Line of Duty

What is it?

Jed Mercurio’s drama about a police anti-corruption unit, AC-12, which first aired in 2012, with a sixth season starting in March 2021 (and rumours of a seventh). Although each series is standalone, with a separate investigation into potentially corrupt activities by police officers, the series as a whole is tied together by a network of bent cops led by a very senior officer, so far known only as ‘H.’

Who’s in it?

The regular cast are Martin Compston (portraying Londoner DS Steve Arnott so convincingly you’ll be shocked to hear his real accent), Vicky McClure (DI Kate Fleming), and Adrian Dunbar as boss Superintendent Ted Hastings. But the supporting cast has been immense. Lennie James (DCI Tony Gates), Keeley Hawes (DI Lindsay Denton), Thandie Newton (DCI Ros Huntley), Stephen Graham (DS John Corbett) and Kelly MacDonald (DCI Joanne Davidson) have all played the main focus of AC-12’s investigations over the course of a season, Neil Morrissey has oozed sleaze as dodgy-but-not-quite-bent DC Nigel Morton, and Craig Parkinson was the scariest man on TV at times as DI Mathew ‘Dot,’ Cottan. Mark Bonnar and Lee Ingleby have passed through as well as men caught up in AC-12’s enquiries. Actors such as Gina McKee, Jessica Raine, and Daniels Mays didn’t even last two episodes. Anna Maxwell Martin showed up at the end of season 5 to do some of the most subtly understated scenery chewing ever seen, as the waspishly polite DCS Patricia Carmichael.

Vicky McClure (Kate), Adrian Dunbar (Hastings), and Martin Compston (Steve) in the front, and in the back for the Sport Relief special, Jason Isaacs and Lee Mack – now the only H I will ever accept.

What I liked

Complex characters

No one in Line of Duty is entirely good, even if some people come close to being irredeemably bad. Even its lead male and female characters aren’t entirely or easily likeable. Compston described Steve Arnott as being a bit of a ‘Call-centre manager wanker,’ in one interview, trying to draw out that Steve is a bit full of himself and his own self-importance. In seasons 1 and 2 he had a bad habit of sleeping with witnesses, although by season 3 he was, supposedly, a changed man. His waistcoat habit has become a subject of humour among fans, but Compston originally made the choice to highlight that Steve was a bit of a prat. Similarly, Kate Fleming comes across as standoffish and unfriendly in season 1, and her lack of sympathy for Lindsay Denton in season 2 is quite jarring at times, as it appears that Lindsay is being set up by powerful conspirators, and Steve starts to believe her. The apparent ease with which she was partially turned against Steve in season 3, and with which Steve allowed himself to be set up, showed us again and again that they were deeply flawed individuals. Kate has a habit of jumping to conclusions ahead of the evidence; Steve is too cocky by half.

And yet…

Steve is dogged, tenacious, and thorough. Once AC-12 have started a case, he clings on and doesn’t let go, no matter where the investigations take him. Kate is one of the most loyal cops on TV, and tremendously brave to boot. Both are clever and determined, and their flaws only highlight this more. They’re relatable because we can see ourselves reflected in them. They screw up, their lives are sometimes a train wreck, at times they’re clearly making things up as they go along, and through all that they both keep going and they get there in the end. That’s a fair description of my life, and I’d expect a fair description of the lives of most of my readers. Line of Duty puts that on screen in a way that feels natural.

If Steve and Kate are complex, so is their supporting cast. Superintendent Ted ‘Super Ted,’ Hastings is the one character we can mostly trust to do the right thing, but even he has his wobbles. He’s clearly quite uncomfortable with female officers at times, and seems to be a not-very-closeted homophobe. He put off the investigation into Deputy Chief Constable Mike Dryden (Mark Bonnar) in season 2 for as long as he could after Dryden offered him a promotion that would have eased his financial difficulties and gone some way towards repairing his disintegrating marriage. And yet, he always comes good in the end, and delivers some of the most quotable lines in the series in the process. ‘There’s a line, it’s called right and wrong, and I know which side my duty lies,’ he growls at AC-12’s deeply compromised legal advisor, ‘Call me Gill,’ Biggeloe when she tries to interfere with his questioning of Dot. Try not to cheer when he says that.

Even its villains have never been entirely bad. Danny Waldron (Daniel Mays) kicked off season 3 by gunning down a fleeing suspect in cold blood, and then torturing another man to death. He seemed pretty beyond the pale, a murderous and violent thug who AC-12 needed to surgically excise from the force. Yet by halfway through the series, we learnt that nothing (shock) was as it seemed, and what we’d actually seen was an abuse victim killing his abusers years later. It didn’t make anything right, but it was hard not to sympathise with Waldron knowing everything he’d been through. Then, in season 4, DCI Ros Huntley seemed to be the ice warrior of doom, calculatingly and manipulatively framing her husband for a killing she had herself committed, and at one point threatening AC-12’s very existence. But, when it was apparent that AC-12 had her dead to rights, she admitted her guilt and exonerated her husband, to ensure that her kids would still have a parent. DCI Tony Gates of season 1 was a fundamentally decent man manipulated by his lover and a subordinate into supplying information to a major criminal. DI Lindsay Denton of seasons 2 and 3 was probably more misguided than bent, even if she could never accept that taking £50,000 to betray a protected witness was, well, pretty much the definition of corruption. Season 5’s DS John Corbett saw himself as the only decent sheriff in Dodge City, a man on the trail of institutionalised corruption that the police brass wanted covered up. Manipulated into believing that Hastings lay at the heart of the corruption and had betrayed his mother to the IRA decades before, he crossed line after line but could always justify it to himself as the only way to get the job done.

And then there’s Mathew ‘Dot,’ Cottan.

Dot informed on and helped manipulate Tony Gates in season 1, and set in motion the ambush that killed three fellow officers in season 2. He had Danny Waldron killed in 3, and framed Steve Arnott for a murder he had himself committed. All to protect VIP paedophiles with links to the organised criminals who had paid him. Even Dot had redeeming features, his affection for Kate leading him to save her life with his final act, and as Kate pointed out, he’d never really had much chance – the criminals had groomed him from an early age to infiltrate the police. His whole career had been designed as their inside man. Informing on them with his dying declaration gave him as much redemption as he could have had.

Heroes with feet of clay; villains who often don’t even realise they’re villains. Line of Duty gives all of its many characters enough time to establish themselves, and ensures that they are relatable to its viewers. We invest in them; we want to see them succeed. They are captivating and complex. They are the heart of the show.

Tony Gates was more manipulated than evil. Dot found some kind of redemption. And Nige just got slimier without ever actually being corrupt.

On-screen diversity

British TV can be hideously, hideously white at times. There’s a strong theory that the only reason Death in Paradise ever got made was because having a majority black casted show was the best way the BBC could think of to redress the balance at the turn of the Noughties.

Line of Duty happily bucks this trend, giving us POC characters in both supporting and main roles. Tony Gates (Lennie James) and Ros Huntley (Thandie Newton) have both been black characters at the centre of the series, and their characters have been complex, intelligent people full of very human flaws. AC-12 also gained the much-beloved PC Maneet Bindra (Maya Sondhi) in season 3 as a recurring supporting character, even if she did come to a sticky, heart-breaking end in season 5. Even with her death at the start of the series, AC-12’s team became more diverse with the inclusion of PC Tatleen ‘New Maneet,’ Sohota and Sergeant Kyle, who definitely has a last name but will always be Sergeant Kyle in our hearts. We’ve seen POC actors playing police Chief Superintendents (Steve Toussaint and Shaun Parkes in seasons 2 and 3), and in important supporting roles right from the start. It all shows a picture of modern Britain as a diverse place, where all races and religions work together.

Jed Mercurio’s other thriller, Bodyguard, garnered some criticism for showing too many women in powerful roles – some from the usual idiots, but some from feminists complaining that in Mercurio’s world it was too normalised. You could level the same criticism about Line of Duty’s treatment of race, in that it portrays people of colour (and, in season 5, women) holding powerful positions in an unproblematic way, but honestly, I think that this is more powerful. For a show that’s often very grim and dark, showing race relations, and now gender relations, as they should be is one of its more positive aspects. But fundamentally, this is about showing modern Britain as it actually is, not whitewashing it to make viewers feel like we’re still stuck in the 1930s ethnicity-wise, and the 1950s gender-wise. Far too few shows do this – think of Midsomer Murders, whose producers believed its success was down to the fact that they only cast white people. Let’s applaud Line of Duty for putting the effort in.

Also, wouldn’t Anna Maxwell Martin be great as the next DCI Barnaby in Midsomer Murders?

Steve, Kate, and Tatleen, in a show that at least tries to show diversity

Minute attention to detail

Radios that can switch channels. Detectives whose stab vests display correct rank insignia, and force ID numbers for junior officers. The annoying tape recorder beep that precedes every interview. Officers wearing their lanyards inside stations and AC-12’s office. The quoting of relevant legislation in interviews. Accused officers insisting on being interviewed by somebody one rank superior. Consistent radio codes. Identifying numbers for evidence items. Firearms officers from different forces using different guns and different uniform styles. Officers who use technical police terminology in their conversations.

For all that its main plotlines are often quite flamboyant and involve crimes that are actually incredibly rare, if not unheard of, in Britain, there’s a real sense of authenticity to Line of Duty that’s brought about by the pain they take to get little details right. It’s a sense of realism that other dramas often don’t even come close to replicating, and it sucks you in.

And a note about that accurate police terminology – many people complained that there were too many acronyms in season 5. Personally, I think this was because the terms ‘OCG,’ ‘UCO,’ and ‘AFO,’ were used onscreen an awful lot, rather than there being a lot of different acronyms, but a more important point is that Line of Duty is a show that expects its audience to do the work themselves. You can’t half-watch it while flicking through Twitter. The dialogue in season 5 wasn’t, on the whole, more technical and harder to follow than in season 3. But season 3 was while it was still a BBC 2 cult hit. On BBC 1, the show attracts a larger audience. It’s clearly chosen not to simplify itself for that audience, and let’s be honest, that’s the correct choice. Alienating its core fan base is a sure-fire way for any show to fail, and altering a key element of your atmosphere to try and attract a larger audience is one of the most recognised ways to quickly alienate fans.

All the twists you could ever want

Line of Duty has some very, very ballsy writers. The opening of season 3 was one of the most shocking starts to any drama that I can remember, and that included season 1 which opened with armed police shooting dead a father holding a baby in a botched operation. But what we were shown on screen was all a giant distraction from what was really going on. The only clue to what would come was in the first few seconds, when Danny looked up to see the face of the man he was being sent to apprehend, and the music changed subtly.

It was a hell of an opening, and it needed a big follow-up. But it was impossible to get a handle on where the series was going, as the return of Lindsay Denton and the hints of corruption surrounding Hastings made it difficult to trust any character except Kate. The Armed Response Unit that had seemed to be at the heart of the series was discarded by the end of episode three, and it increasingly seemed like Dot was trying to frame Steve, but his murder of Lindsay, one clearly planned in advance, came as a real shock.

Season 3 was probably the best of the bunch, but other seasons also toyed with our expectations and emotions. Season 1 saved its best till the last, with the revelation that Dot, apparently loyal to Tony Gates, was actually a deeply corrupt officer who had helped manipulate him. Throughout season 2, the guilt of Lindsay Denton hung in doubt. Steve at one point became convinced she was innocent, and throughout there was moments where I, and my housemates when they watched it, was utterly convinced that she was being set up by a corrupt superior. But ultimately Hastings’ instincts about her were right, even if the reason for her betrayal was a surprise. It had always seemed to be a strange coincidence that a missing persons case she was reviewing was tied into AC-12’s inquiries, but I was genuinely shocked by the resolution; that she wanted gangster Tommy Hunter dead to rescue a child sex worker he was abusing.

For twists and turns, though, season 4 has to take the biscuit. I joked that, after the deaths of Georgia Trotman and Danny Waldron at the start of seasons 2 and 3, season 4 would open with the introduction of AC-12’s new Officer Deadmeat – ‘I’m played by a highly recognisable actor and have hints of an interesting backstory and instant chemistry with Steve Arnott.’ ‘Oh that’s grand, just grand. Kate, would you ever call the undertaker and book us another funeral there?’ Even with all that, I did not expect another first episode death, and the whole start of the series turned my expectations entirely upside down. What was even better was that we knew what DCI Ros Huntley had done, and that she wasn’t corrupt at heart, just someone who felt pushed by circumstance into taking more and more extreme measures. My favourite moment of the series, though, came with the revelation that the serial killer known as Balaclava Man was no such thing. It was actually the modus operandi of the extremely dangerous organised crime group corrupting the officers AC-12 were investigating, who were forced out fully into the open for the first time since season 1. It again flipped what seemed to be happening on its head.

The revelation that there was no Balaclava Man disappointed some people, but for me it was entirely consistent with one of the underlying themes of Jed Mercurio’s shows – the threat of organised crime groups. He revisited this in Bodyguard, where although terrorist Nadia was arguably the face of the villains, organised crime boss Luke Akins turned out to be the real mastermind. Mercurio isn’t shy about this, his organised criminals aren’t Tommy Shelby-esque anti-heroes, the most honest people in their corrupt world; they’re brutal, vicious, avaricious, whose main interest is the making of money.

As for season 5… the death of Corbett was one of the most genuinely shocking moments LOD has ever given us. No one expected him to live, but he was widely expected to survive until episode 6. The horribly tense Eastfield Depot raid had me watching from behind the sofa, convinced for a moment that Super Ted lay dying beneath a balaclava, and I gasped out loud when he was seen handling a huge pile of cash. The twists and turns were great – at an operational level, LOD remained as good as ever. There was an over-arching strategic mistake in season 5 though, which I’ll look at in the ‘What I had problems with,’ section, that meant that it didn’t hit the same heights as previous seasons.

Ginger sus

Those interview scenes

The record for an LOD interview stands at a cool 24 minutes, when Steve stood accused of murdering Lindsay. But even shorter ones often run to 10 or 15 minutes, as AC-12 present their evidence and their suspects give them their answers. They crackle with tension, and the audience never quite knows where they’ll go. Steve’s at the end of season 3 was the longest, but the best was the 22-minute questioning of Dot later in that episode. Full of peaks and troughs, at times it seemed Hastings and Kate had Dot on the ropes, at others like he had an answer for everything, with the audience knowing his guilt and complicity screaming at them to nail him.

They have a realistic, authentic feel to them that goes beyond the identifier numbers given to items of evidence and the presence of Police Federation representatives and solicitors. Sometimes, suspects crack. Oftentimes, they don’t. Sometimes, like Tony Gates in season 1, it becomes clear that there are questions that they have no good answer to, but AC-12 don’t have anything themselves beyond a few things that don’t quite make sense. It took an enormous amount of evidence to break Ros Huntley in season 4.

I like the way that the interviews trust the audience as well. We’re expected to keep up and do the work ourselves, to remember what each piece of evidence is and what it might mean. Procedures are kept tight – the ‘I have the right to be interviewed by an officer one rank superior,’ has become a bit of a joke, but it’s a real police regulation. Solicitors rebuke police fishing trips, or attempts to ask curveball questions, just like they would in a real interview. And they aren’t just big set-pieces used to end series or episodes; they’re skilfully used to move the plot along. An interview with compromised Deputy Chief Constable Mike Dryden in season 2 looked set to expose him as the mastermind behind an ambush that killed three police officers. Instead, it began to throw suspicion back the way of Lindsay Denton, who by that point had been all but cleared by most audience members (myself included). Halfway through season 4, Ros Huntley turned the tables on AC-12 during an interview in a way that left the unit fighting for its existence and Hastings fighting for his job.

The best individual interview may have been the exposure of Dot in season 3, but the best use of them as a set-piece has to be the complete deconstruction of Hastings that took place at the end of season 5. Four lengthy scenes, stretching across two episodes, saw Maxwell Martin’s DCS Carmichael tear Super Ted down and lay his flaws bare before the audience in a fashion that was genuinely tough to watch at times. His confession to watching porn was as low as LOD has ever taken one of its characters, and coming from Ted, the man who won’t sleep with Gill Biggeloe because of his vows to his estranged wife, was hard to watch. Not just a tool for moving the plot along and exposing bad guys, the interviews expose our heroes’ faults and flaws as well.

Clever, tense, and claustrophobic, Line of Duty’s interview scenes are some of the most memorable in this most memorable of shows, and have rightly become the stuff of legend.

Layers upon layers that stand up to repeated viewing

You have to be watching the start of season 3 very closely to catch that Danny Waldron knows the man he’s being set to intercept…
Sometimes it’s the symbolism that you see later – Tony Gates plays ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ with his daughters whilst waiting for his time to run out.

Others, it’s a whole underlying subplot. Just how corrupt is Nigel Morton? How many characters’ names actually began with ‘H?’ Why does the camera linger on the guy behind Steve when he signs his firearm back in after taking one to Danny Waldron’s funeral? Dryden referring to Lindsay Denton as ‘Linda,’ on the phone at the start of season 2, after she’s just said her name, is actually a pretty clear hint that he knows her and gets her name wrong deliberately.

You can rewatch Line of Duty two or three times, and only later see the subtle hints at what’s coming, or see hints of underlying tension between characters. You don’t have to be a total nerd like me and do this, it doesn’t need to be watched two or three times to be enjoyed, but your enjoyment of it will not lessen with repeated views. This is something that can’t be said for many shows.

What I had problems with

Must I? Ok then…

Procedural niggles

Usual disclaimer – whilst procedural flaws are fun to spot, if they spoil your enjoyment of something, you’re watching it wrong.

Not too many of these to be fair. The biggest is probably the idea that AC-12 would have enough power and support within the police hierarchy to investigate and expose corrupt officers as fiercely and fearlessly as they do. Actual anti-corruption units are often hamstrung by internal politics, as senior officers prefer to avoid the embarrassment of corrupt officers being publicly exposed. Look at the fate of Operation Countryman, or many of the Metropolitan Police’s attempted purges of corrupt officers in the 1990s, for examples. There’s no evidence the Met ever tried to act on reports in 2002 or 2003 indicating that it had at least 150 deeply corrupt officers and that major London crime families could infiltrate sensitive units at will. Although this was addressed somewhat in season 5, with the cover-up of Operation Pear Tree’s failings and Gill Biggeloe’s repeated insistence that there was no institutionalised corruption. My feeling is that this will be looked at again in season 6.

In terms of actual procedural flaws, probably the biggest has been the casual ease with which the fictional Central Police Force hands out guns to anyone who asks for one. Steve managed to get his hands on one in season 3, but as a former counter-terror detective it was at least plausible that he would have had firearms training at some point. How on earth DC Jamie Desford was given a pistol at the end of season 4 to wave at AC-12 is beyond me. Steve and Kate were both packing heat at various points throughout season 5 – including at the end when they walked armed into AC-12’s offices. Now, there are occasions on which plainclothes officers with firearms training might be deployed with firearms, but these are usually connected to surveillance of suspects who may be armed, and it’s vanishingly rare for such surveillance to be carried out by anyone except trained specialists. Central Police, however, seems to hand out guns as though they’re Smarties. I’d probably get one if I asked nicely enough.

Other mistakes include the lack of batons or incapacitant spray for detectives (pepper spray would have really helped Steve in season 1), although think only The Bill ever actually bothered with them. And Assistant Chief Constable Hilton trying to recuse AC-12 from investigating Ros Huntley in season 4; anti-corruption units answer directly to the Deputy Chief Constable, who is the Chief Disciplinary Officer, precisely so their investigations can’t be interfered with. Before his untimely death, professional belligerent Yorkshireman DCS Hargreaves often interviewed suspects himself with a Sergeant in attendance – in reality officers of his rank observe, but do not conduct, interviews. That’s done by Detective Constables, with senior officers watching from a distance to get a better overview of what’s being said.

But honestly, Line of Duty gets the most right of just about any show going. If you want to see how internal police procedures work, this is one of the closest looks you’ll get outside of a documentary.

But seriously guys, you’re in Birmingham not Brooklyn 99. Put the shooty-shoots away.

The action scenes

Although they’re often tense, Line of Duty’s action scenes have a habit of running on, and stretching the bounds of plausibility. I thoroughly enjoyed Kate’s chase after Dot at the end of season 3, but it should have ended by the fence; even I have to admit that the car that picked Dot up basically drove in circles until she could get a clear shot. Danny Waldron’s murder of Ronan Murphy also went on maybe thirty seconds too long, although there was a reason for that. He needed to be separated from his team in order to murder Murphy.

Similarly, at the end of season 4, Hastings shoots one of the balaclava men dead with a pistol, whilst all the semi-automatic-rifle-toting armed police with him… did what, exactly? Lindsay found it far too easy to knock down the back seats of the car she was being held in during season 2. Season 5 fell in love with the kinds of shootouts, with automatic weapons spraying bullets everywhere, that would raise eyebrows in the US, never mind the UK. The action scenes are never bad, exactly, they just sometimes lack the same plausibility that is a hallmark of the rest of the show.

When Line of Duty gets it right, of course, it nails it. The start of season 1 was shocking  and tragic and perfectly paced, and the attack on Steve in season 4 was just what it needed to be – fast, furious, violent. But action scenes are not Line of Duty’s main strength. I’d be happy with more interviews…

Lack of humour

For all that LOD’s cops sound more like cops than most other police shows, one of the areas in which they really don’t get it right is the lack of humour. I’ve received a lot of advice about writing realistic police officers, from real police officers, and one of the most consistently repeated and common has been ‘Get the humour,’ right. Police officers make jokes and play pranks on each other constantly. The writers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine were very surprised to be told by police advisors that a lot of the pranks and pratfalls they had originally planned for the officers of the 99th Precinct were actually incredibly tame by police standards.

Now, constant goofing off, jokes, and pranks wouldn’t fit with the overall dark, gritty tone of the show, and it’s probably far more restrained in professional standards units anyway, but the almost total lack of it can be a bit jarring, especially when they are so many apparently open goals. Fans frequently referred to Operation Pear Tree as Operation Pear-shaped during season 5, for instance – something Steve and Kate would probably do between themselves as well (and I have to say, even if no one said it to his face, Hastings would definitely be known as ‘Super Ted,’ behind his back). Fans did a mock-up of the board of H suspects from the end of season 4 which included ‘H from Steps.’ Again, this is something real cops would probably do – even if Hastings would probably make them take it down again.

We don’t need lots of this. Just more than we get would be nice, and would add to the show’s overall authenticity.

To be fair, it wasn’t as though Danny Waldron (centre) ever had much to laugh about…

Occasionally too clever for its own good

Not every twist in Line of Duty makes total sense.

Before season 5, my favourite example of this was the murder of PC Rod Kennedy in season 3. Kennedy was another firearms officer in Danny Waldron’s unit suspected of murdering him. He was found hanged, and AC-12’s suspicion was that he’d been murdered by PC Hari Bains, Waldron’s real killer, when he wouldn’t go along with Bains’ story about a struggle for Waldron’s gun. But Bains always denied that murder, and the suspicion was that Dot had ordered it. The question is… why? Kennedy knew nothing about the Balaclava Men, and Bains was entirely expendable. He didn’t know anything of value, beyond confirming that the Caddy was still active. It made sense for Bains to kill Kennedy, not Dot, as was implied.

It also didn’t make much sense for the Balaclava Men to kill Waldron – at least, not when they did. Although they would probably have been on edge when they learnt that one of their former victims had killed an abuser in murky circumstances, there was no reason to suspect that Waldron was on a revenge rampage. After all, they didn’t know that it hadn’t occurred exactly as Waldron claimed, and he hadn’t even had time to recognise Murphy. Even if he had, his next target was the clearly expendable Linus Murphy. He could always be taken out if anything happened to Linus. They somewhat jumped the gun with their murder of Waldron, and helped tip AC-12’s hand to the larger conspiracy.

In season 4, it emerged that AC-12’s key witness, a forensic coordinator, had been paying a victim of crime in the case he was working on for sex. It was an unexpected twist, but one that didn’t really go anywhere. They did a good job of undermining the witness’ credibility, but it never added up to anything. He was ultimately just weird, and this got dropped as the case against Ros gathered momentum. I should just add here that ‘He/She’s just weird,’ is one of my least favourite explanations for a character’s behaviour – cf Ensign Tilly in Star Trek Discovery, who at first seemed to be an autistic character in a show famous for its use of characters who are allegories for autism as a means of exploring humanity, and then turned out to be ‘Just weird.’

A major plot point in season 3 was the possible sexual relations between Steve and Lindsay whilst Steve was undercover trying to win her trust. Eventually, it was revealed that something had happened, but not much. This is fine… but it was never even hinted at in season 2. Mercurio needed Lindsay out of prison for the plot to happen, and dropped the retrospective McGuffin in as a result. Again, this was a bit too clever, and didn’t quite work. If we’d seen a hint or two in season 2, it could have worked. But we didn’t.

Sometimes Line of Duty twists one time too many, and doesn’t always answer all of its questions.  It’s often to fast to notice in the moment, but it can be frustrating when you start to really think about it. Although, unlike those of us who are jobbing writers, I expect many casual viewers probably won’t notice, just enjoy, and honestly, that’s the way to watch these shows.

Season 5, however, really did get too clever for its own good, making one huge mistake, and one more moderate one that got blown out of all proportion by people wanting something about the show to hate.

The big mistake was trying to convince us that Superintendent Ted ‘Super Ted,’ Hastings was that most bent of bent coppers, H. Although moments like the Eastfield Depot raid and the money in the brown envelope shook my faith in Super Ted during the episodes themselves, by the morning, when I discussed it with colleagues at work, none of us were really buying it. We all knew that Ted would ultimately be exonerated; after everything he’d done to expose bent cops and the criminal behind them, it would make no sense for him to be corrupt himself. With no one buying the central concept at the heart of season 5, all the brilliant twists and turns just felt a little bit flat.

Now, Mercurio had said that he wanted to make season 5 the last season originally, and was writing the much-loved Bodyguard at the same time, so I strongly suspect that it he saw it as a bit of a filler season, and that season 6 will be right back on track. That would also explain why some of the plot threads – ambushes of police convoys, accusations of corruption against an AC-12 officer leading to big interview scenes and a last-minute exoneration – felt a bit like retreads of seasons 2 and 3. I expect Mercurio is keeping his powder dry for season 6. But there’s no denying that trying to convince the audience that Ted could be H was a mistake. He’s too well-liked, and LOD’s audience just too sharp, for that to work. It’s a bit of an odd mistake for a show which generally treats its viewers as grown-ups to have made, but, lying at the heart of the series, it was a strategic mistake of the kind that can wreck an entire show. That it didn’t, that season 5 of LOD was still pretty good, is overall a testament to Mercurio’s skills as a writer.

The other mistakes was the whole ‘4 Dots,’ thing. Now, this was, at its heart, a quite clever concept. The idea was that Dot’s Dying Declaration had been misinterpreted by AC-12, and that instead of trying to tell them that the Big Bad’s name started with H, he was using ‘H,’ in Morse Code to say that there were Four Dots – go-betweens between bent cops and organised crime – because H in Morse Code is four dots, geddit? He was even tapping his hand with his thumb four times as he lay dying, in an impressive display of coordination and clear-thinking from a man seconds from death…

It was silly, I can’t really defend this. Dot could have achieved the same thing by holding out four fingers, and his blinks for ‘H,’ referring to Assistant Chief Constable Hilton. But let’s be honest, most of the audience had been suspecting that Dot had been trying to say something other than H for a while, and it was another great twist. The error was the execution, not the idea. It sticks out because it’s a clunker of the kind that LOD doesn’t normally drop. But, for it to ruin the whole show as some people have claimed, is a bit much for three minutes at the end of the last season. Plenty of other shows have done sillier things. The whole of season 2 of Broadchurch comes to mind…

You’ll like this if…

You’re a human being with a pulse who is breathing.

What do you mean, that’s not my reviews policy? Fine. You’ll like this if you like complex, multi-layered thrillers that force you to pay attention as they twist and turn in every which direction.

‘What do you mean, they gave the Bafta to Peaky Blinders? Never mind, leave it with me, I’ll sort this out.’

If you’ve enjoyed this review and want my, erm, unique take on other crime fiction, look at my reviews page here: So, for instance, there’s my review of the Line of Duty of the 1990s, Prime Suspect, here: ITV’s current stable-leader, Unforgotten, was reviewed here: And Hinterland, which tackled some similar material but very differently, is here:

Or maybe even the main attraction – some of my own short stories, at Go on, see if I can actually write anything myself, instead of just criticise the noble efforts of others. Now come shameless plugs…

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