It is not very often that a piece of television comes along that is so intriguing, so expertly crafted, and yet so suspenseful that it manages to keep us on the edge of our seats for ten years. It is not often that the quality, popularity, and intrigue of a show is not only sustained, but even (at least at points) improved upon over such a long period of time. It is not very often you get a Line of Duty.
And what a shame for it all to go to waste – right at the final hurdle.
I’m not one to frequent Twitter, but a casual scroll through the Line of Duty hashtag for opinions, theories and (of course) memes on a Sunday night after the show aired was always a pleasant corner of the internet – and a way of attempting to de-stress after being on tenterhooks for the past hour. However, last Sunday, it had a very different atmosphere.
Because, unlike AC-12, we have indeed been made mugs of.
For starters, Series 6 as a whole has been sub-par. As it was airing each week I enjoyed it enough, generally thinking that it was on top form. But well-shot action scenes, references to the previous series and Tedisms were simply a smokescreen for a half-baked series, which I’m not entirely convinced knew where it was leading. Frankly, we were led on, so to speak.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first – H. I had my suspicions about Buckells from before the beginning of the series; in my mind, it actually made a lot of sense. However, I cast him aside once he was arrested mid-season, thinking he was too obvious a candidate, or simply out of the picture: he had been given too much attention for it to circle back round to him. I still wasn’t entirely surprised to see him revealed as the ‘Fourth Man’. But the writers really just phoned it in from then on: they did absolutely nothing interesting with the character, his motivations, or his methods.
I was preparing for one of Line of Duty’s infamous prolonged interview scenes, keen to see AC-12 dismantle Buckells, see him squirm and eventually understand as all the pieces were slowly put together. None of this happened – in fact, I would argue it was the most boring interview scene the show has offered up to date. Buckells was much less the ‘Fourth Man’, more the ‘man who happened to be the last one standing and just got left to do the job.’ It makes my blood boil just thinking about it: not only did they pick the safest of all the options, they were also incredibly lazy in its execution.
I should clarify that when I say ‘phone it in’, I mean Jed Mercurio and the writing team. The cast were generally good, as to be expected, especially from the main trio. I wouldn’t say these were the best performances we have seen from the show – you can only do so much with a limited script – but they are by no means the problem here.
Series 6 did offer some interesting viewing: Ryan Pilkington was particularly satisfying to watch. Credit goes to Gregory Piper, who also originally played the younger version of Pilkington in the inaugural series of Line of Duty. Ryan so easily could have been a caricature, but the fact that Piper returned and knocked it out of the park made him the highlight of Series 6 for many (sidenote – Piper is a top bloke who runs his local youth acting group which originally got him into acting!).
I also enjoyed finding out about Andi Osho’s Gail Vella, and how she had joined the dots of many of the events of the past series together, much like the viewers. The storylines which focused on police-race relations, or more specifically the often-poor treatment of Black people by the police, were well-handled and added something to the story. Some may argue that they were gratuitous and box-ticking, but in my opinion it would have been ignorant of the show not to respond to the Defund the Police and Black Lives Matter movements.
And, as always, there was also some cracking dialogue: Ted never disappoints, but Kate’s ‘knobby signal’ comment will stick with me for some time. I must also mention Tommy Jessop, who played Terry Boyle – another important storyline which would not have been the same without Jessop’s performance.
Having said all of this, the show still dropped the ball on so many fronts.
Where was the bigger storyline for Kate? She has had nowhere near the same amount of exploration as Steve or Ted in previous series. Why did the trailers hint that Kate may be H, or at least suspected of such, when this lead absolutely nowhere? Where was the Kate and Jo storyline heading? I’m not a huge ‘shipper’ of couples, but this was queerbaiting at some of its finest. Why was the relationship between Jo and Farida Jatri so toxic?
Why must Steve only have relations with women who are key witnesses or suspects in his cases???
As much as I thought she was cool, how and why did Chloe know absolutely everything, and have all the answers at exactly the right time? Is Philip Osborne bent or not? Why do I have so many more questions than at the end of other series of Line of Duty; crucial, unexplained, key plot points, especially given there was one more episode than normal?
Speaking of Jo Davidson: a lot of the questions I have are related to her. After being hyped up as AC-12’s ‘most enigmatic adversary’ (BBC) she turned out to be the weakest guest lead the show has had yet. Kelly Macdonald was serviceable enough in the role, even if her performance was a little off in the first few episodes (though, she could have been given this direction). I did think her character was intriguing at first and even though the reveal of Tommy Hunter as her father was another obvious one, at least it made some sense. However, Davidson quickly became predictable and bland – nowhere near as watchable, interesting, or dare I say frightening as Lindsay Denton, the Caddy, or even Roz Huntley for that matter.
I feel bad for those who have worked on this show for a decade: particularly those who worked hard throughout the pandemic to make sure that Series 6 happened. I feel bad that there has been (justified) backlash: it’s not what this team are used to hearing from its audience. I think people are so upset and angry because this is a show they have become invested in. Line of Duty is best enjoyed from the very beginning: from the moment it starts you become engrossed, watching every single scene for clues, analysing every character, and agonising over the smallest of details. And for all that genius and masterful television to surmount to this…it is borderline insulting.
Jed Mercurio himself has since said that not everyone would appreciate the exploration of the true nature of corruption in our society, in reference to the final reveals of the series. If anything, I think that this is someone trying to diminish the intelligence of their audience – an audience who, yes, has often been loud and aggressive with their theories, but who has also stuck by him for a decade. Bear in mind, this is the same showrunner who retconned Dot’s confession at the end of Series 5 to include the four dots as Morse Code for four Hs. We all knew how ridiculous this was, and yet nonetheless bought into it, as we still believed in this show: maybe we should have seen it as a sign of things to come.
Disappointing endings are a theme with long-running shows (Game of Thrones and How I Met Your Mother may spring to mind). Is it a curse, that such quality cannot be sustained; or do we as an audience simply expect too much from our shows? Should we lower our expectations and be content with predictability, pleasantly surprised by greatness? Or should we demand better – as licence payers, as consumers, or as an audience willing to invest its time?
As to whether there will be a Series 7…maybe? I wouldn’t be surprised if that was it: as disappointing as it was, the show ended neatly. There are certainly some loose ends (or shall we say, retcons) that could be tied up; it is whether anyone will care at this point. If Twitter is anything to go by, there are certainly some who want more of a resolution than what we got. However, the trust of the nation has been betrayed once already – are we forgiving or gullible enough to trust again?
Feature image available on Unsplash.