Tonight, Idris Elba returns as John Luther, the badass British detective, who, in season 3 of the dark BBC America drama, finds his methods under investigation as he works to solve more of the twisted murders fans of Luther, created by Neil Cross, have come to expect — and fear. Watch our exclusive clip below from the tense premiere, which has already aired in the UK, and you’ll understand why some British viewers were afraid to retire to their bedrooms afterward. “I heard a lot of people stayed in their living rooms. A couple was huddled up on a sofa — a true story — and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be joking! There’s two of you. Why couldn’t you go to sleep?’” Elba reports, laughing. “People saying, ‘No, we just felt safer in the living room’ — I mean, that’s hilarious.”
Cross, who again penned the four-night event, says he’s very specific in his scripts’ stage directions to create that kind of suspense. “For that scene particularly, it will say something like, ‘Hold for as long as we can bear it, and then a beat more,’” he tells EW. “Scenes like that, the director will shoot them long specifically, and then we find the precise timing in the edit. There’s a certain alchemy to it, which is if you hold too long, it loses all power and people start fidgeting and get bored. You’ve got to hold it just, just, just until it becomes unbearable.”
For the first time Cross, who lives in New Zealand, was able to monitor Twitter reaction while season 3 aired live in Britain. He, too, saw the strong reactions Elba described: “First, there’s the shock during the show itself. But then there’s the kind of long, long tale of ‘I can’t go to bed.’ ‘I have to watch some comedy before I go to bed.’ ‘I’ve had to go and ask my neighbors to check my attic for me,’” Cross says. (Yes, people with attics, you are doubly screwed.) “There’s an infinite number of postings of people saying, ‘Thank god I’ve got boxes under my bed.’ ‘I can’t sleep alone.’ Women saying that their husbands have been teasing them by knocking on the wardrobe door, and husbands saying their wives had been teasing them by running into the garden and tapping on the window. It was this great explosion of terror across the Twittersphere, which was an immense pleasure.”
With that warning in place, there is one more image in the premiere you should be prepared for: Luther meets a woman named Mary (Sienna Guillory) and — spoiler alert! — actually smiles. “I think Luther’s attraction to Mary is based on just how completely different and untouched she is,” Elba told reporters in a conference call. “She’s the furthest thing away from a murder scene, and I think she’s bizarrely sort of isolated in her own world and own bubble. I think Luther is so attracted to that — it’s kind of like a grizzly bear being fascinated by a goldfish. Just like, wow…. When we’re going to discover whether Luther is a bad guy or not by investigating him, we certainly wanted to parallel that with him having some real feelings for someone for a change…. And obviously Neil, being such a creative writer, managed to sew the two story lines in a way that it was one or the other for Luther eventually.”
Season 3 of Luther premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America.