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  • Ben Spicer

Line of Duty


It is a rare delight when a television show inspires me with such fervour that I cannot wait to watch the next episode once the current one has finished. Game of Thrones (2011-2019) had this magic touch, but so many other good shows do not. For example, I am currently part way through season 2 of The Crown (2016-), yet, though I am enjoying it, I could easily wait a while before returning to it. Similarly, Breaking Bad (2008-2013) took me about half a decade to complete, because, until perhaps its final season, it could never hold my interest enough that I felt simply addicted to coming back for more. Line of Duty (2012-), on the other hand, holds me so strongly in its grasp that, even now that I have binged the five series to date, I am desperately waiting for the next one, due to come out in March. And from the way it has been getting better and better with every season so far, the prospect of the imminent arrival of season six is very exciting indeed.

The thrust of the show is in following the actions of Anti-Corruption Unit 12 in their quest to rid the police force of institutionalised corruption and, particularly, high-ranking police officers involved in criminal behaviour. Our lead protagonists are Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), a sharp, trustworthy workaholic who often goes undercover to root out bad apples and likes to change her hair-style every season; Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), a bit of a bad boy who doesn’t like to do things by the book, but who has a great sense of right and wrong, and more integrity than most of the rest of the police force put together; and Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), the unit’s leader who makes all of the important decisions, and who, most of the time, grounds the series with his stoic honesty and calming Northern Irish accent. To challenge these protagonists comes a star adversary every series – be it Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays, Thandie Newton, Stephen Graham, or Kelly Macdonald in the upcoming series – always surrounded by a stellar list of supporting players. The storytelling is consistently excellent, and credit goes to creator and screenwriter Jed Mercurio for that, and the police procedural nature of the drama is hypnotically watchable, at its best in the moments you think might be dull – such as longform police interviews that always feature an extended whine as the recording tape is switched on, and the same sparring technicalities and regulations. To make boring, menial policework unmissably mesmerising is a remarkable skill, and Mercurio deserves all the plaudits he gets for this.

Our three protagonists - I just hope it never turns out that one of this holy trinity is corrupt

Line of Duty is not always perfect, though, and it has frustrating side-issues, particularly regarding characterisation. Too often our heroes do something almost unforgivably unprofessional, or crass, or slightly corrupt. Arnott is especially guilty of this, and his spiteful, selfish actions make him a hard character to like. I understand that the idea is to make our protagonists imperfect, but it is a fine balance, and too often Mercurio makes them unlikable and not the sort of people I’d want to be in my police service, no matter their innate goodness. Another frustration I have with the show is certain inconsistencies in its plotting and tone, particularly in its climactic episodes. Mercurio’s The Bodyguard (2018) was ruined by its silly, overplayed final episode, and this is a problem that threatens in Line of Duty too, where the procedural realism that pervades the majority of the show is abandoned in favour of a shoot-out. Sure, we all like a bit of action, but in a show like this, I would rather it remained true to its guns (pun intended), and found a way to be exciting within the bounds of realistic police behaviour. Pleasingly, though, these problems seem to lessen in the more recent series, making the experience of the show feel much more rounded and overwhelmingly positive, a trait I hope will continue into the coming season.

Most exciting of all, the later seasons increasingly call back on preceding events, and only occasionally do things feel forced, giving the impression that the entire narrative was planned prior to the beginning of the show. There is something so electric about that, the deep clues and Easter eggs sewn into previous series. The intrigue dragged out over a time analogous to the time the investigations are taking within the diegesis of the series. The mysteries continue to unravel and evolve, keeping us on the edge of our seats. Will the new series finally bring us the satisfying resolution we crave, or continue to feed us ambiguities and unknowns, only dragging us further into the darkness? I can’t wait to watch it and find out.




At time of writing, the whole of Line of Duty is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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