This review contains spoilers.
A confession: when Thandie Newton’s head hit that kitchen worktop my faith wavered. Line Of Duty’s heavily trailed new lead isn’t going to make it past episode one again? Surely not?
Surely not, and shame on me for entertaining the idea that writer Jed Mercurio (who also directed the first two episodes of series three) didn’t have this all wrapped up as tightly as Ted Hastings’ sandwiches. Newton’s eyes flicked open as Jason Watkins loomed over her with that reciprocating saw and all doubt vanished from my mind.
It was the most breath-taking cliff-hanger yet. Any other crime drama would have left a moment like that for episode five of six but not Line Of Duty. This show has no truck with delayed gratification. Its series openers are the storytelling equivalent of those multi-handled ‘enforcers’ the police use to bash down doors.
Just look at tonight’s opening minutes. We had a car accident, an abduction, an escape attempt, a police chase, a firebomb explosion and a rescue without even a breather for the opening credits. We saw DCI Roz Huntley go from quiet family life to the controlled chaos of an active police search in the blink of an eye. One second she was doing the dishes, the next she was striding through the crime scene, issuing a complicated string of abbreviated commands and pulling a kidnap victim out of a burning building, all without breaking her stride. If we ever needed proof that Line Of Duty has not one royal minute to fuck about, that was it.
Which is why we can be confident that Huntley’s shrugging teenagers and probably cheating ‘sorry last meeting overran’ husband are going to be relevant in a way that Kate’s never-seen little boy isn’t. Mercurio doesn’t do background colour; he takes us where the story needs to go. If we were shown Roz in humdrum domesticity, being ignored by her kids or staring out of her bedroom window, there’ll be a reason why.
Ditto for the way our attention was drawn to Huntley’s suspicious-seeming underling Neil (Mark Stobbart) and to the anonymous black car that pulled up outside Tim Ifield’s place after Huntley was buzzed in. Past experience teaches that nothing in this show happens superfluously.
Not that, obviously, we’re going to get an explanation for most of it anytime soon. Being kept guessing is all part of the masochistic fun of being a Line Of Duty viewer, especially in these early stages. Eventually we’ll learn who’s done what and how far up the conspiracy—if there is one—goes, but be prepared to change your mind on all of that fifteen times before the final credits roll.
There are currently any number of possibilities, for instance, as to why DCI Huntley was acting withdrawn while her team was celebrating Michael Farmer’s arrest. Perhaps it was relief. Perhaps she knew he didn’t do it. Perhaps she suspected foul play. Perhaps she was sick of hearing sly ‘some would say you belong on the scrapheap but not me’ pep talks from her boss. Perhaps she was just tired after taking the bins out.
There are fewer possibilities as to why Jason Watkins’ forensic coordinator Tim Ifield chose to go all Dexter instead of calling an ambulance when it looked as though Roz was a goner. His unlawful gathering of forensic evidence at Hana’s café made him seem creepy but in a jobsworth kind of way. His steady competence in preparing to dismember Huntley’s corpse though, made him seem monstrous. If Ifield is this series’ villain, or one of them at least, then what made him so determined to draw AC-12 into this mess? Were his concerns genuine, or is this all part of a bigger plan?
Speaking of our old pals, we rejoined them fifteen minutes in (more or less at the first point you will have breathed out since those urgent opening scenes). An undisclosed period has passed since ‘Dot’ framed Steve and died saving Kate’s life, during which time Kate has earned a promotion and Steve has become antsy about his own career progression, causing some hostility between the pair. “I know how to run an undercover” she told him testily, in the first of series four’s graffitied underpass meetings. Steve of all people should be confident about that – the last time we saw Kate run an undercover op, it saved him from prison.
Superintendent Hastings remains the glorious stalwart he’s always been. After a cynical swipe about an executive officer’s “Crimewatch audition”, he made it clear that if there’s a chance police wrongdoing might send an innocent young lad to prison in the Michael Farmer case, he wants to know about it.
Ted Hastings: he came here to catch bent coppers and drink whiskey, and pilgrim, he’s all out of whiskey.
Over a work lunch that only shored up his reputation as a no-frills hero (“sirloin steak, medium rare, no sauce, fella”), Ted decided that Paul Higgins’ ACC Hilton, he of the insults-disguised-as-compliments and shady talk about separating the facts from the truth, warranted a closer look.
Facing public pressure to get a result on Operation Trapdoor (“they’ve been killing us on Twitter”), did Hilton, or someone under him, have Farmer framed? That’s what AC-12 are tasked with sniffing out.
One thing’s certain – when Huntley gazed out of her window and said “it’s over. Finally. It’s over,” she was dead wrong. Brilliantly, it’s only just begun.
Read Louisa’s review of the series three finale, here.