Friday, January 19, 2018
TV and Media

Third season of 'Luther' returns in single week on BBC America

The camera loves John Luther's walk.

It peers over his shoulder at key moments, capturing the British detective's ambling gait, semicrouched like a prizefighter or confident brawler, wading into the world ready for whatever bit of nastiness it sees fit to send his way next.

Ask actor Idris Elba about that walk, which is featured countless times in the BBC crime drama Luther, and he laughs before delivering an answer he warns may be a bit of a disappointment.

"Honestly over the last three years, I've been dealing with a really bad injury on my ankle and it has gotten worse," Elba told me during a conference call with reporters last week. "I end up having to choose my shoes that I use for Luther very carefully. … I've heard that Luther has a crazy walk and it's great, but it's really not as intentional as I'd like to say."

Elba's response is a wonderful reminder: Sometimes you can read a little too much into a TV show.

But Luther is the kind of show tailor-made for the overthink. Centered on John Luther, a brilliant, self-destructive, impatient crime-solver let loose on the worst killings London can provide — did we mention he has a confidant/ally/unrequited almost-lover who is the only killer he couldn't catch? — this show exists to feed viewers subtext.

The show returns for its third season at 10 p.m. Tuesday to Friday on BBC America, stringing all four episodes along a single week in what the channel is calling a "miniseries event." It's a moody masterpiece, filled with gory crimes, competing agendas and Luther's dogged, persistent brilliance.

As this season opens, Luther is past events of the second season where he was forced to work with criminals to get his job done. But a residual suspicion has led many in the force to suspect he is a "dirty copper"; David O'Hara (Braveheart, The Departed) is magnetic as George Stark, the brutal investigator dedicated to bringing down Luther, using some of his closest friends on the department.

"The theme, we'd like to say, is understanding the legacy of everything he has lived with … the weight of his actions and how that has changed or not changed him," said Elba, noting that last season's episodes were more about how far Luther might bend or break the law to achieve justice. This season is about consequences, including the suspicions of his closest ally, young detective Justin Ripley. "(And) our bad guys in Luther are always vivid and horrible, but we wanted to enhance that this season, elevate it in a darker way."

That includes a killer who sneaks into women's homes and hides under their beds before attacking and a vigilante who posts videos online of himself slaying criminals who evaded justice.

And if it sounds a bit cinematic, you're on the right track: Elba said he and writer Neil Cross hope to turn Luther into a prequel movie.

"(Film is) where we can really explore what makes this man tick (and) go on weirder and more experimental journeys with him," Elba said. "I think the original story is a classic superhero setup, and I've always likened Luther to a superhero, because as television makers we bend the rules so much."

Elba seems a bit of a showbiz superhero himself, bursting onto the American TV scene as Stringer Bell in HBO's The Wire and earning a following with solid performances in films such as Prometheus, Pacific Rim and the upcoming Nelson Mandela biopic, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Still, despite his success in movies, Elba remains a TV actor at heart, enjoying how audiences can soak up six- and four-episode seasons of Luther by box set or streaming video, waiting patiently until he and Cross deliver another jolt.

"That's been the advantage, building a character slowly over time," he said. "It's rare for character to be built that way on television. But I think it represents the new trend of how audiences are absorbing TV."

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