The opening minutes of the new episode of Luther acted as fitting recognition to the previous series. The image of a hunched DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) emerges from a flaming warehouse with a criminal held by the scruff of his jacket, flames burn behind him and blue police lights and black clad Special Forces officers surround him. The scene is offset by calm, ethereal music. His return home is interspersed with shots of the helpless first victim. Soon the victim’s scene takes over and we see the eventual, disturbing entrance of her attacker, the opening credits mercifully cutting in so we only have to imagine his sadistic plans for her.
We have come to expect the chilling calculation of the show’s psychopathic serial killers and the unorthodox methods that Luther uses to capture them. The murderers push Luther into battle with himself, whilst his methods and their outcomes push him into a battle with the internal investigation unit. Now Luther is juggling two cases, unaware that one is under the watchful of eye of David O’Hara’s DSU Stark, taken out of retirement to bring Luther to ‘justice’. With these plotlines, the opening episode to the series suggests that little is new.
Yet this is no bad thing as Elba seamlessly slots back into a role he seems to find natural and there is a still beauty in the shooting of the run down locations that maintain the image of a less desirable side of London. When director Sam Miller shows us brighter, richer parts of the city, he uses low lighting and wide or lengthy shots to create a visual interest that maintains the dark, grimy atmosphere that the show’s most depraved characters emerge from.
Music is also well used. A similar, gentle accompaniment to Luther’s entrance later augments the chilling nature of the killer’s clean and precise preparations in the defused bright light of his sterile flat, tying the two together. Elsewhere it adds edge to the disturbing attack scenes that firmly place the show in the ‘thriller’ category.
With so many hostile elements working together, it seems the only time we feel safe is in the company of Luther himself. Yet the question of how justified his investigation techniques are at times leaves us almost as uncomfortable with him as with any of the other characters conspiring around him. A discomfort that is made greater by the extra scrutiny Luther is now under – a scrutiny that is clearly a necessary aspect of any police force.
As ever, writer and director Neil Cross and Miller leave us with a lot to think about, whether it’s the inference required by many of their darker, synecdochical camera shots, or whether it’s about the larger questions the show asks. If it seems like the new series is yet to add any more to the franchise, it still maintains the same traits that has made Luther so good in the past, and whether you’re a television drama fan who’s new to the show (where have you been for the past three years?) or who has loved it in the past, it looks like the new series is set to be just as captivating as those that made us fall in love with Elba’s unstable detective in the past. And after all, they couldn’t give us everything in episode one.
Season 3, Episode 1 is available on BBC iPlayer, and the series continues at 9pm, Tuesday on BBC1.