If you’re looking for a feel-good cop show with a tidy resolution at the end of every episode, this is not the show for you. Idris Elba’s John Luther character goes about as dark and deadly serious as any modern protagonist, and his adventures tend to span multi-episodic arcs. Unfortunately, Luther’s seasons are also woefully short, so just about the time you’re easing into the pervading gloom, the end is nigh. For the third series (and first in two years), we get a grand total of four hour-long episodes, making this set more a miniseries than a proper season.
Luther is still a hard-charging Detective Chief Inspector patrolling the darkest corners of London, but he’s also got a pervasive cloud hanging over him due to a clandestine internal affairs investigation targeted at him. That investigation is the only significant season-long plot thread, but its seeming resolution is so abrupt that it negates its inclusion. More important than the investigation is the reason for the investigation: Luther’s continuing questionably violent investigation tactics, his uncanny knack for being in the vicinity of murders of his associates when they happen, and his ongoing relationship with a deranged serial killer named Alice Morgan. He’s no angel, but he’s also not a dirty copper, no matter what the internal affairs folks might think.
The four episodes are neatly divided by the two baddies opposing Luther, with each criminal taking two episodes to take down. Luther’s first opponent this season kills innocents and then arranges their corpses in ritualistic tableaus, bearing a strong resemblance to murders 30 years ago by a serial killer tagged the Shoreditch Creeper. The second big bad is a vigilante named Tom Marwood who curries public favor and distrust of the police, choosing to only kill criminal degenerates who deserve to die and using his media savvy to build his fan base. This pair of episodes is much stronger as the proceedings cause viewers to question themes such as the nature of fame, the rights of individuals to act when police won’t, and the virtue of revenge. See, Marwood isn’t really evil, he’s just been destroyed by the murder of loved ones in his life and responds in the only way he knows how, recognizing that he’s forfeiting his own life in the process. Unfortunately for Luther, Marwood’s public rampage claims the life of someone close to him, driving Luther further into his seemingly increasing depression as his closest contacts continue to dwindle.
Elba continues to put in fine work as Luther, conveying as much with his frequently pained expressions as any of his dialogue. His Luther character is a foreboding and driven cop who is always on the job, seemingly putting his investigations well ahead of his own personal relationships and life. Elba masterfully maintains and deepens the strong character even in the limited series length, making each episode essential viewing regardless of his opponents. We’ll never see Luther relax or go on vacation, but his all-consuming intensity makes for continuing strong television.
Much like the season, the DVD bonus features are woefully abrupt, with only a perfunctory making of featurette rounding out the package.