BBC America's "Luther" (10 tonight) returns for a four-episode third season that features violent, terrifying crimes as detective chief inspector John Luther (Idris Elba) also fights for his career as a retired cop teams with Erin Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird) to try to bring Luther down.
The retired cop is a fairly bland, Javert-like mustache twirler, but the bond Erin develops with Luther's partner, Justin Ripley (Warren Brown), adds a nice wrinkle.
Luther remains a near-genius detective still haunted by his own demons, including the murder of his wife and his own anger management issues.
As enjoyable as "Luther" has been through its first two seasons, it does seem to suffer from a case of diminishing returns. Luther has a new love interest this season, Mary Day (Sienna Guillory), but she's not particularly interesting, and she becomes even less so once wily serial killer Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) pops up again in the fourth episode. Alice, a distaff Hannibal Lecter, and Luther had a strong bond in the show's first season, and it was disappointing that she was absent from season two.
In season three, it's quite a long slog to get to Alice's return. There's a lot of barbarism and sadism to wade through to get to the fun character stuff that Alice brings.
Initially, Alice seemed just as important to the show as Luther, and while it made some logical sense that writer Neil Cross couldn't go to the Alice Morgan well too often -- leaving her out of season two was perhaps necessary because she's a criminal, albeit a criminal who shares a strong chemistry with Luther -- you have to wonder if she's back in season three, why stick her in just the final episode?
The first two episodes (10 tonight, 9 p.m. Wednesday) tell one crime story; episodes three (10 p.m. Thursday) and four (10 p.m. Friday) tell another story, this one of a vigilante seeking vengeance against violent criminals after his wife is murdered.
Mr. Elba remains a magnetic presence, but as with all damaged heroes, Luther presents a problem for drama writers: Heal him and he's less interesting; perpetuate his damage and the show gets repetitive. "Luther" seems stuck in the latter cycle.
It's a relief to learn this is the final season of "Luther," although reports suggest a prequel movie may be in the works. Maybe it's also time to proceed with that proposed Alice Morgan spinoff series. Then Luther can be the special guest star in Alice's sure-to-be demented stories.
A version of this review first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.