Luther is back on our screens this December! And in preparation I have started to re-watch them again from Season 1 on Netflix.
One of the things I have noticed whilst re-watching them (other than how bloody amazing it is) is that it is the kind of format in which we see explicitly what the villain is up to, we spend time with the villain and follow them about their business at times.
And I am undecided about whether I like that format or not.
On the one hand it does break up the action which is important and is quite literally in the realm of “show, don’t tell” because it is better to see what the antagonist is up to instead of having Luther be like “this is what the bad guy is doing” – although there is some of this too.
For example in Season 1 – Episode 2, aptly named “Episode 2”, the antagonist is a soldier who sets a trap for the armed police. We watch the soldier do this and then we are shown the police going into the building and getting blown up. The way it is filmed though works as we stay on the officers outside the building who listen over the radio as the armed team move through the building; “first floor clear, second floor clear, third f- EVERYONE GET OUT, RUN!!” *EXPLOSION*
This is a very dramatic scene in its own right, and expertly done as I think the camera staying outside is a great way of doing it – the stationary police we can see outside, juxtaposed with the action and movement we can hear happening inside.
But I am left to wonder whether that scene would have been even more dramatic if we hadn’t know there was a bomb there in the first place. If we had “gone in blind” just as the armed police had would that have made it more dramatic?
Another point in the “For Seeing The Villain” column is sometimes the Villains are main characters in their own rights, perhaps even an antihero or antiheroine.
Take Alice Morgan for example, who is a rare female villain – she is wonderfully messed up having killed both her parents and the family dog at the start of the first episode of Season 1 – and we know this, we know she is messed up and so does Luther. Yet just like Luther, we have a soft spot for Alice and, at least me personally, liked seeing her on screen because she is such a great character, she’s fucked up but she does the wrong things for the right reasons. Mostly. But then she is in it throughout the whole show and not just the formulaic “rent-a-baddie” which serves the purpose for the episode.
Now in the BBC Sherlock revival we rarely leave the characters sides and we are either with Sherlock Holmes or John Watson – as is true with all “Whodunnit’s” (it’s kind of the point – CSI is another good example).
Although not all shows have you following the antagonist around and are not classed as “whodunnit’s” – you may see them at the start of the episode and you certainly know who dunnit but you still don’t spend time with them watching them planning their naughty antics.
Of course this isn’t just limited to Film & TV, books are another medium in which this applies.
Take Harry Potter for example, that isn’t a “whodunnit” either – we know full well Voldemort is a dick – but we don’t spend time with him plotting his evil schemes though we do have glimpses of what he is up to. But Harry is always “present” in these moments e.g. when having visions/flashbacks due to his scar or using the pensieve.
That said there is at least one chapter, “The Dark Lord Ascending” in which Voldemort and the Death Eaters sit around a table having a chinwag – this is the only chapter though in all the books to do so and acts as a prologue essentially to the rest of the book.
(I had to check this with a couple of esteemed colleagues by which I mean I actually just shouted on social media until someone answered as it has been years since I read the books).
Then there are books exclusively inside a characters head, all those books which are in first person and never shift away, Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner. Obviously we never see what the villain is up to in these books.
So then is it a matter of personal preference and there’s no real fixed formula?
I think so yes, and I would like to know what your preference is do you like shows and books more when they don’t show you who the villain is until the very end or do you prefer shows like Luther where you actually spend time with the villain and see what they are up to and follow them along?