Warning: if you have not caught up to the third episode of series three of BBC’s Luther, then wait to read this until you have. Spoilers ahead.
The third episode of BBC’s Luther’s third series/season is a highlight of the season and, maybe, the whole show. John Luther’s second case begins as we come into contact with a vigilante who has decided to take the law into his own hands by killing off criminals who have been spit out of the British criminal system. This man, Tom Marwood, has taken on his own version of justice in reaction to the murder of his wife by a paroled criminal who, in his mind, should not have had any future except for the needle. He has become London’s quintessential–truly–dark knight, replete with penchant for hanging his targets by their necks and placing his calling card—with the address of his live-streaming website on it—across their mouths. In Marwood’s mind, the criminal does not deserve a voice. No second chances. Death is their punishment.
All the while, John Luther is still being hunted by Internal Affairs. They are waiting for him to trip up and intend to force his hand by visiting Mary Day, his new love, and causing her to doubt Luther’s innocence. And they are successful. In her moment of doubt, she turns her face from John. The cat-and-mouse game ramps up in this episode when Luther goes to visit Stark, after he finds out that he and Gray visited Mary, at their operation headquarters. The following interaction ensues:
Stark: “See, here’s the thing John, this isn’t some pre-mined symposium, no rules of play…”
Luther: “George, if you sow these seeds…”
Stark: “What? I reap the whirlwind…? Is that right? You know your problem? You’ve spent your life thinking you’re the whirlwind. Well, you’re not…because I’m the whirlwind, John, I’m the whirlwind.”
Luther: “We’ll see.”
The proverbial phrase used here comes from the Book of Hosea in chapter 8, verse 7: For they [Israel] sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it. The question in this conflict appears to be: who is the worker of righteousness in this situation, really? Who will bring about real justice? Stark, in finally bringing down Luther? Or, Luther, being found innocent and continuing to bring down those threatening his city? At this point, Stark has backed Luther into a corner, attacking the person he loves and turning her against him. So, in the meantime, Luther puts all of his pent-up rage into working the vigilante case at hand.
The reason why this episode becomes the definitive moment for this series has to do with its profound and down-to-earth exposition of law and grace. Like I said before, the vigilante, Tom Marwood, believes that every trespass of criminal law should result in incarceration, if not death. He has given up on the concept of mercy; he is consumed by vengeance—righting the wrongs regardless of the means. So he sets his sights on the most heinous criminals that have been released from prison. His new target is a pedophile named Dennis Cochrane whom he abducts and takes to a warehouse to string him up. He then leaves it up to the voice of the people of London to vote—over social media—for whether the pedophile lives or dies at his hand. Judgment left up to democratic vote.
In Marwood and Luther’s first in person interaction, we get a glimpse into the depth of judgment and mercy:
Marwood: (holding a shotgun on Luther) “Do me a favor and throw me your phone and wallet, please…(Luther tosses him his phone and wallet)…One out of five murders is committed by men on bail, you know that?”
Luther: “Every copper knows that…”
Marwood: “Then why does nobody do nothing about it?”
Luther: “Because it’s complicated…”
Marwood: “No, it’s not…”
Luther: “…no, it’s not. You’ve got me there.”
Marwood: “Listen, Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, all I want is what you want, to have these people locked up so they can’t do anymore harm to anyone else. Now look me in the eye and tell me you disagree with me on that.”
Luther: “About the motive…maybe, but I seriously dispute the means.”
Marwood: “Have you never been tempted…to administer a little bit of personal justice?”
Luther: “I don’t have the right to do that. Nobody does.”
Marwood: “Two days. Give me two days, that’s all I need.”
Luther: “For what?”
Marwood: “To make things better.”
Marwood thinks that judgment, in the form of his personal hanging court, will solve the problems that ail London. If he can rid the city of these egregious offenders then the number of murders will decrease. Luther knows that isn’t the case. Judgment never fixes people, it only condemns them. And vengeance only turns those seeking it into the very monster they are after. Luther looks into the face of this everyman–make no mistake, most of us would react the same way, mentally if not physically—and tells him that no one has the right to take justice into their own hands, even if the person deserves the punishment.
In an attempt to find where Marwood is broadcasting the inevitable death of the pedophile and to shift the conscience of the public towards mercy, Luther and Ripley go to visit one of Cochrane’s victims, Kyra Mills, and attempt to persuade her to plead for the life of her victimizer on public television. This moment is one of the hardest moments of the episode to watch, but, once again, speaks volumes to overall message of grace:
Mills: “Do you know what that man did to me? Dennis Cochrane? That same man, do you know what he did?”
Mills: “I was a little girl, I was 11…and he…”
Luther: “Kyra, I should explain to you that I have no sympathy for Dennis Cochrane…not one bit, but I don’t get to choose who should live and who should die…even if I hate them myself. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to ask someone to do.”
Mills: “What do you want?”
Luther: “I want you to plead for Dennis Cochrane’s life.”
When Mills ends up, instead, asking for Cochrane’s death on live television, Luther becomes the agent of grace as he rushes into a mob and takes their beating in order to protect the hanging pedophile. Even though Luther—and, more than likely, all of the viewers—looks on this man’s crimes as vile and abhorrent and deserving of the death penalty, he instead saves Cochrane, giving him the very thing he doesn’t deserve.
All the while, Luther’s friend and partner Ripley chases after Marwood, who fled the scene the moment Luther showed up. As I said in a past post, BBC’s Luther shows that not only do evil choices create negative consequences, but moments of grace, too, have their cost, dearly paid by those who are innocent. In this case, in one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the entire series, Marwood shoots an unarmed DS Ripley who is trying to talk Marwood down from a proverbial ledge of the consequences of his actions. By the time Luther arrives, Ripley has already taken his last breath. Luther is undone. The last thing he needed was another tragic reminder that grace only occurs in a broken world when the innocent reap the whirlwind.