WARNING: some (mild) spoilers below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 5 here.
If there’s one thing that BBC One’s Line of Duty is known for, it’s extended interview scenes in which whip smart anti-corruption officers pick ‘bent coppers’ apart like vultures attending to the sun-baked remains of a roadside armadillo. Fans of such scenes were spoiled here in the climax to series 5, as we were treated to a full feature-length episode set almost exclusively inside AC-12’s iconic glass box of loaded questions.
The armadillo in question here was The Boss – Superintendent Edward ‘Ted’ Hastings, played with serious aplomb as ever by the wonderful and hugely popular Northern Irish actor Adrian Dunbar. The vultures? AC-3’s career-focused Chief Superintendent Patricia Carmichael (Anna Maxwell Martin) and her team.
The crux of this latest series of Jed Mercurio’s wildly successful police thriller has been whether or not Hastings is the big bad guy behind it all – the shadowy and infamous ‘H’ figure. And we get our answer by the end of this rather talky 90 minute special. Is it a satisfying answer? Well, we’ll leave you to make up your own minds about that.
We’ll swerve the spoilers here for any of you yet to catch episode 6. Suffice to say that, as you might expect, things aren’t quite as they seem…
One plot detail we can reveal, one that shouldn’t ruin the overall arc for anyone, concerns one of the lesser characters who’s given a pretty interesting send-off. In what surely must have been a nod to the 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs (or at least Martin Scorsese’s Boston-set remake of it, The Departed), we see young OCG member Ryan Pilkington getting accepted onto the force as a Student Police Officer, effectively sowing the seeds for future corruption. And perhaps a future ‘H’ character for – say – Line of Duty series 25?
This climatic episode was a nice little example of the series as a whole. It looked like Line of Duty, it felt like Line of Duty and it certainly sounded like Line of Duty; if anything, there were more initialisms and acronyms than ever before. There was just a certain something missing…
That something might just have been tension. This series has gripped the nation, there’s little doubt about that. But in the cold light of day, stripped of context and ‘the universe’ of the show, would we all have loved series 5 quite so much? It’s doubtful, given how it seemed to lack the gut punch of previous runs. The action scenes were few and far between and hardly unforgettable, while the plot twists may have kept us guessing, but dropped few jaws.
Even the ‘big reveal’ at the end here lacked quite the impact you can imagine was intended.
Stephen Graham was, of course, excellent throughout in his role as the undercover copper, hellbent on revenge. The man doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘phoning it in’. But his rather swift exit at the midway point of the series left something of a hole that couldn’t quite be filled by the remaining cast.
Not that some of the more regular faces got all that much of a look in here. Pivotal in this final instalment’s plot development, DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) were almost criminally underused across these past six weeks. That said, Kate does spit out the line of the series here when challenged by by AC-3 officer DI Michelle Brandyce (Laura Elphinstone). It really is a piece of dialogue that’s for the TV ages: “Stop making a t*t of yourself and p*ss off.”
This sixth slice of the corrupt pie – and the series as a whole – may not have been the most delicious Line of Duty we’ve ever been served up, but it still made for tasty, if at times slightly chewy, television. With a sixth series lined up and a hunger for more evident by the staggering viewing figures – 9 million watched this episode live on Sunday night, with plenty more expected to catch up with it over the next week or so – we’ve certainly got room for dessert.
So too do the vultures. Expect them to start circling overhead again soon enough.
Did you tune in for the Line of Duty series 5 episode 6? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…