Line Of Duty series 5 episode 4 review: the past returns

History rears its head in the latest hugely tense Line Of Duty series 5 episode. Major spoilers ahead in our review…

This review contains spoilers.

What a thrifty seamstress Line Of Duty has been, saving up offcuts from series one and stitching them together here into something new. A complicated call-back quilt. A frilled valance of doubt. 

The last time Steve received a “Fahrenheit” (shoot to kill) order, it meant the end of his career in counter-terrorism. Before he was recruited to AC-12, his unit fired at the wrong suspect and killed an innocent man. Whatever it cost his relationship with Daddy Hastings, in that tense stand-off with Corbett, he wasn’t about to make the same mistake. 

Superintendent Ted Hastings’ time serving in the Royal Ulster Constabulary was mentioned just once in Line Of Duty’s first series. Arguing that he was more familiar with victimisation (and therefore less likely to do it) than anyone, Ted told Steve that in his first year of service, he and his best friend from training – the only two Catholic officers in their unit – were deliberately sent by their colleagues into the path of a pipe bomb planted by a loyalist paramilitary group. 

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As a result, Ted spent a month in intensive care and his friend died. The duty log was destroyed and the unit colluded in a cover-up. It’s Ted Hastings’ origin story, if you like, the reason he’s devoted his career to sniffing out criminal conspiracy in the ranks of the police. Why is Ted Hastings so devoted to the rules and regs? Because he’s seen close-up what happens when they’re disregarded. 

In a development more surprising than series five’s star having his throat slit with two episodes to go (at this point, the real shock would be if a Mercurio-written lead survived all six), Ted’s Northern Irish history is suddenly relevant. John Corbett started life as Belfast boy John McGillis whose father died in 1984, contemporaneously with Ted’s service in the RUC. John’s mother then died in 1989, after which point he was adopted by somebody on his dad’s side of the family.  

The revelation leads us with a new mystery to solve: who were Anthony and Anne-Marie McGillis, and why did their orphaned son hold bent coppers, and Ted Hastings, responsible for what happened to his family? (“He spoke with a Belfast accent. He said you’d know why he’d done it. He said you’d know what you’d cost him.”)

It turns out that Corbett’s bitter prejudice against corrupt officers wasn’t arbitrary, but personal. Like Danny Waldron’s in series three, his was a revenge mission from childhood. Bent coppers destroyed his family – or so he believed – so he grew up to be a bent-copper-killer. He was Scouse Batman, without the cape.

Well, now he’s a wet stain on the floor. Goodbye to Operation Pear tree. Goodbye to calling Steve mate. Goodbye to Steph and the kids. Goodbye – with warm gratitude from livers around the UK – to viewers taking a drink every time Corbett said the words “bent copper”. Goodbye John.  

As the man responsible for Maneet’s death and Roisin’s torture, Corbett’s death was an act of karmic balance, regrettable only because of the moving performances Stephen Graham put in on the phone to John’s wife, our sole glimpse of his authentic self (if any such thing remained).  

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It wasn’t as though John hadn’t been warned; in the tale of Tommy Hunter, Lisa told him what happened to rats. The moment she broke rank to negotiate a deal with that other gang should have told John that he was no longer safe. Lisa set up the fake shopping centre meet as a trap, and then set her plan in action. An unnecessarily theatrical plan, yes, but one prepared solely for our benefit. This is telly designed to thrill, after all. 

Telly with a keen sense of the attention its viewers are paying. Is there another drama so confident in its obsession-making ability that it would tuck away a potentially series-defining clue in the misuse of a single vowel? Last episode, User 2972 typed “definately”. This week, impersonating User 2972, Ted Hastings typed “definately.” Ergo, Ted is User 2972 and more bent than the contents of Uri Geller’s cutlery drawer?

Still no to that, but the trial of Ted continues. Series five – painstakingly constructed to allow for dual interpretations of every move Ted makes – appears to be testing the question: how much can a good man take? Temptation, suffering, the torture of a loved one, the digging-up of old dirt… under sufficient weight, will Ted bend? The answer to that all depends on what he does with that wedge of cash. Submit it as evidence, or make it rain on his next visit to the Red Lion? 

Speaking of rain, let’s hear your theories on the intertextual relevance of Chicken Licken to the Line Of Duty universe. The story read aloud to John’s kids as he bled to death can’t simply have been chosen because it sounds ace in a Scouse accent. Here’s one reading: John Corbett was Chicken Licken, wanting to tell the King (prove to Steve) that the sky is falling (Ted Hastings is a bent copper), but before he’s able to, Foxy Loxy (Lisa) eats him up (has his throat slit in a surprise twist). 

The sky was never falling in the first place, see. Chicken Licken had the whole thing wrong.

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