Line of Duty Series 6 Episode 3 Review: The End of the Line?

Is Kate the player or the played? Will Buckells buckle under pressure? And why is it all feeling worryingly like an ending? Spoilers ahead.

Line of Duty 6-3 Ryan police car
Photo: World Productions

This Line of Duty review contains spoilers.

If looks could kill, they’d be clearing the corpses from Hillside Lane Station with a forklift right now. That whole hour was a filthy stare-a-palooza. Jo to Steve. Steve to Jo. Kate to Buckells when he announced the death of PC Lisa Patel with the emotion of somebody passing on a change to the office recycling policy, not missing a beat between his ‘sad news…tragically… thoughts with her family’ platitudes and a PR-friendly photo op. 

The dirtiest of all stares was a look of such fiery incredulity, it came through the screen and set off my living room smoke alarm. Vicky McClure’s eyes are weapons-grade in most situations, but when Kate questioned Ryan about his reservoir dip, they came close to blasting the little psycho backwards through a wall. Lyin’ Ryan had an answer for everything she put to him. It was a blown tyre that sent the cop car plunging into the reservoir. A gunshot. An unexpected rabbit. A dog did it. He lied like a chief political advisor in a rose garden, knowing that he was protected and could act with impunity. That’s why he tried to off Terry Boyle in a MacGyver stunt instead of something lower key and easier to disguise. After all, why not? The bigger the lie, the more they believe.

Well, Kate didn’t believe. She’s onto him. The moment the camera tracked across to her checking the rear-view mirror and pulling out of that car park, first my heart leapt, and then my stomach clenched. Ryan being on Kate’s team is like weeing with the cubicle door unlocked – you just can’t relax. Only when back-up had arrived and she was standing on that reservoir bank, blue blanket flapping in the wind like a superhero’s cape, was it safe to finally breathe out. For now at least.

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The reservoir stunt was timed for maximum surprise, first with Lisa coming up for air, and then, like an old school monster movie, Terry breaking the surface just when you thought it was all over. Terrific stuff. Given that the rest of the episode’s tension came from everybody looking daggers at everybody else and silently adding ‘chinny reckon’ to the ends of their lines (“Wow, that was some good luck for you wasn’t it?”, “Yes ma’am, I thank my lucky stars,”), the sequence added variety.

Where Kate’s concerned, perhaps Ryan isn’t the one to worry about. Davidson might be the real danger. In Terry Boyle’s interview scene, Kate and Jo were a two-headed push-me-pull-you, going in opposite directions. By the end of the episode, Jo seemed to have Kate exactly where she wanted her, i.e. leading away Det Supt Buckells, a turkey Jo had hand-delivered to AC-12, plucked and trussed. 

Buckells is a prat, but that man’s no criminal mastermind. If he were, would he really store the stolen Vella files in his service vehicle? All that fiddling with golf clubs was supposed to point us towards “Caddy” and Tommy Hunter, but really pointed towards Buckells being a failing-upwards lightweight who’s in it for the pension and keener on improving his swing than either finding or concealing Gail Vella’s murderer. Ten quid says Jo set him up. Her “All under control now” laptop message to – presumably – H at the episode’s close said as much. The real questions are: does Kate know she’s being used to do Davidson’s dirty work? And with Jo framing more coppers than a photographer at a passing out ceremony, who’ll be next? 

It wasn’t all dirty looks being thrown about; there were a couple of lump-in-throat nods exchanged between Kate and Ted when she returned to AC-12 in civvies. To begin with, Hastings couldn’t even meet her eye, but by the time the lift doors closed on Kate’s auburn quiff, the ice between her and the gaffer had begun to thaw.

That AC-12 lift, incidentally, is a cracking dramatic device. Whatever face a character puts on in public, alone in that metaphorically plummeting glass coffin, it all drops away and we see what’s really going on. Kate was more shaken by being back at the old gaff than she let on, Jo is really not enjoying the complicated chess game she’s been forced into playing – however good at it she’s proving to be. We saw from her anguished reaction to Lisa’s death and the news about Farida’s assault that she’s no ice queen. And Steve? Oh, Steve, Steve, Steve. 

As great as Vicky McClure is this episode, Martin Compston’s the one who breaks your heart. Series six has taken Steve down such a bleak path. His addiction, his loneliness, his chronic pain and desperate, failed attempt to kick the pills made for a tough watch. When he hinted jokily to Kate about that takeaway, it was obvious how much he missed their partnership. By the time he admitted to Steph Corbett that he had “no-one at all”, it was almost too much. 

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Steve’s trapped – not, like most of this show’s trapped officers, because an OCG’s turning the screws on him – but because his job is all he has, and if he were to come clean about his injury, it could be taken away from him. That would a mighty waste, because DI Arnott is a bloodhound. Once he’d picked up the scent of something iffy about Steph’s finances, it led him all the way to her cash in the attic, burgeoning relationship be damned. What will his next move be? 

Speaking of screws turning on people, over at HMP Brentiss, poor Farida suffered by the same hand as Lindsay Denton all those years ago. Alison Merchant was one of the security officers who deliberately scalded Denton to stop her from talking in series two, and now she’s done the same to Farida. 

That was yet another link to the past from this series, which is weaving together everything that’s gone before in a way that feels valedictory. Vella’s reports have come out swinging for real-world targets (remember that 50,000 nurse promise in the 2019 Tory election manifesto?) with a ferocity that feels uncomfortably like a final push.

Ted in particular has had such a generous quota of enjoyable one-liners this series, he may as well be on a tour of his greatest hits, strutting onto stage and hitting the crowd with the one about bent coppers, the one about the letter of the law, then closing on this week’s t-shirt-worthy line about being the epitome of an old battle. Kate even joined Ted on stage for a back-to-back duet on the one about the preservation of life. It’s all feeling a little too complete for our man, from his rapprochement with Kate to AC’s Wise’s reference to wasting his “last roll of the dice.” With no news as yet on a seventh series commission (though given the chance, the BBC would be mad not to), might the gaffer, the show itself, or both be approaching the end of the line?

Line of Duty continues next Sunday the 11th of April at 9pm on BBC One.