This week's Luther is not unlike my least favorite episode of 24: a character gets tortured for an entire episode, and I spend that time feeling my stomach turn to the point where I don't ever want to watch it again.
DCI John Luther and his team are spending this week trying to rescue their colleague DS Ripley from the clutches of Cameron Pell, the killer they couldn't catch last time. While Ripley's anguished screams fill the background, Cameron demands attention that Luther has no intention of giving him, less Ripley become expendable and end up dead.
Schenk proves he's more than the boss as he keeps Luther in check, goes out to work the streets himself, and does a great interrogation of one of Cameron's friends. Not bad for a guy who used to make me groan in annoyance every time he appeared on screen last series. Speaking of, now it's DS Gray's turn to be the "person who questions Luther's methods and/or sanity," but at least she's polite about it.
While Ripley survives his ordeal, the team still has to stop Cameron's next plan, one that involves the abduction of a busload of children, whom he intends to gas to death. Normally, you'd say, "No, a show isn't cruel enough to show us the death of a bunch of cute kids," but Luther has already proven it'll push the boundaries of content. So it is that the last act is honestly scary, because we really don't know what's going to happen to the tykes (and the mournful music doesn't help either!).
When one of them somehow sneaks out of the van and escapes, it's cheer-worthy, as is Luther's bulldozing his car into the warehouse where Cameron has them all trapped. He saves the kids over more of Cameron's yelling and complaining, and Ripley gets to arrest the punk.
As if that's not enough, Luther faces repercussions from rescuing Jenny. Her madam, Baba (Pam Ferris, who comes off like a British imitation of Margo Martindale in Justified but not nearly as captivating), has her relative Toby (David Dawson, bearing a striking resemblance to a young Matthew Goode) drive a nail clean through Luther's hand and then tells him either he does a favor for her or she kills Jenny's mother. With an assist from Mark, he's able to get to a witness and intimidate the man into withdrawing his statement against Toby. One knows that's an arrangement that will come back to haunt him.
Is Jenny's mother grateful? No, she just expects Luther will continue to protect her without so much as a proper thank-you. Her once-indifferent daughter is more appreciative than she is. One can't blame Luther for telling them both to make their own way.
Oh, and in case you forgot Alice, she's hanging out in Luther's flat like she lives there. She's still got a major torch for him, too. Apparently, after the loss of his wife, Luther attracts crazy women - which can't be that surprising since he's been called mental himself.
I said last week that I was glad that Luther's second series wasn't quite so unnerving and graphic as its first; I have to somewhat take that statement back this week. While there's not a lot of out-and-out blood and gore, watching Ripley try not to suffocate with a plastic bag over his head is still horribly unsettling. I suppose it's a credit to the writers that I'm equally as disturbed when I'm actually seeing less, yet I can't say I enjoy watching episodes that make me this uncomfortable. At least, unlike that episode of 24, we're not subjected to Ripley stark naked and clinically dead.
For all the creepy stuff that this show lets its perpetrators do, though, I like that the heroes are surprisingly nonviolent (at least that we see). The worst thing Luther does is drive his car into the warehouse. And while Ripley certainly has a chance to rough up Cameron - and I hope he does - we cut away before anything is shown. The good guys don't have to lower themselves to the level of the villains they face, and there's something to be said for that. The greatest of evils can be confronted and beaten without having to become evil. Call me sappy, but I like that idea.
Yet there's a "but" here. We know that there will always be another monster for John Luther to tackle. And now he's caught up with Jenny's former minders, and one knows that won't end well. It's a dangerous road, but it's a journey worth taking.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved.