I’m kind of amused that this morning, BBC America was running the newer version of Brideshead Revisited, and tonight we get the second episode of Luther. Both feature amazing individual performances from the lead actors (Matthew Goode and Idris Elba) and both are stocked full of dysfunctional characters who do plenty of damage to themselves and others. Maybe there was a theme.
It’s another bleak night as a pair of cops are shot and killed by a man pretending to be dead. This is Luther’s next case, once he comes down off the roof of the building, that is – and once he’s done being investigated for the scuffle he had with Zoe’s new boyfriend Mark at the end of the last episode. His old partner Ian comes to get him down before he decides to take a step off the edge.
Luther and Justin visit the crime scene, which Luther declares “staged” and “an execution.” Back at the office, Justin has spotted a potential suspect on nearby cameras, and Luther is sure that their man is a soldier simply by his body language. That’s when he gets a phone call from a now-blonde Alice, who’s signed up as a volunteer at the hospital where Henry Madsen is still in a coma. She wants to taunt him over whether Madsen really slipped or not. He warns her again not to go near Zoe. “Are you scared what I’ll find out or what she will?” she says before he hangs up on her.
They finally narrow down their suspects, zeroing in on a man named Terry Lynch who has killed one police officer previously. Terry might be in prison, but his son Owen isn’t, and Owen has mental health issues to boot. In other words, he’s a time bomb, as evidenced by how he walks up to another police officer in a parking lot and shoots her at point blank range. By the time Luther, Justin and a horde of cops turn up on the scene, Owen appears to be gone and his victim is fighting for life – something that doesn’t match with his previous kills. Luther realizes too late that it’s another trap. Owen starts sniping at cops from the roof of a nearby building, killing two of them and galvanizing the detectives to find him.
Owen, however, is still one step ahead of them. He’s dressing up in full military uniform, recording his manifesto to be delivered to the cops. He’s still bitter about his father’s prison sentence, and plans on killing cops until Terry is freed. While Luther is psychoanalzying him, Alice decides to call again for another friendly chat. He’s not in the mood. “These are good cops doing good jobs being gunned down in the streets,” he tells her, and when she asks if he is afraid of her, he admits that he is. She reiterates that she’s going to pay another visit to his wife.
Worried, Luther calls Zoe and asks her to leave London, telling her that Alice has made another threat on her life. Mark thinks that he’s making it up, and she calls him childish. He runs his mouth for long enough that she starts to second-guess what she’s just been told.
Luther, Ian and Justin are reviewing footage of Owen visiting his father in prison. Luther deduces Owen is getting his orders from Terry, so they go to pay Terry a visit. While Justin and Ian search his cell, and find a mobile phone hidden away therein, Luther decides to chat up the elder Lynch and try to convince him to tell Owen to back down. Terry wants his sentence drastically reduced, but Luther isn’t biting. Not when he’s talking to a cop killer.
They trace the number on the cell phone, and are greeted in the parking lot with a car bomb that nearly takes them out. Luther knows Terry is the only person that can get through to Owen, and makes a deal with him. With the help of a friendly reporter, he concocts a false news broadcast that says some very unflattering things about Owen, turning himself into the sniper’s next target.
Speaking of targets, Zoe and Mark hear some suspicious noises around the flat and find Alice in their kitchen. Mark has to admit that Luther wasn’t lying, but when Alice threatens Luther, Zoe agrees to talk to her. Alice wants to discuss Luther’s motivations and the difficulties of living with him. “I’m not bitter,” Zoe tells her defiantly. “I’m proud of him.” Yet just as quickly as she turned up, Alice is gone, leaving Zoe terrified yet again.
Ian can’t believe that Justin didn’t know anything about Luther’s plan to corner Owen. Luther’s out walking the streets, headed to the estate Owen used to frequent as a boy, and his boss Teller can’t persuade him to wait for backup. Though Ian calls for help, it’s thirteen minutes out, or ten minutes late. Luther gets to the estate just minutes later and finds himself staring down the barrel of a rifle. Owen hits him with the weapon repeatedly as Luther tells him that his own father gave him up. “How do you think I found you?” he points out, continuing to goad him even as Owen produces a handgun and introduces it to his face. Luther tells him that his father isn’t worth dying for.
This only causes Owen to think a forced game of Russian roulette is a good idea. Faced with the very real possibility of death, Luther headbutts him, causing Owen to lose his grip on his throat. There’s a brief struggle before Luther wrestles him into submission and arrests him.
Ian gets the fun job of having to interrogate the crazy person, alongside Teller. They try to get Owen to turn on his father, but he won’t give them any more than the standard “name, rank and serial number” spiel.
Alice and a worse for wear, bandaged-up Luther meet face to face. He threatens to kill her if she goes after Zoe for a third time. She tells him that she likes Zoe. “She knows what you did. She’s always known. Didn’t change anything,” she explains. He’d like to know why she’s trying to analyze his failing marriage. She does agree to leave Zoe alone, but can her word really be trusted? That’s a critical question, especially since next week he’s going to need her to help him close his next case.
Luther builds on a fine first episode with a cracking second one. Rather than continue to pile on the continuing drama between Luther and Alice, the series lets that become a subplot in order to deliver a solid case and further show us insight into Luther and his failing marriage. Alice is still present, but where she could easily overtake the show with her cat-and-mouse exploits, she instead shines a light on what’s going on between Zoe and Luther, and in Luther’s own mind.
We continue to get some brilliant acting from the entire cast – the mere look in Idris Elba’s eyes when Luther believes his brains are about to be blown out the side of his skull is chilling – and a plot that shows us how devoted Luther can be. He’s willing to risk his own life without thinking twice, but when it comes to the woman he still loves, he’ll do anything to protect her. He’s at the top of his game in pursuit of a cop killer, yet painfully vulnerable when it’s his personal life on the table. It’s a great hour of entertainment, but I almost cherish it more for what it exposes about our protagonist and what makes him tick. John Luther’s head is a fascinating place to be, and this second hour begins to let us inside.
There’s definitely a theme: that brilliance is also dysfunction, and sometimes there’s not much of a difference.