After several weeks of soul-searching and self-doubt, DI Jonah Gabriel (Chiwetel Ejiofor) finally establishes which side of the line he was on before being shot in the head – and who his real enemies are.
‘You think this is all about you?’, Peter Glickman (Anthony Sher) asks him during an opportune meeting in a hospital bathroom. ‘Good cop, bad cop? You think that’s what this is all about – you; drugs; dead cops; Royal Pardons; Harvey Wratten? It’s not about you. It’s not about any of you. You’re all just threads – little, tiny threads. But if you want to find the rope, there’s only one line for you to follow: the money.’
Gabriel takes the advice of the Whispering Bob Harris of crime and eventually finds himself face-to-face with that other softly-spoken slayer, Gatehouse (Stephen Rea), who reassures Jonah – and the viewers – that the detective with the defective memory isn’t corrupt after all (unlike almost every other character in a series where amorality is as common as characters being filmed in shadow, disappearing into shadows, or talking about shadows).
However, any relief he may feel about confirming his good-guy status is short-lived. Within seconds of learning that he wasn’t as dirty as his late partner DS Delaney, Gabriel’s world is changed forever as the episode sheds the cloak of long-winded theatricality it has worn for thirty minutes and plunges messily into gritty, vicious cop drama once more. By the end of the episode, there are three more corpses on The Shadow Line’s sizeable mortuary slab and yet more grief and guilt for Gabriel to gorge himself on.
Elsewhere, Joseph Bede’s (Christopher Eccleston) own guilt at having cheated on his terminally ill wife with Glickman’s girlfriend Petra (Eve Best) is successfully assuaged over a joke about Bach and things seem curiously promising for the unwilling drug trafficker who likes to say it with flowers. However, betrayal is only a heartbeat away as his trusted confidante Maurice Crace passes news of Bede’s impending multi-million pound heroin transaction to bent bobby Sergeant Foley (David Schofield), justifying his treachery by saying: ‘Ours is a dog-eat-dog world and this dog is getting too tired to run.’
Moments of wearily heartfelt philosophy aside, this is actually a rather nasty episode which pulls no punches in delineating the multitude of deaths in almost gleefully grotesque detail, blood being splashed around like aftershave before a blind date. Yet ironically, the most shocking demise of all – in a hospital bed remarkable for the neglectful behaviour of the nurse supposedly watching over its occupant – is almost anodyne in its lack of spurting claret and horribly clean effectiveness.
The Shadow Line has a propensity for dragging its heels at the most inopportune moments, and when it takes refuge in the sort of stilted soliloquies that dogged its opening weeks, it can be infuriating. Yet when it abruptly ups the ante as it does halfway through Episode 6, swapping intrigue and introspection for elucidation and action, it’s as compelling as any other thriller on television.
Airs at 9pm on Thursday 9th June 2011 on BBC Two.