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Jed Mercurio is a man so good at writing twisting, shocking, gripping television that nobody even pays attention to the fact that his name is Jed Mercurio. For any other TV show, that would be a central point of discussion. For Line of Duty, though, there’s no time to appreciate such a unique moniker: you’re too busy not breathing.
Season 4 steps up the tension and surprises to the biggest degree yet, and it’s only fitting that it should be heralded by the casting of Thandie Newton in its lead role. Newton, who has been impressing in HBO’s Westworld, is a wonderful screen presence, capable of being vulnerable and sympathetic while also been ruthless and calculating. Her DCI Roz Huntley, then, is a fantastic addition to the cop drama’s line-up of men and women in blue. She fiercely drives forward an investigation into a serial kidnapper and murderer at the kind of ambitious pace that you know is destined to end badly, resulting in an adrenaline-pumping operation that opens the season.
Of course, things do end badly, and so AC-12 enters the frame to clear the details. Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar are as likeable as ever as the unit determined to uncover the truth. They are aided by PC Maneet Bindra (Maya Sondhi) and newcomer Detective Constable Jamie Desford (Royce Pierreson).
But with everyone’s attention focused on Thandie Newton’s casting, Jason Watkins emerges as the surprise second lead of the season. He plays a forensics guru, Tim Ifield, who finds himself going head-to-head with Huntley, and his attention to detail is only rivalled by Huntley’s own forensic commitment to the task at hand. A mother of two and wife to husband Nick (Lee Ingleby), Roz will do anything to stop her life unravelling, including putting Nick at risk.
Mercurio plots and directs with impeccably improbable flourishes and reveals. Dead bodies turn up again in unexpected places. Interviews hinge on evasive answers and reluctant confessions. And departmental loyalties are tested, challenged and shifted as the ensemble is shuffled like a deck of cards. Every time you think something might be unrealistic or implausible, Mercurio ramps up the pace to move your attention elsewhere, and the cast are convincing and compelling enough to draw you along with them.
Indeed, Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Compston) and Detective Sergeant Kate Fleming (McClure) have perhaps their most to do to date, placing themselves in physical as well as professional danger. And, after several seasons of enjoyably gruff, stern dedication to doing the right thing, Dunbar’s Superintendent Ted Hastings also enjoys the chance to hint at something more beneath his surface, a shading in of colour to the noble boss that leaves you dying to watch Season 5 immediately.
Line of Duty: Season 1 to 4 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.