Holy shit, he’s in trouble. Big trouble.
After the tremendous fall-out of Series 2, this was an excellent and stunning returning series opener. And, wow, did that pack a punch—never mind the one that Justin actually threw. Follow me under the spoiler cut.
This is only the first scene—what follows brings the old proverb “out of the frying pan, into the fire,” to mind. Because, basically, we’re fucked. Or are we?
Erin, after Justin very nearly managed to wreck her career by wiping the history on Schenk’s computer, has made it from DS to DCI in Complaints (Schenk’s former division, incidentally), ridding the force of dirty coppers. And teamed up with ex-retired copper George Stark, she’s beginning to set up a trap for Luther himself.
So, who are we rooting for? We know that, technically, she’s right. John can’t go on like this—Justin himself told him that during the Lucien Burgess case in Series 1. John knows it. Erin is, objectively, doing the right thing. She may be out for revenge on this one, but first and foremost, she’s doing her new job. (I really hope I’m not going to see any character hate in the Luther tag.)
And yet, we’re rooting for John, aren’t we? Because we always have, from day one. None of the people on that wall were actually killed by his hand, we know that, too. But that’s not what Stark is about, he wants to prove that Luther had his hand in all of those deaths. And that, he did.
Luther protects. He saves. He gets dragged into things he never wanted any part in. Luther operates outside the law, but not without a moral code. A moral code that we may not share, or find highly dubious, but it’s there. And he’d do it all over again if it came down to it. We don’t want him to go down, because we, as an audience, have been living inside his head for almost three years. He’s been our guide, our focaliser. And Justin Ripley has always been right there with him, through it all. When he saved John from the sharp shooters at the meeting with Ian Reed, he was doing the Right Thing. He saved John from being shot and incarcerated for something he did not do. He was doing the right thing when he told Luther and Alice when he and Schenk were to take the murder weapon to the lab.
In Series 2, he crossed the line he’d drawn in Series 1. He saved Luther’s arse without knowing what for, and he nearly ruined a colleague’s career. He said he’d clean up that mess, but did he? Erin transferred to Complaints, but Justin would have got more than a slap on the wrist if he’d gone up and admitted that he tampered with Schenk’s computer. And now, he’s none too pleased to be summoned by Erin, and to be thrown headlong into a situation he can’t back out of. Now the question is: did Justin really turn on John?
I don’t think he did. You saw his reaction to Erin at the beginning, he despises her—or at least her division. He doesn’t want to put other coppers away, not like this, not stabbing them in the back. That’s not to say he tolerates dirty coppers, he wants those put away, but after an open investigation; and never on a mere hunch. In Series 2, he told Erin that “there’s a difference between being dirty and getting your hands dirty.” In Justin’s mind, Luther isn’t dirty, although he will admit that he’s had his hands in a lot of dirty business. Still, there’s that moral code again. The compulsion to help and to protect, like with Jenny. Justin knows that about John, which is why he might actually still be protecting him. Yes, still.
Yes, he was wearing that wire. But he also tried to steer Luther in the right direction, and he didn’t exactly say anything that could have helped Stark figure out what Luther was doing—he didn’t exactly mention something dangling over a parapet. In his way, he warned Luther; and by wearing the wire, giving Stark what he wanted, at least for the moment, he was buying them time. I think Justin is a great liar when he really, really needs to be; and John knows that. John knows that something’s up; and he knows that Justin wouldn’t start seeing Erin, knows that Erin wouldn’t want to start seeing Justin, either, under the circumstances. Erin thought she was playing Luther, but I think it’s more likely that the jig was up the moment she kissed Justin in the car.
Yes, Justin threw that punch at Luther. Yes, he went back to Stark and told him that he was right, that Luther needed to be stopped. But he also said just enough things to tell Luther why he was punching him; he’s giving him enough clues. I think it’s possible that Luther warning Barnaby made Ripley snap, I think it’s possible that he’s reevaluating where they stand. That’s the great thing about this plot line: it’s possible. We know Justin. He’s always wanted to be a copper, and he’s idolised John ever since he met him on the Madsen case. He’s put up with a lot of crap over the past years, and he may have well hit his limit. Luther warning a suspected murderer may have turned him properly dirty in Justin’s books. But I also think it’s possible that Justin’s loyalty to John is too great for this to be a game without hidden levels. Stark asked him if he’s in love with Luther, for crying out loud. And what if Justin was so angry at John because he just put a fresh set of nails into his own coffin? John was put on that case to be caught out in doing something wrong, and BOOM BOOM. He did something wrong, and Justin’s balls deep in a situation that could break Luther in two, for real this time; and there’s nothing he can do.
Except: change the rules of the game. Become part of the game, then dismantle it from the inside. Erin and Stark know that the way to get to Luther is Ripley, because he’s closest. But it also puts him in a unique position to help Luther. We don’t know what happened in between Ripley going back to see Stark and Luther picking up his car-crash date (I like her, and I want to know more about her; I don’t want a female character brought in just as a love interest, if you catch my drift). Luther might already know everything, and he might have told Ripley to do as they say. I’m not saying that Ripley isn’t pissed like hell at John for letting Barnaby walk; but to turn so quickly and with such conviction? And to Stark? Of that, I’m not convinced. Yet.
Last, but definitely not least: what in the hell kinda creepy murderer is that?! Returned after two decades, he’s taking revenge on a victim that got away and the woman who saved her the first time; and he killed the copper who had the case on his books in connection with the series of murders at the time. What is it with that other guy in the episode preview, though?
Those postcards were from Alice, by the way. She said she wanted to start with all the Ms.
Next: Episode 2.