‘Line of Duty’ Season 4 Episode 5 review: So who is Balaclava Man?

I’d say I need a hand in trying to work out who Balaclava Man is, but I think that might be in rather bad taste…

No. No, no, I’m not going to say that (although I just did), and nor am I going to make a joke about how we should give Thandie Newton a big hand for her excellent performance in Line of Duty (although mostly because I’d have stolen that from an episode of I’m Alan Partridge).

No, we’ll get to that bit of tonight’s episode in time. Episode 5 of Line of Duty – the penultimate episode of this series – is dense with plotting. Dense like granny’s fruit cake, but thankfully more enjoyable to get through. Rather than getting simpler, it’s getting even more opaque. I’d be worried, but Jed Mercurio has form for top-notch finales, and a way of storytelling that constantly feels fresh and challenging.

Mercurio suddenly and surprisingly begins to weave Series 4 into the tapestry of the BBC 2 era of the show. And it makes complete sense. Either Jed Mercurio is extremely lucky in how this has all worked out or – far more likely – the architecture of this show’s plotting is astounding.

It begins with Dot ‘The Caddy’ Cottan’s dying confession being dredged up, with ACC Hilton accusing Ted and AC-12 of keeping the recording hidden to keep themselves protected. Turns out there’s still plenty of bent coppers out there that Hastings and his fellas and darlings haven’t rounded up. Is ACC Hilton one of them? Almost certainly. It’s now clear that in protecting Roz he’s also been protecting himself.

Hilton gets Maneet to get The Caddy’s confession. Surely this will take some cunning on Maneet’s part? NOPE. Maneet has a foolproof way to access AC-12’s top secret files: literally asking Jamie to write his password and username on a Post-It. A Post-It. And even worse, Jamie, that adorable little puppy of a policeman, just blithely writes it down and GIVES IT TO HER. And then, when Ted accuses wee James of downloading the file of Cottan’s confession, Jamie never thinks to say ‘Oh shit! That Post-It…!’

Maneet tricking Jamie feels daft in a script that’s so smart and tightly plotted. It’s one of two moments where incredulity prods through a show that thrives on its realism and careful character development.

Something that is believable – and moving – is Steve having to come to terms with the possibility of using a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He hides it well as he rolls around the office, but it all comes out when Kate follows him back to his flat and all the little signs of him struggling to cope emerge; the unwashed plates, the tipped chair.

Credit to Steve though, he’s getting on with his job and doing it damn well, as he begins to connect dots that you’d never have thought of connecting. Balaclava themed dots. Chopped-up corpse in a freezer themed dots. And if you’ve been watching the show since Series 1 Episode 1 then there’s a little reward for you, as Jacquie Laverty (Gina McKee) and her unsolved murder acts as a backdoor way to get back in on investigating Roz Huntley.

The brilliant part is, Jed Mercurio folds it in as an easter egg for longtime fans. You don’t have to have seen Series 1 for it to make sense, but if you were there in the early days of body parts in freezers and Lennie James sweating at his computer, it’s a little reward for paying attention.

Speaking of paying attention, do keep track of any wounds you may have recently sustained. I’m a bit worried about the cut on my finger last week from typing so fervently about how good last week’s episode. You don’t want to lose any limbs. Not in this economy.

Overcome by the horror show that is her forearm and succumbing to infection, Roz collapses in her bathroom. When she wakes in the hospital she finds her hard and part of her forearm have been amputated to prevent her dying of septic shock (I like to imagine that the team from Mercurio’s other drama, Critical, did it) Wow. Amputation. Didn’t see that coming. I thought the denouement of that horrible wound would be Ted Hastings ripping off her bandage in an interview.

Only two days after having her hand surgically removed, Roz legs it out of hospital and proceeds to frame her husband for murder and then arrest him. Blimey, after only two days? I once had a tooth removed and spent a week on the sofa. But there Roz is, gadding about, planting evidence on Nick’s jersey. It looks like she’s properly stitched-up her husband too, before he’s had a chance to dob her in.

And while she’s obfuscating the Balaclava Man case, Hilton is doing everything he can to stymy AC-12 and their investigations into her. Including alleging that Ted was in league with The Caddy. Come on, Hilton, who are you fucking kidding. It’s obviously you. You’re probably Balaclava Man too. Yes, before the finale, I’m nailing my colours to the mast and betting Hilton is Balaclava Man.

Even if you’re sure you know who Balaclava Man is, the question remains, how can Ted and AC-12 dig their way out of the corrupt mire they’ve been trapped in? Will they be able to solve a mystery and bring justice in just one hour? Or will this story travel on into Series 5?

Some parts of it may, because Mercurio has proved across each series that he can tell a brilliant solid story in six episodes and still leave enough pieces on the beard to play with our brains the next time.

I’m nervous. We’re on the event horizon of finale time folks, and I’m not going to lie; given this show’s previous form, anything could happen. The only thing you can be sure of is this: it’s going to be bloody good. Really bloody good.

5star

Aired at 9pm on Sunday 23 April 2017 on BBC One.

Pre-order Season 4 on DVD on Amazon here.

Buy the complete Season 1-3 box set on Amazon here.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know below…

Follow Rob Smedley on Twitter here.