Great Character #9 — John Luther

John Luther.  What can I say?  Personally, I think he’s one of the best detective type characters on television in a long time.  It’s very easy to whitewash a detective character and make them a paragon of law and order.  These are the by the book Dudley Do-Rights of the fictional law enforcement world, and honestly I’ve always found them boring and mildly obnoxious in their perfection.

Dudly Do-Right

On the other hand, it’s also very easy to demonize them.  So many stories today have the stereotypical renegade cop, or the one that goes outside the law when things get rough.  Hell, some of the cops they write today into stories are just as bad as the criminals they chase, and some are even worse.  These are the “Dirty” Harry Callahans and John McClanes of the fictional law enforcement world.  Now I’ll be honest, these types are always entertaining and I do like their stories but there’s one thing that always bothered me about it.

It’s always to the extreme!  It’s very rare that you find a balance between the two personality types.  Granted, John McClane’s character does a good job of keeping a balance between the two extremes, but there’s still a loose cannon element to his personality that keeps him skewed in the one direction firmly.

Yippie Kai Yayy mo--, eh, you know the rest.

Yippie Kai Yayy mo–, eh, you know the rest.

The one exception I’ve found?

John Luther.

What I like about the character of John Luther is that they went the extra mile to work the two together in a very interesting way.  The character is written in an evenly matched manner.  Now for those of you who have watched the show and are confused by what I mean let me explain.


John has a very interesting habit.  In one of the first scenes you see John Luther, he’s at a crime scene with his rookie partner Justin and immediately instructs him to keep his hands in his pockets.  Why you ask?  To reduce the chances of accidentally corrupting the evidence by touching something.

While this can be a very small, and insignificant it does shine a light on his character.  The man not only takes his job seriously, but he puts it first.  He’s always thinking of getting it right, and does his best to get things done in the right way.  Despite his various vigilante type shenanigans, he really does try to be a good cop first and only turns toward other means when the conventional attempts have been exhausted.

Luther - Hands in Pockets

Reach for the lint people!

Another example of this is his inherent need to protect people.  Now, this can be simply discarded as a hero complex, but in the case of this character it’s a much more genuine and sincere instinct.  When I hear, “Hero Complex”, I think of someone rushing in and solving a problem in the most elaborate way possible.  He also makes sure everyone knows about the good deeds he’s done.

John on the other hand doesn’t have those hang-ups.  When he does something good for someone, he actually goes out of his way for his involvement to never be known.  Possibly even more importantly, he only does these things for people that he wants to help.  His heroics aren’t for heroics sake.


Despite all of these stellar qualities and actions, John is also not afraid to get his hands dirty to do the right thing.  His partner Justin once defended Luther to another colleague by saying:

“There’s a difference between getting your hands dirty and being dirty.”

John hard at work on a Wednesday...

John hard at work on a Wednesday…

This is a huge distinction that I feel people make in crafting a character, and one that makes John so interesting.  Half the appeal of the show is watching DCI John Luther walk that line like Nick Wallenda on a tightrope over the Niagara Falls.  Despite his dedication to his job, the show clearly shows John Luther planting evidence to condemn the guilty, or willingly inflicting violence to save an innocent.

Regardless of the questionable things Luther does, they’re all framed by the idea that the good are protected and the bad condemned.

On their own, these acts seem terrible, but in the bigger picture that is the world you do realize that sometimes the law and procedures just can’t get the job done.  Luther on the other hand is willing to take the risk to make sure that people who deserve punishment receive, and those that don’t avoid it.  It’s rather admirable in my opinion.

Another thing that highlights his renegade nature is how he so easily can get in the head of the criminals that he chases.  True, a lot of it can be chalked up to his inherent brilliance as he is a very intelligent man.  On the other hand, when dealing with the psychopaths he regularly comes across in the series it’s almost as if he has an intuitive understanding of who they are and what they’re thinking.

I chalk this up to the idea that he’s probably got more in common with them than even he’s willing to admit.  It’s almost as if he has the same madness inside of him but he made the decision to use it for good instead of ill.

Again, another quality that makes the man admirable.

In my opinion I think we need more characters like DCI John Luther in the stories around us across all mediums.  Hell, we’d probably be better off with more people like him in the real world as well.

So as usual, what do you think?  Agree/disagree/think I’m nuts?  Please, leave your reactions in the comments below and let me know what you think.  I can’t wait to hear from you below.


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I own no rights to the pictures used in this post, or the featured image.  If you own the photos, and want them taken down, please contact me.

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