Luther is back on form with its fifth series, but it still has some creases to iron out.
Gruesome dismembered bodies, ghoulish mask-wearing killers and a dapper tweed coat? Last week’s evening entertainment on BBC1 could only have been brought by a new series of Luther, the gritty, intelligent detective series starring Idris Elba, that slowly grew to be less gritty and intelligent as time wore on. After an extremely-lacklustre fourth season back in 2015, can John Luther’s fifth outing right the ship?
One thing is for certain – this season is miles better than the last. A longer episode count, up from two to four, is a crucial ingredient in this success, as a longer narrative arc grants the show more breathing room to develop its key relationships and dangling threads, of which there are many. The other major factor for its success is the return of Ruth Wilson as the show’s psychotic romantic foil, Alice Morgan, who has been sorely missed following her increasingly-reduced screen time from all the way back in the first season. Elba and Wilson have such wonderful chemistry that it’s easier to forgive when the events surrounding the duo aren’t quite up to the same calibre of writing.
The main meat of the narrative this season comes from Alice’s conflict with notorious gangster George Cornelius (Patrick Malahide), which naturally embroils Luther and co. as well, because we all know our man has an insatiable taste for danger. Malahide is a convincing threat, but he still feels like a one-dimensional villain character, even with his familial ties intended to ground and humanize him. Meanwhile, a masked killer is on the prowl around London – so pretty much bread and butter Luther, then – who has a penchant for stabbing things (people) and a mysterious connection to a psychologist (Hermione Norris, playing sinister extremely well). New police recruit Catherine Halliday (Wunmi Mosaku) joins Luther in the hunt for the killer, providing much needed levity as well as the potential for a new ‘Justin Ripley’-like sidekick.
The show tries to interweave these two mostly-unconnected plotlines, but for the most part this just results in frustrating lulls in the pacing, as Luther is forced to abandon one side of the conflict in order to resolve events in the other. It’s honestly a shame that the writers felt like they had to write the season like this, as I truly feel like disentangling these narratives would have been hugely beneficial to their success. The serial killer plotline is especially underdeveloped, with the intriguing dynamic between the psychologist and the killer (played with brilliant menace by Enzo Cilenti) promising so much more, and concluding with a whimper. There’s an incredibly-creepy scene on the top deck of a London bus that’ll make you think twice about sitting alone on a Unilink ever again, but apart from that there’s nothing that comes close to the enjoyment factor of Season 2’s twin murderers, or Season 3’s shotgun vigilante. As much as I enjoyed every second Ruth Wilson was on-screen, having Alice be so needy all the time when Luther had a job to do was just insufferable.
There’s also some shockingly inept writing at play. The opening scene introducing the killer, for example, assumes that a teenage hoodlum who chose to silently follow his former teacher to her home in the darkness would believe his behaviour to be completely-innocuous when confronted. There were also some serious leaps of faith in deducing the identity of the killer in the later episodes; you could practically see the cogs turning in the writer’s room. Finally, I must talk about the ‘tragic death(s) of the season’, because almost every season of Luther has to have one of those amiright? I get that it was supposed to be upsetting because it was so avoidable, but that kind of just made it comical. Said character essentially just volunteered their own death, and what did it actually resolve? Nothing. The second (and third, I guess) death(s) were more effective, if simply because they were so unexpected.
Overall, Luther‘s fifth season righted a lot of the previous seasons’ wrongs, bringing back the fan favourite Alice Morgan and telling an expanded story. However, the intertwining narratives were undercooked and became a little too confusing by the end, resulting in some mediocre plotting. Let’s hope if a sixth season is on the cards that they can find a satisfying way to round this whole thing off.
Luther Season 5 is available on BBC iPlayer now.