If last year was the proverbial tipping point for Luther, season 3 is a step in the wrong direction for this crime thriller. Gone is the subtlety and psychological, anger-fuelled turmoil of John Luther and in its place, sensationalist, Hollywood-esque action complete with an unsatisfying overarching plot line and clumsy resolutions. Whilst the cases are still endearing and split into the two part arcs that made last year so effective, Luther feels like a shadow of the show it once was.
The cases this year are the shining light and are as good as they’v ever been. A morally conflicted man vengeance killing and a fetishist killer grace the screen this year and both cases are well written, despite a strange reliance on horror tropes in the first case. An extra element of complication arises this year too in the form of returning Erin (Nikki Amuka-Bird) together with recently returning to duty George Stark (David O’Hara) who work to build a case against Luther to get him thrown out of the police force. Whilst the motivations around this are clearly defined and well written, the resolution is poor and rushed making the entire storyline fruitless. The implications of this do add an extra element of tension to the series but much like last year, the 4 episodes leave little wiggle room to flesh this out, eventually leading to nothing. There’s also a rushed romance ham-fisted into the narrative too to try and raise the stakes but the characters are never given the time to blossom due to the short season length storyline making for an unsatisfying and poorly implemented story.
There are glimmers of hope for the series though and the cases are as strong as they’ve ever been. The final two episodes in particular are outstanding although on reflection, leave open some glaring plot holes and questionable decisions around character fatalities in the finale. Without giving too much away, the fourth season of Luther is likely to take a completely different direction to what’s been seen before and it remains to be seen whether this will benefit the show or not. Given the experimental nature of this season and the plot issues inherent with the overarching story lines, Luther’s third season is largely unsatisfying compared to what we’ve seen before.
Of course, Idris Elba is still fantastic as John Luther, driving the series forward with his charismatic convictions. The supporting cast are good too and a more prominent role for Erin is a smart move, given her promising but limited role last year. Coupled with slick camera work and tension rife in the four episodes, Luther at least keeps some of the elements intact that made it such a hit to begin with, even if the core of the show is missing.
Luther’s third season feels lethargic, lacking a critical edge that made the first season such a hit. Elements of fatigue appeared to creep in last year and this year it’s far more prominent and clear to see. The overarching storyline does drive some significant tension in the season but the resolution is lazily written and largely unsatisfying. The cases are still as endearing and well written as they’ve ever been though and drive the show forward when the overarching storyline doesn’t. Idris Elba is as good as he’s ever been in this role but even he seems to struggle at times with a lack of anger and stress-fuelled adrenaline that made his character so absorbing to begin with. The ending leaves serious questions around the direction Luther is likely to take for future seasons but based on this showing, one can only hope it’s a step back in the right direction after a largely disappointing third season.