The searing and at times absolutely terrifying Neil Cross-created crime drama Luther — which stars Idris Elba — returns tonight to BBC America for a four-night event that wraps up the complicated and complex story of Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, a London copper with an uncanny tendency to bring violence and destruction everywhere he goes. (Seriously, the body count on this show is high and nearly everyone close to Luther ends up dying in some painful and horrific ways.) And Season 3 doesn’t skimp on fear; there’s one killer who hides in bedrooms and attacks people using gruesome methods and another who is a vigilante who goes on a killing spree when Luther attempts to bring him to ground.
But while Elba anchors Luther with his brooding and wounded machismo, carrying the weight of the world on his square shoulders, it’s Ruth Wilson’s psychopath Alice Morgan who provides the show with its most visceral kicks. Unfortunately, there’s precious little Alice in Season 3 of Luther as she — SPOILER ALERT! — only turns up in the final episode of the series as a bit of a deux ex machina (Alice ex machina?) to save Luther’s hide once more.
Yes, a little bit of Alice might go a long way… and there’s something to be said for leaving the audience wanting more of a good thing. However, the Luther/Alice dynamic has been such a pivotal part of the series since its first episode, in which Luther, recently returned to the Metropolitan Police Force and quickly assigned to solve the murder of a couple, quickly realized that the Oxford-educated genius daughter of the victims was in fact a sociopathic killer who slaughtered her parents and her family dog just for the fun of it. Or, more aptly, to prove that she could get away with it because she was above such mortal concepts as justice and the law.
What followed was a provocative game of cat and mouse as both Luther and Alice attempted to gain the upper hand, taunting the other with their knowledge and their dangerous savvy. Their twisted psychosexual dynamic threatened to set the show aflame with the sparks generated by Elba and Wilson, their rapport at times malevolent or sexual or both. And a fateful moment at the end of the first season sealed a devil’s pact between the two of them, with the question of “what now?” hovering uneasily in the air.
Alice, after all, represents the darkest impulses within John Luther, the darkest parts of his id that he can’t or won’t allow to take over his own moral code. The luxury of having Alice in his life often means that she’ll get her hands dirty where he cannot, which is saying something for a detective who lives perpetually in the dusk. Or, at the very least, within a gray territory that plays into his own skewed sense of right and wrong, of honesty and betrayal, of justice and vengeance.
As Season 3 begins, there are signs of Alice still existing on the periphery of Luther’s life, most notably via some postcards sent by Alice from around the world. But while these are clearly meant to calm the turbulent spirits of Alice-loving fans, they ultimately end up stirring my imagination — just what is Alice up to in America? could this be the basis for an Alice spinoff? — and begging the question of why Wilson’s Alice isn’t in Season 3 of Luther. (The answer is sadly scheduling, given Wilson’s film schedule this year and her role in The Lone Ranger.)
That said, there are still some fantastic Alice moments within Luther’s third season. One involves a bullet, a doorframe, and some well-applied use of leverage. Another involves a spare nail; a third one a gas mask. A fourth one dizzyingly occurs on a bridge. (And is, simply put, gorgeous and amazing.) I don’t want to describe these too fully for fear of spoiling some of the thrill of surprise that accompanies anything that the highly volatile and unpredictable Alice does.
But even these stunning moments of violence and beauty once again raise the specter of that planned Alice Morgan spinoff that creator Neil Cross had been floating last August, and which would be set in America: “We’re kind of thinking very loosely of a mix between The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Last Seduction,” Cross told Variety in 2012. “I’d love to move between the London of Luther and America.”
The status of that project, which would likely be set after (or during?) the final episode of Luther, remains frustratingly unclear, making Alice’s all-too-brief appearance in Season 3 all the more tantalizing. (BBC America did not respond to request for comment about the Alice spinoff.) While we learn — again, SPOILER ALERT — that she was married during her hiatus from Luther (“Some little girls grow up wanting ponies… I wanted to be a widow.”), Alice remains a bit of an enigma, one whose presence in the final episode of Luther reminds its viewers of the rare frisson that Elba and Wilson cast off in their wake.
The world, ultimately, does need an Alice Morgan spinoff, particularly as Elba’s John Luther may be headed for a feature film prequel. But with Wilson now committed to Showtime’s drama pilot The Affair — where she will star opposite Dominic West, Joshua Jackson, and Maura Tierney — the future of a potential Alice spinoff is looking particularly dim. And that’s a real shame, as television could do with an amoral female genius turning the tables on the men who cross her path.