‘Luther’ Season 3 Review: Was It A Good Ending to a Great Series?

Published 10 months ago by , Updated September 10th, 2013 at 12:19 pm,

 Luther Season 3 Review: Was It A Good Ending to a Great Series?

[WARNING - MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!]

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Luther season 3 is sure to be debated like so many other series before it that have been accused (by some viewers) of deviating too far from center in later seasons. With just 4 episodes in which to close the saga of DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) there was much storytelling to be done, and showrunner Neil Cross split the season into two-episode halves, which both managed to sustain the style, tone, and twists that make Luther a police drama unlike almost any other (for better or worse). And yet, it often felt like somewhere lost in middle was the character that drove the series in the first place.

This show has always been distinguished by two things: its hero and its villains. The mad killers that Luther hunts have typically come in two varieties: nightmarish woman-killing stalkers and rampaging gunmen – and season 3 gave us both in the forms of serial killer protege Paul Ellis (Kevin Fuller), followed by psycho vigilante Tom Marwood (Elliot Cowan). While John Luther was (obviously) present in season 3, the thematic arc of the season had less to do with his inner workings and more to do with the question of where his character fits into the moral spectrum of today’s world, as measured by supporting characters like ‘Anti-Luther Squad’ members DSU George Stark (David O’Hara) and DCI Erin Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird); DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown); or even new characters like Tom Marwood and Luther’s new “pixie” love interest, Mary Day (Sienna Guillory).

Luther season 3 Sienna Guillory Luther Season 3 Review: Was It A Good Ending to a Great Series?

Sienna Guillory as Mary Day

While this larger perspective was an interesting way to bring final measure and closure to the exploration of who John Luther is, it also left us at a distance when trying to get back inside the head of the character himself. The season 3 opener spent a great deal of time indulging in either the sort of horror movie scares that has made Luther a no-go for plenty of female viewers (seriously, this show often depicts a woman’s worst nightmare of being attacked) – or setting up the ‘Anti-Luther Squad’ storyline, which ended suddenly and unceremoniously in the final episode when DSU Stark has his guts blown out by a marauding Tom Marwood. Very little actual Luther in there (the season, not the guts…).

Episodes two and three were more straightforward procedural stories – with episode 3 meant to be the big emotional stunner with the shocking death of Justin Ripley. However, again, with so little focus on the inner workings of our central character, the impact of Justin’s death (though utterly tense in the moment) arguably came off as unearned and unfelt, as the final episode quickly moved into a rapid “final showdown” scenario, with little (or at least, ineffective) time dedicated to examining how Luther deals with what his serial killer confidant Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) calls, “the loss of his puppy.”

 Luther Season 3 Review: Was It A Good Ending to a Great Series?

In fact, the few Luther-centric moments we did get in the season were found in conversation scenes with the women in his life: Mary, Alice, and (to lesser extent) Erin Gray. In each of these instance we finally had those juicy character moments of Luther reflecting on and discussing his nature and contradictions of character – although bubbly Mary was a admittedly a lackluster substitute for more complex female characters from previous seasons, like Zoe (Indira Varma) or Jenny Jones (Aimee-Ffion Edwards). Still, the ladies helped sell what character drama was present in season 3, as Justin’s strangely marginalized and tangental presence in the seasonal story arch also robbed us of much of the Sensei/pupil dynamic that initially drove the series.

But there were themes to explore, of course, and so certain story/character elements had to be sacrificed to serve that larger thematic arc. Moral relativity has always been at the center of Luther, and this season took that notion to almost allegorical heights, creating a spectrum that had all of the dramatis personae laid out on either side – with Luther in the middle-gray area he’s always inhabited. Stark and Gray’s rigid moralism led them to make a tragic miscalculation; Justin’s naive moral idealism led him to his own demise; tragedy inspired both of the season’s “big bads” to become the twisted amoral souls they were – with Marwood’s skewed morality leading him to be the most “evil” character of all, killing Justin, the show’s embodiment of moral consciousness.

The conflicting moral philosophies built to a somewhat silly crescendo, so that the final minutes of Luther‘s run – a rooftop standoff between Luther, Tom Marwood, Mary and Alice – resulted in an obvious and melodramatic metaphor for our central character finally having to resolve his own moral conflict: to be a ‘good person’ like the appropriately-named Mary Day, or admit his dark nature, as has long been the wish of his kindred spirit, Alice Morgan.

 Luther Season 3 Review: Was It A Good Ending to a Great Series?

Idris Elba and Warren Brown in ‘Luther’ Season 3

With Luther ultimately shedding his iconic trench coat and taking off with Alice for a life yet unknown (with his ties to his former life dead alongside his consciousness, Justin) we are ultimately left with a world view in which the righteous as often suffer worse than the wicked, and peace is found in accepting that moral gray at the center of things. Even good Mary ended up compromising herself, morally speaking – taking the fall so that Alice (the most morally compromising and therefore fulfilled character on this show) could make another sly escape from capture.

Sometimes a broader message comes at the cost of more intimate character development – and love it or hate it, that’s the route Cross chose in bringing his cult-hit series to a close. His views on morality and the need for it to be a malleable and adaptable idea isn’t a bad statement; however, it is also not one that I can say effectively cements the character of legacy of Luther in a distinctive and memorable way. Still, this is one of the best police procedurals to come along in years, and in the context of the entire series, Luther season 3 is a suitable (if not spectacular) finish to a good story.

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Luther season 3 is currently available on VOD through BBC America; it will release on home video on September 10, 2013. Click the link to order it on Amazon.

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22 Comments

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  1. I really enjoyed this season and I already miss it!

  2. Yeah, it was a special thing to have had this and no matter how it ended, I’m just grateful it was there…well Luther and Alice

  3. Just my luck. I thought, “let me scroll down to the comments, there’s a spoiler alert”, as I’m scrolling I see the “”R.I.P” caption under Ripley’s picture… Noooooooo!!!!

    • Yeah that made me LOL and it was a spoiler for me too. At least the series ends on a positive note.

  4. Schenk’s not on the anti-Luther squad. That’s George Stark played by David O’Hara.

  5. I don’t want this to be the last series, but I’d rather Cross goes out strong than falling short later. I thought it was a brilliant conclusion. There is still the purported movie in the works, which will take us back in time to before series 1, where we will learn a little (or perhaps a lot) about how Luther became Luther.

  6. And yes, Jacob, good on you for noting the Schenk error. Probably just an oversight. But facts being reported and analysis can get a little loopy here on ScreenRant.

    • Dude…. I just watched 4 straight eps of this show. Such a stupid error…

      • Fixed. Thanks readers-who-are-more-attentive-than-me.

  7. …I am still ‘Jonesing’ for it….I want Idris Elba as ‘James Bond’!….

  8. I love Idris on this show. I like “Luther” so much that I can’t really enjoy “The Wire”, because I don’t enjoy seeing Idris as a non-Luther character, especially a “bad” guy role.

    I have a huge crush on the “Alice” character and that actress. It’s crazy but I would love to meet a real girl with a SIMILAR

    • As long as you don’t mind leaving behind a widow.

  9. SIMILAR personality and look :)

  10. Absolutely loved this show the whole way through. Had no idea it was the conclusion though.. I understand why, per the last 5 mins or so with him shedding the coat and going off with Alice. And with the death of morality with DS Ripley. But shoot, what’s next?! Really sad we won’t be visiting this story again, but per the comments sounds like there’s going to be a prequel move which is awesome!

    Also really enjoyed the review Kofi! It helped to have a breakdown. I felt like they did move away from who Luther is in order to transition him into who he may become (the world’s second consulting detective?)

    I hope you will rave about this one on the podcast Kofi, it definitely deserves some more attention.

  11. While not the best of the 3 series I still enjoyed it for the most part…
    I guess with only 4 episodes to work with there’s not much time for pacing but I really wasn’t happy with Justins arc. He went from on Luther’s side, flipped against him, back on his side to dead pretty quickly. His death was also foreshadowed pretty plainly when Luther was saying he’s my mate, I love him.
    I’m ok if this is it for the series but I would love to see a spin-off series for Alice. It would be a blast to see what she was doing while she was on the run…

  12. The Luther series was great from beginning to end. Luther is the BBC equivalent of the American private investigator “Shaft” of the mid to late seventies meaning it always sort of had that feel. Sorry to see it gone but was very well done. Gotta say loved the Alice character. There was something very alarming and attractive about her less than perfect appearance yet sexy aura. The sound track at the end of the final episode featuring 70′s tune
    ” Never gonna give you up” was well played and Alice never looked more alluring. Thanks BBC this was great!

    • that wasnt a 70s tune that was a black keys song from the album Brothers in 2010

      • Actually, you both are correct. The song played in Luther was a recent remake. However, Isaac Hayes covered it in 1971. Even Hayes’ version was a cover of Jerry Butler’s version from the 1960′s.

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  14. I was not happy with this actor’s rendition of the accent. I prefer a mincing queen-like accent and Luther portrayal needed to be much more gay, like the script and plot outline. Luther’s frustrated gay sexual lust for Ripley was underplayed, and he needs to ‘come out’ and be a proper f_ag. I loved fantasizing about him, and to this day I often think about performing fellatio on him every night. My own homosexuality is conflicted and mirrors his (Luther’s) darker side.

    I love the idea being handcuffed, stripped, bent over and f*cked really hard without lube. I need that, and so does Luther. Bigtime.

    But, hey, that’s just me. (and Luther) I love black men.

  15. I absolutely loved all the series and wish there was a season 4! However, it was an awesome last episode! Especially Alice and Luther ending it the way they did!

  16. Loved this show.
    Watched all three seasons in 2 days.

    Reminds me of a cross between The Killing and The Closer. Obviously much much darker.

    I was thoroughly entertained, horrified, excited….

    By far, Alice’s character is the most engrossing. Tons of haters on IMDB over there on the message board, but I love watching Luther utterly flummoxed in Alice’s presence. He seems as mystified by her as he is disturbed, and yet altogether drawn to her.

    So glad I gave this show a try. I almost didn’t.

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