Given that he was last seen strolling into the Southwark sunset, arm-in-arm with a fugitive murderer and his famous coat sailing seaward down the Thames, fans could be forgiven for thinking they’d seen the last of John Luther (Idris Elba).
The seasons were getting shorter, the storylines were growing ever more outlandish and – perhaps most crucially of all – Justin Ripley, Luther’s sidekick, conscience and tether to the letter of the law, had been murdered. It seemed like a natural conclusion and only the most intransigent of devotees would have begrudged Elba and creator Neil Cross deciding that the series had run its course.
Yet two years on from Season 3’s finale, Luther is back – in a manner of speaking.
When DCI Bloom (Darren Boyd) and DS Lane (Rose Leslie) seek out the maverick detective with news of Alice Morgan, they find him living in a remote cottage overlooking the English Channel and wearing an equally unlikely, equally anonymous green donkey jacket. London and the Met are a long way from Luther’s thoughts.
‘Everything’s tickety-boo,’ he reassures Bloom. ‘Totally disco.’
But it isn’t. Ripley’s death weighs heavily upon his psyche and the unexpected revelation about Morgan is hardly a tonic – although it does spur him from his fugue. The tarpaulin is pulled off the familiar silver Volvo, a new tweed coat is taken from the rack and Luther is heading back to the Smoke.
At first, it’s purely personal; but a combination of tragedy and duty soon calls him back onto the job. A serial killer is on a spree of such demented proportions it makes everything that has gone before seem pedestrian in comparison: a gruesome tale of cannibalism that will leave viewers too petrified to open their refrigerators. You’ll see why.
It’s preposterous, of course. It’s overblown, grotesque and absurd – but these aren’t necessarily criticisms. Luther has always been more of an urban fairy tale than a realistic drama; to condemn it for being larger than life is as pointless as attacking The Wire for a lack of romance.
No matter how excellent the performances – and they are very good here, with Patrick Malahide particularly impressive as the old school Islington gangster who responds to Luther’s ‘I’m the police’ with ‘I don’t care if you’re fucking Sting’ – or how sumptuous and arresting the direction, the sheer silliness will always be a contentious issue. If you can’t come to terms with the idea that Luther buys his coats in bulk, this will probably never be the show for you.
But even if it isn’t, we should all be thankful for its continuing presence on our screens. John Luther is as much a metaphor as a man: an allegory for a beloved London fading fast. He is the local boozer still defiantly dishing out pies and pints despite the faux-vintage artisanal hipster hotspots on all sides, the corner shop surviving in the shadow of skyscrapers.
Developers are destroying history; Soho is being torn down for Crossrail and a garden bridge is being built across the Thames to satisfy the vanity of the Mayor. We need to keep hold of every piece of the old city we can. Long may Luther last.
Airs at 9pm on Tuesday 15 December 2015 on BBC One.
Are you looking forward to the return of Luther? Let us know below…