Line Of Duty series 3 episode 3 review

The superb Line Of Duty changes your mind utterly about its characters from week to week. Exhausting, but brilliant...

This review contains spoilers.

Line Of Duty series three is proving as tricky to pin down as AC-12’s interviewees. Three episodes in and do we even know who the lead character is? Danny Waldron first looked set to take the role before that rug was pulled away from under us. Then it seemed as though Rod, Jane and Freddie (I think those are their names?) were our focus. Not so.

Episode three has left us with a much more tantalising prospect: this is ‘Dot’ Cottan’s story, the tale of the Caddy.

Craig Parkinson’s furrowed brow was the star of this week’s instalment. It got a close-up each time the investigation moved a step closer to the truth he’s trying to steer his team away from (bright as a button newcomer Maneet is clearly AC-12’s unsung hero on that front). Frown, frown, frown, went Cottan’s face, then the smallest of smiles as things started going his way and then finally, big frown.

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The closing scene of Cottan watching Denton freed while that choir of ringtones struck up made the vulnerability of his position clear for the first time. Up until now he’s been the coolest of customers, his unhurried persona belying the scheming manipulator beneath. Now, we’re finally seeing Dot panic.

And in his panic, you can’t help but feel some sympathy. Yes, Cottan’s the worst kind of bastard and precisely the type of bent copper that AC-12 exists to bring to justice, but tell me his face outside that bookie’s and in front of the TV news didn’t complicate your zeal to see him found out and punished.

The best way to tell a convincing lie is to wrap it in as much of the truth as you can afford. Cottan’s pathetic story of alcoholism and gambling addiction wrecking his marriage might just be another fiction told to gain Kate’s trust, a side dish to go with that bowl of chilli, but I’m not sure. Cottan, albeit in a much reduced way to the awful, awful events at Sandsview, is another victim of grooming. Tommy Hunter took a kid from a bad part of town and used him for his own gain. All this time Cottan’s been pulling everyone else’s strings, we never considered who’s been pulling Cottan’s.

Line Of Duty does a lot with a little when it comes to this sort of character development, the kind when a previously one-note villain blossoms into a complex, wronged figure after a single, wordless scene. It happened continually with Lindsay Denton last series. It’s still happening now that she’s free. Danny Waldron has gone from monster to victim and back again before settling as a damaged, tragic, avenging hero and he’s been dead for two of three episodes. It would take another drama five seasons to manoeuvre that kind of shift. Not Jed Mercurio. I bet he does speed Tai Chi as well. Stick that up your dojo.

Changing gear, the Sandsview storyline is so desperately sad and has so much to do with real-life news stories of the most heart-breaking, enraging kind that it’s impossible to ‘review’. You don’t have to look far to find the real-world parallel for the odious Dale Roach, a politician accused of serially abusing boys in a—the name is such a cruel insult—care home but medically unfit to stand trial.

Jason’s story was agonizing. Watching it told so simply and affectingly shook me out of the state of enjoyable tension Line Of Duty induces. I dropped my pen and just listened. That’s the least victims like the Sandsview boys are owed, a voice and people to listen. Knowing what happened to them makes Danny’s last, imperative plea to Kate unbearably poignant.

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In fact, scratch the sympathy for Dot. He knew exactly what he was covering up by burning that list. He called the Murphys “those two pervs” when pumping Hari for information about any other names Danny might have let slip, quizzing him on references to “Politicians, coppers…”. Cowardly, greedy, weak people like him are the reason abuse allegation records are lost and ruined lives stay ruined. 

That’s the kind of character Mercurio specialises in. People you can change your mind utterly over not just week to week, but paragraph to paragraph. The man’s a wizard.

Hastings reminded an endearingly worked-up Steve this week that the job of AC-12 is catching coppers on the take and in the pockets of criminals. That’s Cottan. He’s their quarry and he’s the real story of series three. How long do you think until his colleagues start to smell a rat?

Unless Kate already has, which is why she accepted that cosy invitation. She is, remember, a brilliant liar…