This review contains spoilers.
“I believe you” Arnott told Denton at the close of this week’s Line Of Duty, and at the mid-point in this series, so do I.
Episode three was a study in human disintegration. Between Denton descending symbolically through successive floors of police departments to her cell at the end of the last hour, to her hearing those words from Arnott at the end of this, she was systematically broken. Each time Denton appeared in front of that glass, a little more of her had been damaged and taken away. Her final interview showed her – hair unwashed, face bruised, hands bandaged – as a police officer stripped of her career, freedom and personhood.
Not, though, of her fight, as that whispered “No” after her self-harm fantasy told us. Denton still intends to clear her name, as we heard repeatedly during the episode. The question is, will Line Of Duty let her? If we’re – and we may not all be – on Denton’s side from now on, was episode three the rock-bottom from which we’re going to see her climb up, or is there worse to come? If her defence continues to run up against figurative brick walls, how long will it be before her character gives up and throws herself at a literal one?
It would be a bleak drama indeed to show Denton framed but so straitjacketed by cover-ups and procedure she’s unable to ultimately prove her innocence, but then Line Of Duty isn’t afraid of being bleak. Series one showed us the villains of the piece rewarded by promotions and new identities while their victims were left defrosting in freezers and and running into the path of oncoming traffic. If this run ends with an innocent officer banged up for life, it’ll be par for the course.
Whatever happens next, Keeley Hawes has demonstrated the mettle to play either scenario with skill. Arnott’s “I believe you” occasioned only the slightest of responses from Hawes, but that tiny acknowledgement gave us so much. Relief, hope, mistrust (she has, quite literally, been burnt before) were all conveyed with just a blink and a swallow. Douglas Mackinnon’s camera, knowing Hawes can carry the frame, zooms in close to Denton’s face, registering the slightest undercurrents of fear or panic underneath her otherwise impassive expressions. It’s a peach of a part for an actor, not least for the wit of lines like “Hastings makes Greece look solvent”.
Series one’s Lennie James was – as he is in most things – superb, but Hawes is no second prize. Her performance so far has been subtler than James’, her character more contained and controlled than Tony Gates’ expansive, blokey, cock-of-the-walk. After three hours with Denton, I’m not sure we’ve ever even seen her smile.
Admittedly, Denton has little to smile about. If the sequence of her being processed by those automata prison guards aimed to make a subjective point about the dehumanisation of the penal system, then it did its job. If the goal was to paint a realistic picture of life inside, then the one-note procedure-barking double-act let Line Of Duty down. The robotic pair, doling out and appeasing awful punishments for the suspected cop-killing cop, felt like cartoon baddies, more symbols of injustice than real people.
Speaking of injustice and one-note characters, we had two surprises this week. The first was the reappearance of crooked copper DI ‘Dot’ Cottan, played by Craig Parkinson, and the second, confirmation that the expired witness was series one villain Tommy. (Anyone jumping straight in to series two would be advised to catch up on the first run before next week, because it’s clear the two stories are more interwoven than they first appeared.)
Cottan’s arrival, seconded to AC12 at the behest of a now definitely dodgy DCC Dryden, was bad news for Arnott and Fleming, neither of whom were having a good time of it after Denton went on the attack last week. There was some fun to be had with their truculence, especially the gap between their real feelings on Cottan (“tosser”, “wanker”, “twat”) and the level of respect required by his rank. None of it was as enjoyable as Tony Pitts’ solitary Northern “champion” though. More from him, please.
Levity was in short supply all round, what with Hastings and Arnott’s pub pity party, Fleming confessing to her affair, Denton’s trials at the prison, and the discovery of what’s assumed to be Carly Kirk’s body under the concrete floor of that garage. Series two is unfurling inch by depressing inch, and there are, just as there should at this point, a great deal more questions than answers: Was Denton set-up by her ex-lover Dryden to take the fall for an ambush he planned? What did Denton mean by saying she’d protected Dryden in the past? Are Dryden and Cottan in cahoots? (The latter ran off somewhere after Dryden’s name was raised in that stairwell, perhaps it was to warn his partner in crime) Who killed Carly Kirk, and how does her murder tie in to the events of the ambush? Did Jane Akers’ husband (and DS Fleming’s paramour) know that his wife was on the take?
With three episodes still to go, speculating on all of the above would be a waste of breath. There is one question though, that we should settle right now before learning anything further, to show how capably this drama dances with ambiguity: answering only yes or no, at this moment in time, do you believe DI Denton is innocent?
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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