This review contains spoilers.
After a pleasurably tortuous few weeks with Line Of Duty’s second series, we finally have answers. What we don’t have after tonight’s quietly revelatory finale is closure, the satisfying feeling that the baddies were caught, the goodies were rewarded, and justice was done.
Line Of Duty’s moral tangles linger stubbornly after the final credits have rolled. Watching the cell door slam on DI Denton for a second time didn’t feel like a victory. Yes, she’d taken a bung, conspired to hand a witness over to his enemies, and sat quietly while Dryden was arrested, but she didn’t plan the murders of her fellow officers, and her motivation in disposing of Tommy was to protect Carly Kirk and others like her. Did that make Denton the villain of the piece? Not in my eyes. She made a wrong call, has been ferociously fighting for her life ever since, and lost. There’s little to feel triumphant about in her conviction.
Especially when we see the real mastermind of the ambush – ‘Dot’ Cottan – rewarded by another new job and a handshake from the boss (if this continues, he’ll be DCC by series five). That the soon-to-retire Nige Morton now knows his colleague is bent is little threat to Cottan. Morton, revealed to have been scamming disability benefits on top of selling information to the press, is much more likely to use the dirt on Cottan for personal gain than to do what SP Hastings would call “the right thing”.
Doing, or not doing, the right thing has been Line Of Duty’s thematic playground. All of its characters are positioned somewhere along the continuum from guilt to innocence, with evil bastard Tommy at one end, then calculated crooks like Cottan, killers Cole and Prasad, avaricious types like Akers, sad cases like Denton, adulterers of varying sympathies from Dryden to Fleming, ladies’ man Arnott, all the way to Ted Hastings, an old-fashioned good guy whose one mistake cost him his marriage.
Speaking of Super Ted, where was his text-on-screen caption in the closing moments? Would it have hurt to put our minds at rest with a glimpse of he and Róisín reuniting, or him sitting down to a new Chief Super desk? No, but then putting our minds at rest was never Line Of Duty’s goal.
As a series, it probed the shortcomings of our justice system and the people who enforce it. As Akers says in her manipulative speech to get Denton on side, immunity deals protect the worst offenders (Tommy, Prasad) from punishment. Human weakness leads to derelictions of duty minor and major, and Line Of Duty is unflinching and unflattering in its depictions of both. Creator Jed Mercurio didn’t set out to tell us a reassuring story.
That said, the finale did have some good news. Carly Kirk is alive, well and living in Ireland (though the same can’t be said for the girl whose corpse was disguised as hers in those blackmail photos). Arnott and Fleming are back being pals, too, the former even calling off a sure thing with Rogerson to help Kate drown her marriage woes.
All that time spent establishing Arnott as a bird-dog this series paid off in the finale, as the audience was wrong-footed about the nature of his relationship with Denton. For half an hour we cringed as Arnott accepted another glass of wine and another, bracing ourselves for his inevitable lunge at her. When it came, of course, it was her cover story he was trying to get inside, not her knickers. It meant that Arnott once again emerged heroic at the end of the series, playing Lindsay’s defender only to get his hands on evidence that she was part of the conspiracy. For how long had he been deceiving her? Since he found out about her termination? Since he declared “I believe you” in episode three?
Whenever his suspicions were reignited, we were kept in the dark about Lindsay until over halfway through the finale. Our pay-off to hours of speculation and evidence-sifting came in the form of a flashback revealing Denton’s role in the ambush. Keeley Hawes’ performance in Fleming’s car, unfazed and unreadable on the surface but recalling traumatic events underneath, was the image of her wonderful inscrutability throughout the series. Now we know precisely what Denton’s involvement was, and what she’d chosen to lie about in the months following. It almost makes you want to go back to the start and seeing what kind of shadow that knowledge leaves on the previous episodes.
For all the much-deserved praise Keeley Hawes has received this series, a little has to be sent Craig Parkinson’s way. Since he reappeared at the halfway point, his laidback, laconic Cottan has given quite the performance as part of the team investigating a crime he orchestrated. It’s ironic but fitting that Cottan, the poacher-turned-gamekeeper-in-sheep’s-clothing, is now a permanent member of AC12. He’s the most successful undercover officer on the force.
As with the series one finale, the last moments of episode six felt rushed. When a drama that’s done tremendous work with pace in its meticulously constructed, creepingly tense interview scenes signs off with a few documentary-style captions by way of cheerio, you can’t help but feel bereft. I’m left with the discomfiting sense that Line Of Duty’s story is still going on out there somewhere, we’re just not allowed to watch.
Frustrating though that is, it’s quite the recommendation for Jed Mercurio’s work this series. In Denton, Dryden, Hastings, Fleming, Arnott and co., he, his actors and directors have built credible characters who can live and breathe outside the drama. Series one was gripping stuff, but series two was a step up; more enigmatic, less sensationalised, quieter and more reflective, but absolutely captivating. It makes you shiver to think what Mercurio might conjure up for series three.
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