This review contains spoilers.
Line Of Duty’s second run has been a series of optical illusions. You know the ones: duck is rabbit, Marilyn Monroe is Albert Einstein, young woman looking away is old lady in headscarf, innocent victim is scheming villain… This week’s final shot of Denton sipping Chablis and watching the news of Dryden’s arrest was a page from a Magic Eye book. Let your eyes defocus and out of ‘innocent woman with wine’ looms a cackling she-devil with horns, tail, and glossy fringe. We’ve all been taken in. It was her! Wasn’t it?
That rather depends on the nature of the ‘it’. Was Denton’s expression the look of someone in their rightful place watching justice carried out, or someone gloating over a plan coming together? Did she take revenge on her arrogant, grimy sod of a lover, the man responsible for her getting rid of a cat and a foetus, by framing him for Carly Kirk’s murder or the ambush or both? Was it Denton who killed and mutilated Kirk, and have we, like Arnott and Fleming, been taken in by her performance?
Pinning down the possibilities after episode five is our hardest task yet. A murmuration of ‘whys’, ‘buts’ and question marks swoop around confusing any attempt to straighten the facts. The least headache-inducing option is to pull over to the slow lane, and wait patiently for the finale to find out who did what and why.
There’s plenty more to talk about besides, not least Adrian Dunbar’s affecting performance as Ted Hastings, the one honest copper in the force. Hastings’ heavy-hearted approval of Dryden’s arrest was a moment of real pathos. By giving the nod, Ted realised he was dissolving his chance of reconciliation with his wife, but, in his words, he “had to do the right thing”. Willing Hastings to do just that this week was proof of something else Jed Mercurio and his cast have got right this series; I don’t just want to know what happens in Line Of Duty, I care about it.
The reappearance of Neil Morrissey as Nige Morton this week was a treat thrown out to series one viewers. By leaking Dryden’s speeding offence to the press in the first place, Morton has unwittingly played a substantial role in this series. His having agreed to paint the now-dead Cole (Georgia’s killer would have been one thread too many to be tied up by next week’s finale) as “The Caddy” is also more significant than Dot would have him believe. Morton’s lie enables Cottan to continue along his crooked path. How crooked he really is this series, we’re yet to discover.
Dot’s not alone. With just an hour of storytelling to go, there are question marks hovering over a number of heads, Cottan’s, Dryden’s, Denton’s… any more takers?
Whatever unfurls next week, we can all agree now that innocent isn’t quite the word to describe attempted-murderer DI Denton. Lindsay’s gruesome, methodical torture of Prasad may have been tit for tat but it showed her once again to be capable of extreme pragmatic violence and manipulation. Hawes was as good as ever in her broken, defeated state at Denton’s mother’s now-empty deathbed, but at this stage in the ‘is she a psychopath’ debate, we’re left asking whether that too was a performance.
Props also to Mark Bonnar for his transformation from belligerence to breakdown in Dryden’s closing police interview. The line of the episode though, goes to Vicky McClure for the same scene’s drily delivered, “Well I’m not an old perv so you’ll have to tell me”.
Thematically, Dryden’s insistence on being “an honest man” is Line Of Duty’s crux. We heard the same from Tony Gates in series one, and “I’m telling the truth” has been Denton’s refrain since episode one. In its winding journey to the truth, Line Of Duty has explored gradations of deception, the no-man’s land between honesty and deceit. Everybody lies to some extent, it tells us, even moral stalwarts like Ted Hastings. Crucially, villains don’t lie only to their accusers, but also to themselves. They dissemble, justify and mitigate because nobody, not even the worst of us, really wants to believe that we’re bad.
Increasingly, Arnott’s speech to Fleming a fortnight ago that “maybe there are people who always tell the truth and people who always lie, but the rest of us choose our moments” has emerged as the key to this series. Denton and Dryden can’t both be telling the truth, and next week, with any luck, we’ll find out precisely which moments they chose for honesty and deception.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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