Personally speaking, Line of Duty 3‘s finale went on longer than it really should have.
But that’s because I watched it twice, back-to-back. Gobbled it up and then immediately went back for seconds, and found it even better the second time. Honestly? I’ll probably go back in a couple of days and watch it again, if only to drink up all of Adrian Dunbar’s expressions and hands-on-hips Hastings-isms. You should do the same, ‘fella’.
‘Hastings, like the battle,’ he says at one point (I’m pretty sure he’s dusted that off from Season 1). Line of Duty is an ensemble affair – it’s important to note here that the criminals here are brought to justice on the back of brilliant, old-fashioned police detective work done by Fleming and Maneet (I’m hoping for more Maneet and her adorable baby in Season 4) – but for a large part this finale really feels like Hasting’s battle.
Ted strides in, clipboard under arm, paunch under tight control, and it feels like your dad coming in to save the day. Your big Irish dad. It’s so ferocious and reassuring in a show which has always made us feel scared and uneasy. Go on, admit it, you want to hug Ted.
Where Hastings excels is where the show has excelled since the first season: the long, unyielding, interview scenes. Facts pummelling towards truths. And they shouldn’t work really, should they? People sat in a room, talking for more than 15 minutes at a time, doing nothing more dynamic than sipping water or swiping left for evidence. But bloody hell you can’t take your eyes and ears off it.
Jed Mercurio has an all too rare ability to make watching an interview scene feel like tip-toeing across a minefield, and to make that an experience you crave more of. They are expertly constructed. It doesn’t matter where you’re watching it – on a sofa, in bed, on the train, in a minefield – the performance and dialogue draws you so far in that you’re at the table with them, feeling the tension mount; waiting for something, someone to break. And once it has broken you’re on the build-up to the next break.
It starts off with an easy one by comparison, as the mutton-chopped monster Chief Supt. Fairbanks is questioned and slapped in cuffs. Then things get more tricky, the interview more detailed and lengthy, as the arrested Steve Arnott is stitched up expertly by Cottan, and Martin Compston nails the anger and desperate impotence of a framed man. (As an aside, it’s really brave and interesting how Arnott, who from the first very episode has been one of our major access points into AC-12, is relegated to a cell for most of the episode, though it does make for that moving moment between him and Kate right at the end).
But then we get to the big one. Cottan is called into an interview that rapidly becomes something more serious. We’re on the edge of our seats. Are they finally, finally going to nab him? Hastings and Fleming drill through his story. He ably keeps his cool, lying between sip after sip of water, until the facts break through and he makes a slip. Ho-ho! No way out for you, Caddy! Wait, why’s that armed officer raising his gun…?
What a twisty-turny journey this has been, but one that’s entirely solipsistic; beginning with a bang and leaving the audience whimpering, and then ending in exactly the same way.
Kate Fleming, who I was worried hadn’t had enough to do this season, gets to be kinetically awesome as she chases Cottan: running, riding shotgun on a lorry, running, gunning down the bad cop, running, doing more running, and giving Vicky McClure the chance to put some genuine acting in between the action.
It meant that this was a finale that didn’t rely on crash bang wallop, but rather the deeply intense spectacle of watching great actors work together with a blistering script. Though that chase was terrific, it wasn’t half as tense as seeing Fleming and Hastings sat at an interview desk. Or seeing her stare down the barrel of Cottan’s gun.
Also, did I mention she runs?
Cottan gets his comeuppance. It’s taken three seasons but here it is. First time watching it, I felt a bit cheated. Dying saving Kate from a bullet? Doesn’t that rob us of the satisfaction of seeing a bad man get what he deserves? But on second viewing I realised that while Cottan has been a villain, he’s also been a human being. Line of Duty is so, so bloody good at making everyone, even the villains, human, and making you realise that death is a serious business. For Cottan it’s not redemption, but it is release. That’s as much of a win as anyone gets in this show.
It’s a shame we won’t see Craig Parkinson again. He was truly superb in this. Everyone was. Everyone should go home with a 1st prize ribbon, cast and crew, because there was nothing to fault here. It’s a testament to just how good, how gripping, how unrelentingly tense Line of Duty is that did not feel like 90 minutes. It flew by like a bullet. The fourth season begins filming in August. Make every episode 90 minutes long. Heck, make them 2 hours long. There’ll be no complaints from here.
If Line of Duty is hoovering up trophies come awards season, we’d better send Ted Hastings down to BAFTA and all the other judging panels to find out just what the hell’s going on, ‘fella’. This was certainly the finest hour and a half of TV I’ve ever seen, and a perfect end to one of TV’s most important shows.
Get your arses back here soon, AC-12.
Aired at 9pm on Thursday 28 April 2016 on BBC Two.
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