeys-the-rules being portrayed as the hero . Still, when this is the other option, I’ll root for the devil I know any day of the week. I know this show can do better. Luther is already a show with many limitations and a not particularly nuanced view of crime or policework, but it could craft a more convincing and compelling investigation into Luther’s misdeeds.

This investigation into Luther was all leading to the final episode. I was already kind of fed up with this plot by this point which was ruining most of the enjoyment I had from the other angels of the first three episodes. Stark’s investigation into Luther in the final episode became unbearable and almost made me stop watching then and there. Luther’s partner is killed, and the killer comes after Luther’s girlfriend. Somehow, however, Stark believes that Luther conspired with the criminal to come kill his girlfriend for some reason, well, I obviously can’t even fathom what reason. Come on. How are they taking this seriously? Say what you want about Luther, and there’s a lot to say, there’s a lot that he’s actually guilty of that he should be fired for and maybe more. But that he arranged a deal with the villain to kill his girlfriend? What? How does that even make sense for two seconds?

I’m aware plausibility only goes so far on TV often, but there has to be limits. Stark is also mindbogglingly incompetent and his utter confidence that Luther is behind every plot in the show ends up leading to his death and almost several others.

Also, everyone who watches Luther loves Alice. Alice is the best character. But her coming in out of absolutely nowhere to steal him away from his convey with grenades? Come on. A poisoning? Sure, I’d believe that. But this seems more than a bit much, as does Luther walking away with her at the end of the show, still barely a day, if that, after his partner died.

This is a much more minor note, but the dialogue between Luther and his new girlfriend Mary when they get together at the end of the second episode is just terrible.

Honestly, this is just a very disappointing season of television. I’ll have to consider whether I want to watch any more if a fourth season comes about.

One Response to “End of Season Report: Luther, Season 3”


  1. Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: 48-45 | Television, the Drug of the Nation - January 15, 2014

    […] recently wrote an article which says my thoughts in far more detail than I’ll say them now. This is a show that I probably […]

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