Do you ever have a character type that you can’t help but love, and whenever that sort of character shows up, whatever they’re in gets 80% better? I do, and it’s the sociopath who is having fun. I blame David Xanatos for winning my heart at a tender age but really, it’s more than that. The Dark Night is my go to for a feel good movie because, let’s face it, it’s great to watch somebody who is good at what they do work and enjoy it.
Which is why everybody everywhere should stop what they’re doing right now and go watch Luther. It’s a six episode BBC series about a brilliant police detective with a strong moral code and a bad temper. That’s nice. What it’s really about are sociopaths. Some of them are having fun. Some of them really aren’t. And some of them aren’t actually sociopaths despite their best imitations, which makes them dramatically more dangerous.
Oh, and did I mention that the first episode’s featured sociopath is fabulous and, rather unconventionally, female?
Review continues, with spoilers, below.
The first episode starts off with a bit of Luther’s backstory – he’s good enough that he’s got a reputation and he’s letting a pedophile dangle off a ledge in order to find out where his latest victim is hidden. Then it jumps forward – the pedophile is in a coma and Luther is out of trouble unless the guy wakes up and contradicts the sanitized version of events. This is great because Luther can get back to work, and possibly his marriage.
It looks like this is going to be a Law and Order style show with crime-of-the-week and more time spent on the main characters and their story. You get to a crime scene, you see clues, you meet the grieving relative, blah de blah. Except that Luther solves the crime in five minutes of screen time and the plot turns into “How do we prove it?” It’s the grieving daughter, of course, and I was so happy when the show didn’t expect that to be a twist.
The crime is perfect – Luther figures out exactly how she did it, but she’s done it so well that even when he finds the murder weapon and can reconstruct the whole crime, all of his evidence is circumstantial. So he decides that he’ll try to get her to trip up, incriminate herself, or hopefully be there to catch her mistake when she kills again. The problem is that she’s clever, and she killed her parents not because she has a compulsion to kill, but because she didn’t like them. So the mouse stands still and starts toying with the cat, evaluating him, probing into his life, and deciding that, hey, worthy adversary. This is something to value.
At the end of the episode, Luther has not caught her. He still hasn’t at the end of the series. Part way through they’re getting coffee together, socially. Luther’s creeped out by it, and the audience is thrilled. Then, when we start meeting the normal people gone homicidal maniac (the build-up for that twist felt weak to me, but I may have been distracted for the groundwork), she becomes Luther’s ally, the one person who understands and respects him enough to know he’s being framed. It’s absurd, and unexpected, and utterly, utterly brilliant.
The thing I love most about this show is that the Checkov sociopath, i.e. the one they put front and center to introduce the theme and carry the tension, winds up being the greatest force of good for Luther in the series. She kills the pedophile before he can speak up and ruin Luther’s career. She stands up to the ex-wife’s lover when he keeps filing well-meant but faulty claims against Luther. Luther’s good friend turns on him, kills the ex-wife, and tries to orchestrate getting him shot, but our morally ambiguous heroine shows up in time to thwart him.
It’s more than that, though. All of the characters traipse through the series, coping with Luther’s temper, planning around it, being uncomfortable with it, but it’s the sociopath who actually bothers to tell him, “That’s your weakness and it’s going to get you killed.” Because he’s brilliant, or because they feel guilty, or because they don’t trust him, all of the other characters let Luther go along, throwing things through windows and punching walls. It takes the callous bastard to respect him enough to point it out. So what if she killed her parents; she’s the only person with the moral fortitude to tell a decent man when he’s being an ass. And because she’s the one saying it, Luther has to listen.
There’s so much more meat in there. I could go on for days comparing her to the best friend, pointing at the brilliant way they showcased her perfect planning with his clever, ad hoc flailing, the way she can always contain the casualties of her actions while his spiral out of control, how really awesome it is that she gets to shoot him at the end, but I’ll stop here. The important message is this: Luther is good. Watch it.