This week, guest writer Stephan Burn tells us why Luther's opening salvo is one of the greatest television episodes ever.
A frantic, well-dressed man desperately tries to evade his relentless pursuer, a looming, powerful figure, almost casual in running down his prey. The hunt ends amidst the machinery of a disused factory on a precarious walkway, the quarry losing his footing and clinging on for dear life as his adversary closes.
In the opening scene of the very first episode of Luther, we are not sure who to root for in this scenario; two minutes before it is revealed that it is Idris Elba’s DCI Luther pursuing a dangerous psychopath through London’s industrial wasteland. Luther here is the looming terror, the horror story that society’s predators fear. And for good reason, as once Luther extracts the knowledge he requires from his victim to save a life, he shifts into an avenging angel, content to let his prey perish; for ‘justice’. Thus established, we have the credits, soundtracked by Massive Attack’s ominously beautiful ‘Paradise Circus’.
And so the first episode unfolds and we are shown Luther’s world, his friends if they can be called that, his relationship such as it is; all is fractious, all in chaos, all forever cautious of the nitro-glycerine that is Luther’s furious genius. And amidst this we meet Alice Morgan, Ruth Wilson’s fragile survivor of the brutal murder of her parents. As Luther and Alice get to know each other though, it becomes apparent that she is neither fragile, nor innocent, and so begins the dance and mutual fascination of two geniuses.
While Luther’s life is chaos, a maelstrom of emotion and factors outside of his control, malignant narcissist Alice is the embodiment of control, establishing herself as a perfect counterpoint to Luther. While they are both ruthless and fiercely brilliant, she represents everything he isn’t. He wants to catch her, and in her own way she wants to catch him. As the title music says ‘Look at her with her smile like a flame, she will love you like a fly will never love you again’
The opening episode gives us all the pieces, all the relationships, tension and pace. It shows us a London that is gritty and urban. It gives us our ingénue in Luther’s sidekick Justin Ripley who, in his rectitude shows how far Luther strays from the path in his crusade, and his ex-wife Zoe who illustrates Luther’s passion. But in this episode, and throughout the subsequent three seasons, whatever case Luther works on, in the end it always comes back to Alice Morgan. And it is in their interactions that the show's strength lies.