This review contains spoilers.
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ goes the adage. ‘Agreed’ says the first episode of Line Of Duty’s second series, ‘though it never hurts to give them a bit more of the good stuff’.
Jed Mercurio’s 2012 crime drama, which probed the systems of modern policing while unspooling a sensational (and sensationally acted, thanks to Lennie James) cop thriller, was far from broke. Perhaps the best recommendation to give its second series then, is that it’s just like the first, only with more of the good stuff.
There are more characters, more corpses, more cases, and, if you can believe it, even more skittering suspicion. In the course of the first episode, I’d switched my position on new lead DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) more times than a railway point at rush-hour.
DI Denton’s ambiguity was presented through acts of violence. The toilet cubicle attack – a more extreme version of Neil Morrissey spitting on the back of Vicky McClure’s head in the last series – turned our sympathy knob a few notches in Denton’s direction. In turn, her attack on the discourteous neighbour sent it a measure or two the other way. The interview with the missing girl’s carers (is it too cynical and clichéd to suspect the foster father?) showed Denton doing her job, and acted as another tick in her favour. The dial will no doubt continue to jerk back and forth as Line Of Duty’s story unravels.
As they did in series one, the episode’s writing, performances and direction lead you hither and thither, flipping characters from wrong’un to wronged with the imperceptibility of those optical illusions in which a young woman becomes an old lady in the space of a blink. Douglas Mackinnon’s emotional direction continued series one’s paranoid, on-edge style, shooting through glass and placing barriers between the viewer and the subject, obscuring our view to mirror the work of Mercurio’s deliberately inconclusive script. Such overt manipulation might grate, were Line Of Duty not such thrilling television.
What horrid thrills there were. Two brutal acts sandwiched the episode: first, the bloody, flaming execution of a carful of officers, and lastly, the surprise defenestration of new AC-12 recruit Georgia Trotman (Jessica Raine, in a rare but pleasing appearance out of period costume).
If the introduction of heavy drinking recent transfer Trotman as Arnott’s new partner shook things up initially, then removing her just as quickly reminds Line Of Duty’s viewers on what unstable ground its characters stand. Trotman’s unexpected exit mirrored the shock offing of Gina McKee’s Jackie in series one. Be sure of nothing, the drama tells us. And while you’re at it, don’t get too attached to what you thought you knew.
This last point was made by colouring in the personal lives of series one’s SI Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and DC Fleming (Vicky McClure). In a sharp reminder of Line Of Duty’s ‘things aren’t always what they seem’ theme, we learnt that the smiling, expansive front Hastings put up over dinner hid his estrangement from, and temporary ceasefire with, his wife.
Fleming meanwhile, has been cheating on the husband we glimpsed at the end of the first series, with the widower of the Witness Protection officer killed in the ambush. In just one scene, the integrity of a character who’d stood unambiguously for right throughout series one was complicated and compromised (no accident that the camera lingered on the scratch marks she left on her lover’s back on the day of his wife’s funeral).
More impropriety came from Arnott and Trotman, whose self-declared “really stupid” drunken fumble once again showed the human weakness in those we look to for probity. We know that Arnott came to AC-12 as a refugee from a counter-terrorism cock-up, was Trotman’s transfer preceded by just such a trauma? Perhaps the Anti-Corruption Unit is an elephant’s graveyard for damaged police.
We also met Deputy Chief Constable Dryden (Mark Bonnar, replacing a disgruntled Robert Lindsay), whose speech on cutbacks kept Line Of Duty’s line of public services commentary afloat. More arresting from him – if you’ll pardon the pun – were his old testament lines about vengeance, which belonged with the hour’s more lurid moments.
The highlight of those had to be the cross-dressing villain who dropped Trotman out of that window. Line Of Duty’s first series danced nimbly between quiet, naturalistic drama and cop show wallop, and the second run, with its reflective portrait of Denton’s regrettable home life and sensational final moments, appears to be following suit. The lengthy interview scenes, which let performances breathe and tension ratchet are gladly back, but so, by the looks of things, is the silly, cartoonish baddy. Still, early days yet.
All in all then, it was a strong start and a packed hour, brimming with new intrigue but also taking the time to establish character and build empathy with its leads. Lennie James might be missed, but Keeley Hawes proves herself a very, very decent follow-up. Kudos to the creator, incidentally, for widening participation in crime TV’s boys’ club. It’s another in the long list of things to admire about this gripping, smartly constructed drama.
Read more about Line Of Duty on Den of Geek, here.
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