BBC America will air Season 3 of "Luther," starting tonight and running for four consecutive nights (10 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and 9 p.m. Wednesday). It's one of the more popular shows brought stateside by the BBC, due in large part to the charisma of its lead, Idris Elba. Interested, but don't have the time to watch the first ten hours? Here's everything you need to know to get caught up.
What is it?
"Luther" is about a good cop who does bad things for good reasons, so it's a little “Breaking Bad” — though more breaking than bad. His unit deals with a new serial killer most every week, so it's a little “Law & Order.” Oh, and he has this continuing thing with an enchanting sociopath who's equal parts Hannibal Lecter and Marilyn Monroe.
Played by Stringer Bell... sorry, Idris Elba. It's just so hard to forget that he played one of the most engaging and sympathetic villains in television history on “The Wire.” Now imagine that engaging and sympathetic villain trying to be a good cop and loving husband. Luther is brilliant, and driven to protect those he loves and those in need.
The aforementioned sociopath (played with unfettered glee by Ruth Wilson), a suspect who gets away with murder but hangs around Luther like a stalker. Her playfully seductive exterior very rarely cracks to show the raging neediness underneath. All she wants is the love of her parents. Who she killed. So that's going to be a bit of a problem.
Season 1 begins with Luther letting a child kidnapper/murderer fall to his death. That he didn't save a total slimeball is the primary tension of his character: Does he do the right thing, or does he do the lawful thing? He almost always ends up doing the right thing, but that often leads to more terrible things happening and... well, you've seen “Breaking Bad.” All Walt wanted to do was provide for his family, and we know how that turned out.
Luther is separated from his wife Zoe (Indira Varma) and spends all of the first season trying to win her back — despite the fact that she's moved in with her boyfriend. Which adds additional levels of tension with Alice.
Ah, Alice. The first episode is about Alice Morgan, who discovered her parents murdered in their home. Luther is pretty sure she was also the one who killed her parents, but she's so thorough, she left no trace and the case remains unsolved.
Luther and Alice are two sides of the same coin. Luther is brilliant and will sacrifice anything to follow his moral code — including things like laws or his marriage. Alice is brilliant and will sacrifice anything to make Alice happy. Their intellects draw them together, but their moralities keep them apart.
Of course, Luther has a boss: Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley), who was originally assigned by the U.K. version of Internal Affairs to fire Luther, but ends up becoming his supervisor. He seems like a bureaucrat, but has proven he's got what it takes to handle himself.
There's young cop Justin Ripley (Warren Brown), who goes from by-the-book greenhorn to die-hard Lutheran. There's Benny Silver (Michael Smiley), the World of Warcraft-playing computer nerd who becomes a regular member of the team in Season 2. Then there's Ian Reed (Steven Mackintosh), Luther's old buddy who also gets his hands dirty from time to time. Like that time he accidentally killed Luther's wife.
Oh, right. At the end of Season 1, Ian gets his hands a little too dirty and tries to frame Luther for Zoe's murder. In the end, Luther gets a taped confession out of him, but before he can arrest him, Alice guns him down.
During all this, there are also vampire killers, a murdering cuckold, a sniper with daddy issues, dice-throwing killers, a bogeyman killer, and a diamond thief with the worst New York accent this side of a high school production of “Guys and Dolls.” In Season 2, Luther also befriends an underage sex worker and gets blackmailed for his trouble.
The core of the show, though, remains the question: How dirty is Luther willing to get to protect the lives of others? His relationship with Alice is a fun-house mirror to that question, because she will go to any lengths to protect him (including at least two murders that we know of).
Recommended if you like:
Police procedurals with an edge, unresolved sexual tension, and cops pushed to the edge. Also, if you want to see the Eighth Doctor ("Who" alum Paul McGann), Indira Varma (who plays Ellaria Sand on the next season of “Game of Thrones”), or more Idris Elba (“The Wire,” “Thor,” “Pacific Rim,” your dreams).
Get a sneak peek at the new season of "Luther" right here:
Season 3 of "Luther" premieres Tuesday, September 3 at 10 p.m. on BBC America.