This review contains spoilers.
Jed Mercurio says he doesn’t write tragedy, but what else could you call tonight’s episode? It unfolded like a Greek play, from the opening commendation ceremony—a scene scarcely more ironic had Mark Antony popped in to present Cottan with the award for most ‘honourable man’—to the death of Lindsay Denton, a conflicted hero whose fatal flaw finally proved such.
Denton’s tragic error was taking a shortcut to what she perceived as justice. You could say her fate was sealed the moment she broke faith with the law to see Tommy Hunter punished. Everything that happened to her since the ambush resulted from that mistake and her subsequent denial. She was Oedipus. With a fringe.
Like all tragic heroes, Lindsay had a moment of too-late recognition that her earlier mistake was the reason for her downfall. When Cottan offered her a further bribe, she refused, reasserting her previously betrayed professional ethics. “Why not just take the money?” he urged. “Because I’m a police officer”, Lindsay screamed.
The integrity implicit in that title and its abuse is Line Of Duty’s subject. As Ted told Fairbanks, you expect low morals and lies from celebrities and politicians, but police officers should stand apart.
That’s why, beyond its shock twists and bloody cliff-hangers, this show is so unsettling. By making its cops and robbers one and the same, there’s no comfort to be had. The heroism vs villainy narratives of other crime drama is replaced by the discomfiting truth that no-one is wholly reliable or trustworthy. Even characters doing the right thing either struggle thanklessly in the task or do so at a cost. By showing us the police’s feet of clay, it feels as though Jed Mercurio has vanished all the grown-ups who were supposed to be looking after us and left the world unguarded.
It wasn’t him, of course. Life did that, he’s just writing about it.
Real-world revelations over the past few years have seen faith in institutions crumble. Politics, the Church, the Police, show business… people we’d been told we could trust abused that power. Line Of Duty summed all that up this week using a single, shorthand image of a predatory rapist camouflaged for decades by a cartoonish public persona and powerful connections.
That Photoshopped picture was an intake-of-breath moment for the audience, one that made you wonder whether out and out connecting the fictional Sandsview case with Jimmy Savile and the real-life Yewtree and Midland operations was in bad taste.
To my mind, it wasn’t at all. Your reaction will rest on whether you feel that victims’ stories are being exploited solely for titillating entertainment, or if Line Of Duty has a mission that extends beyond sensationalism. I think it does. Forcing the show’s millions of viewers not just to shiver at aberrant celebrity boogeymen but face the workaday architecture of concealment that keeps real abuse complaints quashed and real victims’ stories discredited is not only not in bad taste, but a vital use of responsible drama. I have to side with Ted on this one.
Before Lindsay unforgettably stole the show, this was going to be Ted Hastings’ episode. Adrian Dunbar carried scene after scene, from his regretful suspension of Steve, to an interview with Fairbanks that took him from matey to livid and every colour in between, to that mighty clash with Gill. Twice now he’s chosen morality over personal advance. Ted’s a rare thing in Line Of Duty, a principled man.
And now, thanks to 4G and the none-more-sharp deductive mind of Lindsay Denton, Ted has Danny’s list. It can’t be long before he susses that Dot’s framed Steve, can it? As Lindsay said, Dot’s DNA would be all over that murder scene whoever’s car the corpse was found in.
Ted may not be Steve’s only hope on that front. A lot rests on the moment Kate backed away from an advancing Dot and his garage forecourt flowers. “Regs”, she said, “let’s take it slow, yeah?” Was that genuine shyness, or is Kate steering clear of a physical relationship to ensure her undercover operation won’t be undermined in the same way as Steve’s? We know she’s gone rogue to investigate one of AC-12. What we don’t know is that Steve is the subject of said investigation.
Interrupting the chin-stroking for a moment, let’s bow our heads and pay tribute to DI Denton. I was far too hasty predicting her cockroach-like survival come the end of the world after last episode’s momentary triumph. She’s a legendary television character, brilliantly acted, and she won’t be forgotten. Still, nothing’s going to bring her back from this one. No triumph or humiliation will be Lindsay Denton’s again. At least in her final moments, she was good police.
Oh, and phew, clever Maneet is fine. Just a stomach bug. Panic over.
What’s that you say? It’s not over? There’s an extended-length finale to come?
If Line Of Duty can put us through what it’s just put us through in an hour, imagine the damage it’ll be able to inflict in ninety minutes. Deep breaths, everyone.
Read our review of the previous episode here.