With all due respect to hyperbole, tonight’s Line of Duty was the bravest, most uncomfortable, most compelling hour of TV you will likely see this year.
If we see another show in 2016 that exceeds in all three categories then a) we’ll be both extremely lucky and harrowed, and b) our TVs will probably melt from the sheer force of drama being pushed through them. They’re already at breaking point thanks to Happy Valley.
Look, I’m really trying not to get carried away but this, to put it lightly, was incredibly bold telly. You, like me, like the millions watching tonight, probably gasped aloud when Item Ref: ASJ-116 came up. You know, the picture. That picture. The one with him in it. And I’m not going to use his name because, in what I think is an incredibly clever touch, neither does Line of Duty. There’s no need to name the ‘clapped out DJ’ as Hastings calls him. Not when a picture paints a thousand horror stories, and recalls to us the many we’ve read in the news.
In a show which has become renowned for shocking moments, that one may well be the most arresting (and I say that with the final minutes of Episode 5 still fresh in the mind). Why that one?
Well, Line of Duty has always been compellingly unpleasant, but there’s always been a clear screen of fiction to distance us from it, even when characters such as Mr Roach have clearly been analogues for real-world, now-dead suspects. Now that’s shattered with a real-world reference.
It’s a brave step for a show which has never been afraid to put its foot down. This is the show that once hired Jessica Raine only to throw her out of a window (#FallTheMidwife), and this year made Daniel Mays lie on The One Show. The One Show! That’s where Gyles Brandreth lives, for crying out loud.
If there are complaints, they’ll be entirely understood. But after everything that has been set up in-world in Line of Duty, that image doesn’t feel like it’s been used flippantly, and nor does it feel like cheap dramatic shorthand.
Rather, it builds on everything we’ve seen so far in Jed Mercurio’s script, so that the track-suited monster’s appearance is a terrifying ‘but of course’; the kind of skin-crawling conclusion we knew we’d reach several episodes ago but were too timid to consider.
As Chief Spt. Fairbanks – he of the terrible eyesight and even more terrible mutton chops – glances at the picture and obfuscates his way through his AC-12 questioning (in one of the show’s best ever interview sequences) it’s impossible to see this investigation and everything connected to it as hopeless. The Sands View case is so tangled by corruption, and even the people we’re hoping will make everything better are making bad choices.
Fleming’s flirtation with Cottan makes us doubt the level-headedness of the show’s most morally dependable character, and hope she’s undercover so deep that the rest of the show hasn’t noticed. Despite his best intentions, Arnott carrying a weapon feels like a terrible choice, and we can’t help but question his judgement.
Even enlisting Denton’s help feels more like an act of desperation rather than a rational choice. She does get results though. It’s a noticeable irony that the one person who is no longer a police officer manages to get more done to solve the case than all the other police officers put together.
Her progress is arrested, literally, as Cottan nabs Denton and takes her for a car ride. There’s threat and counter-threat as each tries to gain the upper hand, until Cottan pulls a gun and the show drags you to the already very worn edge of your seat. Is he-? Could he-? No, surely not Keeley Hawes!
It is so incredibly tense and as the exchange goes on there’s a creeping horror as you realise this is only going to go one way…
I guessed last week that Lindsay Denton would be the real heroine of this series, and she is; killed upholding the codes and laws of the police force which sentenced her to a year and a half of misery.
It’s a bloody redemption of her character, and a grim victory for a woman who believed herself a police officer to her last breath. She presses ‘send’ on the email listing the paedophile ring. Cottan pulls the trigger. Denton is killed in the line of duty. And, pardon my asterisks, Cottan the Caddy is f***ed.
No more Keeley Hawes as Denton? It feels inconceivable, unfair.
She’s been such a vital member of the cast, such a fan-favourite, such a bloody good actress, that it does feel like a genuine loss. But despite an awards season performance from her, it’s unfair to praise her more than anyone else in this show. Everyone is so good. Everyone. There’s not a weak link.
This is an ensemble cast working with the deadly efficiency of a well-oiled semi-automatic. This was, honestly, six-star drama.
It makes for punishingly tense television as you’re watching. But then comes an even greater tension as we’re forced to hang for an entire week, waiting for the 90-minute finale. That doesn’t seem fair. But as we’ve seen time and again, nothing in the Line of Duty-verse is ever fair.
Aired at 9pm on Thursday 21 April 2016 on BBC Two.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know below…