This review contains spoilers.
If we’ve learned anything from Line Of Duty, it’s that stuff isn’t always how it looks. Good police lurk under bad fringes. The lanky chilli-making DI who seems so laid back is secretly sweating in the pocket of organised crime. Neil Morrissey didn’t even need a walking stick. And that enthusiastic new secondment who keeps popping her head around the door to say “Sorry ma’am, I couldn’t help but overhear…” isn’t just keen; she’s there to prove you’re bent.
But there’s no getting away from how this looks: DCI Huntley’s husband is Balaclava Man and he’s just killed Steve. From any angle, however much it disrupts the theories you’ve held up until this point, that’s what we just saw happen, isn’t it? (That’s not rhetorical, I’m in need of help.) At the end of this week’s episode, a panicked Nick Huntley donned a balaclava, whacked our man with a bat and chucked him down the stairwell of a fifth floor office. DS Steve Arnott isn’t resting, stunned or pining for the fjords; he’s deceased. The blunt instrument has worn his last waistcoat. Mate.
And eaten his last lamb madras. The momentary smile from Steve over his and Kate’s reconciliation curry was a kindness on the part of a show with little interest in comforting or reassuring its audience.
Letting Steve swagger about like Billy Big-Balls all episode was another kindness. If this was going to be Martin Compston’s last day at work on Line Of Duty, Steve was going to be front and centre, marching around, issuing orders, winding people up, turning the screw and doing his best Columbo impression at Huntley’s law firm. No, it wasn’t quite ‘David Tennant handing out winning lottery tickets from the TARDIS’ but it gave the character his due.
Steve was also granted the honour of being right about everything this week. He thought the unthinkable and suspected Huntley of being Ifield’s murderer (tick), he noticed the dodgy labelling on that forensic sample she’d tampered with (tick), and it was his idea to put pressure on Huntley’s husband (splat).
That last one didn’t work out well for Steve, but it has exposed Nick Huntley as a murderer, and most likely the murderer – the bastard Huntley’s in charge of finding.
I have to confess at this point that I’ve lost my grip on what this series is up to. After the strength of the three previous runs, Line Of Duty’s well-earned my continuing trust, but the latest development has more than a little nose-wrinkling ‘huh?’ about it. A DCI’s husband turning out to be the serial killer she’s hunting feels like a script pitch by Adaptation’s Donald Kaufman (whose big screenplay denouement revealed that the cop, the killer and the victim/love interest were one and the same person). Isn’t it just too naffly ironic for a show of this calibre?
And wasn’t it also a bit too clearly signposted to be satisfying? Most of us had dismissed Nick Huntley as a potential baddie because he felt too obvious a bet. The simple fact that he existed made him a suspect to begin with. Line Of Duty doesn’t routinely pad out its characters’ home lives for the sake of it. Introduce a spouse and we’re going to notice; there’s no chance they’ll be able to hide in plain sight. Especially if the camera lingers ever so slightly on the boot of their car minutes after we’ve seen the culprit bundle a girl into the boot of his. And especially if there are shots of them gazing mysteriously into the middle distance over the wife’s shoulder mid-hug. And even more especially if they’re absent with a flimsy excuse during the attempted abduction of the potential third victim.
More revelations spilled out about her this episode, and with them came yet more questions. Like the previous victims, Hana Reznikova was a sex worker as well as a cleaner and waitress. Specifically, she was a sex worker whose services had been used by Tim Ifield in the week before he died. Aside from the obvious, what was Tim’s motivation there? Was he gathering more DNA for his own personal investigation? Did the cigarette butts and hair samples he kindly showed the camera before pulling his balaclava on and going shopping for power tools in episode one, belong to Hana?
Whatever he was doing, Roz Huntley played the situation to her advantage by cooking up the story that Hana had killed Tim in self-defence. Add that to her lie about Tim and Michael Farmer being accomplices and she almost has this all sewn up. All Huntley needs now is Farmer, who’s still cutting a pathetic figure, to plead guilty and hey presto.
As a side note, I shouldn’t have thought that failing to disclose to Farmer’s solicitor that Tim’s DNA was found on one of the bodies would make much difference. I doubt that man would look up if you disclosed to him that his legs were in the process of being eaten by a crocodile.
Huntley also brought Kate into the fold this week, all the better to keep an eye on the snooping DS she suspects is watching her, as per that anonymous tip-off. Whoever’s going to replace Steve (RIP) in AC-12, it won’t be Buckles, an officer whose idea of an undercover op is leaving Post-It notes written in the hand of an eight-year-old girl on someone’s computer monitor. Perhaps newcomer Jamie—the tall, handsome officer that Steve took an inexplicable, baseless dislike to—is here to stay.
To wrap up then, this week’s homework questions:
1) Does Huntley know, and has she been protecting her husband all along? Surely somebody of her tough composure wouldn’t just keep quiet if she thought there was even a chance she was sharing a bed with a woman-murdering, dismembering monster? (That said, she did marry a corporate lawyer.)