What can you say about a detective series that begins with the hero putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger?
Brilliant. Probing. Dark. Unflinching.
But Russian roulette is just the start of the shadowy turns ahead on a new season of Luther, the amazingly textured and stark drama that earned star Idris Elba an Emmy nomination this year.
In a TV world filled with antiheroes, Elba's Detective Chief Inspector John Luther may be the most complex, a driven genius gifted with an ability to understand and predict the most savage criminals. But it's a talent matched only by his lack of similar insight into his own personal life.
But what Luther really offers, surprisingly, is a long, bruising treatise on the cost of breaking rules, even for London's most brilliant, crime-solving "copper."
Last season opened with an act that has haunted him; the decision to let a particularly depraved murderer fall to his death after a chase. On a rote procedural like NCIS, that would be a satisfying end; but Luther's choice dogged him like a funeral shroud, proving that breaking the rules to stop a monster still brings a price.
This season, Luther feels compelled to help the daughter of a murderer, even when it's obvious her mother has double-crossed him into a serious predicament with powerful mobsters.
Living in a shabby apartment with peeling paint, Luther is sleepwalking through his personal life, devastated by the loss of a wife who already had left him, thanks to his obsession with catching murderers.
He is marking time until he can make good on his roulette game, trying to train a young detective to take his place and right a few more wrongs before the end.
Elba inhabits Luther as the ultimate reluctant hero: a damaged, razor sharp detective with a passion for justice and a knowing idealist's bleeding heart. He stalks through scenes with shoulders rolling and a bit of swagger, steeled for the world of awful he knows will come from his own actions.
And yet, he brings it on, cutting any corner and breaking any rule. Because he must.
To fully appreciate this season, take some time to watch Luther's even more impressive debut miniseries, featuring criminals like the kidnapper who disemboweled a woman for diamonds in her stomach and a serial killer who drinks blood from captive women.
These are the cases CSI couldn't dream up, complicated by Luther's own problems of a disintegrating marriage and an unhealthy, codependent friendship with the one killer he never brought to justice, Ruth Wilson's beautiful, eerily pathological Alice Morgan.
When a dirty copper pal accidentally kills Luther's wife and pins the murder on him, it is Luther's reluctant confidant Morgan who takes action — though Luther and everyone around him eventually bears the consequences.
There are some absurdities in this new season. Luther endures a mobster nailing a spike through his hand with the irritation reserved for a bad migraine. His intuitive ability to guess a murderer's process is a bit convenient for writers, who can lead characters into a corner and let Luther magically divine the answer.
And my Yank ears were tingling trying to keep up with all the British slang flying around.
Still Luther's new season is a triumph; a reinvention of the murder mystery that actually works, giving television one of its most original characters in the process.