This review contains spoilers (incl. for Line Of Duty series 1 and 2).
Admit it, you thought you had Sgt Danny Waldron’s number from the moment he unloaded three bullets into that suspect’s head too. Here we go, I told myself, another bent copper murdering a witness to his no-doubt shady gangland dealings. He’s a bully, I thought, watching him intimidate his team and cockily bat away AC-12’s accusations. Probably a psychopath to boot, judging by those robotic powers of observation and recitation of procedural chapter and verse. ‘Run for your life, dry-white-wine-Rachel!’ I inwardly urged, as the pair swapped numbers.
By the time he was on the floor choking on his own blood, the scale of writer Jed Mercurio and actor Daniel Mays’ glorious deception was clear. Waldron might be a bent copper and a murderer, but he’s also a victim. Of being shot in the throat by one of his colleagues, yes, but also an historic victim on a vigilante revenge mission. Revenge though, for what?
We can infer one awful possibility from Waldron’s words to Linus Murphy, that though an unspecified ‘we’ never knew what he or his nephew Ronan were called, they had names for them. The plural suggests an institution, the violent distress suggests childhood sexual abuse. When Waldron told Murphy, “Every time you don’t do what I say, it gets worse. You’ll sit. But first, you’ll take off all of your clothes,” was he repeating the words of his abuser back to him?
We don’t yet know of course but Waldron’s isolated lifestyle, lack of next of kin and compulsive, destructive running habit seem to tally with that sad assumption. It all hinges on what links the seventeen men on his hit-list and what Tommy Hunter, one of the three crossed-out names, is doing there.
As the gangland leader pulling the strings in series one and the witness DI “the Caddy” Cottan conspired to have killed in series two (causing Lindsay Denton all that bother), Tommy Hunter is the rotten heart of Line Of Duty. We know he was a pimp. Did he also orchestrate whatever happened to Waldron?
Daniel Mays’ character is a new prospect for Line Of Duty, should he survive that gunshot wound and remain series three’s main player. Tony Gates and Lindsay Denton both paid the price for attempting to cover up momentary transgressions of their moral codes. Waldron, alternatively, knows he’s on a hiding to nothing. As he told Arnott, he has no illusions of a happy ending and he’s not going to stop.
That’s presumably why he deleted dry-white-wine-Rachel’s texts. He’s like a dark comic book hero with a job to do; he can’t afford to have anything tying him to the world. Except for that dog, which is all the humanising proof required by the British viewing public that despite going full Dexter Morgan on its owner, Waldron’s not actually a bad guy.
DI Cottan is another matter. Making Craig Parkinson’s corrupt copper a permanent member of AC-12 is one of the show’s masterstrokes. Knowing that there’s a wrong’un in Arnott, Fleming and Hastings’ corner amps up the tension of his every appearance, forcing the audience to remain ever vigilant. Was he so keen to shut down the Waldron enquiry because of his links to Tommy’s gang? Was he responsible for Murphy’s file being redacted? Was he even behind the attack on Waldron? Either Jackie (Leanne Best), Hari (Arsher Ali), or Rod (Will Mellor, here offering a decent line in Paddington Bear hard stares) plugged their skipper, but that’s not to say Cottan wasn’t somewhere pulling the strings.
Expect to keep guessing. Line Of Duty has a PhD in alternately drip-feeding us incriminating and guilt-absolving information. Just as we did about Danny this episode, we’ll have likely changed our minds about his colleagues six times before the series even reaches the halfway point.
And what a series it promises to be. All the old hits are there: interview scenes packed with more hostility than David Cameron and Boris Johnson peeing next to each other at the House of Commons urinals, eventful set pieces (now with an even more transatlantic feel courtesy of all those guns), Kate going back undercover, Steve continuing to punch above his weight with the ladies, gruff Hastings acting all Badger from Wind In The Willows…
And with them are new leads, a new intrigue and another series of unmissable television which promises to play us all like fiddles. Being manipulated has never felt so good.