“So what is it with John Luther and the people he loves?”
The question comes from George Stark, the man hellbent on bringing down Detective Chief Inspector John Luther (Idris Elba) for corruptions both real and imagined. But his question is incomplete. He should know that it’s not just Luther’s loved ones who meet unhappy ends; his enemies don’t fare too well either. That knowledge, and a little caution to go with it, might have saved him.
The final episode of Luther’s third season finds precious few people saved as Tom Marwood, the vigilante who started out by killing criminals who escaped jail too easily and ended by killing Luther’s partner, flees justice and tries to restore his own image as a romantic crime fighter. Beforehand, though, he tries to find Luther’s girlfriend Mary to murder her in some strange revenge act (his motivations, like his level of sanity, are a bit uneven), but she escapes and he ends up shooting his own reflection in the mirror.
Stark manages to pull some strings and have Luther arrested for his complicity in the murder of Ripley and the attempted murder of Mary (all bogus), and that’s when we got the treat of treats: THE RETURN OF ALICE!
Ruth Wilson is back and badder than ever as she sets up a trap to spring Luther and go on the lam, and I didn’t realize how much I missed her coy little smirk and witty badinage until they were back. She’s been to Berlin and South America, married, lost a husband (“Some little girls grow up wanting ponies …I always wanted to be a widow”), and returned to London as a fugitive. This time, she wants Luther himself, knowing he won’t be happy with the ethereal, pixie-like Mary. “She’s a daydream of the life you imagine you want to live,” she says, cutting Luther to the core.
The two of them are out to clear his name, and they track Marwood down to another empty warehouse where he’s about to kill his latest victim. He’s giving his usual superhero speech to the camera when the duo breaks in, and Luther enacts a devastating plan to take away what he wants most in the world—his glamor. They mock him for kidnapping the pregnant wife of a prison doctor in order to gain access to his wife’s incarcerated killer, rehash the murder of innocent Ripley and generally unleash total panic in his mind. When Alice escapes with the tape, he sees his reputation in tatters. Luther offers him a deal—the tape for the hostage, who is hidden across town. But he’s got Marwood at least slightly wrong, and he gets a shot in the leg for his miscalculation.
And then Marwood truly flies off the rails, discovers where Mary is being sequestered by Stark and Erin Gray, and sets off with Alice and John in hot pursuit. He kills Stark (a fate that was basically preordained the minute he challenged Luther), wounds Gray when her attempt at pretending to be Mary fails, moves on to better prey. But Alice has reached Mary first, and together they escape to the roof. The police are en route, but before they can arrive, a four-way standoff develops. Marwood gives Luther a choice—he can kill Alice, or he can kill Mary. Luther hesitates and vacillates at first, but as Marwood nears the point of explosion, he makes his choice: Kill Alice.
It’s devastating on its face, but like everything Luther does in the heat of emotion, there’s some evidence of calculation behind it. As he approaches to finish her off, Mary pushes the gun away, Alice stabs him in the neck, and he goes down in a spray of blood. Luther threatens to strangle him, and the tactic is effective at extracting the location of the pregnant hostage.
It occurred to me while watching this finale that while Luther delivered the good for the third straight season, it’s probably good that it comes in quick installments; six episodes the first time, four each in series two and three. The brooding, operatic music, the fetishistic killers and the dark intensity would be too much to take in an American-style 13-episode season. It might start to feel silly, and the stakes would be diminished. But in brief bursts, Luther transcends its cliches and provides an excellent vehicle for Elba to shine. More than anything, it’s fun in the “tv drama” sense of the word: Thrilling, upsetting, sexy, fast, sinister and smart.
After Luther makes his choice to sacrifice Alice, he has a second chance to choose between the two women. Mary has given herself up to the authorities as Alice and waits in the police van, allowing the real thing a head start in her great escape. When Luther and Mary have their final conversation, there’s a recognition between both that this relationship is doomed; she doesn’t want the violence and drama, and he needs it. His perfect match isn’t far away, though, and he meets Alice at their old spot overlooking the river. He throws his coat into the water, and with a smile in her eyes, she asks the question that has ended the show for three straight seasons:
Will Luther continue to be a cop? Are two volatile characters like he and Alice really capable of maintaining a relationship? Will rumors of the Alice-themed spin-off come true? Whatever the answers, the good news is that Luther has kept its ominous momentum, and we still care.