Did Steve Arnott just die?
I genuinely have no clue, although all his head-blood taking a trip downstairs doesn’t bode well. Were this any other show I’d expect him to appear next week, sat up in a hospital bed, a big bandage wrapped round his head, and a bag of grapes from Ted Hastings sat beside him along with a card that reads ‘Get well soon, fella!’.
But this is Line of Duty, and its creator Jed Mercurio has previously stated that no one is safe and that he was ‘looking forward to tormenting the nation’ in Season 4. Mission accomplished, Jed!
While it’s exercised its willingness to kill big names freely, Line of Duty has never gone for one of the main cast (you could argue the Caddy is the exception, but he was a baddie, that Caddy, so he doesn’t count). If it has done though – if Steve Arnott really is dead – then Line of Duty has just cemented its position as the boldest show on TV.
Sorry, I’m getting way ahead of things, starting by talking about the last minute. But it’s hard not to when an already invigorating hour of drama decides to drop a ton of bricks on you before you go to bed. If Mercurio wants to torment the nation, he’s going about it in exactly the right way.
But a cliffhanger that shocking is that shocking because everything leading up to it is so well plotted. A payoff is only as good as its set-up, and everything in the preceding 57 minutes is good. Bloody good. Bloody good before the bloody bit.
This is an hour of good solid police work by Arnott and Fleming, and it’s so procedural it shouldn’t be interesting, looking at highlighted phone logs or traffic cam images, but Jed Mercurio already has us so invested that each piece of evidence excites at the possibility of where it’ll take us next.
But as they work the case from both sides – one the false-chum ready for an after-work pint, the other the blunt instrument – Roz is constantly trying to keep anyone from getting to the truth. There’s a fantastic juxtaposition between AC-12’s ruthlessly diligent work that goes down to the last paperclip, and the way that Roz Huntley uses the gaps in the investigation(s) and twists them to her own ends.
Nowhere is this more diabolical than in bursting in on Hana Reznikova questioning and, with a series of surgical but entirely supposition-based remarks, pulling the frightened young woman apart and having her arrested for apparently co-operating with Balaclava Man, even though there’s no evidence beyond her having paid sex with Tim Ifield a few times.
Yet for all her conniving, Roz is dangerously close to being exposed. She’s only about a step and a half in front of AC-12, and that gap is closing both at work and at home. Husband Nick worries she’s cheating on him, but Nick Huntley also has bigger troubles, as Arnott begins turning the screws on him too.
Fed up of Nick hiding behind vague answers, solicitors, and missed phone calls, Arnott heads to his office, too busy on the phone to get the calls that tell him Nick Huntley could be very dangerous: his car was seen on the way to and from Tim Ifield’s flat on the night of his murder. But too late: Arnott’s already in the lift and on the way up to the fifth floor.
Suddenly the lift doors open. On floor three. ‘Ding!’ Crack! Whack! Thump! The Balaclava Man appears and proceeds to dole out a savage beating on Arnott with a baseball bat.
Line of Duty previously never blinked at violence, and that’s still the case, as we’re given an unflinching view of the attack. Despite Arnott’s best efforts Balaclava Man drags him to the edge of the stairwell and throws him over the edge. Arnott’s body drops at least two floors, landing on the stairs. Blood pours from his head.
And you’re either in the half of the audience screaming in shock, or the half staring dumbfounded at the screen. Could Line of Duty have just killed off a core character?
I’ve not been so worried about poor Arnott since the fourth episode of Season 1, when he was about to lose his fingers in a vice. The week’s wait until the next episode is going to be unbearable.
Still, it’ll give us plenty of chance to speculate on whether Nick Huntley is Balaclava Man (and wonder if we can give him a name less stupid than ‘Balaclava Man’. KnitFace?). It makes sense: he was out and unaccounted for on the night the Balaclava Man was plying his trade in Episode 1, and surely Huntley and KnitFace being in the same building at the same time is too much of a coincidence? And if Roz knows or suspects that her husband has a criminal alter-ego, it makes sense for her to frame someone else.
But could that be too much of a simple explanation?
With three episodes to go there’ll almost certainly be more shocking twists and turns. I’m not sure my heart can take any more. Never mind Arnott, I’m not sure I’m going to make it out of this season alive.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 9 April 2017 on BBC One.
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