This review contains spoilers.
Hands up who, if you were watching this on DVD rather than in weekly instalments, would currently be ignoring the washing up and neglecting the dog’s last walk of the day in favour of pressing play on episode three?
That’s everyone then. Line Of Duty is the reigning king of cliff-hangers. Who was the witness? Why does his identity mean they have to start all over again? How will Carly Kirk’s disappearance play into all this? Why aren’t I already watching the next episode? And is writer Jed Mercurio pleased with himself?
He should be. Series two is proving every bit as compelling viewing as its predecessor, with the added extra of Keeley Hawes’ captivating inscrutability as DI Denton.
Denton proved herself a cut above series one’s Tony Gates this week, by resisting Kate’s charms, outing her as a mole, and turning the tables on AC12 in that tremendous, lengthy final interview. Were they not investigating her, Hawes’ character would make a first class AC officer. Who knows, if she’s telling the truth, perhaps she’ll join the team for series three.
That’s a big ‘if’. Watching Denton hover over that bubbling chip-pan this episode, wondering whether she was going to turn the gas up or off, showed how little we know her. One moment, she’s a violent psychopath, the next, she’s a cornered, by-the-book innocent fighting for her career. The perception play is deftly handled by all concerned. Outwardly, Hawes appears more credible as the isolated stickler than the manipulative baddy, but there’s a speck of grit to her performance, a sort of captivating blankness and distanced pragmatism that could yet peel back to reveal villainy. It’s an enslaving hook for the series, one that makes sure I won’t just be back next week, but I’ll be counting down the hours.
Episode two was crowned by that magnificent twenty-minute scene in which Denton flipped from the accused to the accuser. What other UK drama would not only give over a third of an instalment to five people talking around a table, but through a combination of skilled performance, writing and direction, make it the most gripping scene of the hour? Thank heaven for TV dramas with attention spans.
Scenes of that calibre are enough to make up for Line Of Duty‘s odd videogame cut scene-style exchange, as seen in Fleming and Arnott’s “Don’t blow my cover/If anything doesn’t feel right, just call” moment prior to Denton’s latest violent outburst.
Glass houses and the necessity of their dwellers not lobbing stones around was the theme of this week’s episode, thanks to Denton. One by one, AC12 was knocked off its probity pedestal by her meticulous snooping. Hastings’ finances are a mess, making him vulnerable to bribery, Arnott’s been using the witness list as his personal Match.com, and Fleming’s having an affair with an officer connected to the case. Character-wise, there’s an exciting possibility that our three Musketeers aren’t the heroes after all – indeed, one wonders if viewers jumping straight in with series two would have pegged them as the good guys in the first place.
Speaking of coppers behaving badly, episode two gave us more from DCC Dryden, a character being targeted by the press for Huhne/Pryce-alike speeding fraud because… “You have to ask? Seriously?”. We do actually have to ask, because aside from him giving Denton the go-ahead for episode one’s doomed witness transport mission, setting his press officer up for a fall then replacing her, and Hastings snarling about him being Hargreaves’ “guardian” (incidentally, what joy to see Red Riding’s Tony Pitts back in uniform), we also know very little about the Detective Chief Constable. At this stage though, I’m prepared to believe he’s as rotten as a ripe medlar.
That readiness to think the worst of top brass wouldn’t always have been the case. Between ‘Plebgate’, cover-ups, and officers taking tabloid bungs, real-life has slopped out what feels like a daily serving of police scandal, acting as a stealth teaser campaign for Line Of Duty’s brand of scepticism. Combined with modern crime mystery’s taste for uniformed villains (nowadays, it’s only a twist if the cop isn’t crooked), audiences are willing to suspect anyone. Art and life having coalesced into a mangy sludge of corruption and public mistrust, it’s little wonder nobody’s writing Dixon of Dock Green these days.
Read our review of the previous episode, here.
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