Idris Elba is Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, a man who's not afraid to get his hands dirty in the name of protecting people. He's got a bit of darkness inside him, but he's not, like, Dexter or anything. He's like...all those other detectives who flirt with moral greyness. He's incredibly obsessive and focused, never letting anything stand in the way of saving a life, knowing that every second counts in his job. This obsession and focus sometimes manifests as rage; he's very prone to frighteningly destructive anger. He takes his anger out on objects, but he doesn't seem to be the kind of guy who would take it out on a person. Or does he? What wouldn't John Luther do, if there was no other way? What would he do if pushed far enough?
Ruth Wilson is the deliciously reptilian Alice Morgan, who takes an interest in John, as if she believes he's the only man brilliant enough to match her: John frequently has ridiculous leaps of intuition because of his ~*understanding of the criminal mind*~. The odd relationship that develops between them is, to me, the heart of the series; two damaged souls trying to make sense of a world this shitty.
John's personal life includes his estranged wife, Zoe (played by the preternaturally pretty Indira Varma), and her lover, Mark (played by the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann). His professional life includes his new partner, DS Ripley, who is an adorable, loyal puppy dog (Me, every episode: Ripleeeeeeeeeey you are wonderful); his boss, Rose Teller, who wants to support John's "unique" methods but also has to maintain the integrity of her department; his best friend, DCI Reed, who has a longer history with him than his new partner; and Superintendent Schenk, who wants to make sure John Luther is not full-on corrupt.
By and large, unfortunately, Luther is just another procedural, albeit with an interesting, unpredictable main character. Each week brings a new twisted and disturbing killer (almost always killing young, attractive women, as so often happens on procedurals), and I liked that we followed the killer: the fun is watching the police try to identify and catch him through ridiculous leaps of intuition and questionable methods. One thing that sets Luther apart is that however perfect the police seem to be in the office, they are completely failtastic in the field: it is not uncommon for them to get to a scene too late to save someone, someone who on any other show would of course be safe because that's how these shows work. Well, not this show. If you are on this show, you will probably die. Sorry. They should be driving faster or something.
The problem with Luther is that it (almost) never satisfactorily integrates John's personal life with his professional life. Yes, his professional life does affect his personal life because it affects his character, but the show doesn't really seem to know what to do with any of the characters who aren't in the department (and sometimes it doesn't even know what to do with those). I did say almost, because when it does is when Luther hooked me. But then it lost me again, failing to deliver on its promise. Actually, that's my problem with the show in general: I wanted a different show than the one I got, and I knew it would be able to give me that show, it seemed to be teasing me with it, and then it just...didn't. It engages in high melodrama about morality and low profoundness about love, but when it comes down to actually exploring the ideas it throws out in an interesting way, it just...doesn't seem to care.
I'm not sure there's a real reason to watch this show unless you love Idris Elba, who is, of course, wonderful. It's not doing anything particularly new with the genre, and it's full of cop-drama clichés. Even when the writing isn't up to par, though, it is quite excellent at tension, terror, and excitement; there are several harrowing HOLY SHIT scenes. It's never boring. And it has awesome opening credits set to a Massive Attack song. I just expected more, given the raves.