Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth), the handsome hothead of the early seasons of Law & Order; Detective Bobby Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio), the psychological marvel who makes Law & Order: Criminal Intent so much more than a spin-off series; The Wire's Detective Jimmy McNulty, a slutty alcoholic pushing every major drug case forward in spite of his bosses’ orders; and John Thaw’s turn as Inspector Morse, the grumpy, crush-prone sophisticate in the British series of the same name--what do all these fantastically flawed policemen have in common? They don't hold a candle to Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, the inimitable Übermensch brought to life by Idris Elba in the BBC series Luther. DCI Luther gives us something we've never seen before, probably something we'll never see again: A sexy, thoughtful hammer of justice, a perfect hero for how greatly we respect and how intensely we long for his happiness. Add that to the fact that it feels like nothing could ever hope to end him, and we put more faith in him than any other TV cop because we can depend not only on his eventual success, but his eventual survival. He will always be around in the end, to live, to feel, to care and, most importantly for him, to fix things.
The song in the title sequence begins, “Love is like a sin,” with mysterious, romantic strains simultaneously conveying melancholy and levity in the background. This singer and her song recall scenes of seduction, not violent crime. Deep red, cartoonish drops of blood appear on the title cards as collages of cityscapes appear one square at a time behind dark and beautiful portraits of a thoughtful Luther. Already, we can tell this show is insanely alluring. So is Idris Elba... so he most certainly is.
His beautifully complex Luther is by no means the show's only three-dimensional character. The fiercely loyal Detective Sergeant Ripley (Warren Brown), a worthy partner in his talent for detective work, is a man dedicated to the purest purpose of the police force: To set wrongs aright. He does all he can to protect Luther when he breaks protocol because he recognizes Luther's incisive genius and knows to trust Luther’s morality without needing to know all his secrets. Ripley elevates himself from the role of a typical good-natured sidekick in his willingness to play dirty and his rare professional compatibility with Luther. Then there is Alice (Ruth Wilson), the matricidal-patricidal killer in the series' first murder case who becomes an unusually intense and profound antagonist-turned-asset. She scares the hell out of Luther's estranged wife Zoe and her new boyfriend Mark (a scrawny, effete and truly pathetic replacement for Luther) solely for the purpose of repairing the broken marriage that torments Luther more than any unavenged murder. She eventually focuses her pathological ruthlessness exclusively at Luther's foes once she befriends the DCI. Alice is neither a distraction nor an annoyingly hopeful love interest for Luther, but rather a very complicated evil genius with a totally believable soft spot for him.
“Might wanna keep your hands in your pockets,” Luther cautions Ripley upon arrival at their first crime scene, “Reduces the temptation to touch anything.” We understand that he wants so badly to touch the site himself, to really inspect it, to exist in the place where the victim's life ended, as if the answer to the mystery haunted the crime scene like a ghost. He's the kind of smart, special person you really believe should get to break protocol in order to find his criminals and quietly rip them apart in the interrogation room. Though his wife remains an unsolvable mystery to him, Luther, more than any other detective, understands the iniquitous and deceitful. Surveying a crime scene, he frequently announces, “It’s not right,” indicating just how clearly he sees through the way each criminal wants himself and his crime to look.
At its core, this show is an investigation of justice v. the law. And like the DCI himself, Luther comes down firmly, unequivocally, dare I say sexily on the side of justice.
~ Natasha Hirschfeld