Warning: contains spoilers for the Line of Duty series six finale.
“The genuine answer is we don’t know,” Line of Duty actor Martin Compston told the Shrine of Duty podcast last week about whether or not the BBC One crime drama will return. “But that’s nothing different for us. Jed always takes his time.” As reported by Radio Times, Compston explained, “After a series, [creator Jed Mercurio] always takes a couple of months… I think he likes to take the emotion out of it and sit down and look at all that.”
To judge by series six’s mammoth audience numbers, a seventh series would seem like a no-brainer, and yet there’s still no commission announcement.
In previous years, the BBC commissioned two Line of Duty series at a time. After the hit second run featuring Keeley Hawes as Lindsay Denton, a third and fourth series were ordered. When they performed so well that the police thriller was moved from a BBC Two weeknight slot to the prestige BBC One Sunday night drama position, a joint commission for series five and six followed. Since then? No news.
Creator Jed Mercurio has previously said in interviews that he didn’t want to risk of leaving fans dissatisfied by not being able to provide a satisfying ending to Line of Duty’s ongoing mysteries if for whatever reason, the show wasn’t recommissioned. Without another series order in the bank before writing the most recent run, that could explain why series six has felt so final. Several characters returned from the past, and the last episode provides an answer to the ongoing mystery over the identity of ‘H’ or ‘The Fourth Man’.
A plotline in series six also sees the top brass in Central Police restructuring anti-corruption as whole and merging AC-12 with two other units while redeploying or letting go 90 percent of the staff. Head of AC-12 Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) has been forced to take retirement, and replaced by another member of staff – DCS Carmichael (Anna Maxwell Martin). DI Steve Arnott (Compston) had a position lined up in Serious Crime (and possibly a serious relationship with John Corbett’s widow Steph), while Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) had already left for the Murder Investigation Team. The finale’s last sequence shows the ‘Search for H’ investigation boards being dismantled as mugshots of the show’s previous guest stars are taken down and boxed away, in order of most recent to earliest.
The series six finale then, could well be the ending full stop. AC-12 is closing, H has been unmasked and Ted Hastings is leaving the force. If this is it, nobody could be disappointed with the way things have come full circle and wrapped up.
The showrunner’s new production company Hat Trick Mercurio, which is currently making a second series of Belfast-set Bloodlands, producing a new drama serial based on the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, and making thriller series Trigger Point starring Vicky McClure as a bomb disposal expert, means that Jed Mercurio’s plate is full. The same goes for the in-demand stars of Line of Duty, who have appeared in several new dramas including Blood, Traces, The Nest and The Replacement.
If, however, Mercurio and the BBC do decide to bring back the show in future, paths back in have been laid. We learned in the finale that Hastings had lodged an appeal against his retirement. Kate also told Steve that she hadn’t realised what she’d had in AC-12 until she left, and that she’d be willing to come back to the team to keep the rest of them in line.
While fans would never say no to more from AC-12, after almost a decade since the first series, this could well be the right place to end. As Martin Compston explained on the Shrine of Duty podcast, “There’s different elements this year.”
“When we get ten years in, you start to think of legacy, and if it goes down that well in some ways it might be the perfect ending. We won’t do [another series] just for the sake of doing it. That won’t happen. Jed will only do it if he feels there’s a story there to be told.”