One of the (many) great things about Luther is the bad guys. Despite their diabolical schemes and vicious acts of mass murder, they’re not bald-headed men in secret lairs, stroking fluffy cats as they plot world domination, and nor are they mad scientists plotting the nuclear war that will turn the planet into the human-free oceanic utopia they want it to be. Instead, they’re frighteningly ordinary-looking young men – the kind of casually-clad, fairly-pleasant-looking twenty-somethings that you pass on the street, queue up for the bus with or sit next to in the pub. You’d happily let them into the office where you work because they’re not going to do anything crazy, are they?
Wrong. Episode 3’s crazed killer – played with chillingly complacent commonplaceness by Steven Robertson – racks up the body count almost casually, whacking people with a hammer, squirting acid into their faces from a water pistol and then stamping on their faces; and worst of all, his choice of victims is entirely random. ‘He’s making his decisions on the roll of a dice,’ DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) realises – which makes him impossible to predict, let alone catch.
Luther has plenty on his plate already without having to do anything as ordinary as hunt down loonies. Teenage houseguest, former DIY porn star Jenny Jones (Aimee Ffion Edwards) is unwilling to do anything as dull as get a job – ‘It’s, like, 2p an hour; who am I, SpongeBob?’ – while the criminals from whom Luther is protecting her are still forcing him to sail perilously close to the line between good and bad. ‘He’s not a dirty cop,’ Frank Hodge (Alan Williams) warns his fellow felon Toby Kent (David Dawson), ‘he’s a man over a barrel.’
Toby isn’t bothered about listening to common sense, however, because he’s even crazier than the dice-toting murderer in the other storyline. Coked out of his twisted mind, Toby decides to pay a visit to Jenny at Luther’s squat-like, tower-block residence; and when Luther finds a familiar sports car parked outside, you can see the concerns, possibilities and agonies flick across the detective’s face like an airport departures board signalling all flights being cancelled. Idris Elba’s performance, acting from the eyes outwards, is utterly spellbinding throughout, but props must also be dispensed to David Dawson for his completely convincing creepiness as Toby.
The episode ends with a double cliffhanger: one of the twists is fairly predictable – and, if we’re honest, quite pleasing in a retributive kind of way – but the other is something you won’t have seen coming. It’s not an original idea, but it’s so unexpected it feels like one; and as Marilyn Manson drawls his version of ‘Sweet Dreams’ over the credits, the urge to see the concluding part (of this story and, sadly, this all-too-brief series) straightaway is overwhelming. Alas, no dice.
Airs at 9pm on Tuesday 28th June 2011 on BBC One.