I chanced upon Line of Duty while looking for my next binge run. All I knew before I started on this series is that it’s British and, at a glance, has a police procedural storyline. What I found was a new appreciation for the genius of Jed Mercurio, who is also the name behind Bodyguard, featuring Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes.
There are four seasons completed at the time of this writing – and a fifth one is rolling out its episodes (it’s at S05-E02 now). The great thing about this show is that the stories don’t completely conclude once we reach the end of a season.
Old characters from Season 1 may pop up in Season 2, 3 and 4. Characters that have died can still add to a new storyline. Thus, if you are going to dive into this show, you should start at the beginning.
In season 1, we follow DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) in his misadventure in Counter Terror which resulted in a transfer into Anti-Corruption. The gist of it was that the team he was a part of messed up and word came from above to band together and cover up their mistake. Arnott refuses to comply and as a result became a pariah of sorts.
Pending investigations, he is assigned to AC-12, the anti-corruption branch led by Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar). Hastings comes across as a dogged investigator who pushes his team hard to cross t’s, dot i’s, and catch “bent cops”. He has some of the best lines in the whole show be it when introducing himself on the phone (he refers to himself as Hastings – like the battle) or when he is giving an officer who had been caught red-handed a dressing down.
Also part of the team is DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure). Brave, focused, extremely intelligent, she is usually the one who goes undercover in the department where the subject of their investigation operates in. As we follow her throughout four seasons, we see her rise from Detective Constable to Detective Sergeant.
The way this works is that Arnott pushes from the outside with the intelligence she feeds them, while she pushes from the inside. While she is never in any physical danger (what are they going to do to her? They are police officers) but no one likes a snitch.
Over the course of four seasons, you can clearly see that officers who work Anti-Corruption treat every target of their investigation like they were already guilty. Hence, AC-12 not exactly a likeable bunch. According to Fleming, the worst possible thing to happen to AC-12 is that they are no longer feared. Apparently, she can take being spat on at the back of her hair, but she can’t take not being treated with reverence and dread.
One of my favourite things about Line of Duty is their intense(!), stressful, aneurysm-inducing interrogation scenes – that’s when shit goes down. The scenarios are akin to a showdown in the courtroom, minus the judges, witnesses and jury. It speeds things up a whole lot.
AC-12 just needs to present the fact and try to make the connection based on feedback or answers given by the interview subjects. It almost feels like sanctioned entrapment of the officers being investigated but mind you, AC-12 doesn’t always have the upper hand at the interview table. And that’s because of who sits on the other side of the table.
What good is an investigative team without worthy adversaries to investigate. Line of Duty features some of the most powerful and bold, sharp and cunning, extremely ruthless and formidable antagonists.
You mustn’t forget that the point of AC-12 is to find misconduct amongst police officers and so the antagonists are themselves fellow detectives, some ranked higher than Arnott and Fleming, trained on how to track criminals, cover their tracks forensically, and familiar with interrogation tactics, protocols and procedures.
Season 1: Tony Gates
In Season 1, the team is up against DCI Tony Gates (Lennie James) from the Serious Crime Unit, a prominent and highly ambitious officer with plenty of commendations to his name including Officer of the Year due to “best crime figures” on the force for a few years running.
Despite his popularity amongst fellow officers, Hastings is certain that Gates is guilty of laddering, which is some sort of technical manipulation that allows him to add trumped up charges to seemingly straightforward crimes. This results in higher clearance rates and thus better crime figures for the department and for himself.
Eventually bodies start dropping and we find Gates having to go on the run from the right side and wrong side of the law.
Season 1 being the first season had to devote a lot to introducing the characters in AC-12 and how things work in an anti-corruption investigation. A lot of the push for truth we eventually see in Arnott are merely showing their roots at this season. Then again, perhaps they needed a more formidable rival.
SEASON 2: Lindsay Denton
Season 2 begins with an ambush and an explosion, leaving a police officer and someone in Witness Protection dead. DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) from the Missing Persons Unit was the sole survivor of the ambush, and became the suspect of AC-12’s next line of investigation. Whether she is innocent or guilty will nag you throughout the whole season.
Denton is a force to be reckoned with. She reported the misconduct of officers in her station and is ostracised in general by everyone at the station. Unlike Gates, practically no one stood up for Denton when AC-12 came a-knocking but that doesn’t mean she is one to take it lying down.
Time and time again, we get a peek at her non-existing personal life: no family, apart from a mother in a nursing home, no spouse or children, no drinking buddies or friendly neighbours. But then, she doesn’t have what you’d call a friendly face. The only thing she has going for her is being a police officer and she isn’t going to just sit there and watch her career go down in flames, without putting up a huge fight.
At times it may seem like she is just at the wrong place at the wrong time but when pushed, like a cornered dog, Denton turns around and bites back. She’d turned the tables at AC-12 so many times that you aren’t sure whether she is really unlucky or guilty AF. But one thing is for sure, she doesn’t miss anything, which makes her your strongest foe or your best ally.
Season 2 is far more superior than Season 1 mainly because the stakes became much higher, the background has been set in Season 1 and because of Keeley Hawes.
I did not recognise her until a couple of episodes in and even then it was only because I had to know who is this incredible actress is. I mean, could you blame me for not recognising this as Home Secretary Julia Montague in Bodyguard? Keeley Hawes received a BAFTA nomination for all the horrible things she had to endure in her role as Lindsay Denton.
Season 3: Danny Waldron
In Season 3 we are treated with an unstable but highly effective officer from the Strategic Firearms Command Unit, Sergeant Danny Waldron (Danny Mays). He scares the life out of me.
Unlike the antagonists from the first two seasons, we know that Waldron is bent. We see him shoot a suspect point-blank, then blackmail the rest of his firearms team to help him cover it up. While Waldron is easy to hate, he is difficult to charge since he has an answer for everything due to him being a seasoned field agent.
Running parallel with the Waldron investigation, Season 3 is also involved in investigating the wrong-doings of retired high-ranking officers who may be involved in the cover up of a systematic child-molestation ring from decades back.
Perhaps I’ve begun to tire of keeping up with the conspiracies after bingeing through the two earlier seasons, but this particular season was far too messy for me. What kept me going was Denton returning from Season 2, and a newfound admiration for Hastings’ character.
In his first AC-12 interrogation, a defensive Danny Waldron retaliated to questions by Hastings in a patronising manner, and got a reminder of the important role of AC-12:
[Danny] I cite under Common law, my lawful right to use lethal force for preservation of life or in self-defence where this threat is immediate.
[Hastings] Yes, and in response I cite Section 117 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act: the use of reasonable force. And for the tape, the emphasis is mine and not contained in the act.
[Danny] That’s an easy argument from behind a desk, sir.
[Hastings] BEHIND this desk, Sergeant, we uphold standards! Standards you are expected to meet as a serving police officer.
Hastings would later on struggle with the maintaining of such standards while he deals with threats to his own career for investigating a retired chief superintendent, and dealing with a mole inside his department. The conclusion to Season 3 was the most highly charged finale of all the seasons.
Season 4: Roz Huntley
In Season 4, Thandie Newton joins Line of Duty as DCI Roz Huntley, serving as Senior Investigating Officer in Operation Trapdoor. She was running a large-scale police operation to hunt down a serial killer, dubbed Balaclava Man. The culprit is believed to be behind the kidnapping and murder of one woman and the disappearance of a second. By the time we enter the story, the public is tired of being scared and there was pressure to make an arrest – the sooner the better.
When a third potential victim who had just narrowly escaped Balaclava Man, handed Huntley a possible suspect on a silver platter. Huntley buckled under pressure and was quick to pin a man with learning and mental difficulties as the culprit. Case closed. That is, until Timothy Ifield, her forensic coordinator tried to air his concerns that the arrest may have been premature
Huntley shuts him down not eager to reopen this life-draining case. In a move that is just downright icky, Ifield takes the case to AC-12.
He presents his findings to Arnott and suggests that Huntley may have ulterior motives to pin this crime on the wrong man. Although initially hesitant, AC-12 eventually begins investigations into Huntley. Then Ifield goes dark.
For Season 4, AC-12 have met their match with a highly seasoned investigator in Roz Huntley. Like Denton, Huntley is cunning, careful and isn’t shy about fighting back. Unlike Denton, Huntley has friends in high places and gave AC-12 a good run for their money.
She absolutely decimated Hastings at the interview table, a scene that clocks in at 22 minutes long. Now that was a great showdown. I have never seen Hastings more defeated than when he went up against Huntley.
I have also never come across a character more ruthless than
Maeve Roz Huntley which was why I blazed through Season 4 in a single seating. All prior targets from earlier seasons were police officers through and through. Yet they still followed a code of conduct to serve and protect.
But not Roz Huntley. Huntley threw all that out the window, possibly out of spite or ambition, or just to save her own skin, I don’t actually know for sure. But if you had hoped, at any point, that AC-12 would let go of Gates, Denton or Waldron, you wouldn’t spare the same thought for Huntley. No matter what she did to redeem herself. Thandie Newton received a BAFTA nomination for her stunning portrayal of Roz Huntley.
I enjoyed Line of Duty for various reasons. The show grows. It expands and evolves. It becomes more sophisticated the longer you stick with it, particularly when it comes to the subjects of their investigations.
Mistakes become more costly. You do not get a reset button at the beginning of a new season. More often than not, these mistakes are later used in an attempt to discredit AC-12 and the work they do. That’s something the show-runners have to deal with the longer this show goes. On top of that, they also have to deal with the elaborate cover-ups and how one case ties to another case and to a third case etc.
Relationships also get more tested. We see Arnott and Fleming starting out cold, warming up to a strong partnership, compete for a promotion, judge each other, support each other through hard times, pull each other out of mess after mess after mess but never diminishing their relationship below that of treating each other as peers.
You also get to see Hastings groom the two for leadership roles from the beginning, back in Season 1, and then reaping what he sowed by the end of Season 4, showing pride in the work delivered by his two successors.
Season 1 aired back in June 2012 while Season 4 aired in March 2017. Here’s what they looked like after a harrowing event near the end of Season 4.
Feels like they’ve aged 30 years between the three of them, doesn’t it? That’s realism for you. At least Arnott fixed his eyebrows (Look, I have to comment on it, alright? It bugged the heck out of me for the whole of Season 1 and a bit in Season 2).
Note: At the time of this writing, Season 5 has just released their second episode. I can’t wait for the whole season to be made available on Netflix. A sixth season has also been commissioned.