DVD Review: Luther: Season 5
By Chris Chan
Warning: Some oblique spoilers for this season of Luther and previous seasons follow!
Luther, the series that helped make Idris Elba an international star, is back for a fifth but hopefully not final season. This season continues the series’ trademark of having the brilliant but battle-scarred policeman John Luther tracking down some of the most psychologically twisted and violent killers in London.
The five seasons of Luther each follow a different trajectory between the title character and the evil and darkness he battles on a daily basis as part of his job as a detective.
Season 1: The evil and darkness are destroying Luther.
Season 2: The evil and darkness have severely hurt Luther, but he can recover.
Season 3: Luther can walk away from fighting evil and darkness and find happiness.
Season 4: Luther will never be happy unless he’s fighting evil and darkness.
Season 5: Evil and darkness can hurt Luther, but Luther can hurt the evil and darkness back. We still don’t know which side will win in the long run.
The narrative style has changed over the seasons. The first season covered a different crime over the course of each episode, repeating the process for six episodes. The second and third seasons split narratives over halves of four-episode seasons, and the fourth season hunted a psychotic killer over a simple two episodes. Season Five goes a bit farther than ever before, addressing the same set of cases over a four-episode arc. There’s a particularly agile and violent killer on the loose, his psychologist with ambiguous motives, an implacable hit man, and a gangster out for blood, possibly Luther’s if he can’t get the blood he really wants.
As always, Luther draws on the classic crime dramas that came before it, sometimes with overt homages as diverse as Michael Mann’s movie Manhunter (based on Thomas Harris’ first Hannibal Lecter novel Red Dragon) and Agatha Christie’s novel 4:50 from Paddington. These scenes come as neat little Easter eggs for mystery fans while also docking the show points for originality.
The suspense and surprise pacing have improved a few notches from Season 4. In Season 4, one could begin a scene and know at once that a character was doomed. In Season 5, the volatile tone is set by keeping the audience members on their toes and making it impossible to tell who will be the victim, the perpetrator, or the survivor in a scene until the carnage is (temporarily) finished. In Season 4, I could tell that a bomb was set to explode even with no foreshadowing or clueing– it just seemed like the natural thing to happen. In Season 5, the violence sometimes chooses to follow established patterns and sometimes takes a different route, leading to more unpredictability. Five minutes into Season 5, when Luther is kidnapped and thrown into a truck, there was no way to tell if he was being kidnapped by gangsters or being dragged to a surprise party in his honor until the bag was ripped from his head.
Luther has not always made the best use of its finest resource, the complex relationship between Luther and the brilliant scientist and multiple murderess Alice Morgan (the outstanding Ruth Wilson), but that changes for the better in Season 5. When Luther was unable to find enough evidence to arrest Alice for the murders of her parents and dog in Season 1, the two began an adversarial chess match that turned into a surprising alliance for mutual preservation. As the series progressed, the pair’s relationship deepened, as Luther convinced Alice of the existence of virtue even if she couldn’t appreciate it, but Alice was absent for the latter half of Season 2 and the first three-quarters of Season 3, before being declared killed off-screen in Season 4.
But you can’t keep a good malignant narcissist down, and Season 5 shows Alice alive and out for revenge against a gangster who betrayed her. In earlier seasons, Alice noted that Luther’s job was killing him, which may have been true in the first three seasons, but by Season 5, Luther has learned how to defend himself mentally from the power and lure of evil, and Alice is now threatened by Luther’s new immunity. Their unsettlingly amicable relationship has taken a downward turn with Luther’s new, unspoken knowledge that he can’t tame evil or direct violence towards his own purposes without harming himself. Luther’s newfound mental stability comes from an outright rebuff of iniquity in all its forms, including Alice, who does not take rejection well. While their now-forced alliance has become prickly, Elba and Wilson are, as ever, fantastic on-screen together.
The rest of the cast, both new and familiar faces, are also great, especially Wunmi Mosaku as a new police officer who starts as a potential threat and becomes a likeable ally, and Dermot Crowley as Luther’s boss who is increasingly worn down by the horrors his team investigates. Other allies old and new give terrific performances, and the villains are properly loathsome.
No other season of Luther has drawn so heavily on events– both major and minor– from the first four seasons. New viewers must not watch the series out of order. It’s critical to begin at the beginning, especially as the last five minutes come back full circle to Season 1.
As with previous seasons, no character, no matter how important to the plot or beloved by fans, is safe, not even Luther himself. Over the course of the series, some of its best characters have been killed off at penultimate moments in the action, and this season is no exception, though the body count for familiar faces is much higher than ever. Indeed, at least one ancillary character from early in the season is dragged back into the mix to be brutally slain. Indeed, the serial killer’s last stand is particularly violent, though it lacks a certain level of impact by being filmed on a more detached and vague way than the rest of the season.
As of this writing, there is no news as to whether or not there will be a sixth season of Luther, but none of the previous seasons of the show has required a continuation of the story more. The events of the fifth season, more than any other, demand a sixth season to resolve the enormous cliffhanger.
While the Season 5 raises a huge question mark as to what happens next and where Luther’s character will go from here, it also manages to clear up some questions that were raised in Season 4, such as the extent of Luther and Alice’s relationship between Seasons 3 and 4, and what happened to one character from Seasons 1 and 2. There’s one mystery that the show has never been adequately addressed. At the end of Season 3, Luther tossed his trademark coat into the Thames. How did he get it back?
Luther: Season 5