This review contains spoilers.
“Sincerity is everything. Fake that and you’ve got it made.” That old showbiz joke applies to other arenas than just Hollywood, as this week’s Line Of Duty proved.
By closing on Lindsay Denton practising a courtroom monologue, drilling each line, gesture and glance like a leading lady in her dressing room rather than a prison cell, the episode cemented the thematic importance of performance in this show. These characters may be police officers, but they’re also players in an improvised drama that relies on them never letting their masks slip.
What went on in that bedroom? Either Danny shot himself or was killed, both versions of the truth that were rehearsed by his rapidly shrinking squad this week on stage in that glass box interview room. “It wasn’t us, was it? It was you” said Rod to Hari, hours before three became two. Never mind the bedroom, what went on in that warehouse? Did Rod hang himself or was he killed?
My money’s on the latter, if only because of DI Cottan’s measured “Well done, Kate” from AC-12’s very own dress circle balcony. If Kate’s bluff was enough to spook Rod into action one way or another—and judging from his almost exact repetition of her lines from “career down the spout” to “stint inside” to “not a great place for a copper”, it was—then him being out of the picture is a boon to Cottan. If, that is, he’s the one blackmailing Hari via those Jiffy-bagged burner phones. Cottan’s watch, visible around sixteen minutes in, looks like a match for the caller at the end of the episode at least. (Notice the doll’s house Hari is assembling on that workbench? A constant reminder of the family life he’s doing all this to protect).
And then there’s the look to consider, a momentary glance exchanged between Cottan and Hari that seemed to have some import during that expertly edited interview sequence. Unless I imagined it. Line Of Duty has you analysing the significance of every sniff, raised eyebrow and sigh with the alertness of a suspicious spouse. If only we could rifle through these characters’ pockets and sweep through their smartphones while they’re in the shower, then we wouldn’t have to wait until the finale for answers.
(On the subject of paranoid theories, did anyone else wonder if the young boy flanked by Ronan Murphy in the photograph of Danny’s football team could be a shorter, teenage Hari? Perhaps all the guesswork is just getting to me.)
Series three’s plots are unfolding so many layers of truth and mistruth that I can’t be the only one struggling to keep it all straight. It doesn’t help that the cast is this good. Keeley Hawes was so convincing on the dock during Denton’s bravura turn that it made me momentarily stop in my tracks. Hang about, did Steve sleep with Lindsay last series? Could he have planted that cash?
I don’t think so and no. We saw Lindsay take the money in the series two finale flashback and even if Steve didn’t exhibit much probity in his, er, probing of witnesses last series, he must have known that putting a dent in the Denton would have nixed his undercover investigation.
Still, it’s thrillingly unsettling to be pushed to question even what you’ve been shown to be fact on this show. If paranoia were a drug, Line Of Duty is a top-rung dealer.
Bringing Lindsay Denton back this week isn’t just a case of the show bringing back the hits or having its cake and eating it, she’s there as a reminder to the viewer to trust no-one, a yardstick against which to judge every other seemingly convincing performance. After all, who’s a better liar than her?
There are a few contenders in fact. Jackie and Hari maybe, or Kate, perhaps, whose entire role in the undercover operation relies on her ability to dissemble. Or Steve, who lied to Lindsay from every moment since he told her “I believe you” in the last series. Then there’s DI Cottan, the snake in AC-12’s nest, who’s putting in a stage-worthy performance to cover up his corruption, right down to using props like that coffee cup he tossed away the moment Kate was out of sight.
Even the upstanding Hastings, a man who proved himself an honest copper by jeopardising his chance of promotion and arresting his boss in series two, told a lie this week. His mistruth was a domestic one, batting away his colleague’s invitation with a line about getting back to “the wife”. It’s testament to Adrian Dunbar’s irresistible sadness in the role that my heart leapt at the thought that his marriage was back on the tracks.
For all the brilliantly sensational twists this week, the episode had some issues with balance. Denton’s return may have worked thematically and for surprise value, but it crammed the hour with more content than it had room for and stole focus. Swerving back to her story halfway through put the brakes on the investigation just when Danny’s grisly crime was discovered. That left no space for anyone to react to the revelation that a police officer had brutally tortured, sexually assaulted and murdered a victim. We’d barely had time to digest that before Rod was found dead and Jackie and Hari revised their stories once again.
It’s thrilling stuff, this series, but it wouldn’t hurt to stem the flow of revelations to give them some time to sink in. All this performance demands an interval.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.