Line of Duty doesn’t need to be on TV.
Seriously. After a finale last year that not only neatly tied up three seasons of intrigue and corruption, but also blew the doors off the place in one of the best 90 minutes of TV you’ll ever see, the show could’ve packed up. Left on the highest of highs. Jed Mercurio’s drama could’ve ended, knowing it was one of the finest TV police dramas of all time.
But it didn’t. It kept going. It’s back. And aren’t you glad it is. No question mark at the end of that, because of course you’re glad.
New channel, new time of the week, new storyline, but the same old ability to deliver a coherent, gripping story that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Line of Duty returns with a rapid but elegant pace and the kind of dynamic storytelling that leaves you so glued to the screen that you’ll be engrossed enough to let your cuppa cold (it’s alright, I did a Hardy in Broadchurch and microwaved it after). More than anything though, it shows that this is a police procedural that consistently raises expectations, only to exceed them with awesome force.
As we see in the intense opening minutes, there’s a serial killer on the loose, kidnapping and murdering women, and he’s nabbed his latest victim. Barely two minutes in and your adrenal glands are hard at work. Certainly harder than they should be on a Sunday night, but the Beeb’s decision to put Line of Duty on a Sunday night seems driven by creating water-cooler moments on a Monday morning. It’s working.
Called to the scene and away from a family life that I’m betting will have increasing significance as the story goes on, DCI Roz Huntley (Thandie Newton) soon thinks she’s got her man. Twitchy but meticulous Forensic Coordinator Tim Ifield (Jason Watkins) isn’t so sure. There’s evidence that points toward evidence being planted. Who ya gonna call? AC-12 of course.
There’s something so comforting about seeing Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) again. He’s like Line of Duty‘s dad: a firm but fair moral compass; the man who makes the right calls. Even when Fleming (Vicky McClure) and Arnott (Martin Compston) are disagreeing with one another about Roz Huntley’s guilt or lack thereof, Hastings is the almost paternal figure, keeping them on track. Hastings is the man you look to for impeccable leadership, especially because, unlike some leaders, he knows how to have his steak (medium-rare, no sauce). The man’s a hero.
And that’s good because things get murky very quickly and we need a no-nonsense Irishman to cut through it. A straightforward(ish) corruption investigation soon takes a shocking twist, because Line of Duty is so good at shocking twists you could pull corks with it.
Discovering that Tim was the one who narced on her to AC-12, Roz goes over to his flat to confront him. What’s he cooking? A nice Spag Bol perhaps? Ifield looks like the type who’d make a good Spag Bol, possibly with Quorn. But we’re not going to find out. Things between him and Huntley soon get more heated than that pan, and their argument leads to him pushing Roz over and her striking her head on the counter top.
It’s at this ‘gasp!’ moment that I should confess that I was sure from the moment her casting was announced that Line of Duty was going to kill Thandie Newton’s Roz Huntley. Because that’s what this show does. It gets a well-known actor in and then kills them – always savagely and unflinchingly – very early on. Gina McKee getting her throat slit in Season 1, Jessica Raine’s defenestration (#FallTheMidwife) in Season 2, Daniel Mays being shot at the start of Season 3.
Line of Duty doesn’t care how big a name you are; it makes you check your awards and your IMDb profile at the door, gives you a thorough pat down, and then throws you to the wolves. I expected her to be shot or run over or poisoned, not killed by a kitchen, but I expected her to be dead by Episode 2.
Except I was wrong. Line of Duty does something even bolder.
After popping out to his nearest B&Q (‘Murder – you can do it when you B&Q it’) in a balaclava just like the serial killer wears (gasp!) Tim Ifield returns to American Psycho-up his flat and dispose of Roz’s body with a compact reciprocating power saw (£37 at B&Q – bargain). Who better to dispose of a corpse than a forensic investigator? They’re the perfect murderer. Everything’s been turned on its head. The guy you think is on the right side of the law is suddenly the man with the saw.
But then, at the last second – literally, the very last second! – Line of Duty pulls an even bigger, more audacious twist, perhaps one of the most shocking in its history.
Roz’s eye’s open.
Talk about a water-cooler moment. Jed Mercurio’s brilliant diabolical mind has, just as in Season 3, twisted the course of the show and our expectations by the end of the first episode. I’ve no idea where it’s going next, but I want to go there now.
This was a return of uncompromising quality, a manifesto reminding us that anything can happen in this show, and a lesson that, if you weren’t watching Line of Duty while it was on BBC Two, you were missing out.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 2 April 2017 on BBC One.
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