This review contains spoilers.
Line Of Duty creator Jed Mercurio originally trained as a doctor; if he’s still licensed to write prescriptions, he owes us all a month’s worth of anti-anxiety pills and a sedative after that.
And perhaps something for finger cramp. After ten minutes of holding mine to my face, rigid as bicycle spokes, I can barely type. From the second Jamie arrived in the interrogation room to the moment he handed over his gun, I’m not sure I exhaled.
Even after Jamie gave Steve the gun, there was more cheering to be done than respiration. AC-12 won the day; Ted Hastings shot Balaclava Man (whose identity turned out to be by-the-by); Roz Huntley finally came clean; and the bent-est copper of them all, ACC Hilton, was unveiled and silenced for good. No more swanky lunches for you, fella.
It was a big, US-style treat of a finale, unafraid to give the punters a happy ending and our heroes a moment of… well, heroism. Had Hastings turned straight to camera and saluted over that final caption, it wouldn’t have felt out of place. In fact, in my mind’s eye, that’s precisely what he did.
The episode was a triumph of structure. Mercurio carefully controlled the tide of ‘things going AC-12’s way’ so it flowed and ebbed across the hour. Progress was made, then hopes were dashed, then more progress, then more dashed hopes. In, out, in, out went that tide, until finally, a wave of proper coppering crashed onto the beach leaving behind it a glistening, Poseidon-styled Ted flanked by two dolphins with the faces of Steve and Kate.
Forgive the flight of fancy; TV this gripping addles you. We’ve spent six weeks paying minute attention to every blink, sniff and swallow on this show, freeze-framing shots of men in balaclavas to search for clues, and concocting complex theories of guilt based solely on supposition and sleep deficiency (Maneet’s baby is Balaclava Man!, Dot’s ghost did it!), and now we finally know.
What do we know? Balaclava Man was nobody we’d been expecting but simply “a known violent criminal with long-term associations going all the way back to Tommy Hunter”. Jimmy Lakewell was in on it. So was ACC Hilton. The shady organised criminals pulling strings behind the scenes in series one were the real rotters behind all this. They killed Baswinder and Leonie to use their bodies as leverage against corrupt copper Derek Hilton, and they abducted Hana Reznikova to frame Michael Farmer at Lakewell’s suggestion.
We also know that Roz Huntley was acting alone. Pressured by Hilton to get a result and desperate to save her career at all costs, she bullishly ignored evidence that might cast doubt on Michael Farmer’s guilt, which led to a confrontation with Tim Ifield that spiralled out of her control.
It’s a telling critique from Line Of Duty that neither Tim nor Roz—two experienced officers with decades of service between them—trusted the law to protect them. Knowing there was no clear way out of the accidental situations in which they’d found themselves, they both decided a cover-up was their best chance of surviving intact. We all saw how well that ended – Tim lost his life and Roz lost everything but. (They may still be legally married, but what are the chances of the Huntleys putting all that behind them? Just picture the Relate sessions.)
Roz would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those pesky AC-12 kids. Pushing morality and the letter of the law aside for a moment, you have to take your hat off to her – Huntley came damned close. Ultimately, it wasn’t even Ted, Kate or Steve that brought her down, but bacterial nose fibres. Like the invading Martians in The War Of The Worlds, she was caught out by a virus (and, to some extent, by Automatic Number Plate Recognition software, which wasn’t much bother to the aliens, truth be told).
There’s been something off-worldish about Thandie Newton’s Huntley throughout this series. Her unearthly composure under intense pressure made her a compelling antagonist – you couldn’t take your eyes off her in case you missed the split-second when she allowed herself a single, anxious blink. Compare her interrogation scenes this episode with those of Nick. He shouted, thrashed about, broke down in tears… while she wore the unreadable, stoic face of a Renaissance portrait.
I’ll admit something too: in those closing scenes, I started to like her. No, not for hitting her spouse or for chucking under the bus anyone she could get her hands (sorry, hand) on, but because of the final acts of redemption she was granted by Mercurio. After months of desperate cover-up, Roz’s last moves weren’t to save herself but to do her job and then to save someone else – Jamie, another schmuck who very nearly ended up as a photo on AC-12’s gallery of past victims. “Am I still a police officer?” Roz asked Ted, exhibiting the first true humility we’d seen from her by calling him ‘Sir’ unbidden. And then, with crafty manipulation, careful paperwork and the keen eye for detail she’s displayed throughout, she read Lakewell his rights and presented her evidence. You couldn’t not like her at that moment, for the same reason we loved unhinged Lindsay Denton: she was clever, and better at her job than everyone else.
In the end, Roz Huntley wasn’t truly a villain. And neither was ACC Hilton. Neither, even, was Jimmy Lakewell, a character whose photo is begging to grace the nation’s dartboards. They were all characters who made the wrong decisions and who paid dearly for them. There but for the grace of God go the rest of us, is Line Of Duty’s chastening lesson. Perhaps, like Steve, we’d have stopped sooner, perhaps not. Nothing’s certain.
Except, of course, for one thing. Arise, Sir Ted Hastings. After a week of TV mag covers and interviews teasing the bell tolling for Ted, he lived. Did you really doubt he would? He’s Ted Hastings, son. Like the battle.
What’s that you say? Those final seconds even had you wondering about Ted? Hush thy mouth. Blasphemy!
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.